Tropical Plants for the Backyard

Perhaps it's their exotic, warm locations that woo gardeners into wanting a tropical garden. Maybe it's their showy colors and outrageously shaped flower petals compared to typical perennials and annuals. Whatever the reason, a tropical garden is special and you can create it either indoors or outside, depending on your geographic location.


It may be the state flower of Hawaii, but according to the American Hibiscus Society that doesn't stop northern gardeners from growing them indoors in containers. The popular hibiscus is a large, open flower that needs direct sun and a balanced fertilizer, according to Logee's Tropical Plants. Use 1/4 tsp. per gallon of a 15-15-15 fertilizer; however, discontinue in the winter due to its slow growth period. If grown indoors in containers, make sure the temperature is a minimum 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The Hibiscus moscheutos, "Disco Belle Pink," grows up to 3 feet with a 2-foot spread in zones 4 to 9. This hardy plant does well in wet soil and blooms from July to September, according to Missouri Botanical Gardens. The Hibiscus sinensis, "Mango Moon," is a yellow cup-and-saucer style says Logee's Tropical Plants. Grown in zones 10 and higher, its dark green foliage presents quite a show.

Heliconia and Gingers

With flamboyant colors and odd shapes, tropicals such as heliconia and gingers are the epitome of tropical plant life. Heliconia caribaea (Heliconiaceae) is also known as a "Lobster Claw," according to the National Tropical Botanical Garden. "The flowers of this species are actually highly modified leaves and bracts in the shapes of a lobster." It's hard to believe that this jagged, yellow beauty is easy to cultivate when its native to Central and South America within the Amazon rainforest. It requires direct sun and a good fertilizer to flourish. Another choice, the Heliconia wagneriana (Heliconiaceae) is a red bract with yellow lining, in the shape of a lobster claw. Grown in zone 11, this particular plant reaches heights of 10 feet, requires direct sunlight and wet soil. Or try the Etlingera elatior cv., "Red Tulip Torch Ginger," that resembles a maroon crunched tulip. The flower petal is edged in white and has short stems. Grown in the full sunlight, it can reach 6 to 8 feet tall.


A favorite among brides and florists, Gardenia thunbergia (Rubiaceae) practically enchants all with its pure white petals and sweet fragrance. Surrounded by glossy foliage, its "creamy, green buds open particularly at night" says This South African native is an evergreen shrub that can grow up to 12 feet tall. It also does well as a container plant. Another gardenia to consider is the Tahitian Gardenia taitensis (Rubiaceae). According to, it was found in Melanesia and Western Polynesia and possibly Hawaii. It not only served as a beautiful 4- to 6-foot shrub but its flower scented coconut oil was used in women's hair.


Bambusa vulgaris L. chatters when the wind blows, gently bumping against each other. Originally discovered in India and Asia, there are over 1,200 types of bamboo. Some can even deal with light frost. Grown indoors, bamboo will give you a feel of the tropics. Outdoors, tropical bamboo will suffer if the temperature goes below 20 degrees F. According to bambooplantsonline, "The more water and fertilizer you give them the higher their performance, but be careful not to overwater. Coated slow release type fertilizer is preferred." The bamboo experts also suggest container plants prefer well drained soil.

Keywords: tropical plants, tropical landscape, tropical backyard plants

About this Author

Michelle Bermas is a freelance writer and is currently working on a romantic comedy. She's been published in the "2008 Writer's Market," "The Social Cause Diet" anthology, "South Shore Living" magazine, "Balloon Life" magazine, "The Boston Globe" newspaper, "The Patriot Ledger" newspaper, MA, and more. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Pace University, New York.