24 April 2008

Grow Tropical Plants in Temperate Climates

If you fell in love with lush plants during a tropical vacation or just want a new look, you will appreciate knowing that tropical plants love northeast Oklahoma summers.

Popular tropical plants include: Coleus, poinsettia, pentas, geranium, elephant ears, banana palm, tapioca, caladium, calla lily, African daisy and sweet potato vine. Gardeners love them for their rich leaf and flower colors.

Tropical plants thrive in the heat and humidity we have in July, August and September when many of the plants we enjoy in the spring and early summer are exhausted.

Every spring, flats of the more common tropicals fly off the shelves at home improvement stores and garden centers but few gardeners take home some of the more unusual tropical plants.

This week, a truck pulled into Blossom's Garden Center on Hancock Road to deliver 750 tropical plants from a Florida grower. Lora and Matthew Weatherbee are betting that local gardeners are ready grow a wider variety of plants with flowers in hot pinks, lush vines with vivid blue flowers and huge oleanders with sprays of pink flowers.

"We have gallon sizes at $5.99 for patient gardeners and 3-gallon trellised plants for those who want instant gratification," Lora said.

The view when you drive into the parking lot will remind you of a tropical destination you have visited or seen on television — plants with white, soft pink, hot pink, red, yellow, blue, gold and crimson flowers are lined up to be appreciated and taken home.

To use these plants effectively there are several ways to go. You can put one in a planter, add a few to an established perennial shrub border to convert an existing bed or start a new bed.

Perfect places also include poolside, near the hot tub or kiddies pool, the front porch or back door where you can see them often.

These plants will thrive until fall temperatures go down to 40-degrees so they will be beautiful for around five-months. Then, you can put them in pots that to be brought in for the winter, take cuttings to grow indoors, dig up the root ball and protect them over the cold months or treat them as annuals and replace them next year.

Here are some tropical plants to consider for your summer and fall garden

Star Jasmine — White flowers on vines with dark green shiny leaves. Sweet scent thrives in moist soil in full sun. Plant in window box, hanging basket or in an established shrub border where they can climb.Easy to over winter in the house.

Ixora coccinea or Jungle Geranium — Clusters, 2.5 inches wide, of gold or coral flowers on bushy shrub related to Gardenias and Coffee plant. Enjoys moist, acid soil.

Duranta or Skyflower — Deep blue flowers on trailing or climbing vine. Dainty leaf and flowers, graceful, arching 6-inch sprays of color. Use as specimen plant or in the border. Train to a form with a single trunk or let it flounce over an edge or at the feet of other plants. Full sun, well-drained soil, and monthly fertilizer. Good winter houseplant.

Allemande or Golden Trumpet — Yellow flowers on fast growing vine. Climbs but does not twine so has to be tied in place and trained. Combine with plumbago, lantana for striking color. Full sun, well-drained soil. Over winter indoors. Milky sap can irritate sensitive skin when pruning.

Mandevilla or Diplandenia — Light pink flowers, hot pink flowers and one with variegated leaves and pink flowers. Vines grow best cascading from an arbor, fence or tree. Sun, water, compost and fertilizer make them grow best. Diplandenia can also be pruned into bush form.

Chilean Fire Bush or Embothrium coccineum — Protect this small upright tree from the wind and enjoy the show of red-orange clusters of tubular flowers favored by hummingbirds. Hardy to 10-degrees. Slow growth for the first two years, then grows to 20-feet. Deep well drained soil.

Pandorea, Bower Vine, Jasmine — Woody stemmed, bushy vine with fragrant pink flowers. Moist but well drained soil. Prefers hot sun but part shade will work. Tolerates dry after being established. Take cuttings or save the seed for next year.

Tropical hibiscus tree, Braided hibiscus tree, Hibiscus bush form Thrives in humid hot weather. Grow in an established border or containers. Use two to frame an entry. Full sun, rich moist soil. Fertilize monthly with high potassium product. In winter, use as houseplant or protect roots in garage.

Oleander — Tough shrub with 5-inch long leaves and clusters of pink flowers. Thrives on heat so great for concrete patio, sidewalks, pools and driveways. Wants to dry out between watering.Blooms on new growth so remove seed pods and prune both to shape and to keep it blooming. Sap can irritate sensitive skin. Cold hardy to 35 degrees.

Passionflower — Large flowers in blue, purple or red on vigorous, climbing vine. All attract butterflies. Grow fast on fence, tree, trellis or arbor. Full sun or part shade will make them happy to bloom until freezing weather.

"For the price of a flat of marigolds, you can have a traffic-stopping Mandevilla or other tropical plant," Matthew said. "They can make you feel as though you are on vacation all summer."

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