plants with tropical feel (OK proven) advice please

c1nicoleiJanuary 9, 2013

Looking to landscape around recent pool install. Thinking yucca, elephant ears, horse tail, pink muhly grass, hardy hibiscus, hostas, magnolias, juniper, hollies, heuchera villosa, deodora cedar, double knockout roses, zebra and other grasses. I also need to hide our 2 outdoor A/C units with plantings. Obviously I am wanting to avoid plants that will "drop" into the pool or clog A/C units. Thank you for advice on plants you have had success with and enjoyed in this type of setting. Central OK (zone 7)

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this is the A/C & hose area that I also desire to "mask" with plantings.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 10:12AM
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Nancy Fryhover

I think you should think about evergreens. Pines, cedars, etc.
Perhaps more an asian look than tropical. At least as a base then add some annual tropicals like elephant ears, caladium, bulbs, etc.
The texas lilac has a tropical look to me, also.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 10:57AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

The first consideration is what sort of soil you have and how well it does or does not drain. Be sure you select plants not just for the appearance, cold hardiness and lack of mess around the pool, but also for how well they will grow in the soil you have.

Avoiding plants that will be messy will be the main challenge here. Evergreens will give you foliage year-round, so some of the shorter hollies might work but I am a little worried that the reflected heat from the concrete and the walls of the house would be hard on them. However, my Burford hollies have been remarkably heat tolerant on the south side of the house. I did have to water them regularly the first 3 years but they get by mostly on rainfall here, except in 2011 there wasn't enough rainfall and I did irrigate them quite a bit.

I'd definitely avoid deodar cedar. They become huge monsters completely out of scale with the house and neighborhood. I grew up in a neighborhood where quite a few people planted deodar cedars in front beds near the front porch/front of the house in the mid through late 1940s. By the 1960s those trees were towering over the houses to a ridiculous degree and were leaning out farther and farther away from the house as they got bigger and bigger. They were not happy, having been planted too close to the houses considering their ultimate size, and people were spending a lot of money in the 1960s and 1970s to take them out.

I think yucca will work if you can find a variety that likes the type of soil drainage you have. Don't forget red yucca, which isn't a yucca at all. By elephant ears, I assume you mean the big colocasias? Mine don't always survive wet winters in my amended clay soil so keep that in mind if you have clay.

Everything else on your list likely would do well if you have well-drained soil. You could use cannas for a tropical look and they come in both tall and short varieties. They aren't terribly messy so could be planted fairly close to the pool as long as you are willing to deadhead them regularly yourself so the flowers don't make a mess as they drop. There is banana canna (Canna musifolia)that gets very tall and greatly resembles banana trees, or you could plant actual cold-hardy banana trees. There are some that survive our winters although they may freeze back to the ground.

I like momfryhover's suggestion of texas lilac (Vitex agnus-castus, also known as chaste tree. It will spread out really wide and it attracts butterflies and hummers.

If you are in an area where wildfire is not a big concern, then I think you could plant any conifers you want. If you have open land around you where fast-moving wildfires could race towards your house, I'd certainly avoid the junipers because they turn into flaming torches in wildfires. We planted a lot of ground cover type conifers after we built our house here in 1999, but we are in a rural grassland area where we have had many bad wildfire years since 2005, so we have been taking out the junipers and replacing them with plants less likely to burn. In our area, it is just too much of a risk to have junipers close to your house. We've already removed almost all the native ones within about 200' of the house, and still have more to remove because we'd like to have zero junipers that close to the house. If you're in a highly developed area without a lot of pockets of forest and grassland, this likely wouldn't be an issue for you. It is just one of those things you have to consider when making your plans. The Knockout Rose would be okay as long as it isn't close enough that the petals could fall into the pool or blow into the pool after they fell. Remember that hostas need quite a bit of shade in our climate, and choose your magnolia carefully because some of them stay a nice manageable size but others get huge.

Most of the plants I'd like to suggest would be too messy to plant near a pool, so I won't list them.

I am sure Susan will have some great suggestions for ornamentals as she has grown a great number of them in her yard in OKC, and so has Lisa.


Here is a link that might be useful: Canna musifolia

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 12:04PM
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mksmth zone 6b Tulsa Oklahoma(6b)

Cant go wrong with any canna. Some of the flowers are gorgeous and they will come back every year. I like "tropicanna" for its striped leaves.

my inground musa basjoo loose the entire p-stem but in a mild dryer winter the corm will survive and send new pups. They can also be dug up and stored dry in a cool dark area for winter and start right back were the left off.

