Tropical Gardens in the Midwest

Living in the Midwest gives you an appreciation for the seasons. From the beautiful fresh snowfall at the holidays, the first green buds of spring, the warmth of the sun in summer and the painted colors on the trees in the fall, these variations make us savor the beauty of each season.  And with the seasons comes change, and temperature change in particular.  With the winter cold ending our growing season, creating a tropical garden in the Midwest can be difficult, but not impossible.

The main thing to remember with creating a tropical garden is the characteristics of the plants.  To create the tropical look, use plants that have large, shiny leaves, bright blooms and a mix of textures.  From thick leaves to fern-like foliage, mixing the textures will help give the garden depth.

There are three main ways to create a tropical garden in the Midwest. The first way is to choose plants that grow best in containers.  Annuals like mandevilla vine, hibiscus, canna lily, durantia, elephant ear, castor bean, angels trumpet, begonias, New Guinea impatiens and coleus.  All of these plants vary in height and textures, so combining them in different ways will fill your planters and keep your containers looking beautiful even in the summer heat.

For gardeners who prefer to use perennials and plant in the ground, there are a few tropical-looking perennials that will come back year after year, even in Chicagoland. Some of the best perennials include hardy hibiscus, red hot pokers, cardinal flowers, ferns, bamboo, cushion spurge, Japanese iris, sea holly, hostas and Solomon’s seal.  An important thing to remember with some of these perennials is that they will not start growing until after the ground warms up.  For example, hardy hibiscus do not typically start sprouting until late May or early June.  So while you see your daylilies and coneflowers are sprouting up in the garden, do not worry if you don’t see your hibiscus.  They will arrive, but in their own time.

A third way to create a tropical look, especially in shadier yards, is to use houseplants. Some houseplants that you can use include rubber plants, crotons, pothos, diffenbachias, ferns, bromeliads and palms.  What’s great about using houseplants is that you can repot them at the end of the season and bring them back indoors during the winter. One of the most important things to remember with tropical gardens, is that these plants do not tolerate cooler temperatures.  If you are planting houseplants outside, be sure to bring them in as the temperatures dip into the forties at night.


Christian Goers