Have you ever seen a lush tropical garden out of the country? Do you want your yard or porch to look like you live near an island oasis? Well you might not be able to house near all the species that you may see abroad, but with a few good selections you can have your garden looking top notch and tropical. In this article I will be speaking of plants that work where I live, which is Atlanta, Georgia. We have hot humid summers followed by some low cold temperatures in the height of winter.
First off you are going to want to plan on planting twice a year in your garden. Planting once a year sounds great especially when taking time into consideration, but if you are going for tropical you better hedge your bets on twice per year. The fact that winter months can go below freezing limits the species you can plant in the winter. One way to get around that is to place a few larger cypress or evergreen species with areas you can place underplanting’s seasonally. They don’t look tropical, but when mixed with tropicals, can look very nice. This will give you room to switch up your style year after year, as well as find what varieties will work with the amount of sun exposure that you have. Keep in mind how large the cypress or evergreen will grow. There are many varieties that can easily grow larger than a standard house and depending on your yard that could become a nuisance in future years.
One tropical option that can stand out is the use of bamboo. Bamboo grows fast, looks and is tropical, and will remain year after year if you get the correct species for your location. Fargesia is a cold hardy bamboo that can grow almost anywhere in the U.S. It grows in clumps and does not spread more than 8” per year, making it a maintenance delight compared to fast speaking bamboos that can overtake a whole area in a short time.
Banana trees grow very well in Georgia and specifically zones 5-11 in the US. They will not winter over and will have to be cut back every fall when colder temperatures begin to be normal. They grow larger every year they come back creating a better garden every season. Be careful when cleaning them up, as they tend to stain clothing!
Canna Lilies are a great tropical plant for use in Georgia, they grow back year after year, come in a variety of colors and tend to grow about 5 feet tall. Canna will also have to be cut before the winter months and should be mulched heavily around the base to ensure nice growth in the spring.
Yucca rostrate or beaked yucca is cool plant to use in terms of texture. They can get large over the years but will remain the same in look if they stay alive. They are relatively drought tolerant, product a thick stalk with flowers in the spring and can provide a deterrent for people. They are rather thick and sharp so take care when navigating around them. This is certainly not a plant for kid friendly gardens.
Mandevilla produces a large vibrant flower and does great in the summer time in Georgia. They will not winter over so be prepared to do some seasonal cleaning unless you would like to take them inside. They do great direct planted and in pots as well, which will make them easier to transplant if you would like something on the inside of your home in the winter.
There are a few palm varieties that can grow in Georgia. The needle palm, king sago palm, fan palm, and dwarf palmetto palm are some tropical palms that can withstand temps as low as 10-15 degrees. They should last year after year unless we see some long lasting or low temperature storms like what we saw last year. Palm trees give a tropical look and can be a definitive element to anyone’s tropical garden.
Please have fun when designing your garden and don’t be afraid to try new things. One of the biggest factors you will have to deal with in planting tropical plants is sun exposure. Many plants that will survive year after year will end up requiring more sunlight than not. If you are dealing with a light to deep shade environment, you will probably end up with plant options that have less color and flowers. If you want a low maintenance garden that will look the same year after year I would steer clear of many tropical options and use a plant selection that is more native to your environment. If you have any questions, need some help or are low on time you can always hire us at Foliage Design Systems to plant and maintain your next plant paradise