Gardening in Texas: Part 6 – Growing Tropical Plants

By Ebony Porter, June 24, 2016, Green

Welcome to Gardening In Texas from Bounce Energy! We hope this series will steer you in the direction of planting a green Texas garden with a eco-friendly lifestyle in mind. We’ll discuss shaping a garden that uses less water, grows in harmony with animal and insect life in the area, and provides you with more than just a pretty view.

How Can I Grow Tropical Plants in Texas?

With all the rain that’s dropped across the Lone Star State this year, my mind has turned to tropical plants. What you may not know is that, even in years when Texas doesn’t experience monsoon-like weather patterns, parts of our state receive more than enough rainfall. In fact, forest covers 38 percent of the total land mass of Texas, so it’s no wonder tropical plants grow so well in many areas of the state.

Gardening in Texas: Part 6 - Growing Tropical Plants | Bounce Energy Blog

In the sixth installment of our Bounce Energy on Gardening in Texas series, we give you pointers on how to grow your own lush tropical oasis, without having to draw too much from extra water resources.

Choose the Location

When planting any garden, location really does matter – and this is especially true for tropical plants. Select an area of your home that is shaded or partly shaded during the heat of the day. Look for soemthing that doesn’t receive full sun, perhaps a swath of space that lies on the opposite side of the house from where the sun moves throughout the day. The less sun the soil receives, the more moisture is retained.

Gardening in Texas: Part 6 - Growing Tropical Plants | Bounce Energy Blog

The tropical plants I have in my own yard mostly exist in my backyard, which is dark and shady, thanks to a 100+ year-old bur oak tree. It remains dark and cool back there, much like the thick of a dark damp tropical forest.

Consider Texture, Form, Height, and Color

Tropicals are so interesting when it comes to their shapes, colors, and variations on leaves and how they bloom. The flowers of tropical plants are some of the strangest and most exotic species in the whole plant kingdom. When planting a tropical garden, try the following ideas:

Gardening in Texas: Part 6 - Growing Tropical Plants | Bounce Energy Blog

  • Plant greens against purples;
  • Include plants that will bloom all different colors to keep it vibrant;
  • Grow vertically and give yourself that truly tropical rainforest feel; and
  • Surround yourself with plants that grow large and upward.

Basically, go for the opposite of Minimalism with a tropical garden.

Choose What’s Best for your Area

Gardening in Texas: Part 6 - Growing Tropical Plants | Bounce Energy Blog

Sure, Texas is large enough to contain diverse ecosystems, but you just can’t plant anything anywhere. You need to plant what matches your environment best. For example: if you live in the desert-like climate of Marfa or Alpine, then consider planting tropical beauties like the Bird of Paradise. Mix in some agave for added dimension. Choose wisely, and always keep the environment and your climate in mind.

Tropical Blooms

Many plants can bloom in the shade and actually prefer it. If you want to choose tropical species for their flowers, we recommend the following beauties:

Begonias

Gardening in Texas: Part 6 - Growing Tropical Plants | Bounce Energy Blog

A perennial, begonias hail from subtropical and tropical climates. With almost 2,000 species available, selecting the right begonia for your garden is a matter of aesthetic choice, since they all require similar growing conditions. Begonias like to be kept moist and won’t thrive in full sun.

Consider an angel begonia for dramatic pointy leaves and pale pink flowers that hang like chandeliers. Plant them low to the ground where other plants will provide shade and you won’t need to overwater them. You can strike your own begonias by clipping a stem at the base and placing into a glass of water. Watch how new roots begin to grow over a few weeks. Plant into soil and watch it grow!

Hibiscus

Gardening in Texas: Part 6 - Growing Tropical Plants | Bounce Energy Blog

The quintessential tropical flower, hibiscus thrives in most Texas climates, unless you live in areas where it freezes. They do love sun and will reward you with their wide open blooms that can be as large as your open hand.

