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Reader patiently waited for bird-of-paradise to bloom

A reader waited 22 years for this bird-of-paradise plant to bloom. Special to The Forum

Q: My bird-of-paradise plant is 25 years old and began blooming three years ago. A new flower recently started opening, as seen in the photo. - Laura Schumacker, Fullerton, N.D.

A: Thanks, Laura, for sharing photos of a houseplant with such unique flowers. After seeing the plant pictured in a Facebook post, I asked Laura if she'd share some growing tips. She writes: "I purchased it from Gurney's in 1992. It arrived as a tiny two-leaved plant about 12 inches tall. I have the plant in my sunroom in the winter and outside on the north side of the house in summer. It was after adding a sunroom to the north side of our house and having a bright, winter space that the bird-of-paradise started blooming. It's been re-potted numerous times, and now is in a pot with a diameter of 24 inches that takes two people to move it about. I water as needed; in the summer about every other day and in winter every seven to nine days."

Congratulations on patiently waiting, while giving your plant the proper care to make it happy. Bird-of-paradise plants aren't easy to grow indoors. They're tropical natives sometimes seen in outdoor landscapes in frost-free southern Florida and California. Growing them indoors is a challenge, as they're happiest in tropical-like conditions not easily duplicated in the home. They also need to reach a certain age and maturity before they bloom, which accounts for the long wait before yours flowered. It's no small task to keep these plants healthy and happy, while waiting for them to decide to blossom.

Q: How often should houseplants be fertilized in winter? - M. Nelson, Bismarck, N.D.

A: Houseplants, like most plants indoors or out, are best fertilized right before, and during, periods of active growth. That's when plants are most in need of the extra nutrition to support increased growth.

For example, outdoor shrubs are best fertilized before and during their busy spring and early summer growth season and then discontinued around July 4.

Houseplants have less need of extra fertilizer nutrition during the short, dark days of mid-winter. Fertilizing once a month, or every-other month is more than enough. Plants sense the increasing day length as spring approaches and respond with new growth. Beginning in early March, houseplants can be fertilized every two weeks, if desired. For houseplant owners who rarely fertilize plants, spring is the time to give them a treat.

Q: Do fertilizer spikes work for fertilizing trees? - Ed Goldman, Grand Forks, N.D.

A: Fertilizer spikes pounded or pushed into the soil are a quick and easy way, but they probably aren't the most efficient method of providing nutrition, because they're a bit localized as they dissolve. But they certainly do provide some benefit.

Granular, or water-soluble types distribute the fertilizer more thoroughly over the root system, instead of in localized areas.

Regardless of fertilizer types used, the most effective area of uptake is around the tree's "dripline" at the outer leaf canopy, where most of the feeder roots are located.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler at ForumGrowingTogether@hotmail.com. All questions will be answered, and those with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.

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