Turn your patio or balcony into an exotic tropical getaway with the help of bold, beautiful tropical plants. Used as dramatic summer annuals in trendy decorative containers, tropical plants with rich foliage or sizzling-hot blooms turn outdoor spaces into hot spots for relaxation and entertaining.
From birds of paradise and flowering gingers with striking, vibrant blooms to elegant tropical hibiscus and rich, green palms, tropical plants have different needs than plants from more mundane locales — especially when it comes to nutrition. Keeping tropical plants at their peaks of beauty and performance means meeting the following specialized, yet simple, needs:
When you think of tropical climates, your first thoughts might be of hot, sun-drenched shores. However, many popular tropical plants are “understory” plants that live beneath taller plants in tropical jungles. Tender tropical foliage can sunburn, just like human skin, when moved quickly into hot, direct sun. When plants are used to indoor living, in homes or stores, the results can be unappealing.
Allow tropical plants to acclimate gradually to new light levels whenever you move them, whether the change is from low to bright or vice versa. For most tropical plants, bright, indirect light and protection from the sun’s most intense, midday rays is best.
Good drainage is essential for tropical plants, especially when they’re placed in containers where water can’t move as freely as it does in loose, rich, jungle soils. Tropicals don’t do well when their roots stay wet, and soggy, poor-draining soil saps their health and beauty quickly.
Always choose planting containers with good drainage holes, so excess water can run through. If you use decorative containers as cache pots, with your planting pot tucked inside, keep them free from standing water. For container planting, look for a lightweight, commercial potting mix labeled for containers. Add in earthworm castings for extra organic matter, and you’ll have a mix ideal for tropical plants.
To stay healthy and lush, tropical plants need less phosphorus relative to other primary nutrients. On a fertilizer label, this means the middle number of the “NPK” trio — nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) — is lower than the other two. To keep their rich colors intact, tropicals also need more iron and magnesium than most common plants.
Many gardeners have learned to give blooming plants more phosphorus to promote flowers, but tropical bloomers need just the opposite. Use a fertilizer formulated especially for tropical plants, contains lower phosphorous relative to other nutrients, along with added iron and magnesium to support beautiful foliage and bold, tropical blooms.
Soil in containers is more exposed to heat and drying winds than soil that’s protected under the surface of a garden. As a result, soil in outdoor containers dries out much faster than garden soil underground, especially under hot summer sun. Outdoor containers need regular monitoring and frequent, thorough watering to prevent tropical meltdowns.
Water your outdoor tropicals so that soil stays moist, but not soggy. Never let them completely dry out. If drying soil pulls away from the sides of your pot, press it gently back into place. Otherwise, water will run down the sides without ever reaching roots. Mulching your container soil with a decorative mulch, such as orchid bark or light-colored pebbles, helps soil retain moisture and avoid overheating. It also gives planters a crisp, finished look.
Outdoor tropicals are prone to insects and disease, such as whiteflies, aphids, and spider mites. Visible signs of damage can be yellow spots or webs on leaves. Sevin Sulfur Dust starts killing immediately upon contact, and will not harm the plant. People and pets may enter the area once dust has settled. Apply a light dusting frequently to keep your tropicals healthy and free from insect and disease damage.
If you want to keep your patio tropicals from year to year, move them indoors when nighttime fall temperatures start dropping below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. While those temperatures won’t kill most tropical plants, they can damage the foliage and send tropical plants into tailspins of stress. In addition, fall frosts can come without warning.
Make the move indoors gradually, and give your plants as much natural light as your home allows. Place them away from heating vents, and monitor their changing needs. Once indoors, tropicals require less frequent watering and less fertilizer than they needed outside.
Calamint, Lesser Calamint
Photo credit: Stonehouse Nursery
Like a cloud of confetti, tiny white flowers (sometimes touched with pale blue) appear from early summer to fall. Undemanding and dependable, calamint provides the perfect foil for other summer bloomers and foliage. This full-sun perennial has a low mounding or bushy habit, ideal for the front of the border, rock gardens, and more.
While durable and pest-free, calamint also checks two important boxes for gardeners: bees and other pollinators work the flowers throughout the summer and the aromatic foliage is deer-resistant.
Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta is a favorite low-growing component in stylized meadows, matrix plantings, and other modern perennial designs. Gardeners can also create a lovely monochromatic garden with more sure-thing perennials including past PPOYs such as Anemone xhybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ and Phlox paniculata ‘David’, or complemented with ornamental grasses such as Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’ (switchgrass) or Schyzacharium scoparium (little bluestem).