The Texas Star hibiscus is a native with a bloom that is delicate and cherry red. Hibiscus do exceptionally well on the Upper Gulf Coast, as they adore that moisture from the ocean.

Cannas

Gardening in Texas: Part 6 - Growing Tropical Plants | Bounce Energy Blog

My cannas were simply pulled up from one home we lived in and planted in the ground at the next. From there, they spread like wildfire! So much so that I have to pull out the roots to stop them from invading other areas of my garden.

Cannas grow without much tending to, and their tall presence is a welcome to many landscapes needing that vertical green element with a touch of color. They come in electric orange, scarlet red, mellow yellow, and coral pinks. Hummingbirds love their red flowers.

If an area of your yard pools with water, consider planting cannas. They love water and thrive in these conditions. They also do well with limited sunlight. A true winner in the Texas tropical garden, if they die back during a freeze, simply cut them to the ground and watch them reappear with brilliant green growth the following spring.

Plumerias

Gardening in Texas: Part 6 - Growing Tropical Plants | Bounce Energy Blog

Plumerias are a tropical flower that grows vertically and produces fragrant flowers that look like icing on cakes. The only caution with growing them in Texas is that when freezes are expected, it’s wise to cover them up, or pull them out of the ground all together. It’s a lot of work, but if you’re dedicated, it’s worth it.

Ferns

You can’t have a tropical garden without ferns! In the wild, you’ll find ferns growing in cracks of rocks on the side where no sun shines at all. While hiking outside of Austin, you can see cactus one minute growing among brittle grass, and the next, you’ll find little whimsical ferns growing in shaded rock cracks.

Sword Ferns

Gardening in Texas: Part 6 - Growing Tropical Plants | Bounce Energy Blog

These are one of my favorites because they’re prolific growers, don’t require any water from me outside what we already get year round in Houston, and they spread. I’ve dedicated one area of my garden to them. However, like mint, they will take over your garden, so choose your location carefully.

Ponytail Ferns

Reminding me of seaweed, this plant adds a soft, whimsical, almost ocean-like form to a garden. They grow well and are durable, even when planted in sun.

Holly ferns

This tough plant grows to produce waxy, dark green leaves and doesn’t multiply like other ferns. If they die back in the winter, just cut them low in the spring, and watch new growth unfurl.

Green Foliage

Layer your tropical garden with leaves of all forms, colors, and patterns. If you’re not sure where to start, we recommend these three plants!

Philodendron

Gardening in Texas: Part 6 - Growing Tropical Plants | Bounce Energy Blog

Available in a variety of sizes from large to dwarf, this plant loves scattered light and thrives in darker gardens. The larger variety gets quite big with a girth measuring up to 5 feet. Be sure and give them some space.

Ginger

This hardy plant provides leaf colors that are vibrantly green to hot pink and purple, with touches of white. Their flowers are incredible and fragrant. They will die back in the winter, but their rhizomes will be safe in the soil, ready to emerge come spring.

The Hardy Fiber Bananas grow tall and showy with their lime green foliage. If your area is prone to freezes, rest assured that if the Banana plant gets hit, it will grow back just as beautiful as ever.

Hosta

Gardening in Texas: Part 6 - Growing Tropical Plants | Bounce Energy Blog

These plants come in a variety of colors, and their leaves are often variegated. They grow in a dense, mound-like formation, so they will fill in the gaps where you need added plants. Their little bell blooms are an added bonus, but most folks grow hosta plants mostly for their guaranteed greenery.

Are you a fan of tropical gardens in Texas? Let us know your tried and true tips on how you went about shaping your own private paradise!

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About 

Born in Australia, Ebony has been in Texas long enough to consider herself a Texan-Aussie. Ebony has been writing for magazines, newspapers, and blogs, for more than 10 years. When she's not writing she's building quilts, growing her own food, or camping with her family somewhere far from the sounds of the city.

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