Tropical Plant Love

Friday, August 12, 2011
Tropical flowers are known for their bright, rich colors and their bold shapes. The plants evolved these ridiculously beautiful flowers for purely practical reasons – to attract pollinators and deter predators. But don’t let that fact take the romance out of them for you! Hibiscus plants are easy to grow outdoors in warm weather with 6 hours or more of sun and a regular watering schedule that includes fertilizer occasionally. A well-drained garden bed filled with hibiscus plants in bloom goes on for months with this regime. Deadhead the flowers with the small, modified leaves right below the bloom. Clip the stem in the crotch of the next leaves down below the flower to encourage a new bud to form. If you want a bushy plant, clip the stem a bit further down and take off a few inches whenever the plant begins to look leggy. Choose colors from my precious pink through red, yellow, orange and every shade in between with single and double flowers that look like gently corrugated paper. Hibiscus flowers decorate everything from party plates to Aloha shirts, an indication of the universal appeal of their pure tropical sizzle.
Bird of Paradise flowers hold themselves stiffly on sturdy green stems that pop up from an odd, gray-green clump of leaves. The plants can be huge, another typically tropical asset, and make an unforgettable statement wherever they are grown. Whether you grow bird of paradise in a bed or a big pot, let the soil dry out a bit between watering and fertilize in early spring with a flower formula. Too much water and fertilizer will produce a nice green plant, but few flowers. Hot, dry and sunny are the keywords for success with bird of paradise to grow strong flowers with unparalleled vase life. I’ve had these flowers last 2 weeks by cutting the stem every other day and keeping the water clean. I’m not one to add preservatives to the water (just too lazy), but if you do, the flowers may last even longer. Bird of Paradise has strong lines and looks oddly like a caricature of a bird. Dwarf forms have just as much pizzazz and make the transition to the indoor garden without missing a beat or making me move furniture. Both hibiscus and bird of paradise can be cut back to help them fit through the door – same for bougainvillea and most other popular tropical plants.  
This blog is just the beginning of my record of delicious encounters with tropical plants. Each month, I’ll devote one blog to this group in my one-woman effort to entice you to grow more of them. Not to worry, as cool weather approaches, I’ll give you the lowdown on growing a fantastic indoor garden of tropical treats.  
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