Think Tropical


As temperatures warm outside, many home gardeners are eager to get their summer gardens started. Spring is the perfect time to plan your summer garden, and once the final frost is out of the forecast, you can get to planting your annuals. 

When you’re thinking about how to make your yard pop this summer, consider adding tropical plants. Tropical plants can be a great way to add texture, volume, and color to the summer garden. They thrive in St. Louis’ hot, humid summers and are readily available, and most can be overwintered for use year after year. 

The William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening recommends the following tropical plants for your backyard garden:

Acalypha hispida (chenille plant, red hot cat’s tail)

This plant makes a wonderful addition to hanging baskets or containers where the pendant clusters of bright pink blooms can hang over the edge. They do well in evenly moist soil with plenty of sun, but direct afternoon sun should be avoided. Can be overwintered indoors as a houseplant in a bright location. Propagate by taking stem tip cuttings in the spring.

Mandevilla (mandevilla, rocketrumpet)

Hybrids of this vining plant are the most common in cultivation. They are grown for their showy, trumpet-shaped blooms in shades of white, pink, and red and glossy foliage. Both climbing and more shrubby selections are available. These plants will grow best in evenly moist soil with lots of sun, but some afternoon shade. Overwinter mandevillas as houseplants by cutting back the vines in the fall and keeping indoors in a bright, sunny spot. They can also be kept dormant in a cool, dark location.

Caladium (caladium, angel wings): This tuberous plant has showy, arrowhead-shaped leaves in shades of white, red, and green with a variety of patterns. A good choice for evenly moist, partly-shaded areas or containers. Too much sun can scorch the foliage. Dig tubers in the fall and store in a cool, dry location. Replant the tubers in late winter for planting out in late spring.

Canna (canna, canna lily): These tuberous plants are prized for their colorful blooms, showy foliage, and upright growth habit. Sizes range from dwarf, 1.5 foot tall selections to towering, 8-foot tall giants. Flowers come in a range of warm colors including yellow, orange, red, and pink. The tubers can be dug and stored in a cool, dark plant over the winter. See this step-by-step guide to storing canna tubers for more detailed instructions.

Musa basjoo (hardy banana): Commonly seen growing in sizable clumps in St. Louis area yards and gardens, these large plants are grown for their foliage and rarely bloom. Plant in a sunny location that is ideal protected from strong winds which can cause tears in the leaves. They can be left in the ground over the winter if provided adequate mulch to protect the roots but can also be dug in the fall or grown in a large container. For more detailed planting and care instructions, see our FAQ page.

Catherine Martin
Public Information Officer

Photos by Demi Striglos, Steve Frank, Tom Incrocci, and Cassidy Moody.

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