How To Grow Heliconias (Lobster Claw Plants)

Growing tips for Lobster Claw plants

Heliconias are stunning, brightly colored plants that are perfect for tropical gardens.

They can be grown directly in the garden or dwarf varieties can be planted in large containers for a spectacular display.

Growing Heliconias is fairly easy, even for beginner gardeners and with these tips you’ll be able to have these gorgeous plants blooming in your garden.

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Lobster claw plants

Heliconias (Heliconia rostrata) are native to Central and South America and there are more than 500 different varieties.

They’re related to banana trees, ginger and Bird of Paradise. [1]

The flowers are actually bracts (modified leaves) and come in beautiful bright colors including red, yellow, pink and orange.

The real flower is short lived and can be found inside the bract.

HOW TO GROW HELICONIA PLANTS

Best Soil for Heliconias

Heliconias like rich, moist and well-drained soil.

Before planting add some organic matter to the soil and mulch around the plants to reduce moisture loss.

Add some organic plant food every couple of weeks during the growing season. 

Growing Heliconia plants

How much sunlight do Heliconias need?

Most varieties will grow well in full sun or partial shade but some varieties prefer a position that is mostly shady.

Heliconias grown in partial shade usually grow taller and flower better than those grown in full sun.

They prefer warm, humid conditions, similar to what you’d find in a tropical rainforest.

Heliconias are susceptible to wind damage so it’s best to plant them in a position that is protected from strong winds.

When do Heliconias bloom?

Heliconia plants flower from summer to fall.

The flowers are great for attracting hummingbirds to your yard and the plants provide a good hiding place for small birds.

They’re also good cut flowers and make a long lasting and spectacular display.

How tall do Heliconias grow?

There are many different varieties of Heliconias that range from 3.5 feet (1 metre) to 15 feet (5 metres) tall.

Grow Heliconia plant

Growing Heliconias from Rhizome Cuttings

Heliconias grow from rhizomes, which means that the roots and shoots form from a horizontal underground stem.

To propagate Heliconias from rhizome cuttings, take a section of the rhizome and divide it into pieces. Each piece needs to have an eye on it.

The rhizomes can be soaked in water with a small amount of fertilizer added before planting in the garden.

Allow enough space for spreading. Heliconias will spread out quite quickly.

You can usually expect to see flowers within six months of propagation from rhizome cuttings.

Growing Heliconias from Seeds

Heliconia plants produce small fruits that turn blue when they’re ripe.

Each fruit holds between one to three seeds.

The seeds have a very hard coat that is difficult to pierce and if you try to manually pierce the seed it usually damages the seed.

Heliconia seeds can take up to a year to germinate so the easiest way to propagate them is from rhizome cuttings.

Heleconia varieties to plant in your garden

Heliconia flower

Watering Heliconias

Heliconias need regular watering, especially during hot weather.

The soil should be moist at all times, but not waterlogged.

It’s a good idea to add a layer of mulch to help with moisture retention.

Pests & Diseases

Heliconias are fairly pest resistant but they can be affected by fungal diseases if there isn’t enough air circulation.

They can also be affected by birds, ants, rats and soil pathogens.

Regular maintenance will help to reduce damage to the plants.

Pruning Heliconias

Heliconia flower stalks only bloom once, so the whole stalk can be cut back to ground level when it has finished flowering.

Any leaves that are yellowed or dead can be removed and used as mulch around the base of the plants.

Companion Planting for Heliconias

Heliconias can be grown alongside other tropical plants including palms, Bird of Paradise or Hawaiian Ti plants.

Lobster claw plant

Common questions about growing Lobster Claw plants

Can Heliconias be grown in containers or pots?

Small varieties of Heliconia can be grown in large containers with well-drained, rich potting soil.

Are Heliconias Frost Tolerant?

Heliconias are best suited to tropical regions and they’re not frost tolerant at all.

If you live in an area with cold winter temperatures it’s not a good idea to plant Heliconias outdoors.

Freezing temperatures can kill or damage the underground rhizomes of the plant.

Heliconia plants

Heliconias are stunning perennial flowers that will make your garden stand out.

If you live in a tropical climate and you’re looking some something a bit different for your garden, these plants are ideal.

Just be sure to keep the soil moist and trim back the old flower stalks and you’ll be able to enjoy their gorgeous flowers all summer and into fall.

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Have you tried growing Heliconias in your garden? Let me know in the comments below.

