When you can’t get to the tropics, why not bring the tropics to you?

While we're still cautiously quarantining, now might be the time to create an oasis of your own.

Tropical gardens like lots of sun, soaring temperatures and plenty of daylight so they're just made for our subtropical climate in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 8 and 9. Our frequent rains help, too.

You can design a garden that includes flora from tropical climates that are low maintenance and beautiful.

You want the plantings to be dense to get the right look. The more exotic, colorful and bright the flowers are, the more you will feel like you’re really in a tropical garden.

Start with large-leaved plants that add a dramatic tropical statement. They will need room, so consider their placement and then work from there. If you have palm trees or wish to plant some, they can set the backdrop.

Here are some large-leaf plants to consider:

  • Cut-leaf philodendron has glossy green leaves that can grow 4 feet across one leaf and as tall as 10 feet. It prefers shade or partial sun. Xanadu is a popular cultivar that's compact with smaller leaves. Take care with these plants because all parts are poisonous if ingested.
  • Elephant ears have large leaves ranging in color from green to purple; some are variegated. They grow 3 to 6 feet tall with leaves spanning 3 feet or more across.
  • Giant taro or upright elephant ear has large, long, shiny green, purple or variegated blades that can grow 4 to 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Plant it in sun to partial shade.
  • Ti plant has slender, sword-like leaves with vibrant colors of fuchsia, burgundy, green and cream. It grows to 4 to 6 feet tall with a palm-like appearance. Plant it in full sun or filtered shade.
  • Cannas have large, colorful foliage with broad leaves 6 to 12 inches long and range in color from green to bronze to deep lavender. Cannas also produce beautiful flowers of red, pink, yellow, orange and cream.
  • Banana plants have large lush leaves that add great texture. Grow them in partial shade to full sun. The bananas are a bonus.

Vines are another essential element of a tropical garden design. Here are some to consider:

  • Allamanda cathartica has prolific yellow flowers with elliptical green leaves and thrives in full sun.
  • Mandevilla is an evergreen vine with large deep green leaves and pink tubular flowers. Alice du Pont is the most popular variety. Plant it in full sun to partial shade and be sure to provide a trellis.
  • Passionflower is a native vine that thrives in high humidity. It can be prolific in full to partial sun and in any soil. With its unique blooms, passionflower is the host plant for the Gulf Coast fritillary butterfly.
  • Bougainvillea, a vigorous, evergreen, woody vine with thorns, and a very popular tropical plant. The flowers, actually bracts, come in bright colors of fuchsia, purple, pink, orange and white. They thrive in full sun and are prolific bloomers.
  • Coral vine is easy-care, with large, hanging clusters of pink, red or white flowers. A vigorous grower with heart-shaped leaves and a long bloom season, coral vine is drought tolerant. It prefers full sun and thrives in almost any kind of soil.

Perennial, showy flowers that can create a tropical effect include:

  • Hardy hibiscus come in all shapes, color and sizes. Chinese hibiscus, Rose of China H. rosa-sinensis, is the most popular of the hibiscus. Today, the hundreds of hybrids are available in thousands of color combinations.
  • Giant bird of paradise has vibrant orange, cranelike flowers against huge, blue-green leaves. A striking tropical bloomer, this plant prefers full sun to part shade.
  • Esperanza, yellow bells is a deciduous shrub that produces bright yellow, bell-shaped flowers from late spring to winter. It likes full sun and will grow 3 to 5 feet tall.
  • Firecracker plant is an evergreen shrub with red and yellow tubular flowers on cascading stems. Planted in full sun to part shade, it grows 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide.
  • Hummingbird bush is a shrub that grows to 6 to 10 feet tall and produces red-orange tubular flowers from early summer to late fall. It performs best in full sun. Try Lime Sizzler, a Louisiana Super Plant.

Tropical plants for shade include:

  • Firespike is one of the best blooming plants for shady areas. Blooms grow above the foliage on long shoots in brilliant spikes of deep red, violet and purple. Firespike can be grown in heavy clay soils and wet conditions.
  • Caladiums make a strong visual statement when planted in one mass color with shades that range from pure white to burgundy. The many variegated types in between can brighten a shady garden.
  • Bleeding heart vine prefers partial shade. Its spectacular flowers are cream-colored and heart-shaped with protruding red petals and long white stamens.
  • Gingers have thousands of species to choose from, and they thrive in shade with adequate moisture.

Water puts the finishing touch on your tropical oasis. Place a water feature or fountain in your design.


Email questions to gardennews@agcenter.lsu.edu.