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  Tropical Gardens in Un-Tropical Climates  

Tropical Gardens in Un-Tropical Climates

The lush foliage and splashy colors of tropical plants make them favorites the world over. Bougainvillea, hibiscus, orchids, and bromeliads – even the names capture the imagination with island allure. Growing tropical plants in less than tropical climates is a challenge that many gardeners are meeting. If you’d like to be one of them, here are some tips on creating beautiful tropical gardens.

Not all plants in a tropical garden need to be from tropical sources. Choose more common plants that have lush foliage as the main garden tenants – and spice things up with bright notes of color like paper hibiscus  or bougainvillea.

Rather than planting tropical plants directly in the ground, use them in containers that can be moved inside when the days and nights are too cool for treasured tropicals.

Don’t be afraid to crowd tropical plants in your space. Part of the appeal of the tropics is the sheer overpowering presence of all the plants. For tropical appeal, fit as many plants as you can into a small area to mimic the overcrowded conditions of a rainforest or jungle.

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Bougainvilleas are technically jungle vines. The bright flowers aren’t true flowers – they’re leave bracts. They do quite well in outdoor gardens in summer, but must be protected or brought inside before the first frost.

Remember the climate norms for the natural habitat of tropical plants. Most are equatorial, where days and nights are of equal length. The secret of getting dramatic blooming from your lilies, orchids, hibiscus and bougainvillea is to mimic tropical seasonal variations. Bougainvillea, for instance, bloom best during the moist rainy seasons – after a seasonal drought, or dry season. To force blooms, trick the plant into believing that tropical seasons exist. Don’t water the plant for 4-6 weeks while providing lots of sunlight. At the end of the six weeks, go back to a regular watering schedule.

Hanging baskets are a great way to grow bougainvillea and hibiscus – two of the most popular flowering tropical plants. Both plants are vines, and will naturally spill over the sides. Placing the baskets in a location that gets at least five full hours of sun daily will encourage the best blooming.

Choose plants in complementary colors – and don’t forget foliage colors as dramatic accents. Tropical plants are among the most vibrantly colored plants in the world. Green isn’t just green – there’s the silvery green of palm grass, the vivid green of jades and palm plants, or the purple-tinged leaves of many bromeliads. Make use of the shadings of foliage to create stunning contrasts of texture and color.

Water when dry – and ONLY when dry. Most tropicals need LOTS of water during their growing season – but will suffer greatly if they’re over-watered. Use soil mixtures that drain well, and check soil moisture frequently. If the soil seems dry, water.

Move indoors BEFORE the first frost. As little as four hours at frost temperature is enough to kill most tropical plants. If you don’t have the luxury of a greenhouse, bring plants indoors before the first frost to protect plants from freezing.

 Tropical plants that do especially well in non-tropical settings include bromeliads like the pineapple, hibiscus, plumeria and bougainvillea.