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Even houseplants deserve a summer vacation.
Tropical plants will survive quite nicely outside, even in Calgary, as long as overnight temperatures are above -5 C. Exotic, showy and unexpected, tropicals are fabulous accent pieces in garden containers and can be planted beside popular easy-to-grow annuals.
“In Calgary, we have a such a bland variety of plants. Everyone is yearning for a nice tropical touch,” says Hayden Ewing, managing partner of Alberta Tropical Plants, an interior landscaping company.
Native annuals can be planted around your favourite tropical plants as long they all have the same light and watering requirements.
“It’s mostly based on light. That’s the main concern,” he says. “And generally, you don’t want annuals or tropicals to dry out. You don’t want the soil to be wet, but you want it to be moist and never dry.”
He recommends repotting houseplants in outdoor containers and then repotting them to come back in the house at the end of the season. Before tropicals come in after their summer vacation, they should be treated with an organic insecticidal soap to reduce the number of bugs that often come with the plants.
Ewing suggests these tropical plants, available at most garden centres during planting season, as focal points for outdoor containers.
Canna Lily: Flashy and flamboyant, canna lilies are perennials that are tropical in nature with paddle-shaped leaves and exotic flowers. They do well in sun or partial shade and come in many varieties and colours. Best for large containers as they can quadruple in size over the growing season, reaching three or four feet in size.
Banana Plant: Although growing fruit from a banana plant is unlikely, the large leaves add visual interest. Plants are easily transferable outside and require full sun all day, however, they need a sheltered spot because the wind can tear their leaves. Not to mention hail.
Bird of Paradise: Known as the queen of indoor plants, this native plant of South Africa also boasts large glossy leaves and does well in high light. They are slow growing and can be toxic to pets.
Alocasia/Colocasia: These tropical botanicals are also called Elephant Ears. Alocasia leaves point up, colocasia leaves point down. They do well in moderate sun or partial shade and make a big statement piece in Calgary’s short growing season.
Cordyline: Referred to as the Hawaiian “good luck plant,” decorative varieties of cordyline can grow up to 3.5 feet with vibrant colour and leathery, spikey leaves. They have a vigorous root system and prefer partial shade. Beware — this plant is also toxic to pets.
Croton: Bushy and dramatic, croton or Joseph’s Coat easily transfers in and outside. It features colourful, variegated leaves in bold colours of yellow, pink, red, organ and green. They do well in bright light and will drop leaves if the soil gets dry. Croton needs plenty of extra space to expand in the container.
Sansevieria: This stately upright tropical thrives on neglect. Known as snake plants or mother-in-law’s tongue, these spikey plants are slow growing and easy to care for. With tall, variegated leaves, these hardy plants in the Dracaena family like it dry and will thrive in any type of light. And they’re toxic to pets.
Palms: Ewing says palms are the No. 1 plant for that tropical focal point that most people go for. Palms are available everywhere. Contrary to public opinion, palms aren’t crazy about the sun, preferring partial shade. Recommended varieties include Parlour and Majesty Palms.