In the not too long ago, houseplants filled the glassed-in porches and parlor
rooms of homes in wintertime. In
the summer, the houseplants would move outdoors for a respite under the
trees. Their work was done until
it was cold outside. Then they
were moved back inside to brighten up the rooms.
today more familiarly known as tropicals, are now often grown exclusively to
perk up outdoor rooms. Angel wing
and dragon wing begonias or the lovely reddish-leaved phormiums fill outdoor
spaces with color. Then they do
double duty by moving indoors during the coldest months, adding an outdoor
touch to an indoor space.
such as angel trumpets and cat whiskers, can spend their winters as cuttings,
rooting in the light of a window or greenhouse. Still more, such as caladiums and ornamental sweet potato
vines, spend the winter indoors out of the soil, saved as bulbs and tubers for
the next growing season.
Tropical plants can perk up
the summer landscape. They thrive
on heat and humidity. They need
regular feeding to attain their maximum potential. Feed them while they are working outdoors in the
garden. Let them rest indoors
during the coldest months, withholding food and lightly watering. When new growth begins, start feeding
garden does not have to be static. Something die in the landscape? Use pots to fill in bare spaces. Slip in a large potted split-leaf philodendron for instant drama. Tropicals are the travelers of the
plant world. Indoors or out, they
aim to please.
Alocasia sanderiana is a small elephant
ear. It has arrowhead leaves with prominent
white veins. Its leaf color is a
rich shiny black. Very unusual. Low growing lacy-leaved begonias with
delicate pink flowers show well against the dark leaves of the sanderiana. The Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia splendens) has been a popular
houseplant for generations. As the
name suggests, this is a plant with a nasty side, too. Watch out for the thorny stalks. Its soft pink flowers and small foliage
also play well off the sanderiana.
the tender plants indoors before the first cold nights. Tropicals do not like temperatures
below 50 degrees F. and can be killed outright with even a light frost. Most will do well in the sixty to sixty-five
degree range or higher. Use a
window with the same or as close to the same light as where the plant grew
them back outdoors after the heat arrives, when temperatures stay above 50
degrees day and night. Gradually
acclimate them, to keep the leaves from scorching. Place them in dense shade first, for three or four days,
then into filtered light for the rest of the summer. Make the final move on a cloudy day, if possible. They can be acclimated to full sun
outdoors, but then they suffer mightily when they have to go back indoors.
ears come in an assortment of leaf and stem colors. There are green leaved, black leaved, and green and black
leaved varieties. Some have green
stems, some have red stems, and some have black stems. All are very exotic looking.
Many of the elephant ears,
with their extreme leaf size, shape, and color need to be over-wintered as
bulbs indoors. They can stay in
the ground in USDA Zones 7 and above. If in doubt about their survival, dig up the bulbs and keep them from
freezing. Replant in the spring. Even though most of them like a wet
growing area and are suited to the edge of ponds or in bogs, they need drier
soil in the winter or the bulbs will rot.
palms, yuccas, and agaves are toughies for the sunny dry landscape. Most ornamental grasses love the
Sansevieria trifasciata (also known as
Mother-in-law's tongue), Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema),
and Cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior)
are deep shade dwellers. If you
want a surprise textural contrast in the shady landscape, add Northern Sea Oats
or Japanese Forest Grass.
massive leaves and jewel colors of tender plants, combined with more familiar
shrubs and flowers, make a memorable vignette in the garden. Tropicals will be happy doing double
duty, giving year-round enjoyment. If in doubt about a plant's hardiness, pot it up and take it
indoors. Inside or out, these hard
workers cheer up their spaces.
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