Text by Diana Lundin
When you think of tropical plants, do you automatically assume they’re fussy, as demanding as a toddler, and need the shelter of a greenhouse anywhere north of the equator?
Well, more and more gardeners in all climates are introducing themselves to tropical plants with great results. “Gardeners in cold climates are using them as annuals,” says Katie Bloome, public relations manager for Monrovia, a large grower in Azusa, Calif. “People with bigger basements and garages are overwintering the plants.”
Tropical plants are characterized by bright-colored flowers, large leaves and vibrant foliage. Some of the heavier bloomers include bougainvillea, hibiscus and agapanthus. Mandevillas are fast-growing tropical vines with trumpet-like flowers. Some of the newer varieties Monrovia grows, such as Pink Parfait, Moonlight Parfait and the new Tango Twirl, have double flowers.
How do you create a tropical look in the garden? Monrovia suggests banana trees, such as the Ensete red-leaf banana, or Musa Blood Banana, which has red-striped leaves. Add some canna, such as Canna Tropicanna with its bright orange flowers and burgundy leaves striped with red, yellow and green. Another nice addition would be the yellow- and green-leaved Variegated Shell ginger, which produces foot-long pale pink blooms.
Among other tropical plants for your consideration, try Cordyline “Baueri,” which resembles a red yucca; gardenia, which has very fragrant white blooms; star jasmine, which has star-shaped, heavily scented flowers; lantana, which has a colorful profusion of small blooms in either purple or yellow and orange; and bird of paradise with its sculptural orange and blue blooms.
Also try passion vine, bower vines, jessamine, brush cherry, floss silk tree, bamboo and Siberian iris.
Citrus trees are always welcome in a tropical garden and they’re easy to bring inside, especially some of the dwarf varieties of lemon and orange.
Tips for overwintering tropicals:
- Grow your tropicals in containers and when the weather dips below 50 degrees at night, just bring the container in to your garage, basement or sun room.
- If you will be digging up the plants, cover their roots well with burlap or bubble wrap.
- Check your local garden center on whether a particular plant variety needs the roots kept moist or dry.
- Make sure the plants are healthy before you overwinter. Remove dead leaves and flowers and then make sure they are free of pests or fungus.
- For cannas and other plants with rhizomes, cut the foliate to about six inches, dip up the rhizomes and let them dry out for a few days before storing in a cool, dark place for the winter.
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