Here’s How to Add Tropical Flair To Your Garden

Create and maintain a tropical atmosphere in your home with just a little work
Photo by igaguri_1 (Hibiscus) / GettyImages




Giving your landscape a tropical flair can be as “big ticket” or as economical as you desire. You can still have a yard with a tropical feel without going the labor-intensive route. Start with cold-hardy palms, such as windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei), Mexican fan palms (Washingtonia robusta), needle palms (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) and swamp cabbage palms (Sabal palmetto). Add banana plants, which will die back during a freeze but re-emerge in spring, and any of the botanical plants collectively known as “gingers.” Cut back in fall and mulch heavily so they will come back each year. The following groups of plants will add to the tropical atmosphere without a lot of work.

1. Lilies. Various lilies lend a tropical feel, including canna lilies, particularly those with variegated leaves. Other summer-blooming lily bulbs that create a striking appearance include Gloriosa superba “Rothschildiana,” whose orange and yellow blooms are a knockout. These perennials require little extra effort to get through winter.


2. Bold green foliage. Taro and other elephant ears (alocasia and calocasia) die back in winter but most re-emerge. Some are invasive, so be careful which varieties you select. Other dramatic tropical-feel foliage plants are bear’s breeches (acanthus); Japanese aralia (fatsia japonica); and Swiss cheese plant (monstera deliciosa).


3. Hibiscus. Unlike frost-tender Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-seninsis), native hibiscus is a perennial here in Zone 8b. Both the plants themselves and the blossoms are larger than Chinese hibiscus, and they come in several colors. In addition, a couple of hibiscus relatives that grow here as annuals can be planted from seed or transplanted, including okra and roselle.


4. Tropical vines such as mandevilla and bougainvillea can add a lot to a paradise garden, but they will need a bit of special care. If the winters aren’t too severe, bougainvillea will return if heavily mulched. Trouble is, we never know what the winters will bring. However, planting them in large pots holding their own trellises, and then placing them where they will jump to other supports such as fences, arbors and porch supports will make it easier to cut them back and move the pots indoors for winter


Pesky Pests


While there are lots of different kinds of potato beetles, the one most commonly found in the southeastern United States is the Colorado Potato Beetle, Leptinotarsa genus.

One of the first infestations was discovered in Colorado, hence the name, but the beetle is thought to have originated in Mexico.

Two species are found in Florida, Leptinotarsa decemlineata, the Colorado potato beetle, and Leptinotarsa juncta, the false potato beetle.

The potato beetle adults are almost half an inch long and yellowish orange with black stripes, and a black triangle on the head.

The false potato beetle has a more creamy base color.

Potatoes are the preferred host, but Colorado potato beetles will feed on other plants in the same family, Solonaceae, including eggplant, tomato and, occasionally, peppers.

The false beetle feeds primarily on horse-nettle, a weed. The beetles will strip the foliage.

The easiest way to control the beetles is to pick them off by hand. You can squish them but I prefer to drop them into a plastic newspaper bag, tying a knot in the end when done and letting them suffocate.

Removal of garden debris and rotating crops are also effective in preventing a recurrence, as is digging trenches between rows with 45-degree sides.

The beetles walk from plant to plant, and the angle can cause them to fall back into the trench, where they’re easily picked up.

Categories: Gardening