Have the pristine beaches, turquoise waters, and lush jungles of a tropical vacation been calling? Why not try the next best thing and turn your garden into a tropical oasis? Annual tropical shrubs make it easy to give your garden that exotic look.
These tropical garden plants bear vivid-colored flowers with unusual shapes and heady fragrances, and unique leaves.
From dangling trumpet-shaped flowers to bloom clusters, these shrubs are sure to delight visitors to your garden. Though they’re perennials in their native tropics, grow them as annuals in lower hardiness zones, or even overwinter them indoors.
- Annual Shrubs from the Tropics
- Where to Plant Annual Tropical Shrubs
- When to Plant Tropical Plants
- Tropical Hydrangea (Dombeya wallichii)
- Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides)
- Chinese Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) – A Bold Tropical Shrub
- Canna Lily (Canna indica)
- Shrimp Plant (Justicia brandegeeana)
- Bush Clock Vine (Thunbergia erecta) – A Subdued Tropical Shrub
- Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia rafaella)
Annual Shrubs from the Tropics
Tropical plants typically enjoy hot, humid conditions. Though you’re unlikely to replicate the exact same environment, select the most appropriate location in your yard.
Where to Plant Annual Tropical Shrubs
While these shrubs do best in heat, confirm your plant’s ideal growing conditions. Many tropical plants actually grow in the lower levels of the jungle, protected from direct sun.
Those shrubs thrive in bright yet indirect light. Tropical plants often prefer well-draining soil since their roots do not like being waterlogged.
When to Plant Tropical Plants
Although you may propagate these shrubs from seeds or cuttings, chances are you’ll purchase a potted plant. Put these plants in the ground in the spring once there’s no frost risk.
Bring a shrub in a container indoors once nighttime temperatures fall below approximately 60℉, depending on the species. Choose a location where the plant receives natural light. During the winter, give it less water and fertilizer.
Tropical Hydrangea (Dombeya wallichii)
This tropical, popular in Florida, boasts heart-shaped leaves and large pink flowers. The bloom clusters start in January, lasting for months, and smell like cake—great for attracting a pollinator like the bee.
Trim it if you prefer a smaller shrub since this hydrangea reaches the size of a medium tree. Grow tropical hydrangea as a specimen plant. These full sun tropical plants will also tolerate partial sun and whatever soil. Propagate it using softwood cuttings.
Water your hydrangea every week or two during the summer. Apply water-soluble fertilizer when planting. Prune after the flowers have finished.
Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides)
This deer resistant evergreen shrub is generally grown as an indoor container plant in cooler climates. In early spring and summer, it bears highly fragrant white blooms.
Note that gardenia is susceptible to several pests and diseases. Propagate it using root stem cuttings. Take a houseplant gardenia outside during the spring and summer once temperatures stay above 60℉.
Place the pot in a site with light or medium shade. Use peat-based potting mix, keeping the soil moist. Apply non-alkaline fertilizer every other week.
Chinese Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) – A Bold Tropical Shrub
This hibiscus has large flowers in every standard color except for blue. Grow it as a foundation plant or deck border or in a pot. Chinese hibiscus is not cold hardy, so do so once there’s no frost risk.
Select a site with full sun or light afternoon shade and well-drained, fertile, slightly alkaline soil. Water the plant at least twice weekly to keep the soil moist and feed it all-purpose fertilizer every two weeks.
You may bring your Chinese hibiscus indoors during the winter, moving it once nighttime temperatures fall below 50℉.
Canna Lily (Canna indica)
In early summer, this plant boasts large flowers ranging from yellow to nearly black. Its long, broad leaves may be green, bronze, striped, or variegated.
Plant the fastest growing shrubs in the spring at the back of a flower bed, using seeds or rhizomes. Dig up rhizomes in the fall and store them indoors for the winter or grow the lily in a pot for overwintering indoors.
Grow these giants in fertile, well-drained soil and full sun or, if necessary, part shade. Give your canna lily organic matter or balanced fertilizer monthly starting in early spring, and add slow-release fertilizer to a container. Apply mulch, and keep the soil moist.
Shrimp Plant (Justicia brandegeeana)
This evergreen bears oval leaves and tiny white flowers. The main interest, however, is the pink, red, yellow, or green spike that resembles a shrimp. Though shrimp plant thrives in warm, humid conditions, morning sun is ideal to prevent withering.
Propagate it using cuttings or seeds, or divide existing plants. Plant these small shrubs for landscaping in well-drained, loamy, or sandy soil. In the summer, water your shrimp plant once or twice a week, and give it liquid plant food.
If you like, grow this plant in a pot to bring indoors for the winter. Make sure that it receives bright light and occasional fertilizing.
Bush Clock Vine (Thunbergia erecta) – A Subdued Tropical Shrub
This flowering shrub bears fragrant flowers in early summer through to late summer and fall. The blooms are dark blue or purple with creamy or yellow throats.
Use bush clock vine as a hedge or foundation plant or in a bed, border, or container. Though some thunbergia make an effective ground cover, this one grows upright. Nonetheless, its twining branches suit hanging baskets.
Grow these sun tolerant shrubs from cuttings in full or part sun and well-draining, moist soil. Water your shrub generously and distribute mulch.
Feed it compost when planting and in the spring. Give a potted thunbergia houseplant fertilizer every four to six weeks during the growing season, and overwinter it indoors.
Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia rafaella)
This shrub bears long, fragrant, bugle-shaped flowers intermittently until late fall. Angel’s trumpet grows as a woody shrub or small tree and attracts hummingbirds. Propagate it using seeds or short-stem cuttings.
Find a site with full sun, or afternoon shade in warmer regions, and acidic soil. If you grow it in a plastic pot, use well-draining potting mix, and bring it indoors for cool weather. Water your plant thoroughly and often but don’t get the soil soggy.
Feed it a water-soluble, bloom-boosting fertilizer at least once a week, and two or three times a week for larger plants. Note that angel’s trumpet is extremely toxic if you eat it or get it in your eyes or nose.
Thankfully, if you have outdoor animals, angel’s trumpet is often one of the plants cats hate, as well as dogs, so you shouldn’t have any problems with them taking a nibble.
Though you may not replicate a jungle, adding a few tropical plants can go a long way toward building a backyard oasis. Grow these species for one season, or take them indoors to keep the party going during the cold months.
From vibrant pink or yellow flowers to leaves like a banana plant, annual tropical shrubs add liveliness to your yard. Fragrance, color, and variety—what more could you want from an annual?
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