Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
January, 2005
Regional Report

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Bougainvillea's tiny flower buds are surrounded by colorful, papery bracts.

New! Cool Tropicals

In recent years more and more garden centers have been offering tropical and semitropical plants in cold-winter areas where they are not winter hardy. This means we have an ever-expanding selection of very cool (or would that be very hot?), new-to-us plants to complement the usual array of cold-hardy perennials and bedding annuals.

It's fun to try new ones each year ... in the summer garden or as container specimens on the porch, deck, or patio. Their extravagant blooms make them totally gorgeous, and their price tags can make us gasp, too. But these prolific bloomers are hot sellers due to their appeal as high impact plants providing instant, dramatic color.

A Summer Romance or a Year-Round Commitment?
These plants present some tough choices, not just which ones to choose among so many floral prima donnas, but how to handle these exotic plants at the end of the summer. Basically, it's a do or die situation. You can allow these tender babies to expire when freezing weather hits, or you can bring them inside and try to keep them alive all winter.

Since indoor growing conditions are rarely ideal, the plants tend to suffer and look pretty rough by spring. (This is especially true if you planted them in the ground, requiring that they be literally uprooted in the fall.) They also may bloom less the second year due to being stressed during the winter. On the other hand, keeping a favorite from year to year can certainly be rewarding. The question does, however, merit some thought ahead of time since the plants may be relatively expensive, and in some instances they can grow quite large even in a container.

Among the tropicals, a couple of my favorites for a hot, sunny patio include lantana trained as a tree form, the tropical hibiscus, and, of course, the fabulous pink-flowered mandevilla vine. Oh yes, and I think dwarf bananas and container citrus trees are way cool, and did I mention palms? Of course, what gardener worth their salt could resist the incredible blue-flowered Tibouchina tree, better known as princess flower; and I'll admit to having a love-hate relationship with bougainvillea ... she may be finicky but she's a beauty.

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