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Tropicals Provide Summer-Long Color
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Many of the tropical plants grown in the beautiful Caribbean islands are for sale at your local garden center and nursery. With careful thought and planning, you can create your own little garden of paradise.
Thanks to 250 plus days between freezing temperatures, and more than 50 inches of annual rainfall, Mississippi is a great place to create a mini Montego Bay in the landscape.
I am always looking for new and exotic plants for pool or patio areas. I've seen all colors and forms of hibiscus, allamanda, mandevilla, bougainvillea, gingers, plumerias, bananas, heliconias and more.
The Chinese hibiscus is by far the most popular. Grown largely in containers, selections and prices have influenced many to plant them in the landscape much as you would an annual. Hibiscus come in a wide assortment of colors, blends and double-flowered selections.
While many flowering plants like high phosphorous fertilizers, hibiscus do not. Select a complete balanced fertilizer applied monthly. The optimum soil pH is 5.5 to 7.8. Any container plant that you water daily during the summer needs fertilizer more often.
Hibiscus cannot tolerate wet feet, so if you plan to grow them in the landscape, raise your planting area as needed.
Bougainvilleas -- with their almost fluorescent, brightly colored bracts -- are great for summer color. There are dwarf varieties suitable for hanging baskets and containers and larger ones that can be pinched back to bloom profusely in a pot.
This native to Brazil comes in a wide variety of colors and is best grown in a container. There are two commercial producers of bougainvilleas in the Jackson area and more in South Mississippi who keep retailers well supplied.
Gardeners have long debated how to get them to flower, but the producers have no problem. Their solution is to water sparingly until they start to bloom. Once bloom begins, they pinch tips to encourage lateral flowering and give a little more water.
Another native of Brazil, known there as Brazilian Jasmine, is the mandevilla. Two popular selections are Mandevilla splendens and Mandevilla x Alice du Pont. Both are vines and are prolific summer bloomers. They have dark green, lustrous leaves and large funnel-shaped, pink flowers.
They are not the least bit cold tolerant but are so vigorous and bloom so profusely, they are worth growing in the landscape as an annual or containerized for enjoying through the winter.
The allamanda is one of the most common flowers of the tropics and has large, yellow, bell-shaped flowers. There are now compact selections and varieties with pink flowers. The flowers last several days and are produced all summer. It is best to grow as an annual in the landscape or containerized where you can protect it during the winter.
Many gingers are available in Mississippi, but my favorite is the variegated shell ginger, Alpinia zerumbet variegata. With its dark-green leaves and yellow stripes, this ginger is absolutely striking. It's worth planting in your landscape even if it never bloomed. But the small crinkled yellow flowers with red and brown stripes are a conversation item compared to the foliage.
Once established in the landscape, propagate this ginger by division. These can be brought indoors for the winter where they are equally attractive. This was a particularly good idea in light of the past winter. Mulching heavily should allow it to return after most winters.
This year there are a lot more citrus trees available in the state. Look for satsumas, Improved Meyer lemon and kumquats. You can grow citrus for years in a container and have the benefit of foliage, flower and fruit. Move your plant indoors for winter.