Photo credit: Midwest Groundcovers
Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 to 7
Light: Full sun
Size: Up to 18 inches tall and wide
Native Range: Great Britain to Southern Europe (Griffiths, M. 1994. Index of Garden Plants, Timber Press: Portland, OR)
Soil: Best with good drainage – tolerates some drought once established.
Maintenance: Low-maintenance deciduous perennial. Can shear back lightly if desired to create neater habit or refresh spent blooming stems. Tolerates drought once established.
Nomenclature: What’s with the “subspecies”? Abbreviated subsp. or spp., this is a naturally-occuring, phenotypic variation to a species that is usually related to a geographic situation. This subspecies was selected for size and vigor. May also be found under the following synonyms: Calamintha nepatoides and Clinopodium nepeta.
Grower Notes: Calamintha nepeta subps. nepeta has no patents or other restrictions. Propagate by vegetative cuttings (stem or root). Vernalization not required. Spring planting yields a one-gallon in 8-10 weeks. Grow on the dry side. Smaller pot sizes not recommended. Pinch or shear if needed to shape; responds to plant growth regulators.
Because of the abundance of perennials that bloom this month, June has been designated as Perennial Gardening Month by the Perennial Plant Association.
Perennial gardens often bring to mind the classic cottage garden or vibrant perennial border, and rightfully so. Cottage gardens and perennial borders burst with a variety of colors, heights, and textures. Beautiful and evolving throughout the entire growing season, even in the depths of winter, perennial gardens are visually captivating and provide wildlife habitat.
Simply defined, the paradox of choice is being overwhelmed by too many choices. Have you experienced the paradox of choice when trying to decide which perennials to add to your garden?
With virtually endless options of perennials available, creating an entirely new perennial garden or even just adding a few perennials to your garden can be daunting. However, applying these three simple decision-making strategies will help simplify the process and should help make your best options obvious:
Where, What and How?
Is the garden located in full sun or partial sun?
If it is in partial sun; is it morning sun or afternoon sun?
Yes, it does matter. Temperatures of morning sun tends to be cooler than afternoon sun and different plants have difference heat tolerances.
Perhaps the garden is in a shady area. If so, is it in full shade, mostly shade or part shade?
Container garden or in-ground garden
A growing gardening trend (pun intended), is to create perennial container gardens and then transplant the perennials to an in-ground garden bed towards the end of the growing season. Some perennials adapt to transplanting better than others and it is important to know what time of year is best for the plant re-location project.
In general, established perennials will overwinter better when planted in the ground than in a container. However, when overwintering perennials in a container, a general rule of (green) thumb is to subtract at least one hardiness zones. For example, if you live in Zone 5, the perennials should be Zone 4 or lower. To verify the Hardiness Zone where you live check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.
Below are a few additional tips to overwintering perennials in a container:
A large container has more mass and holds more soil. This mass provides insulation that helps moderate the soil temperature, protecting the plant’s roots from temperature extremes. The additional soil also helps retain soil moisture.
Cover the soil with organic mulch: bark mulch or leaves, or even a few layers of newspaper. In addition to moderating soil temperature fluctuations and retaining moisture, the cover helps prevent weed seeds from taking up residence in your perennial container garden.
Further protect your perennial container garden by moving it to a more protected area. Even a non-heated garage will help protect it from severe temperature extremes. Since the plants are dormant, light isn’t required, but check the container every few weeks to make sure the soil is still moist. However, be careful not to over-water as this could cause the plant to come out of dormancy prematurely.
Usually perennials are celebrated for their flowers and long blooming period, yet some are infamous for their foliage; think of Hosta, succulents, and ornamental grasses. An ever-growing (another pun?) category of perennials are those with unique foliage such as Heuchera or Ligularia, that also have notable flowers.
Consider the placement in the garden, whether it be a perennial border or container garden.
o Traditional perennial borders are essentially designed in three distinct sections: the tallest plants are placed towards the back then the mid-height plants and lastly, at the front of the border is most often a low growing flowering perennial or ground-cover.
o A perennial container garden that will be viewed from all angles, or nearly all angles, should have the tallest plant in the center, with mid-height plants surrounding the tallest plant and ultimately the shortest plants around the edge of the container. Just remember the standard container gardening design tenet Thriller, Fillers and Spillers applies in a perennial container garden just as it does for an annual container garden.
