Patio tropics add vibrant color to outdoor landscape

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

I get tickled when a gardener asks me if a particular plant "comes back next year." When I say, "No, it's a tropical plant that blooms all summer long. It can't withstand our cold winters. It must be brought in during the winter, or you can just enjoy it during the summer and pitch it in the fall," I get a disgusted look. Then the gardener puts it back in place and says, "I only want plants that come back every year."

I would like to suggest a paradigm shift from this mindset so that new gardening possibilities would be open to you. Several tropical plants have been grouped together by a few growers and presented to the consumer as Patio Tropics. Although most of these plants have been available to consumers in warm climates for a long time, gardeners in colder climates are now becoming aware of them. Maybe you'll get as excited about them as I am.

Imagine yellow daisies against a backdrop of a small green bush growing on a standard, and you have Euryops. This tropical makes a beautiful yellow accent to any pool, patio, or deck. It takes full sun and likes it somewhat dry.

If you like lavender instead of yellow try a blue potato bush, Lycianthe rantonnei. This green bush, grafted to a 5 foot standard, is covered with petunia like blooms that make you ooh and aah all summer long. Like the Euryops it likes full sun, and does well on decks, patios, or by the pool.

I'm sure you are familiar with tropical hibiscus. Colors from yellow to pink to red and orange can be found on these bushes or standards. This plant has been in the marketplace for a long time, but it can't be beat. It likes the full hot sun.

You've probably seen bougainvillea in a hanging basket or as a bush in a small container. They are now available as a single ball poodle on a standard. Their strikingly beautiful blooms show up very well against the green foliage backdrop.

If you like vines, I suggest that you consider a mandevilla. Usually it is found with a pink bloom. Give it something to climb on, and its growth rate will astonish you. Again this plant likes full sun.

Another vine that you may be familiar with is passion vine. This vigorous vine produces large purple and white flowers that bloom all season long. Some gardeners tell me that they have had this "tropical" growing in their garden in the region for several years. Evidently passion vine is hardier than most people think.

I have just mentioned a few of these Patio Tropics. All of them do very well on patios, decks, and around pools. I would suggest that you keep them in the pot that you purchase them in. Place that black pot into a prettier pot that enhances your outdoor décor.

Patio Tropics are easy to maintain. Water them as needed. Fertilize them on a weekly or bi-weekly basis with a soluble fertilizer such as 23-18-16.

When fall gets here you have a choice. You can bring the plants into your home, place them in an area that gets a lot of light, treat them as house plants, and keep them going until next year when you bring them back outside. On the other hand, if you don't want to go to that bother, then just pitch them and buy new ones next year.

If you think about it, most of these tropicals are in the same price range as the tab for four at a good restaurant. When you think of it in these terms, you get a lot more enjoyment out of these tropicals during the entire growing season, compared to satisfying your taste buds for one meal.

Perhaps you'll try one or more of these Patio Tropics this year. I think quality and quantity of blooms will pleasantly surprise you. Don't worry about the plants not coming back next year. Enjoy them now and all season long. You'll get your money's worth.

Send your gardening and landscape questions to Paul Schnare at P.O. Box 699; Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63702-0699 or by e-mail to news@semissourian.com.

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