Planning a Tropical Garden
in Colder Climates
privileged to attend a very informative lecture on this topic at
Hicks Nursery, Westbury, NY in March 2015
. The presenter was
very helpful since we all had questions about over-wintering
tropical plants rather than replacing them every year.
First, we walked through some of the common
northern zone perennials that will compliment a tropical-look
garden. Of these, Hosta has many exotic and colorful varieties
to add spice to shady spots. Heuchera (coral bells), Echinacea
Purpurea (purple cone flower), Rudabeckia (black-eyed Susan),
grasses, ferns and clump-forming bamboo will set the stage for a
Tropical garden in the Northeast, Midwest or Northwest regions.
Next, consider using tender bulbs that can
generally be planted around Mother's Day. These include
Caladium, Elephant Ears, Cannas, Dahlia, Lily and Tuberose
Begonias. Their only requirements are that the soil be over
55ºF and that you place them in the appropriate place, either
sun, shade, part shade. They will do best if acclimated to the
sunny areas slowly and can even be started indoors.
Of course, we all want to see the blooms of
true tropicals, such as Mandeville, Bougainvillea, Bromeliads,
and Orchids, Citrus or banana trees. These do very well in heat
of northern summers and can be over wintered if given enough air
circulation when brought indoors. I keep two banana trees in my
basement each winter. They are brought in, not watered for the
entire winter, and simply left alone in the dark of my cellar.
When the temperatures are right, I carry them upstairs and
replant in the garden. So far, they are flourishing.
The broad-leaf plants look very tropical,
so I would use more of these and scatter blooming plants
throughout the garden. Now, whereas most of the vines and trees
prefer full sun, orchids will do best in morning or late
afternoon sun, as they will get in the branches of trees. They
are epiphytes, meaning they are "air plants" rather than being
rooted in soil. In their native environment, they live in
trees. Bromeliads are also air plants, often found growing in
the limbs and crotches of trees.
But did you know you can put your
houseplants outside for the summer? Sure, your houseplants can
go to summer camp in the yard. Plants like Croton, Palms,
Dieffenbachia, Dracaena and Coleus add amazing color from their
leaf color and pattern. By fall, they will be thick and lush.
Fertilize with 5-10-5 fertilizer during the growing season.
Over-wintering Tropical Garden Plants:
Bring houseplants back indoors when
the first frost is expected.
Hardy tropical-looking perennials do
not need any special care.
Tender bulbs must be lifted and stored,
although different species have different needs as to
storage: Dahlia can be dug and stored when frost knocks the
plant back. It does best if stored in humid conditions, in
peat moss. There are Dahlias that can over winter in the
garden (Dinner plate Dahlias) with mulch protection. Lilies
will bloom according to depth planted, so to extend the
blooming season, plant these lilies at different depths.
They can be cleaned off, dried and stored in frost-free dark
place. Elephant Ears must have soil gently washed off, and
allow bulbs to dry a few days before storing in basement (in
dark). They will develop rot if touching each other or are
still damp when stored.
It is okay to cut off foliage when
bringing in bulbs while they are still green and growing.
This is what nature does when a frost hits.
To remove banana trees in fall, use a
spading fork and make a circle one foot from the stem to
loosen it. Bananas have a shallow root system and will pop
out of the soil easily when loosened in fall. Cut off the
leaves after the frost, wash off any soil to prevent
bringing pests from the garden into the house, put in into a
plastic bag and let it dry out in the basement.
A tip for growing Elephant Ears: use
black pots because they heat up faster. At end of season,
store in a dry place, removing the fibrous roots, place in a
cardboard box, not touching each other or put dry newspaper
between the bulbs.
How to get the most out of a Tropical
Accessorize with benches, statues,
fountains, hammocks, birdbaths and other ornaments.
Use night lights, spotlights or
underwater lighting in the garden.
In the pond, plant night-blooming
lilies for added fragrance and interest.
Use container plantings and flower
boxes in seating areas.
Build "trails" through the garden.
-- by Carolyn Weise
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