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5 Tips for Adding Tropical Flair to Your Garden

5 Tips for Adding Tropical Flair to Your Garden

By Susan Martin for Proven Winners

We would all love to take a tropical paradise vacation, but if hopping on a plane to Hawaii isn’t in your near future, consider designing your own tropical garden right at home. Tropical-themed gardens can be grown in any region of the country by adapting the plant palette to fit a few key themes, which we’ll show you below.

Cultural Considerations for a Tropical Garden

Before you begin, there are a couple of cultural considerations to keep in mind when trying to make your garden look and feel more tropical.

First, tropical plants thrive in warm, humid conditions. If you live in a cooler climate, wait until after your last frost date to plant your tropical garden. In warmer areas, some tropical plants can grow nearly year-round.

Second, many tropical looking plants don’t just crave humid air — they also want the soil to be consistently moist. Site your tropical garden near the hose or sprinklers, or plan to use self-watering AquaPots® or WaterWise® drip irrigation to keep your plants happy.

Five Design Tips for Tropical Gardens

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Photo courtesy of Proven Winners.

1. Use bold foliage

Bold, flamboyant foliage, as well as an exuberant mix of textures, leaf sizes and shapes are the hallmark of a tropical-themed garden. Think of what you might see if you walked around a park in Florida. Understory plants with broad, bold leaves like caladiums receive relief from the hot sun by the tall trees and swaying palms overhead.

Your shade may not come from palm trees, but a colorful patio umbrella or towering oak can be just as effective. Create a similar look in your own tropical garden by creating layers of plants like you see in this photo, which features Heart to Heart® ‘Lemon Blush’ caladiums, ‘Black Coral’ and Heart of the Jungle® elephant ears, Shadowland® ‘Wheee!’ hosta and ostrich ferns.

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Photo courtesy of Proven Winners.

2. Surround yourself with plants

Part of the appeal of tropical gardens is their jungle-like atmosphere, which transports us mentally to a more tranquil, oxygen-rich space. Surrounding yourself with plants, whether you use pots on your patio or garden beds filled with fantastic foliage and flowers, is a key element of making your garden feel more tropical.

Imagine dining on this patio in the evening surrounded by gorgeous plants in your flourishing garden. Can’t you just feel the day’s stresses melting away? Read more about the tropical garden pictured here in our online Gardener’s Idea Book.

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Photo courtesy of Proven Winners.

3. Include a water feature

Water is an essential element of every tropical garden. If you imagine walking through a rainforest, the sound of raindrops or a trickling stream would have an instant calming, cooling effect. The same is true of the backyard tropical oasis you are creating. Water features can be as small as a tabletop fountain, as grand as a large pond with a waterfall, or anything in between.

In this picture, tall King Tut® and Prince Tut® papyrus grasses are thriving in a small pre-cast pond. Their large, airy plumes sway in the slightest breeze, creating a calming sense of movement in the garden. If you need to mask the noise of neighbors or traffic, consider adding running water to your pond.

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Photo courtesy of Proven Winners.

4. Use a warm color palette

Have you ever noticed that many of the most iconic tropical plants like hibiscus, cannas, crotons and bromeliads all bloom or have decorative foliage in warm colors like red, pink, magenta, orange and sunshine yellow? Cool blue tones tend to come from natural elements like the ocean or sky instead of from flowers in a tropical garden.

When choosing plants for your design, focus on those that fit a warm color palette. Tap the “Colors” button on this page to start your search. You can even paint your containers to match. In this picture, we enhanced plain wood flower boxes with tangerine orange paint suitable for outdoor use. Then we filled them with warm-toned Supertunia® Honey™ petunias, Sunsatia® Blood Orange™ nemesia, Luscious® Royale Red Zone™ lantana and ColorBlaze® Royale Apple Brandy® coleus.

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Photo courtesy of Norman Winter.

5. Bring in the hummingbirds and butterflies

What could be more beautiful and relaxing in your tropical garden than watching butterflies and hummingbirds? Choose the blooms they can’t resist, like Vermillionaire® cuphea (pictured), Rockin’® Fuchsia salvia and Sunstar® pentas to enjoy the show all summer long. Hummingbirds especially like these plants with red flowers. And you’ll find even more ideas here. You will draw more pollinators if you group the plants they like together in one area. It makes feeding more efficient — think a buffet vs. an a la carte menu.

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Patent Information: Heart to Heart® 'Lemon Blush' Caladium USPP25450; Royal Hawaiian® 'Black Coral' Colocasia USPP23896; Shadowland® 'Wheee!' Hosta USPP23565 Can4948; Supertunia® Honey™ Petunia USPP26888 US Utility 7,642,436 B2; Sunsatia® Blood Orange™ Nemesia USPP28355 Can5506; Luscious® Royale Red Zone™ Lantana USPPAF CanPBRAF; Rockin'® Fuchsia Salvia USPP30923 Can6296

Susan Martin is an avid zone 6 gardener, garden writer and speaker who enjoys spreading her passion for plants to her fellow gardeners across North America.

All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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