In this article, plants for tropical container gardens will be discussed. As we all become more experimental in our gardens, we take influences from around the world. From the tropics, we look to the brightly-coloured flowers and lush, colourful leaves. You may be worried that many of these plants cannot survive our cold, frosty winters but this is clearly not true if we look after our heat-loving plants well.
We can create tropical container gardens if the right plant is selected. Some of these plants hail from hot countries and will need the conditions to be replicated in order for them to do well in this country. Do not worry as you can use the hardy types of plants to create your own tropical paradise.
To create a tropical container garden choose plants with large leaves, the larger the better, as this will sculpture your designs. In these cooler climates, it is better to use a backdrop of hardy plants that are grown for their leaves and not necessarily for their blooms. These include hostas, phormiums, and the old firm favourite fatsia.
To give the tropical look intersperse colour plants to give the exotic look. Plants such as dahlias, hedychiums, and cannas. These will survive winters if the crowns of the plants is covered with a thick layer of chipped bark or manure. If the plants cannot take any cold spells at all, it is advised to bring them into a conservatory or a heated greenhouse.
It is possible to have your summer tropical garden with the right plant selection, which includes:
ABUTILON ‘Kentish Belle’
This is a semi-evergreen shrub that has small, triangular, green leaves, and in summer, orange-red bell-shaped flowers appear. Plant it against a sunny wall or use it as a screen to give a tropical feel to a sheltered garden. Grow this 2.5m tall plant in multipurpose compost in full sun in a very large container.
This 23cm tall, deciduous fern has evergreen triangular fronds that are divided into fern-shaped segments. The fronds then turn brown in autumn and winter. Grow this plant in a moisture retentive ericaceous compost in partial to full shade. It will contrast well with other colourful foliage plants such as Solenostemon.
AGAPANTHUS ‘Headbourne Hybrids’
This is a tall (growing up to 1.2m in height) perennial that has arching, strip-like leaves. From this cluster of blue, funnel-shaped flowers appear in late summer to early autumn. Grow this perennial in a large container full of multipurpose compost in full sun.
In cold areas, you will need to mulch the crown with compost in order to protect it. Remove all spent flowers once they have finished flowering, to keep it neat and tidy.
AGAVE AMERICANA (Century Plant) ‘ Variegata’
This large 1.5m tall, evergreen perennial has large, lance-shaped pointed, cream edged, grey-green leaves. If you are lucky and you treat the plant well and it is hot enough creamy white flower appears on top of tall stems. These blooms appear in summer. Grow this plant in a multipurpose compost in a large container in full sun. It is best to move the plant into a greenhouse, conservatory or home to protect it from frosts.
Everybody is familiar with this plant, as it is grown as a houseplant in cold climates. It is an evergreen perennial that has grey-green, fleshy, serrated leaves. Being a houseplant does not prevent it from being used as an exotic contributor to sunny container gardens. Grow it in gritty multipurpose compost in full sun in a container, where it will grow up to 60cm high.
A small 27cm tall evergreen perennial that has wonderful colourful leaves. The leaves are spiral-shaped, with purple-tinged green leaves and a swirly- silver snail-shaped markings in the middle. In autumn small pink flowers appear. Best planted in a container full of multipurpose compost in full sun or partial shade. It is not hardy and it is best to bring it indoor in the house before the first frost hits.
This 1.8m tall perennial has large paddle-shaped, purple-bronze leaves. In mid-summer to early autumn, pale orange gladioli-like flowers appear. Varieties that produce yellow, orange, or red blooms also exists. The leaves can also be colourful so it is a dual-purpose plant.
Grow this plant in a large pot full of moisture-retentive multipurpose compost in full sun. In order to survive, it must be protected from cold weather by either mulching on top of it or better still moving it to a frost-free position such as a greenhouse or conservatory.
CHAMEROPS HUMILIS (Dwarf Fern Palm)
This is a compact evergreen palm tree that has fern-shaped, divided, green leaves. This 3m tall palm when mature can bear clusters of small, yellow flowers that appear in summer. It is relatively hardy so will not require much winter protection, unless a very severe winter is being forecasted.
Grow in a very large container full of multipurpose compost in full sun. It will look stunning growing in a sheltered spot in a tropical garden.
