Cutting Back Heliconia Plants – How To Prune Lobster Claw

Cutting Back Heliconia Plants – How To Prune Lobster Claw

By: Teo Spengler

Heliconia are showy tropical plants with bright, beautifulflowering bracts. They are said to resemble bananaor birdof paradise plants, but the blossoms are very different. One type ofHeliconia is given the common name lobsterclaw. It requires little pruning. Read on for information about Heliconiapruning including tips on how to prune lobster claw should this be a concernfor you.

About Heliconia Pruning

In order to understand how to prune lobster claw, you needto get an overview of the plant structure. The plant leaves look like bananaleaves, and the stems are formed by a series of leaf bases.

Heliconia blossoms form at the terminal end of each plantstem. Lobster claw Heliconia flowers stand upright and are extremely decorativeand flashy. Pruning a Heliconia plant should be kept to a minimum because ofits unique growth pattern.

How to Prune Lobster Claw

In general, cutting back Heliconia should only be done whenabsolutely necessary. Gardeners need to remove dead, diseased, or damaged partsof plants. Cutting back Heliconia in this way is important. Trim lobster clawHeliconia by snipping off any dead or damaged stems or leaves. If you find thatmore than a couple leaves are damaged on one stem, cut off the entire stem.

Once you have finished cutting back any foliage that isdamaged, turn to the stalks that have already flowered. These will not blossomagain and should be removed. If you are wondering how to trim lobster clawHeliconia stems, just snip them off at ground level. After a few days, the“stump” should be dry. You can remove it from the soil and throw it away.

How about pruning a Heliconia plant for artistic reasons?The plants have beautiful, balanced shapes naturally so very little pruningshould be required. However, you may want to trim lobster claw leaves that areobstructing the view of the plant’s flowers. While this can be done, it mayhave negative consequences.

The stems of the lobster claw are weakened when you removeleaves. That means that removing too many leaves could mean fewer flowers inthe future. For this reason, limit any aesthetic pruning to one leaf per stem.

This article was last updated on


SERIES 17 | Episode 24

A joy of being a Top End gardener is that you can grow some of the world's most spectacular tropical plants, like the absolutely beautiful Heliconia.

Peter Jettner is a commercial Heliconia grower and has one of the largest collections in the Northern Territory. His farm is in Howard Springs, just south of Darwin. He has 5 hectares of Heliconias under cultivation and this produces roughly 2 tonne of cut flowers a week, for up to eight months of the year. He's been growing Heliconias on the farm since 1989.

Heliconias are closely related to bananas - the shape of the leaves are quite lush and dramatic. Some people grow them just for that. But for most gardeners the flowers are the main attraction.

Most people think the specialised outer leaf or bract is the flower. But the flower is actually the little white bits in the middle - that's where the stamen and pollen are.

There are more than 200 species and countless cultivars of Helicona. They originated in tropical, central and South America, and come in different sizes, from about a metre, up to an impressive 4 or 5 metres.

Peter lists some of his favourite Heliconias:

'Bucky', an upright, erect creeping Heliconia with new rhizomes that can emerge up to three to 500mm away from the existing plant. 'Sexy Red' which has a pendular or hanging flower. It's a clumping variety, meaning that the bottom of the plant will stay contained within its area. 'Richmond Red' - which is nice and chunky and has a beautiful vibrant red colour. 'Lobster Claw Two' with its classical Heliconia shape. 'Daintree', or 'Sunset' which grows to about 1.5 to 3.5 metres and would be good for a suburban garden. And 'Halloween' which has a more orange coloured flower if grown in full sun. If it's grown in deeper shade, the flowers will be more yellow.

Peter says living in the tropics is an advantage for growing Heliconias. "The far north of Australia is perfect because it's hotter and the more north, the hotter it gets. They are also really thirsty. We give them roughly 12ml of water a day. And mulch is really important. We cut the leaves off and put them under the plant to help with water retention."

Peter says that Heliconia psittacorum have a limited lifespan of three to four years. "After the third year we slash the bed, rotary hoe it, add fertiliser and plant fresh rhizomes. This ensures we have fresh flower production year after year."

It's relatively easy to grow Heliconias. Add organic matter to the soil, and add fertiliser. Then get the rhizomes, and ensure there's a nice new eye on your new shoot to plant it. Cut off excess roots and leaves to stop it dehydrating. Roughly plant to about the same depth as it came out of the ground. Then cover with not too much soil, water to get the air from around the roots to stop any fungus growing. Then mulch around the plant to stop burning in the middle of the day.

If planting in a small backyard, try using a root barrier about 20 to 30cm deep.

The best time to plant Heliconias in the north is the beginning of the wet season, about October, so they get a big boost from the rains. Fertilise them regularly and in a few months you'll have fantastic flowers in your garden.

How to Care for a Lobster Claw Heliconia Plant

Related Articles

If exotic plants are your game, then lobster claw is sure to be a home run in your landscape. Thriving in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 and warmer, lobster claw (Heliconia spp.) -- also called false bird-of-paradise or parrot‘s beak -- produces large, bananalike leaves and colorful clusters of interestingly shaped blossoms. Care for your lobster claw’s basic needs, which include regular feedings and trimmings, to create a flowering wonder in your garden.