Colocasia and Alocasia are easy growers and some get huge but like Dawn said the tubers arent hardy at all and will need to be dug and stored but thats pretty easy.

there is a forum here, its not all that active but it does have some great tropical ideas. Its the tropicalesque forum

The palm and cycads forum is pretty active and there are some zone pushers there with great looking landscapes.

In my yard i have had needle palm, sabal minor, and a couple of pindo palms that made it all last winter and crossing my fingers they do this winter. the needle and sabal got no protection. My biggest pindo got a temporary greenhouse with Christmas lights on it and the small pindo got nothing but did end up with spear pull. It did recover from that though.

If you want to have some things like plumeria, hibiscus or maybe some bananas that cannot make it through winter you can always sink the pot and move them in fall. It makes them look permanent but you can still move them fairly easy. I even do it with some citrus trees.

I know you ask for proven plants and sorry i went off on more less proven stuff but wanted to share that you can have some cool stuff that doesnt take a whole of work come winter.


This post was edited by mksmth on Wed, Jan 9, 13 at 14:09

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 12:30PM
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Great idea on the burried pots! I cover my cold hard banna with large broken ceramic pots and they have done well for a few winters but it has been milder here for years. Also my Elephant ears get a heavy mulching with leaves and seem to be well established on the NE side of my house. he pool is on the W side so I am not as sure how they will do there. I have probably 8 different varieties of Cannas and forgot to add that to my planned list. I have almost 2 acres so have plenty of room to expand. I appreiate the advice on the magnolias as well as the cedar. I will be choosing varieties that are mature size appropriate for the yard. The soil is clay as you can see). I had better soil on the top layers but the excavation brought up lots of clay and sandstone that was pulverized during the lat 2 months of construction. It is more a sandy loose clay than tight packed clay now. I plan to ammend with my compost/much that I make and am adding peat to the beds as well. I may add more sandy loam to the smaller bed by the pool as I plan to put the yuccas there and try to have a more "desert" theme there due to the intense OK heat and it being surrounded by concrete. Thank for the ideas and pointers! I also have purchased privet (varigated) bushes to plant near the pool equipment (not pictured)

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 2:01PM
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Here is the response I left for you last month when you asked about this in the Pools forum.

Here is a link that might be useful: Link from December

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 5:06PM
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Thank you for linking to this thread MiaOKC. :o)

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 6:44PM
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I cant tell you much about the type of plants you need, but keep in mind the service needed on an ac unit, the need to have proper clearance for air flow.


    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 7:18PM
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Larry. I have taken that into account. I was told 18" of clearance between unit and plants, is that right? Our neighbors have those horrid female cottonwood trees and willows that vomit out 6" of snowy fluff every year. I fugure plants that prevent anyof that from stacking up on the sides ha to offer some benefit. Not looking forward to that fluffy crap in my pool either.... :o) Copper nails anyone? We paid over 4K to have all the females on our property cut down (they were very close to the house also so they had to go after several large limbs came down during storms and damaged our cars). We have kept the males trees away from the home.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 9:02PM
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To chime in about the suggestion about Dawn's suggestion of chaste tree - personally, I would not want to plant anything that is a known bee or wasp attractor near the pool. Bees and wasps love to come drink out of the pool anyway, so can be a pain to have around, especially if you or any of your guests might be allergic (as I am). Lots of people get pools to have an entertainment feature, so you might think about that, even if you aren't personally allergic.

Last year, I would get dive-bombed by wasps as I floated around on my lounger, minding my own business drinking, my wine (plastic pool-safe stemless wine glasses for the win!) and reading a book or magazine. Scared me to death! I would flop around and shriek for my husband to get the wasp spray. I thought they were visiting a crape myrtle planted right by the pool (DO NOT PLANT A CRAPE MYRTLE BY THE POOL - BLOOMS ARE SOOO MESSY), but later found they had made a nest in our dryer exhaust vent just around the corner. So the pool was a nice refreshing spot for them to also have cocktail hour on their way home, and they thought I was the interloper! Jerks.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 9:22PM
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c l nicoli, 18" should be fine. We use to ask for 24", but that was from a manufactures view. It looks as the access panel is on the upper right, which is handy. The unit looks a little close to the house, but should be ok if nothing is stored or grown between the house and ac unit. I notice you have a gutter down spout so I expect the unit is protected from icicles or ice falling from the roof. I am in the process of installing a metal roof and it looks as though I will have to do something to protect my ac unit now.


