All Posts   Posted:   May 23, 2018 by Sean Rayburn

Do your summer garden fantasies include wafting scents of exotic fragrances, a patio secluded by dramatically large foliage and flowers, or watching the sunlight filter through a red banana leaf while you relax nearby with a book? For these fantasies to come true (without purchasing a plane ticket) one needs only to take a trip to the local garden center for a load of tropical plants to create a tropical oasis right at home.

Many of our temperate landscape plants combine beautifully with plants from the tropics to add seasonal drama and excitement to our year-round plantings. Cannas, passion vine and hardy bananas can be planted in the ground and often overwinter while Angel’s trumpet, Tropical hibiscus and others may be planted in containers and brought into the house or greenhouse to escape the cold, wet winter.

In case you need help deciding which tropical plant is best for you let me tell you about some of our favorites: Angel’s Trumpet, Tropical Hibiscus, Cannas & bananas!

Angel Trumpet Vine Brugmansia and Jimsonweed Datura

Considered one of the most recognizable tropical plants to most gardeners, these specimens are always a showstopper in the landscape. Both plants are native to Central and South America and often confused with each other, as they are part of the same family Solanaceae. Brugmansia is known as Angel’s trumpet, where the flowers point downward, and the plant grows into a tree-form with a woody trunk. Datura, known as Jimsonweed, Thorn Apple, and Devils Trumpet, has upward facing flowers and maintains a shrub-like structure with a less-woody trunk. Both are extremely toxic, so avoid contact with your face and eyes and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling.  

Although these are in the same family and have a close resemblance in bloom, they prefer slightly different growing conditions. Brugmansia tends to thrive in a semi-shade environment with slightly moist soil and a good fertilizer regimen. Plants are commonly seen as tall as 6+ feet but can grow even taller in their native environment; sweetly scented flowers are even more fragrant at night and can be up to 12 inches long often available in shades of white, pink or peach.

Datura’s many varieties range from low growing to upright, and can be drought tolerant or even semi-aquatic depending on the type. In our region expect this plant to get 2-3’ tall and wide; flowers are most fragrant at night and are available as single or doubles in white or pale lavender. With proper care and fertilization, these can produce gangbuster blooms and fragrant scents all summer long!

Tropical Hibiscus Hibiscus Rosa Sinensis

Arguably the most synonymous with the word “tropical garden”, everyone instantly knows a hibiscus flower when they see one. With so much variety in size, color, and structure, there is a hibiscus for everyone to fall in love with. Native to areas around the world in sub-tropic and tropical climates, it’s hard to believe we can enjoy these wonderful plants here in the North West. There are many traditional and decorative uses for the flowers including making lei’s or using them for cut flower arrangements, the flowers themselves can even be used to make tea or infuse into spirits for refreshingly floral cocktails!

Thought to be finicky, these plants simply prefer a steady care regimen with little variance in change. Hibiscus thrive in full sun with temperatures around 70-80 degrees. Anything warmer than that can cause leaf and bud drop, while anything lower than 50 degrees can cause stress or damage. Best growth occurs with evenly moist soil with good drainage both in a pot or in the ground (container growing is best if soil is heavy/clay-based). To ensure abundance in blooms, use a fertilizer made especially for tropical plants and feed regularly through spring and summer.

Banana/Musa (hardy) or Ensete (tropical)

Fast-growing with dramatically large foliage, bananas add bold elegance to any summer landscape. The winter-hardy banana (Musa), originally from Japan, has green leaves that die-back each winter to the trunk but get taller and larger each season – with some occasional protection from winter’s extremes. Red-leafed bananas (Ensete), native to tropical forests in Africa, have huge deep green leaves with red reverse & red mid-rib plus a red trunk. To sustain all that rapid growth, bananas are heavy feeders and need regular fertilizing with a food higher in nitrogen than the other nutrients. Keep soil moist but not soaking and protect from high winds which can tatter the foliage. Whether planted in containers or in the ground, bananas add height and excitement wherever they are grown.

Canna Lillies

These tropical-looking plants are actually fairly winter-hardy and low-maintenance. Grown both for their attractive foliage and beautiful flowers, Cannas offer a long season of interest in the landscape. Flowers appear on tall stems in colors of red, orange, yellow, pink or white with large tapered leaves often ranging in colors of green, maroon or variegated. Tall varieties can get up to 6 feet or more while dwarf types like ‘Bob Marley’ fit into smaller gardens or pots.  Best flowering occurs in full sun although plants will tolerate light shade; plants like to be kept evenly moist – even tolerate bog-like conditions while actively growing but need good drainage during winter dormancy. Fertilize regularly throughout the season with an all-purpose or bud & bloom food. Canna lilies are grown from rhizomes which may be planted in the ground or in large containers but need room to multiply over time. Although they are considered to be relatively hardy, many gardeners choose to dig their Cannas and store them out of the ground over winter months.

In the time it takes you to plan and book a tropical vacation (and for a fraction of the price) plan a ‘staycation’ instead by investing in your own backyard oasis to be enjoyed by friends and family all summer long!

