The Best Outdoor Tropical Plants
Table of Contents
- Written by Holly Hughes on April 28, 2022
Is there anything more magical than a tropical garden? Stepping into its humongous foliage, vibrant colors, and unusual shapes and textures is like being transported to another world. While it might seem that such exoticism is only possible in professional gardens, or might take intense amounts of work and commitment to attempt at home, there are in fact many outdoor tropical plants that can find a fuss-free home in your pots and gardens.
In this article, we’ll show you some of the best tropical plants for outdoors to bring a hint of the tropics to your outdoor spaces and furnish you with some showstopping – and practical – shrubs and flowers.
Whether your garden receives full sun, is perpetually in shade, only has a small patio or lacks privacy, here is a complete list of the perfect tropical plants for any space or limitation.
Full sun tropical plants
If your garden receives at least six hours of direct sunlight each day, you can say it is full sun and thus requires plants that can tolerate such intense light. While not all tropical plants are capable of doing this, there are many that can not only tolerate full sun gardens but thrive in them. Here’s three of the best.
Bird of paradise
With its signature blooms of brilliant orange and deep blue petals, bird of paradise is the quintessential tropical plant that turns any garden into an exotic rainforest. It can be grown in zones 9 to 11, once it has access to bright light, adequate water and well-drained soil.
This evergreen, broadleaf plant, also known as brugmansia, boasts enormous blooms that strongly resemble trumpets and are wonderfully fragrant. Billowing downwards in hues of pink, gold, white, orange, or yellow, angel trumpets will generally flower best in full sun. However, in particularly hot or dry areas, slight shade is needed to protect this perennial from the heat of a mid-day sun.
The paddle-shaped foliage with its beautiful variegated patterns and vivid flowers makes canna lilies the perfect addition to a tropical outdoor planter. These large-leafed beauties can be enjoyed throughout the year in zones 7 to 10 once they are in rich, moist soil and full sun. Some can even grow well over 2 meters in height!
Tropical plants for shade areas
If your garden is largely shaded, don’t worry! There are still lots of options for exotic shrubs that can survive and thrive in darker areas. Elephant’s ear grows best in full to partial shade and boggy soil environments.
Chinese Windmill Palm
Alternatively, the evergreen shrub, Chinese windmill palm, is another option for shaded areas. This commanding plant is ginormous, growing 6-10 feet wide and stretching up to 30 feet in length. Sword-like, vibrant green foliage and large yellow plumes make this an absolute showstopper in a shaded garden.
Large leaf tropical plants
One of the characteristics we most associate with tropical plants is the sheer enormity of their foliage and flowers. Large-leafed tropical shrubs are great for providing drama and privacy to your garden. Here’s some of the best outdoor tropical plants that will bring large amounts of grandeur to your garden.
A tropical favorite, elephant ears are so called due to their massive, heart-shaped leaves that flop delightfully into gardens in zones 8-10, and can even survive in zone 7 with protection. With color varieties of yellow, purple, green, chocolate, and black, these leafy beauties are a must for any gardener looking for a showstopper.
Tetrapanax papyrifera ‘Rex’
The dramatic foliage of Tetrapanax, fondly known as ‘Rex’, makes it the ideal plant for a jungle-themed garden. Fast-growing and low-maintenance, Rex is a woody, deciduous shrub with humongous leaves that will survive colder temperatures too. The perfect tropical plant for new or casual gardeners!
Tropical plants for patios
If wanting to add some flair to a patio space, there’s many potted tropical plants you can choose from.
Hibiscus is a gardener’s staple when it comes to finding outdoor tropical plants in pots. Bright, colorful, fragrant, and adding height to your patio, tropical hibiscus is a perfect potted option for poolscapes or outdoor areas. However, due to their love of warmth and humidity, you might need to bring them inside during the winter months.
Continuing the theme of drama and height in your potted plant collection, palms are of course the perfect tropical plant to bring structure, privacy, and statement to your patio. Majesty, Eurica, and Robalinni palms are all great choices when it comes to adding texture and stature to your tropical plant collection.
Tropical plants for privacy
Due to their height and large leaves, tropical plants are also ideal options if wanting to create some privacy around your home and garden. Combining breathtaking beauty with functionality, many tropical plants are also fast-growing, making them perfect quick fixes to any exposure issues. Consider cultivating Ixora as a hedge – jungle flame is a good variety for screening – or tropical clumping bamboos.
Find more low-maintenance shrubs perfect for jungle-themed landscaping here.
The best potting soil for tropical plants
Lightweight potting soil that is a loose, porous mixture of bark and light organic matter is best. Good drainage is so important for healthy roots for most tropical plants, particularly those in containers, so make sure that any soil you use has good drainage and that your pots have good drainage holes.
And as for when to plant tropical plants, they are best planted when the soil is still warm. Generally, this is from May-August to allow time for the roots to grow and establish themselves before winter comes.
There you go! Every kind of tropical plant for any type of outdoor space. However, if you want to bring the tropics indoors, don’t forget there’s lots of indoor tropical shrub options at Plants.com. Check out our guides to the best indoor plants for your coffee table, dining room, or office space for inspiration.
For year-round tropical goodness, you can even choose a monthly subscription package and select your favorite exotic blooms. Check out subscription options from MonthlyClubs, BloomsyBox, or EnjoyFlowers for more!
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