As with most houseplants, you’ll want to feed and water your bird of paradise (Strelitzia spp.) regularly to keep it looking healthy and beautiful.
But giving it too much water is going to do more harm than good. What happens if you’ve got an overwatered bird of paradise on your hand?
For a mild case, simply stop watering your bird of paradise and allow the soil to dry out. A severely overwatered plant will need the removal of diseased roots, fungicide treatment & repotting. If it’s not possible to save your plant, resort to propagation.
Evidently, the best course of reviving your overwatered bird of paradise depends on the severity of the situation. The earlier you catch the problem, the more likely your plant will bounce back.
That’s why I’ve included common overwatering signs you should look out for in your bird of paradise. As a bonus, you’ll also learn how to properly water your bird of paradise.
Underwatered vs Overwatered Bird of Paradise?
A bird of paradise is a houseplant that loves when the soil is liberally moist but neither too dry nor too wet. It will show displeasure if soil moisture goes to either extreme.
What’s worse, if you water an overwatered bird of paradise thinking it’s thirsty, you’re pushing your plant to the brink of death.
It doesn’t help much that there’s an overlap between signs and symptoms of overwatering and underwatering. To help you out, I’ve tabulated obvious indications that you’ve either overwatered or underwatered your bird of paradise.
|Signs of an Overwatered Bird of Paradise||Signs of an Underwatered Bird of Paradise|
|Wet or soggy potting mix||Dry potting mix|
|Droopy or limp yellowing lower leaves||Browned & shriveled lower leaves|
|Browned leaf edges with yellow lines||Dry, crispy browned leaf tips & edges|
|Excessive leaf splitting||Breaking or splitting leaves with brittle margins|
|Wilting leaves will be yellowed, floppy, and soft||Wilting leaves will be dry, curled, and dusty|
|White mold may appear on the soil surface||The soil surface is dry and dusty|
|Bad swampy or musty smell from the soil||No decaying smell from soil|
To sum it up: dry potting mix; dry, curling, and wilting leaves with browned, brittle edges indicate that your bird of paradise is thirsty.
If the potting mix is wet and lower leaves are yellowed with a stale water smell diffusing from the soil, you’ve probably overwatered your Strelitzia plant.
How to Know If You Have Overwatered Your Bird of Paradise?
A great place to begin to tackle the problem is to be able to identify if your bird of paradise has become overwatered in the first place. Remember, an underwatered Strelitzia is more likely to bounce back to health than an overwatered one.
 The Potting Mix is Wet or Soggy
The most obvious sign of overwatering is persistently excess moisture in the potting mix. If you go overboard with the watering can, the soil will turn wet, then soggy, and eventually become waterlogged. That’s one predicament you don’t want to put your bird of paradise through.
The bird of paradise prefers if the soil is uniformly moist. However, it doesn’t like standing on “wet feet.” Excess water will drive air out of the soil, making it hard for the roots to breathe. They will gradually suffocate, die, and therefore no longer be able to take up nutrients effectively.
Worse still, waterlogged soil serves as a breeding ground for pathogens. Soon, root rot diseases will pitch a tent in the roots, further exacerbating the situation.
The soil is typically somehow wet after watering your plant. Luckily, the soil 2-3 inches below the surface should dry out over the next 1-2 weeks. However, if it’s still wet (or worse, soggy) a week or so after irrigation, then you’ve got an overwatered bird of paradise on your hands.
 Yellowing Leaves
Yellow leaves on your bird of paradise are generally a sign that something is off with the growing conditions. Unfortunately, one of them is giving your plant too much water.
Since overwatering denies the roots oxygen, they can’t function properly. That means your plant won’t get enough nutrients out of the soil mix. In response, the foliage will start losing its elegant glossy green look in favor of yellowing.
The first foliage to fall victim to yellowing includes lower and older leaves. This is often accompanied by drooping and excessive leaf splitting. Over time, the yellowing will progress upwards, affecting all leaves. Eventually, the leaves may turn black and die.
I want to make one thing clear, though. While watering issues (AKA overwatering) are the most common reason for yellowed leaves on a strelitzia plant, it’s not the only cause. Foliage can also turn yellow due to critical light shortage and disease infections.
Leaf yellowing may also occur due to infestation by pests like scales, crown borers, aphids, and whiteflies. As such, it’s important to ascertain the actual cause using other more telling symptoms like wet soil and root rot.