P.S., I love the craftsmanship on the pool and house.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 10:33PM
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Thank you Larry. Mia, I am glad you metioned that. I do have several Chaste trees on the far S. side of my property (opposite direction of the pool). I LOVE this plant as do the bumble/honey bees and birds. They can be very messy in the fall also so I will enjoy them away from the pool area. I am highly allergic to only wasps (hymenoptera species) and keep my epi pen handy. Thank God I have not had to use it since I moved here in the 80's from MD.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2013 at 10:48PM
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Oh, my, oh, my, where do I start! What a fun thread!

I used to grow several Alocasias and Colocasias in the ground. They are what I call "borderline" hardy. Many of the common ones you see around town are Colocasia esculenta species, and honestly, you can buy taro root at the grocers for as inexpensive as you can get them as "Elephant Ears" at the nursery. The bigger the tuber you buy, the bigger the plant will be. Rule of thumb to remember is Colocasias require more watering. In fact, these can actually and are grown as marginal pond plants. Alocasias tolerate and need much drier soil. I grew the upright EE, which is an Alocasia. Their leaves grow more upright than the Colocasias. I really did like them. All of these come in different heights, leaf shapes, colors, design, and hardiness. These are tubers and grow very nicely in pots that can be stored indoors over winter.

These tuberous plants are in the family Araceae, collectively referred to as "Aroids". There is a pretty active forum here on GW, the "Aroid" forum. Very helpful folks there. Many hardy Araceae are the Arisaemas, Voodoo Lily, and Arums. A popular houseplant is an Aroid, the Peace Lily. All flowers in this family look the same.

Some of these Araceaes can be overwintered in the ground with heavy mulching, but ones that are very special to you would best be stored inside during the winter.

I don't know about you, but I am a bit "canna-tired". They are overplanted in Oklahoma. A few I might consider would be Bengal Tiger and Stuttgart. Both have striped foliage.

A plant that I have is Tetrapanax, or Rice Paper Plant. It's only problem is that it likes to run rampant. It is easy to pull up the pups that come up in random places, though. It will never flower in Oklahoma because we don't have a long enough growing season for it. But the leaves get very, very large, up to 2' across. The new foliage is furry white, the leaf margins jagged, and the foliage is stunning on its own.

An annual plant that is tropicalesque to me is Cynara cardunculus, or Ornamental Artichoke. You can start the seeds yourself, and it will grow huge. The flowers are pink and thistle-like, and you can collect seed from them each year to grow on. Foliage is huge /word-like, deeply incised, fronds, silvery in color.

Another tropical looking annual that grows very quickly from seed is Caster Bean. If you have young children, tho, you probably don't want to grow this very poisonous plant - Ricinus. They usually either have green or red foliage. Very pretty plants.

For some flowering plants, I think Agapanthus and Crinum lilies look tropalesque, as well as Brugmansias and some of the annual Daturas. I know a lady who grew Brugmansias in the ground, heavily mulched during winter, and they survived very well. Bulbs that look tropical to me and have been hardy in the ground in my garden, are Pineapple lilies (Eucomis species). The flowers last forever once they bloom. I bought mine in a package at Home Depot years ago. They now have those that have purple and green blooms. Foliage is long, strap-like shiny.

Variegated Shell Gingers, the striped foliage ginger, is very tropical looking. Not hardy here, though. You might think about growing some of these in pots around your A/C unit, so they can be moved if maintenance is necessary.

There are some bamboos that are not invasive, like Clumping Bamboos. Choose these over the runner bamboos. My friend grows Black Bamboo and it is a runner. The roots are so tough, a spade won't touch them.

Tapioca is another plant that would look nice as an indoor plant over winter. Comes in plain green leaf and variegated leaf.

I like Holly Ferns, too, to fill around plant bases. The foliage is really shiny, and they are hardy in the ground here, at least for me, and have a tropical look tome.

A perennial for me that looks tropical is Acanthus mollis. There are some cultivars out now, but I have the species. Leaves are beautiful, growing from the base of the plant, deeply incised, very shiny, and the flowers resemble Foxgloves. If it gets ratty looking, I just cut back the leaves and it resprouts from the base. I've had mine for almost 15 years, so very long lasting perennial. Greeks used to use them in their paintings and carvings.

Other annuals include the giant leaved Coleus series, Kong. Leaves are very colorful and HUGE. Tecoma stans has yellow clusters of trumpet shaped flowers. Sweet Potato Vines are tropical looking as well and now comes in different hues of black, reds, greens.

For vines, I suggest Mandevillas, Allamandas, and, of course, Bouganvilla. I grew Japanese Morning Glories this last summer, and they are simply gorgeous. Some of them have larger flowers, have variegated, trifoliate leaves, and they are much less invasive than the common MGs found in seed packets everywhere.

