I am now listening to the “Laid Back Beach Music” station on Pandora featuring Bob Marley, and it’s immediately transporting me back to the tropics. The January before lockdown, my husband and I were fortunate enough to fit in a vacation to Antigua. I was overwhelmed by the beautiful surroundings full of lush palm trees and exotic flowers. However, l felt that typical let-down after returning home. I realized it was time to introduce some tropical features to my garden to vanquish that awful feeling. Anyone can achieve the laid-back vibe, aromas, and beauty of the tropics by adding a few tropical touches to your garden. Read on and learn about plants that transport you to the tropics!
Whether or not a tropical vacation is on the horizon for you, you can experience that same feel by adding simple plants to your existing garden. Here are a few suggestions of different plants you can incorporate to add that extra touch of the wild and beautiful tropics.
Palms for Pots
When I think of the tropics, palm trees are first to come to mind. The palms listed below are suitable for growing in pots, which can then be brought inside when the weather turns colder if you live in a cooler zone. Some of these palms can also be planted outdoors if you live in a warmer zone, from 8 to 12. They add beauty as a specimen plant when placed in the garden, on decks, patios, porches, in an entryway, and by a pool. More dense, bushy palms can be used as an evergreen privacy screen.
CARE OF PALMS
Place your palm in a location with the correct light exposure. Read the instructions that come with your plant.
Palm trees grow best in a light, loamy, well-draining potting mix. A good mix would be half peat moss and half coarse sand or perlite. Or you can opt for a commercial potting soil for cacti and succulents.
Water the palm when the top one inch of soil is dry. The best time to water is in the morning or evening when the sun is not too hot. The leaves may become scorched if you water them in the middle of the day. Stick your finger an inch into the pot to determine when to water the palm. If it comes out dry, give it a good watering. If it is damp, wait a couple of days before watering. Palms in pots will typically require more watering than ones planted in the ground. The entire root system is exposed to the wind, sun, and air temperature causing it to dry more quickly.
The soil should remain moist but not too soggy.
Fishtail Palm (Caryota mitis)
This palm has an unusual leaf. It looks like jagged ends of a fishtail, hence, the name. It prefers full sun to partial shade. The rate of growth will be slower if it is placed in a more shaded area. The fishtail palm can be grown as a specimen plant, as a natural screen for privacy, or as a backdrop for other tropical plants.
It can be planted outdoors in USDA zones 9b through 11.
Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata)
Fun Fact! The Ponytail Palm is not a palm! It’s in the Agave family and is actually a succulent!
If you live in an arid area, this is the palm for you. It has a bulbous trunk which stores water and has thin, long, hair-like leaves that grow from the top, giving it it’s name. It is a very forgiving plant that will grow either in bright light or in a more shaded area. The Ponytail Palm is commonly grown as a houseplant but can be placed outside during the warmer months if you do not receive too much rain.
Ponytail Palms prefer dry soil. Water them every 2 to 3 weeks or when the top 3 inches of soil become dry.
They thrive in the ground in USDA zones 8 through 11.
European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis)
This heat and sun-loving palm has a shaggy appearance with many trunks. It is a dwarf, shrub-like palm that only grows to 5 feet tall. This Fan Palm grows at a very slow rate and is extremely heat, drought, and wind tolerant.
It thrives in USDA zones 8 through 11.
Majestic Palm (Ravenea rivularis)
Majestic Palms are relatively easy to grow outside and are tolerant of damp climates and moist soil. However, this plant can be a bit more challenging indoors because it requires humid air, lots of bright light, and consistent moisture. A bathroom with sunlight, a kitchen, or sunroom would be a great place to keep this plant once brought inside when the temperatures dip.
This palm will grow about one foot per season for the first few seasons until it reaches 5 to 6 feet, and then its growth slows dramatically. It is best used as a specimen plant in humid areas in zones 9 through 12.
Close your eyes and dream of the sultry tropics. Imagine your senses running wild, feeling the hot and languid temps, smelling the perfumed air, hearing the soft winds blowing through the leaves, and seeing the clear and vivid colors of the wild and beautiful flora. Add some of these flowers to your garden and you’re almost there!
Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae)
These unusual, gorgeous tropical plants are often mistaken for banana trees before they bloom. However, once you see their crane-like flower, you’ll know exactly what it is.
Bird of Paradise thrive in indirect to full sunlight. Allow the soil to dry out before watering; every 1 to 2 weeks. They enjoy humidity and will appreciate being outside if you live in a hot and humid locale.
Use a well-draining potting mix and add some perliite to increase soil aeration.
A healthy plant will produce up to 36 flower spikes each year.
It is hardy in USDA zones 10-12.
Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia genus)
This beautiful bell-shaped, fragrant flower blooms with hundreds of blossoms in late summer. Angel’s Trumpet prefers a large pot filled with an acidic potting mix. With regular watering and partial sunlight, this beautiful plant will make you smile every time you look at it.
It comes in shades of white, peach, pink, orange, and yellow and grows outdoors in USDA growing zones 9 to 11. If you are bringing this plant inside in the fall, give it a good hard pruning.
Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea glabra)
This beautiful ever-blossoming flower grows profusely in full sun. It needs a trellis, arbor, wall, building, fence or a container with a support to help guide its vine tendency. It will bloom year round if you live in USDA zones 9b through 11.
Bougainvillea require a slightly acidic soil with plenty of humus.
It is drought tolerant and prefers to be deep watered every 3 or 4 weeks rather than more frequent shallow watering. In fact, the more you water it, the more green leaves it will produce rather than flowers. Bougainvillea comes in a variety of colors including yellow, orange, pink, purple and white.
Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
Nothing looks, smells, and feels more tropical than a Hibiscus. Their large, exotic, colorful blooms add an island feel to any garden. Hibiscus are rather easy to grow as long as you provide them with constant sun and plenty of water. You can grow them either in a pot or in the ground depending on your zone. Some varieties will return every summer in USDA zone 5 or above. For more information on Hibiscus, check out How to Grow Hibiscus Plants.
They come in a multitude of colors, including yellow, orange, red, pink, white, purple, and multicolor.
Hibiscus will thrive in USDA zones 5-11, depending on the variety. Read the label to confirm which plant is best for your zone.
Anthurium (Anthurium andraeanum)
This exotic flower exudes the tropics. It takes me back to a vacation in Hawaii, which is where you’ll find them naturally blooming everywhere. They thrive in a hot, humid, muggy environment full of partial, dappled sunlight and rich, moist, well-drained soil.
Only water the plant when the soil is dry to the touch. It’s roots are prone to root rot. They can be grown both inside and outside in pots, or in the ground if you live in USDA zone 10 or up.
Anthurium in pots prefer a half mixture of potting soil and orchid soil of perlite.
They will thrive outside in the ground in USDA zones 10 and up.
These tropical looking flowers appear to be difficult to grow, but they’re actually not. They are epiphytes and cling to trees and other objects.
You can easily attach them to driftwood or at a joint where tree limbs meet and they will do very well. For more information on Bromeliad, click Display a Bromeliad on Driftwood.
Bromeliad plants prefer filtered sunlight and humid conditions. If you live in a naturally dry area, you will have to mist your plant frequently.
The optimal USDA growing zones are 9 and 10, however, some varieties will withstand freezing temperatures.
Canna Lily (Canna indica)
Canna Lilies are rhizomes. If you live in an area where the ground freezes, dig them up and place them inside in a cool area for the winter; a cool basement works well. Give them a little sip of water occassionally. You can replant them in the spring for a glorious tropical showing.
Canna Lily prefer full sun to partial shade and a lot of water. Water deeply and thoroughly every 3 to 4 days and more often if you are in a drought.
The Canna Lily rhizomes multiply quickly, so after a few years the center rhizomes will be choked out and will have to be removed.
Fertilize your Canna Lily once a month during the growing and blooming season.
Plants That Transport You To The Tropics
Are you ready for your tropical vision? All you need are a few of these plants, either in the ground or in some pots, a garden fountain, and a few twinkle lights and before you know it you’ll have arrived in the tropics in your own backyard. Don’t forget to add a little reggae music and a mojito!
I hope you enjoyed this little excursion to the tropics. Please leave some comments below and share it with friends and family.