 Presence of Root Rot
Root rot can be fatal for Bird of paradise than any other infliction. In fact, root rot and an overwatered plant almost always go hand in hand.
The reason behind this is that most pathogens (like Pythium, Armillaria, etc.) that cause root rot in a bird of paradise thrive in damp conditions.
If your strelitzia stands on “wet feet” for too long, root rot will advance to healthy roots. While most of the symptoms occur below the soil surface, you may be able to tell if your houseplant has root rot without unpotting it.
Leaf drooping, stem collapse, abnormally slowed/stunted growth, and rapid yellowing of leaves are some apparent indications of root rot in a bird of paradise. Also, a stale rotten-egg smell will start hitting your nostrils as you inch closer to your plant.
If you unpot your bird of paradise, you’ll be met by a sorry-looking root ball. Some of the roots will be mushy and brown or blackened. Act fast to save your plant — time is of the essence here!
 Increased Leaf Splitting
Normally, splitting leaves on a bird of paradise isn’t something you should panic about. It’s a natural adaptation that these plants acquired to survive their seasonally windy environments in South Africa.
The splits help create enough room for wind streams to pass through and prevent the plant from being broken, downed, or uprooted whole by powerful gusts and storms.
Splitting is typically seen in older leaves that will eventually collapse. However, if you notice excessive and indiscriminate splitting of all leaves, you’ve likely overwatered your bird of paradise. This will be more pronounced among yellow or drooping leaves.
 Browning Leaf Tips and Edges
As I’ve noted earlier, browning edges and tips of the leaves may be a sign of either an overwatered or underwatered bird of paradise. Underwatering usually results in browning-edged or tipped leaves that are dry, crispy, and brittle when touched.
An overwater bird of paradise, on the other hand, has browning leaf edges followed by a yellow streak or line. Both the yellowing and browning advance rapidly inwards, following the veins.
 Leaf Wilting and Drooping
Wilting usually occurs when your bird of paradise has stayed overwatered for too long that rot disease has found its way into the roots. With the root system malfunctioning, the foliage will lose turgor pressure and wilt.
Over time, the leaves will also go limp and collapse under their weight due to excessive loss of turgor pressure. Wilting is usually compounded by low light exposure and the emergence of pests and/or diseases. Most leaves start off by yellowing, then they wilt and become floppy.
 Moldy Cover on the Soil Surface
White or grey dusty mold will start growing on the surface of the potting mix if the soil stays damp for too long. While this is harmless, it may also signify that there’s a much more dreadful problem lurking below the soil surface. Mildew and fungal growths may also follow suit.
These moldy growths do particularly well in stuffy, low-light, and damp settings. So, consider moving your plant to a brighter, well-aerated spot.
How Do I Save My Overwatered Bird of Paradise?
Not all overwatered birds of paradise plants can be saved. In fact, chances are high your plant might not make it if root rot has already set in for a while. That’s the hard pill you might not be willing to swallow.
Be that as it may, your best bet of reviving your bird of paradise is to consider the severity of the overwatering situation.
If it’s mildly overwatered, luck is on your side. If root rot is present, your plant can still be nursed back to health. However, each situation calls for a different approach.
Option A: How to Save Mildly Overwatered Birds of Paradise
Technically, this means the roots on your overwatered bird of paradise are still okay. They’ve not been fully suffocated by excess water or affected by root rot. The only measure you need to take is to stop irrigating your plant and let the soil dry out.
- First things first, ensure the soil mix has proper drainage. Are there enough drainage holes on the bottom of the container? If not, your choice is to either use a new perforated terracotta pot or make more holes in the current container.
- Check if the soil has lost its ability to hold air. If overwatering has damaged the soil structure, water will simply run through the potting mix. In that case, your only resort is to repot with a new well-drained potting mix.
- Move your bird of paradise to a bright area to accelerate soil drying. Still, you should avoid direct sunlight. Increasing aeration and spacing out your plants will also have the same positive effect.
- If the soil is significantly wet, unpot your plant. Gently place the root ball on a bed made up of several old magazines. Make sure the area is airy, warm, and bright enough to speed up the drying of the soil. Repot immediately after the root ball has fairly dried out.
Wait until two or three inches of soil below the surface is dry before irrigating again. From then on, maintain a regular watering routine based on the finger test.