CLEOME HASSLERIANA (Spider Flower)
A large annual that grows up to 1.2m in height and produces spiky stems of divided, green leaves. In summer, rounded clusters of small, spidery, highly fragrant, white, pink, or purple flowers appear. Grow this annual in a large container full of multipurpose compost in full sun.
COLOCASIA ESCULENTA (Black Stem Elephant’s Ear)
This 1.5m tall perennial has large, spear-shaped green leaves. You will need to plant it in a moisture retentive multipurpose compost in full sun in a large container. It will need to be overwintered in homes, greenhouses or conservatories.
Bring outside in summer, and bring indoors before the first frosts hits. ‘Fortunesii’ has dark red leaf stems and leaves and so is worth looking for.
CROCOSMIA (Montbretia) ‘Lucifer’
This clump-forming perennial has narrow, mid-green, sword-shaped leaves. In mid-summer, red flowers on tall spikes are produced. For variation yellow, orange, or reds of different shades can be planted instead. Grow this 1m tall perennial in a container full of multipurpose compost in full sun.
CYCAS REVOLUTA (Japanese Sage Fern)
This 2m tall evergreen palm has arching oval, glossy, green leaves that are divided into needle-like leaflets. The trunk itself is interesting as it has a rough brown texture. Grow it in a very large container full of multipurpose compost in full sun.
It is fairly hardy will survive most cold winter (can survive temperatures as low as -18 degree Celsius). If it gets below this it is best to move the plant to a frost-free place.
DAHLIA ‘Yellow Hammer’
A 60cm tall bedding Dahlia that is grown from a tuber, where it produces dark bronze leaves. From these leaves contrasting single bright yellow flowers with orange centres appear.
Plant it in gritty multipurpose compost in containers in full sun. It will need to be dug up in autumn before first frost hits and stored in a dry place for planting the following spring.
ENSETE VENTRICOSUM (Abyssinian Banana)
A 2m tall evergreen perennial that has large paddle-shaped leaves with creamy mid-ribs and red underneaths. Grow it in pots full of gritty multipurpose compost in partial shade. ‘Maurelii’ is a variety that has red-splashed leaves with red midribs.
EUCOMIS BICOLOR (Pineapple Lily)
This perennial bulb has wavy-edged basal leaves, where clusters of greenish, white flowers with purple-edged petals appear on spotted stems. This summer flowering bulb is so exotic looking that it would suit any tropical container garden. The flower does really resemble a pineapple, and hence its common name.
Grow this 50cm tall bulb in containers full of multipurpose compost in full sun in a sheltered location. The plant does not like to be waterlogged, so it is best to turn the pot onto its side in winter, as this will keep the compost from getting too wet.
HEDYCHIUM DENSIFLORUM (Ginger Lily)
This large 2m tall perennial has lance-shaped green leaves from which clusters of orange flowers appear. Grow this perennial in moisture-retentive multipurpose compost in a large pot in full sun, where it will make a spectacular display. It will need protection in winter with a thick mulch layer, ensure the growing crown is well covered.
HELICHRYSUM PETIOLARE (Liquorice Plant)
A short 15cm bedding plant that is grown for its trailing stems of grey-green leaves. It is perfect as an edging plant in containers full of multipurpose compost in full sun. ‘Limelight’ has light green leaves and makes a good partner to red-leaved plants.
HEMEROCALLIS (Daylily) ‘Chicago Apache’
A colourful perennial that has green strap-shaped leaves where dark red, trumpet-shaped flowers appear throughout the summer months. Each blooms lasting a day. Plant it in groups in a large container full of moisture-retentive multipurpose compost in full sun.
HIBISCUS SYRIACUS (Rose Mallow)
This upright, deciduous shrub has lobed, dark green leaves, where in late summer to early autumn, single blue, violet or white blooms with dark eyes appear. Grow this 3m tall plant in a large container full of multipurpose compost in full sun. Look our for ‘Oiseau Bleu’ as it is a stunning blue-flowered variety.
HOSTA ‘Lakeside Cha Cha’
This short perennial that only grows up to 45cm in height, has large, rounded, mid-green leaves that have creamed edges. The leaves are heavily textured with protruding, tubular lilac flowers that appear on spikes. These need to be removed after the flowers have faded.
