By Julie Karmeier, Washington County Master Gardener
Don’t forget about adding tropical plants to your flower beds this season. If you are looking for color all summer long, tropical plants fit the bill. There are so many to choose from and they can be easily incorporated into any garden design. In July and August when the annuals you planted start to struggle, tropical plants will thrive as they prefer our Illinois sun, heat, and humidity and hopefully a shower or two. Tropical plants grow at amazing rates and if you purchase a climbing variety, your trellis will be covered with stunning blooms all summer long. Keep in mind, these are not perennials and must be taken indoors, dug up or simply discarded at the end of the summer. Here are just a few of my favorites.
Tropical Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinenis): Native to Asia, these vivid flowers are breathtaking specimens and come in a variety of colors such as white, red, pink, orange, yellow and purple. The trumpet shaped flowers can grow as large as 8 inches in diameter (most varieties are smaller) but only last one day. The plant produces them constantly so there is no interruption of color.
Canna (Canna): Native to Central and South America, they are sometimes called canna lilies, but they are not true lilies. You probably remember your mother or grandmother growing them every year and faithfully digging up the rhizomes after the first frost. However, today’s cannas are probably not what you remember as the flower colors are red, yellow, orange, pink, white as well as multiple shades of these colors. The leaves are equally as interesting ranging in greens, variegated greens, and whites to deep purple to almost black. Worth another look.
Caladium (Caladium): Native to Central and South America, these plants are also known as elephant ears, heart of Jesus and angel wings. There are thousands of named cultivars coming in shades of white, pink, red and green along with striking patterns of all of these colors. If you want to grow caladiums from bulbs, you have to be extremely patient as they do not like cold and they take several weeks to sprout. If you purchase from a greenhouse, do not place them outside until the temperature is consistently in the 70s.
Mandevilla (Mandevilla): Native to Mexico, Central and South America they are also known as rocktrumpet. This strikingly beautiful plant is a true showstopper when it has time to cover your trellis with constantly blooming flowers in red, pink, white and yellow. No trellis? Try attaching fishing line to your pot and to the roof of your porch (Google this). You will be amazed at the results of this climbing gem — looks like it is climbing on nothing. As a side note, Mandevillas and Dipladenias are often used interchangeably. While Mandevillas climb, Dipladenias tend to be smaller and bushy. However, in my research, I found that botanists have now classified both into the genus Mandevilla.
If you would like more information on tropical plants, contact your local University of Illinois Extension office.
Seen above; Red Mandevilla / Dipladenia