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13 Plants to Lend a Tropical Feel to your Garden

When the mercury starts to climb, and creates steamy summer days, even those who live in Northern climates get into a tropical mood.  While you might not be able to walk on a white sandy beach or surf the waves, there’s no reason you can’t add some colorful plants to bring a bit of a tropical vacation vibe to your garden. Here are 12 plants to get you started. 

Contributors: Kerry Meyer

‘Coffee Cups’ Elephant’s Ear

At a glance, this might not seem like a very intriguing plant but the cupped leaves will gather rain drops until the weight of the water bends the plant stem and water pours out of the cupped leaf. It is an incredibly cool plant.  I never grow tired of watching that process. The deep, olive green foliage is handsome as well.
3-5’ tall. Part Sun to Sun. Annual except in zones 8-11.

Heart of the Jungle® Elephant’s Ear

Colocasia are great tropical plants suited to be grown as annuals in cold winter climates and perennials in warm winter climates. The huge deep green leaves are a showstopper in any garden. Some Colocasia tend to spread by runners, while others remain as a clump. Heart of the Jungle is a runner.
3-5’ tall. Part Sun to Sun. Annual except in zones 8-11.


ColorBlaze® Coleus

These foliage plants come in a wide array of foliage shapes, colors, patterns and sizes – we have 17 varieties to choose from. ColorBlaze are incredibly versatile--they are great plants in both shade and sun (keep in mind though if you have very low humidity, they may not be sun tolerant).  They are grown for their foliage so look forward to a summer filled with constant color, without the need to worry if more blooms are on their way. They add height to the middle of garden beds and are a favorite thriller for patio planters. All they need is regular watering and a a touch of plant food each season. Maintenance work is basically nonexistent so what’s not to love?
3-4’ tall. Sun and Shade. Annual except in zones 10-11.

Learn more about growing coleus

Toucan® Canna Lily

Toucan Cannas come in four colors Toucan Scarlet, Toucan Yellow, Toucan Dark Orange and Toucan Coral. Many Cannas are very tall, but the Toucans stay within a 2-4’ range which makes them perfect for landscapes and containers.  I love using them as thrillers in container recipes where they add stately elegance and traffic stopping color. They love hot weather, and are easy magnets for hummingbirds too.
2.5-4’ tall. Part Sun to Sun. Annual except in zones 8-11.

Heart to Heart® Caladium

If you are looking for the ultimate touch of the tropics it would be hard to beat the Heart to Heart Caladiums.  Not only do they come in a wide range of tropical colors, but the leaves are a constantly changing, offering a kaleidoscope of patterns.  And all of that can be happening on one variety because over time as light, temperature and fertility changes so does the pattern and color of the leaves. It’s amazing. Is there more? Yes! Caladiums are great in the landscape where I love them massed together, in mixed Heart to Heart combos, as thrillers or as components in container recipes and they were great as a houseplant all winter for me. Not only are they an easy way to color up your shady spots, but many of our Heart to Hearts are also sun tolerant. Height will vary as well, so be sure to check the plant tags or our website for specifics. We have 20 varieties on the market, with seven new versions coming next year.
15-20”tall. Sun or Shade Varies by Variety. Annual except in zones 10-11.

Infinity® New Guinea Impatiens

New Guinea Impatiens tout their tropical cred right in their name. These tropical plants have been a mainstay in gardens for decades after being introduced in the US and Canada in the 1970’s and are another easy way to brighten up the shady spots of your garden.You will enjoy the colorful plants with large flowers that come in an array of colors, and sometimes also have multicolored foliage. Downy mildew, which has become problematic for bedding impatiens, doesn’t affect the Infinity plants at all.
10-15” tall. Part Shade to Shade. Annual except in zones 10-11.