For more design ideas and garden maintenance tips read The Blogpost Pile: Coloring Your Garden with Annuals, as the ideas and tips shared in this article apply to perennials as well as annuals.
How much maintenance?
Some perennials require more maintenance to keep them blooming and healthy than others do. Understanding how much time you want to enjoy in the garden tending to your flowers, will help ensure your perennial garden thrives for years to come.
How much moisture?
Determining how much natural moisture your garden receives and how much supplemental water you plan to provide will significantly assist your decision-making process and reduce the Paradox of Choice predicament.
Celebrate Perennial Gardening Month by discovering new perennials or rediscovering your favorite classic perennials at your local garden center.
What is a native plant?
Seems like a simple question, right? It turns out that some things are not so easy to define. Horticulturists, botanists, growers and gardeners don’t always define the word “native” in the same way. Here’s how they differ.
The Strict Definition of Native
Some people believe that only plants found growing naturally in the wild, with no intervention from humans, are truly native to the place they are growing. If you collected seed from these wild plants and grew them in your garden, those seedlings would also be considered native.
However, if you selected one of those seedlings, gave it a name, and propagated it for sale, strict nativists would no longer consider your new named seedling to be native. Since none of the plants Proven Winners sells can be found in the wild, none of them can be called native by this definition.
Many people who enjoy native plants also consider seedlings and cultivars of these plants to be native. You may have heard the term native cultivar (“nativar” for short) used to describe such plants. A native cultivar is a plant that results when native parent plants are used to create a new cultivar.
In the case of one parent, a plant breeder might select and propagate one plant that has an especially unique trait, like brighter colored flowers, out of a hundred seedlings sown from a native species. This one selected plant would be considered a native cultivar because it is a derivative of the native species.
In the case of multiple parents, a plant breeder might make a “complex cross”, transferring the pollen from more than one native plant onto another in hopes of making seedlings that inherit desirable traits from multiple parent plants. The resulting seedlings would all be considered native cultivars.
Proven Winners Perennials and Proven Winners ColorChoice® Shrubs that are labeled as “native to North America” on this website are all native cultivars. These plants’ ancestry includes only native species and native cultivars with North American parentage. If any of the parents used to create a new plant was not native to North America, the resulting Proven Winners plant would not be classified as native.
Are native plants easy to grow?
There are many myths surrounding native plants. One is that all native plants are easier to grow and longer lived than cultivars. In many cases, this is not true. First, you need to look at where the plant you want to grow is native to. If you live in Wisconsin and that plant is native to the Southeast U.S., it may be quite difficult for you to grow because of the difference in climates. If you want to grow natives, it’s a good idea to check the USDA website to see which types of plants are native to your state.
When plant breeders select cultivars of native plants, one of the characteristics that is commonly sought after is disease resistance. Many native species of Monarda (bee balm), for example, are commonly plagued by powdery mildew in the wild, but named cultivars have been selected for their disease resistance.
Breeders also select for traits like stronger stems that don’t require staking, a longer bloom time, self-cleaning flowers that don’t require deadheading, longevity in the landscape, and greater vigor. All of these things save gardeners time and resources, making many native cultivars easier to grow and maintain.
What’s your gardening goal?
Everyone has a different goal when they plant a garden. Some are looking to recreate a tiny piece of the prairie that once stood where their suburban home now sits. Some want to grow as much of their own organic produce as possible. Some view planting as decorating their garden, patio and porch with welcoming color.
No matter the goal, many gardeners enjoy lower maintenance plants, those that draw in butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators, and those that require less frequent watering. Many native plants offer these desirable attributes.
Article courtesy Proven Winners
By planting a pollinator-friendly garden you are making a difference for honey bees, bumble bees, other bees and pollinators that bring us 1 in every 3 bites of food.
Establishing habitat can be challenging but there are certain things you can do to make it easier and more successful. You are probably aware of many of the points listed below; use what is helpful to your site and disregard what is not.
As urban gardening continues to trend, container gardens are popping up everywhere! Container gardens are perfect small-space solutions. Not only do they provide added appeal to your space, they also give you delicious food right at your fingertips. If you have limited space, or simply just want to add another element to your existing crop, grow these container plants on your patio this summer.
If you have limited space, don’t let that discourage you! With the right containers and a little bit of planning, you can have a delicious summer harvest in no time.