Plants - Annuals

Build a tropical paradise in your backyard

Larry Hodgson
Photography by
Getty Images

Bring blooming tropicals into your garden.

Flowering houseplants
Although naturally a shrubby plant, angels' trumpets (Brugmansia spp.) is most often grown as a standard (small tree) with a single, upright trunk. The dramatic, highly scented, pendant trumpets, in white, pink or orange, make this plant a star. Keep constantly moist for abundant bloom. Overwinter in full sun with regular waterings or keep dormant in a cool place, then remove any dead material in March and start watering again. Datura, a close relative, is similar, but has upright blooms.

The exotic bird of paradise (Strelitzia reginae) has spear-shaped, leathery leaves and mind-bogglingly bright orange and blue blooms that arise one after the other from a boat-shaped bract. This is a big plant that needs lots of room. If you can afford it, buy one already in bloom; it will rebloom every summer. Seeds or young plants can take years to flower.

Popular in the tropics, bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spp.) is actually a shrubby climber, usually pruned into submission here for use as a trailer or hanging basket plant. Keep it on the dry side, and the papery bracts in magenta, orange, red and other shades will just keep on coming. It prefers a cool spot indoors in the winter and may lose many of its leaves, but they'll grow back in spring.

Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), a popular houseplant that also does wonderfully well outdoors in the summer, has shiny, green, maple-shaped leaves and flat, dinner-plate-sized flowers in shades of red, orange, yellow, pink and white, sometimes two-toned or with a contrasting centre. Each dazzling blossom lasts only a day or two. Full sun, plenty of fertilizer and regular waterings produce the best blooms. Commercially grown plants are treated with a growth-control hormone that keeps them compact for up to 18 months, so don't be surprised when older plants suddenly sprout longer, more open stems. Just prune off any superfluous branches. Indoors, full sun is important. Watch out for spider mites. Nearly invisible, spider mites hide under leaves, turning them yellowish and dusty, and when present in great numbers, begin forming their characteristic webs between leaves and stems.

Citrus (Citrus spp.)—lemons, oranges, grapefruits, miniature oranges—look wonderful in containers, and many produce heavenly scented white flowers and edible fruit. Buy plants that are already blooming or fruiting; seedlings can take 10 years or more to blossom. Overwinter in full sun and cool conditions.

Oleander (Nerium oleander), a traditional container plant of the Mediterranean, will instantly transport your terrace to the Côte d'Azur. It's an upright plant with narrow, willow-like leaves and numerous pink, white, red or yellow, often scented, blooms in summer. For non-stop flowering, give it full sun and let it dry out slightly between waterings, but not to the point of wilting. Overwinter as a houseplant or in a frost-free garage or cold room. This plant is highly toxic; keep it away from children and pets.

Other blooming tropicals widely available as container plants are Allamanda, Cuphea, Ixora, Lantana, Mandevilla, passionflower (Passiflora), Pentas, leadwort (Plumbago), blue trumpet vine (Thunbergia grandiflora) and Tibouchina.

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