Graceful Grasses® “Tut” Egyptian Papyrus

We have three Cyperus in our Graceful Grasses program. These plants LOVE the water! They can be grown at the edge of a pond, and are also great in your landscape or containers. Prince Tut and Baby Tut® both top out at around 2 ½ feet tall, with each offering a different look. Prince Tut is a miniature version of King Tut®, which tends to grow 6 feet tall.  Both of them also get large pom poms that are quite showy. Prince Tut can be used as a thriller plant in large combination planters and is a fun landscape plant, while King Tut is best used in landscapes or planted by itself in a planter. I usually plant King Tut in a metal washtub with no drainage, basically creating a miniature water garden for him. Baby Tut has a different look to it and is often called Umbrella plant and is wider, with a different look than King Tut and Prince Tut.  Baby Tut is more often called Umbrella Plant rather than Papyrus.  All three of these plants are sure to add a fun, funky element to your garden.
Height Varies by Variety. Part Sun to Sun. Annual except in zones 10-11


Sunstar® Egyptian Star Flower

You may know this plant as Pentas and we have 4 colors in this series – Lavender, Red, Rose and Pink. They are well matched for size, have large showy umbels of small flowers and are knockouts in the landscape as well as in combination planters. These are heat tolerant, tough plants and will bloom all summer, even when conditions get challenging. Pollinators, including bees, butterflies and hummingbirds love these plants and will invite the pollinator parade right to you backyard!
18-22” tall. Part Sun to Sun. Annual except in zone 11.

Catalina® Wishbone Flower

These wonderful plants are great additions for your sun and shade garden. They make wonderful component plants in combinations and are also a good choice for landscapes as well. When grown in the sun they will do best if kept evenly moist and will adapt better to dry conditions if they are in shade. There are five different color options and a wealth of ways to use them.
8-16” tall. Sun or Shade. Annual except in zones 10-11.


Luscious® Lantana

Luscious Lantana are some of the toughest, most colorful tropical plants you can find.  With 11 colors to choose from you are sure to find the perfect one for you garden. They are wonderful in both the landscape and in containers, and will attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds all summer long. I make it a point to include lantana in my garden because they are beautifully tough plants that help to keep the garden a hive of activity as the hummingbirds zip in, the bees crowd around and the butterflies flit from plant to plant.
20-30” Tall. Sun. Annual except in zones 9-11.


Hippo® Polka Dot Plant

You may be familiar with Polka Dot Plant from the houseplant section of your favorite garden center. The Hippo series is much larger than your standard Polka Dot Plant and comes in four colors--red, pink, rose and white. Terrific in a shade setting, the speckled leaves and good size plants make them a natural choice for mixed container recipes for shady spots.
16-22” Tall.  Part Shade to Shade. Annual except in zones 10-11.


Sweet Caroline Sweet Potato Vines

You may know sweet potato vines best as a component to spill out of patio planters and hanging baskets, but they also make a wonderful annual groundcover, where they cover the ground quickly. We have 10 varieties in this series, which features both heart-leaf and palmate leaves in bronze, chartreuse and black and one that we named Medusa Green if you are looking for something fun and funky. These easy to grow, colorful plants are a mainstay in gardens for a reason!
6-12” Tall.  Part Sun to Sun. Annual except in zone 11.


Pegasus® Begonia

Pegasus is a gorgeous, interesting plant. The first thing you notice are the thick, deep green, glossy leaves with a silver overlay, but its stately look takes it from interesting to a must-have. It is beautiful grown by itself in a pot, but also makes an exceptional thriller in combination planters. It is a wonderful component in shade combinations with other foliage plants and is a standout when mixed with flowering shade components. Pegasus is one of those plants that deserves to be much more popular than it is.
12-18” Tall.  Part Shade to Shade. Annual except in zones 9-11.


Learn More:
10 Tropical Backyard Ideas
Explore combination planters that include Sweet Caroline Sweet Potato Vines.
Consider This Colorful Caladium Pinterest Board.
Watch this video that showcases Heart to Heart Caladiums for Christmas.

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