Feeling adventurous? Leave your suitcase in the closet and pack a few tropical plants into containers and borders.
Red Abyssinian or red-leaf ornamental banana, “King Tut” papyrus and elephant ears are always near the top of my must-have plants list. Each spring, I devote space in my perennial border for this exotic trio with their contrasting leaf textures — large, rich burgundy and green banana leaves, graceful and airy papyrus and dark, dramatic Dumbo-sized elephant ears.
The three plants are fast growers and by summer’s zenith, along with purple fountain and miscanthus grasses, create the magical appearance of a tropical paradise (at least in that part of the garden).
Gardeners also are bringing home cateracterum, kentia and majestic palms and fig trees to fill large containers, underplanting with coleus, calibrachoa, caladium, begonia, dahlia, sweet potato vine, Sunpatiens, hosta, even bougainvillea. These large containers can be the dramatic focal point on a deck or patio, anchor a display of multiple flower- and foliage-filled pots, or serve as a living privacy screen.
Tropical plants thrive in summer heat, rain and humidity and can reach seemingly rain-forest proportions. Make sure your containers are heavy and large enough not to topple over from the height and weight. In the garden, fertilize every two weeks with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
Plants to consider:
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Ornamental bananas: Hardy to USDA Zone 8-10, ornamental bananas can grow 8 to 9 feet tall in the garden. Height in a container depends on the size of the pot. Large leaves may split or tear on a windy day. Most do not set edible fruit. Overwintering indoors is iffy because the environment usually is too dry. In addition to red-leafed, varieties include black-trunked “Thai Black,” Zebrina bananas (“Sumatra,” “Roja”) with maroon stripes on green leaves, “Siam Ruby,” variegated red and lime-green foliage and Japanese Fiber banana.
Pineapple lily (Eucomis): The name says it all — a pineapple-looking plant with strappy green leaves and tiny, greenish-white flowers. Full sun or shade.
Elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta): Plants reaches 3 to 5 feet tall with large green or black leaves. Shade or partial shade. Can be lifted, potted and overwintered indoors.
Caladiums: Both dramatic and ethereal, paper-thin foliage comes in a range of patterns and colors. Filtered light to deep shade. Can be lifted, potted and overwintered indoors.
Calla lilies (Zantedeschia): Potted or in the garden, these are elegant beauties. Remember to lift in the fall.
Canna: Tall and statuesque plants available in exquisitely variegated foliage and flower colors. Lift in the fall.