Do your summer garden fantasies include wafting scents of exotic fragrances, a patio secluded by dramatically large foliage and flowers, or watching the sunlight filter through a red banana leaf while you relax nearby with a book? For these fantasies to come true (without purchasing a plane ticket) one needs only to take a trip to the local garden center for a load of tropical plants to create a tropical oasis right at home.

Many of our temperate landscape plants combine beautifully with plants from the tropics to add seasonal drama and excitement to our year-round plantings. Cannas, passion vine and hardy bananas can be planted in the ground and often overwinter while Angel’s trumpet, Tropical hibiscus and others may be planted in containers and brought into the house or greenhouse to escape the cold, wet winter.

In case you need help deciding which tropical plant is best for you let me tell you about some of our favorites: Angel’s Trumpet, Tropical Hibiscus, Cannas & bananas!

Angel Trumpet Vine Brugmansia and Jimsonweed Datura

Considered one of the most recognizable tropical plants to most gardeners, these specimens are always a showstopper in the landscape. Both plants are native to Central and South America and often confused with each other, as they are part of the same family Solanaceae. Brugmansia is known as Angel’s trumpet, where the flowers point downward, and the plant grows into a tree-form with a woody trunk. Datura, known as Jimsonweed, Thorn Apple, and Devils Trumpet, has upward facing flowers and maintains a shrub-like structure with a less-woody trunk. Both are extremely toxic, so avoid contact with your face and eyes and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling.  

Although these are in the same family and have a close resemblance in bloom, they prefer slightly different growing conditions. Brugmansia tends to thrive in a semi-shade environment with slightly moist soil and a good fertilizer regimen. Plants are commonly seen as tall as 6+ feet but can grow even taller in their native environment; sweetly scented flowers are even more fragrant at night and can be up to 12 inches long often available in shades of white, pink or peach.

Datura’s many varieties range from low growing to upright, and can be drought tolerant or even semi-aquatic depending on the type. In our region expect this plant to get 2-3’ tall and wide; flowers are most fragrant at night and are available as single or doubles in white or pale lavender. With proper care and fertilization, these can produce gangbuster blooms and fragrant scents all summer long!

Tropical Hibiscus Hibiscus Rosa Sinensis

Arguably the most synonymous with the word “tropical garden”, everyone instantly knows a hibiscus flower when they see one. With so much variety in size, color, and structure, there is a hibiscus for everyone to fall in love with. Native to areas around the world in sub-tropic and tropical climates, it’s hard to believe we can enjoy these wonderful plants here in the North West. There are many traditional and decorative uses for the flowers including making lei’s or using them for cut flower arrangements, the flowers themselves can even be used to make tea or infuse into spirits for refreshingly floral cocktails!

Thought to be finicky, these plants simply prefer a steady care regimen with little variance in change. Hibiscus thrive in full sun with temperatures around 70-80 degrees. Anything warmer than that can cause leaf and bud drop, while anything lower than 50 degrees can cause stress or damage. Best growth occurs with evenly moist soil with good drainage both in a pot or in the ground (container growing is best if soil is heavy/clay-based). To ensure abundance in blooms, use a fertilizer made especially for tropical plants and feed regularly through spring and summer.

Banana/Musa (hardy) or Ensete (tropical)

Fast-growing with dramatically large foliage, bananas add bold elegance to any summer landscape. The winter-hardy banana (Musa), originally from Japan, has green leaves that die-back each winter to the trunk but get taller and larger each season – with some occasional protection from winter’s extremes. Red-leafed bananas (Ensete), native to tropical forests in Africa, have huge deep green leaves with red reverse & red mid-rib plus a red trunk. To sustain all that rapid growth, bananas are heavy feeders and need regular fertilizing with a food higher in nitrogen than the other nutrients. Keep soil moist but not soaking and protect from high winds which can tatter the foliage. Whether planted in containers or in the ground, bananas add height and excitement wherever they are grown.

Canna Lillies

These tropical-looking plants are actually fairly winter-hardy and low-maintenance. Grown both for their attractive foliage and beautiful flowers, Cannas offer a long season of interest in the landscape. Flowers appear on tall stems in colors of red, orange, yellow, pink or white with large tapered leaves often ranging in colors of green, maroon or variegated. Tall varieties can get up to 6 feet or more while dwarf types like ‘Bob Marley’ fit into smaller gardens or pots.  Best flowering occurs in full sun although plants will tolerate light shade; plants like to be kept evenly moist – even tolerate bog-like conditions while actively growing but need good drainage during winter dormancy. Fertilize regularly throughout the season with an all-purpose or bud & bloom food. Canna lilies are grown from rhizomes which may be planted in the ground or in large containers but need room to multiply over time. Although they are considered to be relatively hardy, many gardeners choose to dig their Cannas and store them out of the ground over winter months.

In the time it takes you to plan and book a tropical vacation (and for a fraction of the price) plan a ‘staycation’ instead by investing in your own backyard oasis to be enjoyed by friends and family all summer long!