Plant A Backyard Paradise

Plant A Backyard Paradise

Layer on the canna lilies, banana trees, elephant ears and hibiscus. Cue the Jimmy Buffet playlist. Pour yourself a cool drink, and kick back in your own northern paradise. At Groovy Plants Ranch, we love our collection of tropical plants and the vacation vibe they bring to patios and pool decks. ­­­­Here are a few of our favorites to create your own escape.

  • Canna lilies (Canna) – These easy-care tropical bulbs bring a riot of color with their bright green, dark purple and even variegated foliage. In late summer, they send up towering stalks with iris-like blooms in yellow, red, salmon, orange or pink. Plant them in a sunny spot in pots or in the ground. They’ll really take off by feeding them regularly with a liquid fertilizer. At the end of the season, dig the bulbs to overwinter.
  • Elephant Ears (Colocasia) – Dial in a jungle effect with these large heart- and arrow-shaped leaves. Try ‘Blue Hawaii’ with blue-green leaves or ‘Mojito’ with green leaves mottled in dark purple. For Jurassic size, go with ‘Thailand Giant’ and its four-foot leaves. Plant them in containers and place in part sun. In winter, move them indoors to grow as houseplants.
  • Ti Plants (Cordyline) – For flamboyant color, Hawaiian Ti plants are our go-to. They’re the perfect central thriller plant for your container designs. Their long, narrow leaves radiate from a central stalk. Grow them in part sun. Try ‘Red Sensation’ in dramatic purple-red, ‘Red Sister’ in maroon and flamingo pink or ‘Candy Cane’ with green leaves striped in red and cream.
  • Giant Hostas (Hosta) – Go big with hostas for some tropical garden punch. A few of our super-sized favorites include ‘Sum & Substance,’ ‘Empress Wu,’ ‘Blue Hawaii,’ ‘Jurassic Park,’ ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘Age of Gold’ that grow four to six feet in width. Hostas prefer part to full shade and evenly moist soil.
  • Hardy Hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) – Native to North America, hardy hibiscus will surprise you in late summer with their giant pinwheel-like blooms. Plant them in full sun and keep them consistently watered. Today’s hybrids feature a variety of gorgeous blooms and foliage combinations. Try ‘Summer Carnival’ with magenta blooms and variegated leaves, ‘Blackberry Merlot’ with velvety red flowers and deep green leaves or ‘Midnight Marvel’ with scarlet blooms and deep purple leaves.

  • Pineapple lilies (Eucomis) -- This South African native is a cool novelty plant with its tropical-fruit-like flower spikes. The lilies put on a show beginning in early summer when their strappy olive-green leaves emerge. In late summer, cream flowers open and age to deep rosy purple. Plant bulbs in containers or sunny perennial beds. In winter, dig bulbsto store indoors, then replant them in spring.
  • Banana Trees (Musa basjoo) – At Groovy Plants Ranch, we’re wild about hardy banana trees. In June, they start growing leaps and bounds, show off all summer, die back in fall, withstand sub-zero winter temperatures then fabulously return each season. Plant them in full sun and fertilize weekly with a liquid fertilizer.


  • Mandevillas (Mandevilla) – This tropical flowering vine adds ongoing splashes of color with red, pink, white and apricot trumpet-shaped blooms. Plant the vines in a pot or in the ground in full sun. Provide a frame, trellis or bamboo stake for support. Try the classic ‘Alice Dupont’ -- the queen of tropical vines that climbs to 20’. We also like the Sun Parasol series with their large showy blooms and more compact sizes. Mandevillas are native to Central/South America and grown as annuals in northern states.

  • Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) – You can’t have too many of these fast-growing annuals, known as the “Hawaiian shirts” of the plant world. They bring a fun flair to summer gardens with their wildly patterned and fabulously colored foliage. They’re native to Southeast Asia and grown as annuals.

  • Crotons (Codiaeum variegatum) -- Crotons offer eye-catching, textural foliage for container arrangements and borders. They hail from the tropics and hold up in hot, humid weather. Try the classic 'Petra' with leaves veined in red, orange and yellow or more quirky 'Corkscrew' with spiraled leaves.
  • Bromeliads (Bromleiaceae) -- These stylish plants bring an exotic flair to patio containers with their colorful, long-lasting blooms and strappy, often patterned leaves. Pot a couple varieties together or combine these thrillers with spillers like ivy, creeping Jenny or sweet potato vine. After flowering, the parent plant dies, and new growth or "pups" emerge. Some bromeliads grow best in sun while others prefer shade. A couple favorites include Neoregelia 'Guacamole' and Neoregelia ‘Malbec.’

  • Bigleaf Magnolias (Magnolia macrophylla) – Yes, this unusual magnolia looks like something you’d find in a jungle, but it’s actually native to North America (Ohio to Florida). Kids of all ages love the tree’s 30-inch oblong leaves and giant blooms. Grow in most, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. The national champion is found in Tight Hollow, KY and measures 108 feet tall.
  • Birds of Paradise (Strelitzia reginaI) – Native to South Africa, these regal beauties feature long-lasting, crane-like blooms. They’re closely related to banana trees and feature similarly large leaves. In the summer, grow them in pots outdoors in plenty of sunshine then move indoors in late fall to grow as houseplants.
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