Go big with large, exotic leaves for non-stop blooming flowers.
If you are looking to create a tropical heat wave this summer, start with larger plants that love the warmer climates. Whether you lean towards fantastic foliage or exotic flowers, the larger-sized tropical houseplants will give you a head start on lush and steamy container designs. Go bold this season with plants that are usually considered 'houseplants' in our zone 5. Most of these plants are very happy to live in containers on the patio during the summer, but they will need to be brought indoors when the cold winds start to blow...
Lovin' the Leaves
Cordyline or Cabbage Palm (Cordyline): Spiky plants with long, slender leaves offer an exotic feel of the tropics. The leathery, palm-like leaves can be even more interesting in smoky-chocolate shades, greens or oranges. Younger plants work well indoors as houseplants, but also hold their own in outdoor containers during the summer months. Care: Offer them fertile, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade.
Alocasia (Elephant’s Ear): Huge green leaves can be patterned with black, dark purple or bronze tones. Either way, they really do look like elephant ears! Althought the flowers are insignificant, the monstrous leaves will offer a striking and exotic presence to containers or garden beds. Large, heavily veined leaves are arrow-shaped but can be puckered or ruffled, ot have white veining. Upright leaves grow from a large rhizome or tuber. Underplant this plant with flowering annuals for a tropical twist. Some species can grow up to 15 feet tall. Care: Elephant’s Ear likes moist but well-drained soil in partial shade. They thrive with plenty of humidity and water. Fertilize every 2-3 weeks to encourage rapid growth during the growing season.
Flaunting the Flowers
Tropical Hibiscus (Hibiscus sp.): Large colorful blossoms keep blooming all summer! These plants attract butterflies and hummingbirds to their trumpet-like flowers in scarlet red, hot pink, pale pink, orange, peach, yellow and multi-colors. Whatever color you choose, they will provide non-stop color and a tropical feel wherever they bloom. Care: The tropical hibiscus prefers full sun with rich and well-draining soil. Keep well watered but dpn’t lety it stand in water. Treat them as annuals as they will not survive frost or heavy freeze.
Mandevilla (Mandevilla): This flowering vine is so low maintenance that is becoming the 'go-to' plant for containers on decks or patios... with good reason. The brilliant, pink, red or white flowers will also add a tropical flair on trellises in garden beds. Care: Give them sandy, well-drained soil with lots of organic material mixed in. (2 parts peat moss or potting soil to one part sand works well.) Vines thrive in bright, filtered light but can burn in direct sun. Fertilize for maximum blooming with a high phosphorous, water soluble fertilizer once every two weeks. As this is a robust vining plant, provide it with support with a trellis or tuteur when you plant.
Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides): The intensely fragrant, creamy-white flowers are the main reason for surrounding yourself with this graceful Southern classic. Although it is an annual in our zone 5, gardenias do best planted by themselves in large containers on decks or patios where they can be the main attraction with their white blossoms glowing against shiny, leathery, green leaves. Gardenia plants can be wintered over in a greenhouse but not as easily grown indoors as a houseplant. Care: Place in full sun or partial shade. Water regularly. Do not crowd their roots with other plantings. Fertilize with an acid fertilizer or fish emulsion.
Lantana: Lantana topiaries or standards will add height and a tropical feeling to your summer containers. Clusters of orange, yellow, gold, red, white and sunset colored flowers will bloom all summer with minimal care…attracting butterflies too. Lantana topiaries make a great accent for containers that beg to be noticed! Care: This low maintenance plant thrives in full sun. Clusters of flowers bloom continuously to frost and only need water occasionally, once established.
Note: As seen in the photograph, layering these annuals can offer plenty of height. The tall 'Elephant's Ear' will also provide shade for the ever-blooming Dragon Wing begonia and trailing, potato vine 'Blackie'.