Plants - Annuals

Build a tropical paradise in your backyard

Larry Hodgson
Photography by
Getty Images

Bring blooming tropicals into your garden.

Indoor/outdoor foliage
Foliage plants are generally easier to grow than flowering plants. Overwinter them indoors under good light and water regularly.

There are dozens of species of palms—the signature tropical plant—with fan-shaped or feathery fronds. They grow slowly, so if you want a treelike palm, complete with a trunk, buy a mature specimen small enough to move indoors in winter. Most do equally well in sun or shade. When they get too big—some can reach eight metres high—give them to someone with more space; most will die if cut back.

Century plant (Agave americana), a tough succulent with thick, linear, wickedly spined leaves forming a huge rosette, is usually blue-green, but most ornamental varieties have yellow or cream stripes as well. It dies after blooming, sending up a massive, treelike flower stalk that can reach seven metres—but it can take 70 years or more to bloom! Overwinter as a houseplant, or keep it dormant in a cold room or frost-free garage.

Garden dracaena or cabbage palm (Cordyline australis), the traditional “spike” in the centre of summer containers, produces narrow, upright, arching leaves, stemless at first, then gradually developing a thick trunk, becoming quite palm-like. Grow as a houseplant in the winter, or store in a cold room or frost-free garage.

Other foliage houseplants that look tropical include asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus), edible fig (Ficus carica), spider plant (Chlorophytum), variegated pineapple (Ananas) and umbrella plant (Cyperus alternifolius).

Wake them gently
Most tropicals will overwinter indoors as growing plants. Those left dormant should be woken in March to get them ready for summer. Don't thrust them outdoors into full sun on the first warm day of spring; even the tough succulents will burn. Acclimatize them gradually to outdoor conditions by starting them in the shade (behind patio furniture if your balcony or terrace is in full sun), increasing the amount of sun over a two-week period. Don't put tropical plants outdoors until night temperatures remain consistently over 15°C.

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