Gardening with Tropicals

Here on the northern edge of the United States, we can really appreciate the value of a sunny getaway after a long, cold winter. But why fret about spending all that money on a short-lived vacation when you can bring the tropics right to your doorstep? Grow your own exotic oasis and set your home and garden apart from the rest by gardening with gorgeous tropicals. Though they might not enjoy our unpredictable outdoor temperatures, tropicals can easily flourish in our homes with the help of some of these simple care tips.

How to Care for Tropical Plants

Although your plants may have been raised in a North Dakota greenhouse, that doesn't mean they've lost touch with their tropical roots. The key to gardening with tropicals is to replicate the same humid conditions to which they are accustomed. They've spent a long time adapting to the exotic conditions of equatorial rainforests and South Pacific regions. Check the tag of your new tropical plants to find out what their specific needs are. While growing conditions and plant care will vary between plant species, there are some basic rules to gardening with tropicals.

Lighting for Tropical Plants

When you think of the tropics, the first thing that might come to mind is an exotic paradise with blue skies and a blazing sun. While this might work well for some plants, tropical plant care isn't one-size-fits-all. Most tropical plants enjoy the sunshine but would prefer indirect rays to prevent sunburn on their foliage.
If you notice brown spots on the leaves, they might be getting too much direct light. On the other hand, if their normally vibrant foliage is fading or yellowing, or if their stems are growing long and lanky, your plant might be stretching for more of those UV rays.

Watering Tropicals

Keeping your tropical plants warm and well-watered is essential to replicate the humid conditions they thrive in. Striking the right balance of evenly moist, but not wet, soils can be tricky since tropicals are more sensitive to improper irrigation. Inadequate watering will pale their normally vibrant colors and stunt their growth, but overwatering is the number one killer. Soggy soils lead to root rot, which is detrimental to the entire plant.
The easiest way to figure out if your tropical needs to be watered is to simply poke your finger in the soil and judge for yourself! If the top few inches still feel moist, you don't need to water it quite yet. If it feels dry, it's time to quench those thirsty roots.
Tropicals are sensitive not just to moisture changes, but also to the salts that build up in the soil from the water itself. When it's time to water your plants, soak the soil until water pours freely from the drainage holes, flushing out salts in the process. Let this excess water drain for a few minutes before emptying the dish to avoid puddles and wet feet.
Watering the roots is important, but tropicals also need moisture from the air. Although they easily adapt to the air in your house, it doesn't hurt to increase the humidity near your tropicals. Keep them near a humidifier or lightly mist their foliage regularly. Place them away from cool, drafty windows to keep them cozy and warm.

Nourishing Tropicals

For a healthy plant and vigorous blooms, you'll need to make sure your tropicals are properly nourished. The first step to healthy growth is making sure they're planted in good soil conditions. Soil preferences might vary amongst different species, but most tropicals will do just fine in general potting soil. Mix in some organic matter for additional nutrients and added drainage, especially if you tend to over-nurture your plant babies with frequent watering.
Sometimes you can do everything right and create the perfect plant paradise, but they still need just a little boost to realize their full potential. Fertilizers help your tropicals manage growth and blooming, especially during their growing seasons. Organic fertilizers are ideal because the tender roots and leaves of tropicals can burn easily in the presence of chemicals. If you do opt to chemically fertilize, do so only once or twice a year. Choose a balanced, all-purpose mix and only use half the recommended concentration.

Popular Tropicals

Now that you know how to successfully nurture tropical plants, plant care for these exotic beauties is much less intimidating! Give your home and garden an island vibe with some of our favorite tropical plants:


This woody vine is bushy enough to be treated as a shrub, but with a sprawling effect that can certainly be showcased. Bougainvilleas are best known for their heaps of vibrant bracts that surround a small, simple, white flower Leave them on the hottest part of your patio and water sparingly to brighten their high-intensity pink and purple bracts.


This specialty flowering annual is an excellent choice for tropical gardens. Their delicate, disc-shaped petals flaunt a variety of warm shades and multi-colored patterns that'll have you feeling like you're at a Hawaiian luau. Hibiscus flowers also boast showy stamens for some additional, detailed interest. Plant them in full sun and keep the soil consistently moist.


Not all tropical flowers display vibrant, colorful blooms, but that doesn't mean they're any less beautiful. Jasmine flowers provide a refreshing addition to your tropical garden with pure white petals and subtle yellow stamens. Known for their calming effect, jasmine fills the evening air with sweetly-scented nectar. While they're accustomed to hot, humid temps, jasmines need a slight chill in the fall to encourage their winter blooms.


Mandevilla vines are easily recognized for their bright, trumpet-shaped flowers and gorgeous, glossy leaves. These trailing tropicals are perfect for decorating trellises and adding a climbing element to your garden. You can also let their long, flowering fines flow freely over hanging baskets or pergolas. Keep these plants blooming like crazy in sandy, well-drained soils and bright, indirect sun.


Many of our favorite flowers need to be replanted each year, but cannas are the perfect perennial plant to ensure your garden always has a touch of the tropics. These flamboyant bulbs are known for their bright, ruffled buds and broad, veined leaves. Plant them in full sun and fertile, moist soils in the summer and overwinter them indoors to enjoy their blooms year after year.

Birds of Paradise:

You can't get much more exotic than a flashy flower that resembles a tropical bird! Also called a crane flower, you might find yourself doing a double take with this one. In our growing zone, Birds of Paradise are great patio plants. Give them good drainage and lots of summer sun to prepare their spiky, asymmetrical petals for a late-summer bloom. Once temperatures dip below 40 degrees, bring plants inside to enjoy through the winter.

Elephant Ear:

Although they don't display the bright flowers tropicals are best known for, elephant ears still bring an exotic feel with their interesting, broad-leaf foliage. They're often decorated with distinct veins, sometimes pale yellow or bright red in color. Colocasia elephant ears are a gorgeous deep purple color with bright green veins and edging. Add drama to your tropical garden with these impressive, shade-tolerant plants.

If a vacation getaway is in the distant future, the bright, vibrant colors and lush leaves of an exotic garden might be just what you need. Though they're gorgeous planted on their own, planting a variety of tropicals with minimal spacing will help you achieve a more jungle-like appearance. Drop in and pick up some gorgeous tropicals to make your home feel like an exotic getaway every day!

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