Q. What tropical plants work well in summer planters?
Tropical container gardening can be as simple as pulling your houseplants outside to enjoy the summer breezes. Remember to wait until the weather is warm and then let your plants acclimate slowly. Put them in a shady spot first; the leaves may scorch in full sun. Tropical plants will only start to grow once the season has warmed up. Many of them love hot roots and can be kept out in the blazing sun. These plants are ideal for containers. Some are drought tolerant, but most of them should be given adequate moisture to keep them at their best.
Sometimes a single plant in a container makes an exquisite display. A large fern or a yucca will fill a pot. Bold, large-leaved, foliage plants are particularly effective as are plants with colorful foliage or unusual flowers, such as sweet-scented angel's trumpets (Brugmansia). They can hold their own and offer an architectural element to any display.
In the tropical shade garden, angel wings (Caladium) and coleus (Solenostemon) complement ferns and provide an alternative to hostas (Hosta) for the northern gardener. Angel wings do best with plenty of moisture and frequent feeding. Coleus comes in a stunning array of colors and shapes these days. They are easy to propagate from cuttings and, as long as they do not dry out completely, they are a no-nonsense garden annual in the Northeast region.
The sunny tropical garden is a textural paradise. Spiky plants such as yuccas (Yucca) and cabbage-palm (Cordyline) add a nice accent to any display. The colorful foliage of the copper leaf plant (Acalypha) and croton (Codiaeum) offer bright alternatives to coleus. Similar to coleus, the copper leaf plant thrives in both sun and part-shade.The flowering maple (Abutilon) takes the place of fuchsia (Fuchsia) in a sun-filled situation.
Cannas (Canna) and bananas (Musa) are popular broad-leaved foliage plants for the tropical garden. They do well in containers and are even happier as part of a display in your perennial border. Both of these plants are great for catching light in the garden. Foliage ranges from green to burgundy. Some cultivars have a translucent quality when they catch the light. They can either be grown as annuals or over-wintered indoors.
Vines are an important part of any tropical display. The black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia), morning glories (Ipomoea), cup and saucer vine (Cobaea), Spanish flag (Mina) and hyacinth bean (Lablab) are all fast-growing annuals. Start them indoors from seed, 3 to 6 weeks before the last frost date. Grow in 4 inch pots with an 18 inch bamboo stake to provide initial support.
The passion flower (Passiflora) can be brought inside over the winter and will flower if placed by a sunny window. The mandevilla vine (Mandevilla) can either be brought indoors with the passion flower or it can be cut down to its base.
Many of the annuals that we use for tropical containers benefit from either pinching or trimming back. Pinching produces a fuller plant. To pinch a plant, just snap off the tip with either scissors or your thumbnail above the leaf node (the place where the leaves attach to a stem). Some examples of plants to pinch: coleus (Solenostemon), Joseph's coat (Alternanthera), salvias (Salvia), dahlias (Dahlia) and the cigar plant (Cuphea).
For the best results, care is important. Always use potting soil with good drainage (any standard mix will do). Do not over-crowd your plants; give them space to grow. Do not mix moisture-loving plants with drought tolerant ones; they make bad companions. Find a good watering routine that suits the requirements of your plants. Do not supersaturate the container or let it dry out completely. Remember that most potting soils contain fertilizer. Supplement that with additional fertilizer starting in mid-summer. Some fast-growing plants such as passionflower (Passiflora), mandevilla (Mandevilla) and angel's trumpet (Brugmansia) may need to be fertilized every other week.