Tropical plants belong on every deck,
patio, and sun porch. These fast growing, bold textured beauties set a sunny mood that
welcomes your guests to summer's outdoor lifestyle. Choose from these popular favorites,
or grow them all and make your deck a tropical paradise.
Green and grand: palm trees and fatsia japonica
Even where light is limited by trees or structures, use these
glossy green leaves to brighten things up. Parlors, sagos, and other popular palms grow
slowly, so buy a big one to be the centerpiece of your collection. Grow these on the dry
side, watering only when the top inch of soil feels dry to your touch. Fertilize four
times each year with a slow release formula. Fatsia japonica offers a profusion of
avocado-colored, maple-shaped leaves that swell to a foot across as they turn dark green.
Fatsia drinks heavily, so add more peat moss to its soil mix. You wont have to water
Sweet to smell: citrus and sweet olive
Grow these two small trees on a sunny warm patio and when they
bloom, open the window and let the fragrance drift indoors. Citrus, especially lemons and
kumquats, adapt readily to container culture. Tip prune each year as you make preparations
for overwinters. Cut out branches that fail to bloom for two years to new growth coming
for future flowers. Sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans) is an old fashioned evergreen with
perfumey flowers in cool weather. Whitefly can be a problem on both; use a light oil spray
in winter or an insecticidal soap with pyrethrin to control the population.
Tropics grand dames: hibiscus and ferns
With just these two plants, your deck positively screams,
"Tropical holiday!" Shiny leaves and trumpet shaped flowers cover hibiscus, and
the popular treeform adds height to your container garden. Take cuttings of hibiscus
frequently to keep growth compact; root them in sand and compost. Boston Fluffy Ruffle, or
Fishtail, all our favorite ferns can look rough after a season or so; invigorate by
cutting back. Trim nearly all the top off, split the rootball in half, and score on four
sides. Soak in fish emulsion before repotting.
Flowers and fruit: cannas and bananas
On a warm July evening, you'd swear you can hear these plants
growing. Look for dwarf cannas for faster flowers, but dont miss larger ones,
especially Tropicana, a bawdy babe with clown-striped leaves. If leaves don't uncurl like
they should, suspect canna leaf rollers and dust with diatomaceous earth or sevin dust.
Banana plants reach for the sky; give them a large pot in a big spot to grow. Water both
these plants daily in hot weather and fertilize at least once a month.
Vigorous vines: mandevilla and sweet potatoes
Vines deliver tropical texture with waxy leafed mandevilla and
sharply serrated ornamental sweet potato, Blackie. Mandevilla needs a trellis, and its
bright pink flowers look great against redwood lath. Blackie, and the chartreuse
Marguerite, can spill down the wall from baskets or crawl over any open space. Both plants
Will benefit from a systemic insecticide at the first sign of
trouble, as their appealing succulence can make for fast growing insect infestations.
When autumns chill threatens the tender tropicals, make a
nest for them in a sunny room, heated garage, or utility room if you don't have a
greenhouse. All it takes to keep them happy is temperatures above forty degrees, and
enough light to read a newspaper by. The more light and warmth you can provide above that,
the more water and fertilizer they'll need to support more active growth. If you want to
add light, consider putting a growlight bulb in a nearby lamp. Or add a two lamp
florescent fixture, one a cool white type, the other a daylight spectrum. For additional
heat, you can use bales of hay around a cluster of pots, small electric heaters, or
incandescent lights. Put a thermometer among your plants.
Pick a pot that suits your style
Clay pots: great to look at, best to use if you like to water
Plastic pots: durable and colorful, use these if you're likely to
forget watering for several days each week.
Reservoir pots: add water to reservoir only as needed, great for