Create a garden paradise with a garden of tropical plants | Home & Garden

URBANA – Summer may be vacation season, but if you can’t get away from it all, create your own garden paradise with a garden of tropical plants.

Tropical plants can be planted in the ground or in containers and overwintered indoors. Treat tropical plants as annuals in the Illinois landscape.

“Tropical plants are known to love the heat and take advantage of the humidity we have in Illinois during the summer,” says University of Illinois horticulture educator Andrew Holsinger. When grown indoors, a humidifier can be a wise investment to replicate the environment it grows best in.

Some plants can be sensitive to direct sunlight, so be careful with your site selection. Plants that prefer full sun may not get their intense color if the container is shaded.

Overwintering tropical plants is also an option, especially when grown in containers. Size can be a consideration as the size of the container can influence the size of your tropical plant. Pots of different sizes can be used, but pots 24 to 36 inches in diameter are a good start. Check for pests before bringing the plants indoors for overwintering.

Use the whole garden and grow a salad in the shade

The root zone is one of the most important parts of growing tropical plants. Commercial bark mixes work well in containers, especially when supplemented with a slow release fertilizer and water retention agent. Water-absorbent materials such as sphagnum peat moss or coir should be balanced with good drainage. Add wood chips to the bottom of containers filled with potting soil.

Elephant ear is the common name for a large, broad-leaved tropical plant. The tuber or bulb can be saved for planting the following year. When planting, orient the bulb or tuber correctly. The shoots are the first to emerge and should be planted upright.

Cannas are rhizomes and can have some spreading. Many types of foliage and flowers add to the beauty of this plant when it is in a container. The rhizomes may need to be divided as they grow larger over time.

Caladiums can make a strong visual statement with a range of colors from pure white to burgundy. This plant likes moist and shady places. Enrich the soil with compost or humus to improve moisture and nutrient retention.

Tropical plants need regular maintenance. They need frequent watering when grown in containers and fertilizing with a slow release fertilizer will allow them to grow to their fullest potential. Remove dead foliage or flowers and trim excess growth to help plant health and keep plants balanced in the container with their counterparts.

Be sure to research the requirements and cultivation of the tropical plants you choose to grow. Be careful when selecting plants as some have poisonous properties. For example, castor bean contains poisonous seeds.

To complete the tropical effect, consider adding tropical-looking perennials. Clumping bamboo is a non-invasive option over other bamboo species.

For more information on caring for tropical plants, contact your local Illinois County Extension office at

Leon E. Hill