Going Tropical in the Garden – 10 Simple Tips

You don’t have to live in a lush tropical area to create a tropical feel in your garden or even on your deck or patio.

Just follow these 10 simple tricks and you’ll feel like you’re in “Margaritaville” (or a tropical paradise) in no time!

small space gardens

Small spaces can still be big on color and impact as seen in this garden created by Deb Glicksman at Urban Oasis Landscape Design

  • Even if you’re limited to a patio or deck, using well-positioned potted plants and a few extra touches, it will be a breeze to create a tropical paradise.
  • First of all, think about what a tropical garden looks like. It’s dense, lush and exotic, with flashes of bright color scattered throughout. It might even have a small structure or festive lights.
  • Choose tropical looking plants with bold colors and shapes. Start with smaller plants that are at floor level to create the feel of the forest floor and then add mid-level and then taller plants (see plant list below).
  • Add a few pavers, stepping stones or pebbles to create a meandering pathway through your little “jungle”.   These can also serve to retain heat for warmth-loving plants and help to conserve water.
  • Plan to use large and glossy leafed foliage plants in a variety of tones as the garden’s “backbone”.
  • Create areas of shade or partial shade mixed with a few full-sun spots to create a truly tropical feel.
  • Grow a canopy of hardier plants to protect the smaller, more tender ones from heat or cold.
water gardening

Tropicanna mixes nicely with water lilies in this small water feature

Add a water feature – even if it’s a large bowl or tub, filled with a few water-loving plants. For instance, Tropicanna cannas can be grown in pots and then lowered into a water feature. Click here for downloadable instructions.

Add a few pieces of furniture – anything from brightly colored wooden benches to more subtle metal pieces.

If you have a power source nearby, think about stringing some colorful lights for those special evenings, or strategically place a few solar lights to add a festive touch.



Easy-care plants that will create a tropical feel to any space

Tropical plants

No tropical garden is complete without a Bird of Paradise plant. Photo: Geoff Bryant-Monrovia Nursery

Bird of Paradise (strelitzia) features striking orange and deep blue blooms with exotic “pedals”.

tropical gardens

Tropicanna cannas bring an exotic touch to any garden

Tropicanna cannas – the name says it all! They’re available in 3 colors and can be overwintered indoors in Zones 6 and colder.  With their variegated leaves and bold blossoms, the add an exotic touch to any garden or patio.

Hibiscus Most prefer the tropics but some such as rose of Sharon varieties (hibiscus syriacus) will withstand extremely cold temps. They bloom later in the season, with large crepe paper-like petals. Hibiscus ‘Lord Baltimore’ boasts brilliant red blooms and is hardy in USDA Zones 4-9.

Hardy hibiscus

Hibiscus Lord Baltimore, available through Willowcreek Gardens.

Cordylines With their strappy foliage and deep pink and burgundy leaves, low-growing Festival ‘Burgundy’ and Festival ‘Raspberry’ are ideal for adding texture and interest at ground-level. As an extra bonus, these can be brought indoors as well-behaved winter house plants in colder climates.

Palms and Ferns   Depending on your location, palms (warmer climates) and ferns (cooler climates) are great additions to any tropical garden. For cold-climate gardeners, many of these can also be brought indoors as house plants if needed.

Angel’s Trumpets   Whether you choose brugmansia or datura, these South American plants feature hanging fragrant trumpet-shaped blooms. Their fragrance is especially strong in the evening. Caution: all parts of these plants are poisonous, so please keep them away from children and pets.


new alstroemeria

Alstroemeria “Rock & Roll” is a great addition to any Zone 8b and warmer tropical garden

Alstroemeria   Warm climate gardeners can enjoy non-stop blooms from many varieties of alstroemeria.   With their variegated foliage and bright red blossoms, Rock & Roll™ alstroemeria will add a tropical touch to any setting.

Agapanthus are also known as “Lily of the Nile”.  Pair the bright blues of Blue Storm agapanthus with bright yellows and oranges to add a sense of tropics to your garden!

tropical touch to garden

Blue Storm agapanthus works nicely with bright yellows, pinks and oranges!

Bromeliads bring a touch of sun-kissed tropics. They can be grown as houseplants and taken outside in containers during the summer. They have thick colorful foliage that grows in a natural rosette form.

plants for a tropical garden

Caladiums thrive in shady conditions and can be grown even in cold climates and overwintered as tender bulbs. These are from Willowcreek Gardens

Caladiums  These are normally (and easily) grown from tubers but are often sold as full sized plants too. They come in a wide variety of colors and sizes and are great for low-growing color and texture in any tropical garden. In colder climates they can be dug and stored indoors over winter.

Succulents There are dozens of succulent varieties – from the familiar aloe and agave to the more exotic sempervivum and kalanchoe, but they’ll all easy to care for and are drought tolerant, making them ideal for a particularly sunny or hot spot in your tropical garden.

Growing roses in containers

Smaller roses like these Sweet Spot ‘Calypso’ are ideal in containers

Roses  We usually don’t think of roses as being “tropical” but with their exotic multi-colored blossoms, Sweet Spot ‘Calypso’ is sure to add a tropical touch to any patio!

Japanese Fiber Bananas Growing up to 18’ high, there are a few varieties of Banana plants that are hardy to cold hardy to USDA Zone 6, including var. musa ‘basjoo’

Yucca plants Even thought they’re not normally thought of as “tropical” plants, they thrive in hot climates yet many varieties are hardy to Zone 5. With their strong sword-shaped leaves and tall flower stalks, they make a real statement. They’re drought tolerant and are ideal in a sunny location, and can be mixed with other plants as shown below.

low water use plants

Softly draping Bonfire Begonia flowers accent a Yucca plant.

Elephant Ears (colocasia) are perfect for adding texture and interest at mid-level, with some growing to 5 feet. There some varieties hardy to Zone 6 if well mulched over winter. Some of the more tender ones come in dark colors too, like ‘Black Magic’ and ‘Purple Giant’.

Lilyturf (variegated Monkey Grass) is perfect as a low growing edging plant in tropical gardens. It withstands shade but also grows in full sun and is hardy to USDA Zone 6.

creating a tropical garden

Lilyturf is a low-growing low-maintenance plant idea for tropical gardens. Photo: Hort Printers


Tropicanna® in pond

A combination of ornamental grasses, succulents and water plants all work together to create this little backyard oasis.


easy container ideas

Paint a wall bright periwinkle blue to bring more exotic colors into the mix.


Tropicanna backlit by sun

It’s easy to add swaths of color with exotic Tropicanna canna. Even when not in bloom, the foliage adds a tropical feel to any garden, patio or landscape.





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