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How to grow Heliconias

How to grow Lobster Claw plants

Kelly Martin

Hi, I'm Kelly Martin. I'm passionate about gardening and horticulture and I love growing just about everything including herbs, vegetables, flowers, succulents and indoor plants. I've been gardening most of my life and I created this blog to inspire beginner gardeners to create their own urban garden. Read more

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Scott J DeNicola

    I recently grew birds of paradise for the first time this year in large containers by my pool and was happy with the results. Heliconias look even more beautiful than the BOP and I may need to try my hand at them this year. I really like the firebird Heliconia.

  2. Sarah Emery

    These are such great tips for growing heliconia. There’s quite a lot of heliconias in our area and they always catch my eye (because of their exotic look).

  3. Despite Pain

    I’ve never seen these before. They’re beautiful and so unusual. Definitely not suitable for growing in Scotland as we get a lot of frost.

  4. Fatima Torres

    What an interesting plant the Heliconia lobster claw one is! I’ve always found it to be a bit much for our garden.

  5. Britt

    I’ve never heard of heliconia plants before, but I am LOVING the tropical vibes that I get from all of your pictures. I’m sure they wouldn’t do well up here in Canada with our colder temperatures, but maybe if someone has a tropical themed heated sun room, so that they wouldn’t be exposed to the elements?

  6. Lyosha

    I love the way those flowers look! I haven’t seen them before but I definitely think it is super pretty!

  7. Julia

    I love Heliconia, such a beautiful flower! I’ve seen them and a Bird of Paradise in the wild in a tropical rainforest in a shady place.

    I sensed that the most beautiful part that we call “a flower” is not actually a real flower. Thank you for explaining that those are bracts.

    I’ve also seen these flowers in Hawaii in a garden in full sun. Unfortunately, New England’s climate is not suitable for them to grow outside. My husband always includes either Heliconia or Bird of Paradise in my birthday bouquet because he knows how much I love it.

    Thank you for the informative post and beautiful photos.

    All the best,

    ~ Julia

  8. Melanie

    This is actually really interesting to read. I have never tried to grow these beautiful flowers, but would love to give it a go x

  9. Luna S

    I love how these flowers look, they really help add a pop of color to any home landscape. Great posts and information, I would love to try and grow these.

  10. Subhashish Roy

    Very informative post for all plant and nature lovers. I too am but unfortunately currently have limited options of pursuing my interest due to space constraints. But it always feels good when I go through your posts.

  11. Alexandra

    This is an amazingly beautiful plant. It actually looks like a great Christmas plant. Your posts are so informative. I find myself wondering if you know all of this already in your head and you are growing all of these beautiful plants in your yard and home. Seriously! I definitely know where to look when I’m ready to fill my house, both outside and inside, with these beautiful plants! I just wish it could be now.

    1. Kelly Martin

      Hi Alexandra, they sure are gorgeous plants. It’s a bit cold to grow Heliconias where I live unfortunately, but I’d love to plant them when I get my greenhouse set up.

  12. Lyanna Soria

    That heliconia lobster claw plant looks great and interesting. My grandma would love this, she likes gardening.

  13. DR. I.K. Gopalakrishnan

    Yes, I have been growing helicona plants for last 8 years. Their flowers are very beautiful.

  14. Marianela Obando

    I live in Honduras, Central America and I used to buy the flowers at the flower shops and I guess a seed or more fell in my garden and now they are taking over, they just grow and grow.

    1. Kelly Taylor

      That’s great Marianela, it’s nice to get some free heliconia plants!

  15. cathy scaife

    thanks for the information. I would call myself a hoarder of heliconias. I have many different kinds and every time I look at them they make me happy. So exotic. So elegant. To think that they grow so tall simply amazes me. I am from Canada and live in Costa Rica 6 months out of the year. Love them

  16. Sheri Mc

    Hi, thanks for the wealth of information! While on the golf course in West Palm Beach last week, I complimented a homeowner on their garden and asked what the hanging beauty was. As he told me about the plant, he tore off a complete flower and said I can have my own if I simply place in water. I immediately wrapped wet paper towel around stem then placed in water when back at son’s apartment. It travelled well in my suitcase (in wet paper towel) back to Dallas and was back in water, with a dab of Clonex mixed in, as soon as we were home. It’s looking meh – everything I read says propagate with eyed rhizome. Am I doomed to failure or is there a way to prop with this flower? Thanks so much!

    1. Kelly Taylor

      Hi Sheri, it’s a shame he didn’t give you a small piece of heliconia rhizome to propagate. You won’t be able to propagate from the flower unfortunately.

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