After so many years of winter vacations to places like the Caribbean, Mexico and Hawaii, my mind associates tropical plants with relaxation. Summer is a very busy time in the landscaping business and it has been over twenty years since I took a Summer Vacation. So it seemed perfectly logical to create our own backyard tropical retreat to give my wife and I a place for rest and relaxation in the summer months without having to leave home.
In my mind, Palm Trees are the perfect catalyst for rest and relaxation. There is something about getting off the plane in the middle of winter and seeing the first Palm Tree that sends me into instant chill mode. Naturally, I had to have a few Palm Trees in my back yard retreat. The Christmas Palm is one of my favorites.
Another favorite to help with the tropical look are Banana Plants. I like the Tropical Bananas for their colorful foliage, usually with red streaks on green leaves, and I also love the fact that they grow so quickly. It is almost like Jack and the Beanstalk. I usually have two or three Banana Plants in pots in different areas of the patio. I also have a grove of Hardy Bananas planted in the back yard.
I also love Elephant Ears, including varieties of both Alocasia and Calocasia. Their huge leaves have a very tropical look. I have experimented with many different varieties and I love the fact that I can start them from a bulb and have them reach six to seven feet tall in one season! I usually buy the bulbs in April and plant them in clay pots in our Florida Room to get them started. I don’t move them outside until well past the frost free date, which in Central Ohio is in mid-May. From past experience I have learned that they don’t like cold, wet soil so it is best to allow the soil to get warmer before moving them outside.
I also really like Tropical Hibiscus. Their huge flowers in bright colors make them another indispensable plant for a tropical oasis.
I put most of the plants in large, 22-25” diameter clay pots which allows me to better control the soil texture. Most Tropical Plants seem to do better in loose, sandy soils like you would expect to find in tropical climates, although I have had considerable success with Elephant Ears planted in native Ohio soil amended with peat moss or potting soil to loosen it up.
I have experimented with Gardenias and although I love their fragrant flowers, I have found them to be very temperamental.
I have also used some indigenous plants in my Tropical Retreat. I like the Spring Blooms of Dwarf Lilac on Standard, Gold Mound Spirea, Magnolia and Redbud. It’s nice to have some early Spring flowering color before the Tropical’s mature. I also have groups of Endless Summer Hydrangeas and Knockout Roses which bloom continually from late spring to frost and have a very colorful appearance.
Creating a Tropical Paradise in Central Ohio comes with some challenges and it is certainly not what I would consider low maintenance, but for me the benefits far exceed the effort. Since most of the above plants will not survive Ohio’s winters, chief among the challenges is what do you do with all the tropical plants in the winter? The first few years I tried bringing the Palm Trees inside our house, but apparently turning one’s house into a greenhouse is frowned upon by one’s wife. So then I worked it out with the Manager of our local Holiday Inn to take them to his pool provided that I provided all of the care and maintenance. This really spiced up the Holiday Inn’s Pool for its winter guests and saved me some of the expense of buying new plants the following year.
Despite the challenges of creating a Tropical Paradise in Central Ohio I find that the benefits far exceed the effort.