Tropical Plants For Gardens

A bee flies around a bloom on an azalea bush AP

You don't have to live in a tropical location to grow tropical plants in your garden. Many large, colorful plants thrive in the summer heat. And they are a great way to add pizzazz to your yard.

Garden guru P. Allen Smith stopped by The Saturday Early Show to show how to incorporate some of these tropical beauties into your garden.

Many people picture tropical plants as anything that's big, lush and colorful. So, who wouldn't want plants with these characteristics in their garden? Tropical plants may look unusual, but they don't require more care than other plants. In fact, most people who have houseplants probably already care for tropical plants; many common houseplants are tropical.

Smith suggests bringing these plants outside in warm seasons or climates. Their beautiful textures and unusual foliages really bring interest to a garden, he explains.

While some flowers wilt in the heat, tropical plants thrive, as the summer grows hotter. Most varieties become quite large by the end of the season. You simply need to water and fertilize regularly. Smith suggests using an all-purpose, liquid fertilizer.

Elephant ear plants in particular are heavy feeders. Although most people are familiar with these plants, they may not realize they come in many varieties such as traditional green, red stemmed and black.

The black elephant ears do not like to be exposed to the full sun. The hot afternoon sun can cause them to blister. Elephant ears are unique in that they can live in standing water. This makes them great candidates for a water garden. Simply weight a pot down with rocks and set it directly in the water.

Smith says if you don't have a water garden, elephant ears also look beautiful grouped with other plants. When putting together your own grouping of tropicals, Smith suggests looking for plants that have different textures and leaves of different sizes. And, keep tropical plants in their own separate containers. Because they grow so large, they can overwhelm any annuals you plant with them.

Deciding which plants to group together is not always easy. So, Smith offered another design tip:

Choose your favorite color from the leaf of one plant and use that color as your guide. Choose other plants that echo that same color in their flowers or foliage. You can even use this color to choose your container. Terra cotta pots are a faithful standby, but you can really make a statement by choosing a colored container.

Smith says he brings his hibiscus inside during the winter. Although the plant won't flower during the winter -- not enough sunlight -- its leaves will stay green, and it will thrive when you bring it back outside next year.

As long as tropical plants stay in a covered space where the temperature does not dip below 40 degrees, they can survive the cold weather. Other gardeners choose to treat these plants like annuals; that's fine too.

Smith says that while many tropical plants are more expensive than, for example, a six-pack of annuals, they are also much bigger than the average annual. And, you can't put a price on the visual impact they provide.

Some alternatives to large tropical plants, says Smith, are coleus plants, which can provide you with a vibrant punch. They come in an amazing array of colors -- pinks, red, purples, chartreuse and deep greens. Smith says they are beautiful and look great paired with flowering annuals. Some varieties of coleus do grow quite tall, but they are easy to prune back and their leaves do not grow as massive as elephant ears and other tropical plants.
  • Rome Neal

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