10 Top Tropicals for Gardens and Containers

In recent years a wonderful array of tropical, subtropical, and tender perennial plants have become more widely available to gardeners. These may be marketed as summer annuals for in-ground beds or for patio containers, and include plants noteworthy for showy foliage, as well as exotic bloom. Most flourish in regions that receive hot, humid weather in summer, and many flower from early summer until frost. Below is a selection of tropicals that will thrive in our region and can be used both in patio containers or in the ground as bedding annuals. 

Alocasia LOW RIDER
elephant ear
Bulb
 
Topping the scales at a mere 24", don't let this little guy fool you.  Not only is LOW RIDER super easy to grow, its compact form makes it versatile in the landscape.  Use it in containers, borders, baskets, and even as a bed edger.  Truly, you can't go wrong.  

Sun:  Full sun to part shade
Water:  Average moisture
Height:  2 to 4 feet

Breynia disticha
snowbush
Broadleaf evergreen

Grown for its variegated, mottled leaves of white, green, and red, Breynia will definitely attract attention in the garden.  It can be used in a container, as an accent in the landscape, or bring it inside for a nice addition to your houseplant collection. No matter how it is used, this plant is sure to put a smile on your face.

Sun:  Full sun to part shade
Water:  Average moisture
Height:  2 to 4 feet

Chlorophytum comosum 'Vittata'
spider plant
Herbaceous perennial

Chlorophytum has been around for years as an old favorite in containers and hanging baskets.  Many, however, don't know if its superb use as a tropical landscape plant.  If you have an overabundance of plantlets, use them as a great border accent to your annual or perennial plantings.  Paired with your favorite impatiens, shade coleus, or even your perennial fern and hosta beds, it will brighten up any shady spot in your yard. 

 

Sun:  Part shade to Full Shade
Water:  Medium moisture
Height:  1 foot

Codiaeum 'Mammy'
croton
Broadleaf evergreen
 
Chosen as a 2019 Plant of Merit  because of its beautiful coloration and fantastic garden performance.  'Mammy' features curling, twisting, upright foliage in a kaleidoscope of reds, yellows, and greens.  Use it in a container or as a vibrant landscape accent.  If you want to make sure to achieve all the sass the photos promise, place 'Mammy' in full sun to make it shine. 

Sun:  Full sun for best coloration
Water:  Medium moisture
Height:  2 to 3 1/2  feet
striped dracaena
Broadleaf evergreen
 
Dracaena fragrans are another group of indoor plants that are popular because of their easy-to-grow nature.  If you want to try something new, try placing it in your landscape.  'Limelight' was chosen because of its bright, glossy, chartreuse leaves.  When paired with red or white impatiens, Alocasia 'Frydek', or even your Chlorophytum comosum (above), it will add that tropical feel you've been missing to your landscape.

Sun:  Part shade for best coloration
Water:  Medium moisture
Height:  6 to 15 feet, depending on maturity of the specimen
Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii'
red banana
Herbeaceous perennial
 
'Maurelii' is grown for its foliage that emerges with tinges of maroon-red that show up best when placed in full sun.  Use this stately tropical in large annual beds, in containers around pools, and even next to your flag pole.  Let it come up out of Salvia 'Balsalmisp' MYSTIC SPIRES BLUE or pair it with your favorite black elephant ears, coleus, or yellow sweet potato vine.  

Pro tip: This banana is a bit particular and doesn't like to have its roots disturbed, so if you're going to save it for next year, be sure to bury it pot and all in the soil. 

Sun:  Full sun
Water:  Medium moisture
Height:  8 to 10 feet

Ficus elastica 'Burgundy'
India rubber plant
Broadleaf evergreen
 
The luscious, waxy, dark leaves of 'Burgundy' are hard to find in any other plant.  Its large leaves add a great bold texture to plantings and its dark foliage make it easy to accent.  Pair this with Impatiens SUNPATIENS COMPACT FIRE RED and Hypoestes phyllostachya 'Confetti Compact White' for an eye-popping landscape experience!  Be sure to site it in afternoon shade or the leaves may burn.

Pro tip: This plant also makes a great houseplant, so it's a money saving win!  If you're going to save it, though, keep it in a plastic pot and be sure to bury it pot and all in the soil. 

Sun:  Part Shade
Water:  Medium moisture
Height:  2 to 6 feet depending on your specimen

Hamelia patens 'Grelmsiz' LIME SIZZLER
scarlet bush
Herbaceous perennial
 
This plant is so HOT it will make your teeth sweat.  The bright yellow and green variegated foliage will make any landscape sizzle.  The added bonus are the bright orange tubular flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds from miles around like a beacon in the night.  Use this heat loving plant any way you can, as it is fantastic all around.  It's not called flashy firebush for nothing.  


Sun:  Full sun for best color, but tolerates light shade.
Water:  Medium moisture 
Height:  1 to 2 feet tall

 
No tropical list would be complete without the addition of a great sweet potato vine.  Since there are too many good ones to choose from SWEET CAROLINE SWEETHEART JET BLACK was chosen to add drama and contrast to your landscape.  Its jet-black leaves pair best with yellow, orange, purple, and pink so have fun creating great combinations.

Sun:  Full sun
Water:  Medium moisture
Height:  1 to 1 1/2 feet
Musa 'Siam Ruby'
Japanese banana
Herbaceous perennial

With the most unique coloring of a banana, it’s no wonder that 'Siam Ruby' still makes the list.  Place this one in full blazing sun and the dark, maroon-red foliage with chartreuse speckles and stripes will make this a showpiece in the landscape.  Pair with other chartreuse plants such as Xanthosoma 'Lime Zinger' and Ipomoea batatas 'Sweet Caroline Sweetheart Lime' to really bring out the color in the leaves.

Sun:  Full sun for best coloration
Water:  Medium moisture
Height: 8 to 10 feet but shorter in a container