Prune nearby trees and shrubs if necessary to provide lobster claw with a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day. Ideally, it should have some light shade in the afternoon to protect it from the sun during the hottest part of the day.

Water a lobster claw frequently, especially during hot weather, to keep the soil moist. Add 2 inches of mulch around the base of the plant to help the soil retain moisture. Compost works well as a mulch and will also help make the soil rich and fertile, which is ideal for growing lobster claw.

Fertilize lobster claw once a month from spring until fall when the plant is actively growing. Use an all-purpose fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, applying an amount as indicated on the label. Sprinkle the fertilizer around the base and water it in afterward. If you get fertilizer on the foliage, rinse it off with your garden hose.

Cut flower stems after they bloom to make room for new flowers and to tidy up the plant.

Divide lobster claw in the spring before new growth. Dig the up the clump carefully, digging about 6 to 8 inches deep. Its rhizomes will be near the surface of the soil, but the roots may extend much deeper. Carefully divide the rhizomes apart with your hands. Use a knife if necessary. Then, replant the rhizomes to the same depth as before, spacing them about 2 feet part.

  • Grow lobster claw in containers if you live in a climate with frost. Use well-draining soil. If it is too compact, add some coarse sand, peat moss or perlite to the mix to create a light, airy mix. Before the first frost, bring the plant indoors. Then, take it back out after the last frost.

Melissa Lewis is a former elementary classroom teacher and media specialist. She has also written for various online publications. Lewis holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Maryland Baltimore County.


There are numerous species of the Heliconia plant that are native to the tropical regions of Central and South America. Heliconia plants can also grow well in North America, in areas where the climate conditions are warm and humid. Heliconias are easy to grow and are a low maintenance plant. Many homeowners who love tropical plants have them in their landscape.

Heliconias produce smooth green leaves with, unique long-lasting colorful inflorescence tropical flowers. Their blooms and foliage often resemble that of the Canna plant. Heliconias bloom in color combinations of shades of red, pink, orange, yellow, lavender, and green. Their tropical flowers range from erect to huge claw-shaped flowers.
The colorful flowers are seen popping out of the “bracts” of the plant. The brightly colored bracts will vary in length from inches to several feet. The shape and color of the bracts will also vary. A variety of the Heliconia plant named Caribaea often called “Lobster Claw” is composed of red and yellow triangular bracts. It is a very popular species of the Heliconia plant.

Heliconia plant species available at nurseries and garden centers will vary and can depend upon the location where you live. Heliconias are generally grown in USDA hardiness zones 10 to 11. However, areas in zone 8 can grow some species of Heliconia plants.

You can contact your local county extension service for information on what species that will grow well in your area.

Planting Heliconias

Cultural requirements can vary among plant species. Some types do well in full sun, some prefer full shade, while others can be planted in partial sun (filtered light). Light requirements of each variety should be listed on the labels attached to the container or the plant when being sold.

All species of Heliconias prefer to be planted in rich organic soil conditions. They do best when grown in soil with a PH level that is moderately Acidic. Water as soon as possible after planting. Apply organic mulch to keep the soil moist and to help maintain organic material in the soil. Plant them in a location where they will have protection from wind, for they need this. Placing them along fences, buildings, and hedges are good locations for protection.

Heliconias have large leaves and tend to grow in clumps. In the proper conditions, they can grow fast and spread to fill in any available space. Mass plantings are best controlled by planting them in well-defined beds. Consider the growth habit of each species since plants can range from small size 2-3 ft. to extremely large reaching up to 15 ft. in height. Each plant has a spread of 3-6 ft. Plant spacing should be 3-5 ft. apart. Small cultivars can be placed in pots or containers great for patios and decks.

Care Of Heliconias

For ultimate growth and flowering Heliconias need to be fed the proper nutrients they need. Regular fertilization 3 to 4 times a year should be done for good health. Apply a slow-release granular, Palm Fertilizer or Complete All Purpose Fertilizer with Magnesium for best results. Information is listed on the label for the proper amount to be applied for the area.

Heliconias can experience Iron or Magnesium Deficiencies, which will be noticeable by Yellowing Of Their Leaves. The problem can be corrected by applying to the soil Magnesium or Iron supplements. This usually occurs with Heliconia plants in soils with a PH level that is too Alkaline. Follow directions on the labels of any products when applying.

Heliconias need the proper amount of moisture to stay healthy. Watering is needed when there is a lack of rainfall, especially during drought conditions. Mulching can help in moisture retention. Mulch layered at a depth of 3 inches should be sufficient. Avoid piling mulch too close to the base of the plant, leaving space for air.

Heliconias will almost stop growing during cooler weather. So reduce the amount of watering at this time of the year to avoid over-watering, which can lead to fungus problems like “Root Rot”.

