Red Bird of Paradise – Cut it back!

The Red Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) has long been a favorite summer blooming plant in Arizona. It celebrates the warm season with a dazzling display of orange-red flowers. This shrub grows fast to 8 feet tall with an equal or greater spread. In the spring, red racemes (flower stalks) grow up to 20 inches long. The racemes grow in a triangular, pyramid-like shape on which individual flowers bloom from March to October. The flowers are a brilliant mix of orange to red colored clusters with long stamens. Some varieties have yellow or orange tips on the flower petals or pure yellow flowers. Red bird of paradise makes an excellent accent shrub that is incredibly heat tolerant.

Red Bird of Paradise grows best in full sun locations and in soil that drains well. It does not do well in heavy clay soils. Regular irrigations will help this plant maintain its vigor. Water established Red Bird of Paradise every week in the summer, every other week in the spring and fall, and at least once a month in winter. Apply a slow-release organic fertilizer annually in the spring. Toward the end of July, the first flush of bloom begins to fade. August is a good month to cut back dead flower stalks to the first set of new shoots that can be seen. This “heading back” will encourage another round of flowering that may last into October. Prune this shrub in late winter or early spring to within a foot of the ground to reinvigorate the plant and remove old growth.

This picture shows what can happen when old growth isn’t removed at the end of winter. The new fresh growth will grow up through last years growth and the plant won’t look nice and fresh!

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