This plant will provide a contrast to the colourful plants used in the tropical container display, especially if under planted under tall plants. Grow this perennial in a moisture retentive multipurpose compost in partial shade,
IPOMOEA COCCINEA (Red Morning Glory)
A tender annual climber that has heart-shaped green leaves. This 3m tall climber produces small, tubular, funnel-shaped, scarlet flowers with yellow throats appear in summer to early autumn. Grow this climber over a tripod in a large container full of multipurpose compost in full sun.
LOBELIA CARDINALIS (Cardinal Flower)
A deciduous perennial that has narrow, lance-shaped, glossy, green leaves. In summer, spikes of red flowers appear that are ideally grown in moisture-retentive multipurpose compost in pots in full sun. In these conditions, it will grow up to 75cm in height.
LOTUS BERTHELOTTII (Parrot’s Beak)
This short 20cm trailing perennial that is often grown as an annual bedding plant. It has grey-green furry-like leaves, where orange-red beak-shaped flowers appear. It is best grown as a container display when planted in multipurpose compost in full sun.
PASSIFLORA CAERULEA (Blue Passion Flower)
This huge 10m tall perennial evergreen or semi-evergreen climber has glossy, dark green leaves. In summer to autumn, tropical-looking white and purple flowers appear that are followed by egg-shaped orange fruits. You will need to provide support for the tendrils as it grows up against a wall. Grow in a large container full of multipurpose compost in full sun.
PHORMIUM TENAX (New Zealand Flax)
This 3m tall evergreen clump-forming perennial that has arching, sword-shaped grey-green leaves. If you are lucky and it has been a hot summer tall stems of dark red flowers can appear. This hardy plant will add tropical undertones to any container garden.
Grow it in a moisture retentive multipurpose compost in a large container in full sun.
PLECTRANTHUS ARGENTATUS (Silver Spur Flower)
This is 1m tall spreading evergreen subshrub. It has silvery stems, on which grey-green leaves appear that are followed by small spikes of bluish-white flowers in summer. It makes a decorative feature in a large container full of multipurpose compost in partial shade.
SOLENOSTEMON SCUTELLARIOIDES (Flame Nettle)
This 45cm tall perennial is often grown as an annual, has spear-shaped leaves that come in a variety of colours from pinks, reds, greens, and yellows. This plant looks spectacular grown in containers full of multipurpose compost in full sun or partial shade. You may find the plant sold under the name coleus.
TITHONIA ROTUNDIFOLIA (Mexican Sunflower)
A 1.2m tall, branching annual that has coarse spear-shaped leaves. In late summer to autumn, bright orange, daisy-like blooms with yellow centres appear. Grow this annual in a large container full of multipurpose compost in full sun. You will need to provide support and to deadhead regularly.
TROPAEOLUM MAJUS (Nasturtium)
A 30cm tall spreading annual that has green, round leaves, where red, yellow or orange trumpet-shaped flowers appear from summer all the way to autumn. The bright colours provide a contrast between taller plants. Grow it in containers full of multipurpose compost in full sun.
An unusual, slow-growing, tender shrub that resembles a palm. It has robust frond-like green leaves. As it matures brown flower cones appear. Grow it in a large container full of moisture-retentive multipurpose compost in full sun where it will grow up to 1.2m high.
Move it under cover of a greenhouse in winter and only move outside once the final frost has passed.
ZINNIA ELEGANS ‘Dreamland Series’
A bushy colourful annual that has oval, dark green leaves. In summer to early autumn, red, yellow, purple, pink, or green daisy-like flowers appear. Grow in containers full of multipurpose compost in full sun, where the plant will add colour to any tropical gardens.
In this article, plants for tropical container gardens have been discussed. As you can see there are numerous plants that can be grown to give your container garden a tropical feel, so that you have a mixture of annuals, perennials, climbers, and shrubs that can be used to give an exotic display.
If you are wondering what plants to use, this article should give you a choice of what to use. What is your favorite tropical plants that you wish to have in your container garden?
If you have a question that you wish to raise or a comment that needs to be made, please do so in the comment box below.