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Thursday, May 5, 2005 03:27 pm

gardening 5-5-05


You can build an exotic oasis in your yard by incorporating tropical plants into an annual or perennial garden. Tropical plants offer great elements for the landscape: huge, shiny leaves; bold, outrageous colors; and ferny textures.

Using tropicals in the outdoor garden is nothing new. Plant collectors have grown and collected them for hundreds of years. Annuals such as geraniums, impatiens, and begonias are actually tropicals.

Tropical plants tend to draw attention to the garden. These plants will make visitors to the garden wonder whether they’re in central Illinois or the southern United States. In most cases, summers here get plenty of heat and humidity, with occasional heavy rains. Along with full sun, these conditions push the growth of tropicals into high gear. These growing conditions will produce plants that look outstanding in July and August.

Many popular houseplants, such as rubber plant, dumb cane (Dieffenbachia), spider plant, peace lily (Spathyphyllum), pothos, and croton make excellent additions to the tropical border. Tropicals may be grown directly in the ground or in containers. Plants in containers may be placed by entrances, patios, and decks or plunged into the ground of an annual or perennial garden. Containers are easier to move inside for the winter.

Other tropical plants to consider include yellow angel’s trumpet(Brugmansia), Hawaiian ti (Cordyline), banana, palms, New Zealand flax(Phormium texax), and tropical hibiscus. These plants may be overwintered as houseplants.

Canna, ginger, Caladium, ginger, and elephant ear (Alocasia,Colocasia or Xanthasoma) are all striking plants that prefer rich, moist soil. In the fall after a light frost, dig these plants and store the bulbs (rhizomes, tubers or roots) in a cool, dark area until spring.

Don’t forget about tropical-looking perennials, which can also give the garden a tropical feel. Choose from goat’s beard (Aruncus),      meadowsweet (Filipendula), large ornamental grasses such as plume grass (Erianthus), ornamental rhubarb (Rheum), hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos), large-leaved hostas, butterbur (Petasites giganteus), and hardy, large-leaved ferns. Both ornamental rhubarb and butterbur boast two- to three-foot leaves.

Tropical plants can be found to fit almost any situation in the garden, from full sun to shade. In general, tropical plants should be placed outside only after the danger of frost is past. Most tropicals prefer soils that are uniformly moist, so water them thoroughly. They should be fertilized every week or two with a liquid fertilizer. Fertilizers high in nitrogen will help keep the plant actively growing and producing large, healthy leaves.

More details about exotic accents to a home garden or landscape are just a click of a mouse away, thanks to a new University of Illinois Extension Web site. Visit “Tropical Punch” at The site provides information about the selection, care, use, and overwintering of tropical plants in Midwestern gardens. The Web site focuses on 14 different tropical plants that are suited for the Midwestern environment and provides pictures showing how they work in a landscape.

Buy a Garden Club plant

The Springfield Civic Garden Club holds its annual plant sale 8 a.m.-noon Saturday, May 7, in the lower level of the University of Illinois Extension Building No. 30, on the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

A large selection of locally grown perennials, including sun-loving day lilies, miniature roses, irises, and black-eyed Susans; shade perennials such as hostas and ferns; annuals; bulbs; and houseplants will be available for sale. The plants are donated by club members.

Master gardeners with the U of I Extension will be present to answer questions.

This fundraiser supports SCGC community projects.

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