Flowers will usually last for several weeks before declining. Remove spent blooms and faded flowers by pruning. This will help stimulate growth of new flowers. Prune stems cutting them down to the ground (base of the plant). Also prune off any dead leaves and stems.

In the winter blooms can get cold damage in temperatures in the 40’s. Foliage can have damage in temperatures in the 30’s. During winter a frost or a freeze can cause dieback all the way to the ground. However, the plants should survive and bounce back when temperatures warm up in the spring, and new growth should begin to appear. Wait until springtime to do any pruning or fertilizing to plants with cold damage.

Heliconias do not have many problems with insects and pests. The only pests to be aware of are Grasshoppers, Snails, Mealybugs, and Scale. Grasshoppers chew on the leaves of the plant. Snails will also chew on the leaves, but can be eliminated by using Snail Bait. Chewing basically affects the appearance of the plant. Scale or Mealybugs can be treated by spraying the plant with a Systemic Liquid Insecticide. Follow directions on the label for proper treatment.

Heliconia plants are a good addition to a landscape if one desires to have tropical plants. Since they are easy to grow and maintain Heliconia makes for a great choice for landscaping. Heliconias colorful exotic flowers and attractive leaves brings a tropical look to any home garden.

The most common heliconia varieties

Heliconia psittacorum

Commonly known as Parakeet Flower, it is the most popular type of Heliconia. There is a great deal of choice to be had within this easy-to-grow variety, and it is also easier to grow than most other types. The plant is relatively compact, ranging from one to six feet high. The blossom clusters are relatively small at only seven inches in length. Bract colors vary, and you may find orange, red, cream colored and multi-colored bracts on the same plant. Tubular shaped, true blossoms come in shades of red, orange and yellow with white or dark green tips. It is this tip which gives the bloom its “parrot tongue” appearance. The attractive, unusual flowers make excellent additions to cut flower arrangements. The plant blooms abundantly throughout the year, so it is an excellent choice as a houseplant.

Heliconia Angusta

Common name: Red Holiday or Red Christmas – is a lovely poinsettia alternative. During the holiday season, you can count on festive color as this plant produces pinkish-red bracts with green and white sepals. This variety is quite small and usually stay at about two feet high. Under ideal conditions, it can grow to four feet high. This is a shade loving variety, so it is a great choice as a houseplant or as a container plant on a shaded deck or patio.

Heliconia Bourgaena

AKA Peterson is a larger specimen attaining heights ranging from four feet to eighteen feet. These showy plants produce dramatic bracts of flowers in red, crimson and pink with a black distal lip. The shoots and main stalk are also quite dramatic in a deep shade of purple. These plants require full sun and are an excellent choice for a large, outdoor garden in a tropical setting.

Heliconia Bihai

This heliconia is a tropical perennial grown for spectacular flowers and tropical foliage. It is native to South America particularly Brazil and the Guyanas. This large plant's banana-like leaves grow directly from thick, quickly spreading rhizomes or underground, lateral stems. The medium green leaves are held on long petioles (leaf stalks) and are easily shredded by the wind. Large, waxy flowers are produced on upright stalks which appear between the petiole and leaf blade late spring though summer. The colorful part of the flower is a modified leaf or bract and is generally crimson red edged with yellow and green. This is the perfect plant to impart a tropical look to any landscape. Best in sunny to partly sunny locations, plant it in well-drained, moist, organic-rich soils. It is also a heavy feeder and requires regular applications of fertilizer and water when in active growth.

Heliconia Caribaea

The plant ranges in height from seven to twenty feet. Its leaves are similar to those of banana plants and can reach five feet long. Lower leaves and stems at the base of the plant exhibit a white, waxy coating. The plant produces immense, erect bracts in red and/or yellow and blossom clusters in white with greenish tips. Bloom time is February through November. These plants prefer full sun, but they can tolerate as much as sixty percent shade.

Heliconia rostrata

Commonly known as the “Hanging Lobster Claw”, it is very popular because of its colorful, unusual inflorescences. This plant produces large, pendulous, bright red blooms in dazzlingly yellow bracts that can reach lengths of three feet. When the plant is grown in the ground, in an ideal setting, it may grow as tall as fifteen feet. When kept in a container, it usually grows to between four and five feet high. When it reaches this height, it begins blooming.

Heliconia Vellerigera

A truly spectacular hanging heliconia, 'King Kong' is a solid orange-red color with brilliant white hairs. It is a medium sized heliconia, reaching 6-7 feet tall. The leaves are light purple on the underside. Blooms throughout the year.

Heliconia chartacea

It is a large herbaceous plant and grows to about 3 to 4 m tall. It’s trunk is a pseudo stem made from tightly packed leaf sheaths. Leaves are large and paddle shaped and torn into many pieces giving a characteristic shredded look. The showy bracts are long and pendulant in varying colors. The inconspicuous flowers are green and hidden inside the bracts. It can grow in full sun and partly shaded areas. Keep the soil moistened.

Watch the video: All about Heliconia Lobster claw.How to propagate it