Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
June, 2007
Regional Report

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The large leaves and gawdy colors of 'Tropicana' cannas bring a tropical look to the summer landscape.

Give Your Landscape a Tropical Look

Anyone who has lived in the lower south for even one summer knows that by June this place feels like the tropics! High temperatures and humidity can make life tough for plants and gardeners alike. Tropical plants thrive in the heat and are a great addition to our landscapes. They offer the lush foliage and gaudy flowers found in few other groups of plants.

These plants are especially attractive around pools, patios, and decks, or any area where you want the lush look they provide. While some are not winter hardy and must be moved indoors over the winter, others can be overwintered outdoors by cutting them back to the ground after the first frost and mulching well.

Here are a few of the many wonderful plants that can give a special section of your southern homescape that tropical look this summer:

They'll freeze to the ground most years but come back. With a mild winter you might even get fruit the next year! Plant them in an area protected from strong winds, which shred the foliage. The variety 'Dwarf Cavendish' is not always easy to find, but it will produce nice stocky plants with an attractive reddish blotching in the leaves. It also is much smaller than its towering relatives.

Most types of ginger will be dependable perennials if mulched well over winter. They insist on moderate moisture and a shady spot with lots of compost mixed into the soil. The Butterfly types, known as Hedychiums, are especially well suited to our area. White Butterfly ginger is especially nice, with its beautiful, intensely fragrant blossoms in late summer and fall. Butterfly types also come in shades of coral, yellow, and orange. Other excellent gingers include Curcumas, Alpinias, Costus, Globba, Zingiber, and Kaempferia.

What is a tropical paradise without hibiscus? We can choose from the tropical Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), with its shiny leaves and dazzling bloom, or perennial types, such as giant rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) with its dinner plate-size blooms, and our southern native Hibiscus coccineus. If you've never grown it, don't garden another year without a perennial hibiscus in your landscape. They are showstoppers.

This plant may be the Rodney Dangerfield of the southern garden. It is beautiful and gives a tropical look to the landscape. It is hardy, tough, and amazingly drought tolerant. So, what's the problem? Perhaps that it is too familiar and can suffer from leaf rollers at times. Nevertheless, it deserves more respect!

If you have not tried the variety 'Tropicana' (also known as 'Phasion'), check it out this year. Its leaves glow with hues of red, orange, coral, and green. It is one of the few plants that color coordinates perfectly with your pink flamingoes! Also look for dwarf types like 'Tropical Rose', and variegated foliage types like 'Bengal Tiger'.

Alocacia and Colocasia
These are beautiful plants with giant foliage shaped like broad arrowheads. Common colors include green and dark purple. The edible taro root belongs to the Colocasia group and makes a great ornamental.

The Hawaiian Lei flower has wonderfully scented blossoms with a beautiful, waxy appearance that last for days. No pool or deck should be without one. Don't let their beauty fool you, these plants are tough. In winter you can dig them up and move them (bare root) to a garage or other frost-free area where they'll drop their leaves and sit patiently with no water until spring.

There are many other wonderful plants available to give your landscape a lush, tropical look. They will reward you all summer long with heat-proof beauty.

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