Check out plant nurseries like Plant Delights, Almost Eden, Bustani Plant Farm, for ideas, too, for a real adventure in tropicalesque plants. Some are hardy and some are not, but it is a lot of fun, and very inexpensive, to look.

Now all you need is your panama hat, sunglasses, and a Hawaiian shirt!


    Bookmark   January 10, 2013 at 7:21AM
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Spectacular ideas Susan!! I love the potato vines and thought they would look great growing over the rocks, especially the light green variety as a contrast to the drab mossy rock. I grew up in the NE and loved our glorious ferns but have had bad luck with them in the OK dry hot summers of last. I may need to try more heat/drought tolerate sp. The other plants you listed I will have to research as some are new to me. Bougainvillea are fabulous, I wish they could reach the splendor here they achieve in FL! I need a greenhouse as my indoor requirements have exceeded my free floor space in my home LOL :o) Some people have other addictions, mine are PLANTS... I am so excited to get started this spring.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2013 at 9:08AM
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I've had musa basjoo (hardy banana) growing in my garden since 2007, with no protection, other than to throw a little much over them, after they die down. For ecsthetics I wouldn't want to grow this one anywhere that it gets real windy. The leaves would shred. I grow mine against the southern side of a modular home, which seems to protect it from the worst winds. We LOVE musa basjoo!

How about caladiums? They have a tropical look. But I don't know how they do in Oklahoma.

Tahlequah, OK

    Bookmark   January 10, 2013 at 10:35AM
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seeker1122(7a ok)

if you are close to the city a place called
alligator alley have thousands of hardy tropicals.
It's a reptile store but they have rare oklahoma
hardy plants.
good luck

    Bookmark   January 11, 2013 at 3:14AM
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For those of you that showed interest in this thread, I wanted to post an update. As it is early March in OK, there are many plants that are not "showy" right now, however I wanted to show some of what we have so far. (Yes, I am excited for spring!) The larger trees are deodor cedars (the one on the right is a golden variety "aurea") and the pine is a Vanderwolf pine. Also pictured are varigated privet, Kramers red heather (purple), sungold threadleaf false cypress and Dwarf mugo pine (the mounded small pines). I also took volunteers from my lambs ears, mexican feather grass, pamas, vargiated ivy, rosemary, tiger lilies, canas, varigated monkey grass, hostas and others that I have on my property. These are very small plantings and will take time to grown in most have not come up yet. Hopefully the final product with be what I am imagining. The smaller beds have red hot poker, varigated yucca, sedum, grace ward lithodora and rose saxifraga. Feedback or suggestions welcome :o).

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 4:19PM
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view of trees

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 4:21PM
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yucca, sedum & rosemary (hiding), lithodora (blue trailing)

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 4:23PM
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stairs to the hubby does great flagstone work.... he did ALL the rockwork in thi picture including stairs and retaining wall flower beds. I still need some shade plants up in this area... would love a shade tolerant ground cover. Thoughts about ivy?? The small bushes are privet and there are nandina on the L. Many grasses and other plants that are dormant.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 4:28PM
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closer look at the mugo pine and heather.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 4:32PM
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mksmth zone 6b Tulsa Oklahoma(6b)

looking great! Funny you should post this today as just yesterday I was browsing Brian's botanical's for some stuff. He has some amazingly beautiful tropicals and actually has been breeding some to be cold hardy. Their nursery in in Louisville KY and he has some tested banana and elephant ears that have survived their climate. I am moving in a few months and will have pool area to landscape as well so Im shopping for fun stuff too.

Also if you upload your photos to a file sharing site such as photobucket you can post multiple pictures in one post by using the photo's HTML code in the message.


    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 10:19AM
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Plants enjoying the heat!

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 3:20PM
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Purple potato vines have taken over the red hot poker and the variegated yucca.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 3:40PM
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Was given a huge bag of morning glory seeds they have taken over and although I have tried to train them up some bamboo stalks they are still climbing. My cold hardy palms and hardy bananas are pretty small. Hopefully over the next few years they will catch up with the pampas grass and privet bushes which have grown very fast! The golden and regular deodar cedar have done wonderfully. Love my cosmos that are potted with my asparagus fern and zinnia in above photos. Hope you all enjoy the updates. I have been thrilled to watch it all come to life.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 3:49PM
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That has really turned out well. I love seeing pictures of before and after. It reminds me of the pools/landscaping my dad used to do.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2013 at 9:21AM
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