Option B: How to Save a Seriously Overwatered Bird of Paradise
If your bird of paradise has wilting leaves with browning edges, odds may not be in your favor. Check the roots for signs of damage and rot disease. If some of the roots are brown, soggy, or soft, there’s your red flag – root rot!
The sooner you take action, the more likely you will salvage your bird of paradise from the jaws of death. Here’s my step by step revival mission:
Step #1: Unpot and Inspect your Entire Plant
Once you have removed your bird of paradise from the pot, start with a gentle root wash. This will reveal all the affected roots and get rid of the contaminated soil.
Step #2: Remove and Discard Affected Parts
Again, start by trimming away any infected, rotten, or dead roots. They’re usually black or rusty brown and mushy to the touch. The remaining roots must be healthy white with or without a yellowish tinge.
Make sure to sterilize the trimming blade using an alcohol solution. Get rid of any affected stems, leaves, or shoots. Also, trim at the base of the stem.
Step #3: Prune Your Plant
The last thing you want is old dying roots usurping your struggling bird of paradise. The general rule is to prune enough leaves to match the number of roots lost. You should leave only younger, healthier leaves in the center.
Step #4: Treat Your Plant
You should prepare a fungicide solution to treat the healthy roots before repotting. In my experience, I’ve found copper and sulfur-based fungicides to work better in preventing the recurrence of root rot.
I’ve also come to respect the place of cinnamon, activated charcoal, and hydrogen peroxide when dealing with root rot. Mix one or two of these ingredients into the potting soil.
Step #5: Repot Your Bird of Paradise Using Fresh Potting Mix
I cannot overemphasize this enough: you should use a new batch of moist potting mix. Pick any well-draining, rich potting mix and blend in some organic matter, perlite, and sand. To kiss root rot goodbye, use a new terracotta pot with proper drainage.
Step #6: Provide Optimum Growing Conditions
Your bird of paradise will appreciate good aeration, ideal temperatures of 65-70°F (18-21°C), and bright, indirect light. Don’t water until the top 2-3” of soil is dry. (Source: Clemson University)
Option C: Propagation
If root rot has done too much damage, the situation may be too severe and impossible to save your bird of paradise. In this case, your last resort is to propagate your plant.
- Propagation through rhizomes or divisions is the easiest method. Get divisions of rooted rhizomes with offsets.
- Each division should be planted in a small container. Water each and place the division is a warm, bright spot for around 8 weeks
- After eight weeks, new roots and growth will emerge. You can then repot in a larger container that’s two inches larger.
See to it that your new plant gets plenty of bright filtered or indirect light.
How to Water Bird of Paradise
 Watering During Active Growing Season
Birds of paradise are heavy drinkers, especially during the active growing season from spring through to the end of summer. Also, moisture evaporates more quickly from the soil and via respiration during this warmer period.
As a result, the potting mix dries out sooner and you should increase irrigation frequency as needed. In most places, you will have to water your bird of paradise after every 1-2 weeks. But you don’t want to follow a strict day-counting routine.
Instead, use your finger or a moisture probe to check if the soil is dry enough to water again. A good 3-in-1 moisture meter can be quite handy for checking the light, soil PH, and moisture. Some can even facilitate the aeration of wet soil.
Check the soil moisture every four or five days. If the soil 2-3 inches beneath the surface is slightly dry, hit the watering can. If not, try checking soil moisture two or so days later.
 Watering During the Dormant Period
Strelitzia surely loves moist soil, but it shouldn’t be soggy or overly wet. This can be a problem when your bird of paradise goes into near dormancy.
That’s usually in fall and winter. You should dial back watering every two to three weeks – again, you should let at least two inches of topsoil dry out between irrigations.
Factors Influence Watering Frequency of a Bird of Paradise
The watering needs of your bird of paradise will depend on not just its growth habits. There are also numerous factors that will determine how fast the soil dries out.
- Type of Container – Terracotta pots are porous and allow the soil to lose moisture quickly. On the other hand, glazed ceramic and plastic pots retain water for a long time.
- Humidity – Birds of paradise are humidity-loving plants. If the air is less humid, the soil and your plant will lose moisture faster than when the area has high humidity.
- Temperature – Warmer temperatures due to sunny days or heating sources close by can speed up soil drying. Your plant will therefore need to be watered more frequently.
- Size of the Plant – Larger birds of paradise require to be watered more often than smaller ones.