Tropical plant suggestions

danpa471January 19, 2010

I'm new to this forum and I was wondering if anyone can help me out. I have been making a list of tropical plants I would like to plant in my front yard. I have seen many types of plants that I don't have the names for and I would like to add to this list. I already have around 40-60 Canna Lily(green leaves red flowers) bulbs and 8-10 Elephant ear(plain green) bulbs. I also have a musa basjoo and I am planning on getting a dwarf Cavendish and a dwarf Orinoco. Now to the palms. I have 10 small windmill (T. fortunei)palms and i am planning on getting T. wagnerianus, needle, and pindo palms (mabye a Washingtonia Filifera as well, depends on how much room i have left!). I would like to expand the collection to have diff. types of elephant ears and assorted color of cannas. Any suggestions, tips, or info is greatly appreciated!

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I always think begonias make really nice fillers. Also some tall yuccas might be nice when mixed in there. Lots are tolerant of your winters so they would be fine. As far as bananas go, Basjoo is the best because you can keep it outside, but enestes are great for color contrast, and apparently saba and icecream are the fastest (or at least faster than others).
For palms, a sabal minor is also a nice one and there are lots of others too!
You can also use tropical plants like philodendrons, christmas palms, crotons, ti plants, ect... and sink there pots in the ground and pick it up in the fall (also would have to make sure the roots dont grow into the ground). Those would add a really nice tropical look too. There are lots of others too, like southern magnolias, crape myrtles, swamp hibiscus,... that are tropical in appearence and should make it through most of your winters.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 19, 2010 at 11:15PM
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bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)


There are a lot of camellias that are hardy in zone 6 and 7. Check out Dr. Ackerman's hybirds such as the "April" series. has them, and I'm sure other places have them too. Also, Aucuba japonica looks tropical anbd is evergreen too. There are several named varieties that have different splotches and markings. There are hardy jasmines and I am trying a new gardenia "Frostproof". This is it's first winter and so far it looks perfect. Not a singed leaf at all.

Just and FYI, Cannas are just Cannas, NOT Canna Lilies. They aren't related to lilies at all. I don't want to sound nit-picky but a lot of new gardeners read these forums and possibly how you heard them called somewhere (yes even nursery folks call them "canna lilies"). But there is a lot of confusion in general when it comes to plant names, and some people may think that the cultural requirements are the same for cannas as they are for true lilies. Of course they're not. So if there's anything we can do to keep things straight, it's worth trying. One of my pet peeves........please don't think it's aimed at you! We're all here to help each other and I like to help when I can.


    Bookmark   January 26, 2010 at 12:05PM
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Dave in NoVA • 7a • Northern VA

Of all you mentioned really only the Dwarf Cav banana would be truly tropical. Most the others are 7B and zone 8 hardy but do lend a tropical to subtropical effect. I guess it depends on how much work you want to do! Are you willing to dig and overwinter? Do you have greenhouse storage, or do you plan to just plant new each Spring? Are you planning on protecting the palms?

Here's an effect you can get with various types of elephant ears, cannas, xanthosomas 'Lime Zinger', coleus, impatiens, etc.

photo by Boca Joe

    Bookmark   January 27, 2010 at 9:50AM
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Tropicalzone 7,
Thanks for all the input! I'll look into them but I don't think i could have many plants that would have to be brought inside. I have very little room as it is! I was thinking of getting a sabal minor 'McCurtain' just for the hardiness but i like ones that grow more up than out. Btw have you had any experience with southern magnolia. I saw a couple huge ones in DC and was wondering if they are hardy here.

Thanks for correcting me on that one! I always new them as canna lilys but now that you caught it I won't be sayin the wrong thing anymore. Thanks for the suggestions, I'll have to look into those. They all sound really neat and I'm sure would add a nice tropical look.

I am willing to do some work to make it look good. I usually dig up all the bulbs and overwinter them anyway so it wouldn't be that big of a deal. I have a small greenhouse for storage but it's not heated so it only keeps the temp a few deg. higher. Mainly just to protect from the drying winter winds. I plan on protecting most of the palms the first couple years. After that I will only protect the most cold sensitive (like the 5' Livingstonia Chinesis i got at home depot for $8.95). I really like the effect in the picture and would like to duplicate it or something like it.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2010 at 6:22PM
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bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)

I planted a Magnolia grandiflora "Bracken's Brown Beauty" last spring. (There's a photo of the flower in my other post "Some photos of my flowers"). It grew very well and had about 4 flowers. It is now going through it's first winter here and is totally unprotected. In fact, it's in a kind of windy spot, as I am on a hill and very open here. So far it looks perfect.


    Bookmark   January 27, 2010 at 10:11PM
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danpa471, I dont have any personal experience with Southern Magnolias, but they are becoming pretty common by me. Im in a soild zone 7. The trees have seen single digit temps (for very brief durations) in the past with no protection and no damage. They bloom every year even ones that are very exposed. I guess if we got to record breaking cold (below 0) they would see damage, but some are probably 10-15 years old (maybe more) so they have probably seen everything just about everything a zone 7 can throw at it. I have also seen them around DC and some are very large there. The trees in DC have definitely seen single digits. I would rate them as fully hardy in zone 7a and higher, but I hear they do have hardier ones (like brackens brown beauty) which are advertised to handle zone 6a temps with little protection. They can probably live with just a good microclimate in your zone, maybe a frost cloth if you get a smaller one, and some snow protection when the snow is heavy. Very nice tropical looking trees that are very tolerant of cold and neglect.
Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 2:26PM
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