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How to Care for a Tropical Plant


Some tropical plants are easier to grow than others. For example, hibiscus plants prefer living in the ground instead of in a pot, no matter what you do. For plants you choose to grow in the ground outdoors, mulch them thickly with leaves or compost in fall—and unless you live in a very frigid area, your hibiscus should come back from the roots the following spring.

You can even grow bananas outdoors in summertime. They probably won’t produce fruit, but the foliage lends a very tropical look and feel to pool and patio areas.

Many of the plants we grow as houseplants in the United States hail from tropical parts of the world. Schefflera, dieffenbachia, philodendron, ficus, hibiscus, orchids, palms and many others all have tropical origins. Some tropicals, such as flowering gingers and plumerias, do well as potted plants outdoors in the summer and then survive the winter just fine when you move them indoors in the fall before your first frost.

Grow your tropical plant in a pot if you live outside of the tropics. Place it in a pot of sufficient size using a good quality potting mix, and always include a saucer to catch extra water and help to give your plant the humidity it needs.

Fill the plant saucer with pebbles. This way, water can remain in the saucer, providing humidity to your plant, without forcing the plant to live in a puddle—which can cause root rot and fungal diseases.

Water a tropical once each week, even though some might receive daily rain in their native habitats. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings, but you might need to add water to your plant saucer with the pebbles to maintain the high humidity that tropicals need.

Spray plants with a fine mist of water during especially hot, dry weather. Make sure not to spray plants when they are in direct sun or they can get sunburned.

Fertilize orchids and other flowering tropicals with a “blossom booster” fertilizer especially formulated for them. Some fertilizers recommend that you give flowering plants a light dose of fertilizer every time you water them—different “rules” apply for different plants.

Provide plenty of light to tropical plants. Many of them do not thrive under direct sun but prefer indirect light. If you keep them outdoors in the summer months, they might respond well to an area under an arbor or large tree that receives filtered sunlight.

Move potted tropicals indoors before your first fall frost. Be sure to keep them warm and give them plenty of light. A picture window with a southern exposure is ideal. You might even need to lower a shade during very bright, sunny winter days to protect them from strong direct sunlight.

Control insect pests with insecticidal soap spray. Spider mites and scale insect are common on tropical plants, but you can keep them under control by watching your plants for ants, which carry these insects to the plant, and for a sticky substance on the leaves or flowers.

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