By definition, a “tropical” climate is one in which all twelve months have a mean temperature of at least 64F. In the United States, only Hawaii and the very southernmost tip of Florida qualify. However, the term “tropical” has come to represent a certain sort of image in general – warm, sunny, humid, lush with brightly colored flowers. This is a look many homeowners want for their backyard, and we can understand why!
However, most plants that thrive in a tropical environment are water hogs, something that many San Diego homeowners would prefer to avoid. But never fear – there are many plants with a bright, tropical look that are easier on your water bill. We’ll look at some of our favorites. All plants listed below are full sun and drought tolerant!
1. Coprosma Also called ‘Mirror Bush’ for the hard, glossy shine of its leaves, this compact shrub (about 2′ x 2′) comes in many bright colors and, because the color is in the leaves and not the flowers, it offers a year-round show. Great as a foundation or for hedges.
2. Cordyline Brightly colored varieties like ‘Electric Pink’ and ‘Torbay Dazzler’ add year-round color and are decidedly tropical in appearance.
3. Lantana A versatile, low-growing, trailing plant that makes an excellent base, groundcover or container plant – or even a standard topiary! Comes in hundreds of colors including multicolored varieties. Blooms profusely year round, tough as nails and attracts wildlife like hummingbirds and butterflies.
4. Kniphofia This succulent has grasslike green foliage and fascinating, exotic-looking flowers in bright neon colors. Plant together en masse for a lush, tropical look.
5. Kangaroo Paw A classic around San Diego, these exotic plants have interesting flowers in lots of different colors – red, orange, yellow, pink, even white! Compact and large varieties with glossy straplike leaves lend a tropical look while being incredibly low-maintenance.
6. Bird of Paradise A classic tropical plant, this flower is surprisingly drought tolerant. Large, broad tropical leaves and big, showy flowers make these excellent background or foundation plants.
7. Sansevieria Often grown as an indoor plant, this plant is incredibly versatile – full sun and shade tolerant, it is an incredibly hardy plant that spreads to create a lush, thick appearance. Upright leaves add architectural interest and are available in different shades of green, grey and variegation.
8. Aeonium Another common succulent, when combined with some of the other plants listed this bizarre-looking plant adds an interesting pop of color and adds geometric intrigue to a space. Plant close together with lantana, sansevieria or kangaroo paw for a drought-tolerant tropical bed.
9. Cabbage Tree This plant is actually another cordyline, one that grows tall and has the look and shape of a palm tree. A great alternative for specimen plants when water-hogging palms are not an option.
For ideas of how all these plants are used in real tropical landscapes throughout San Diego, check out some of the work done by our sister business Mooch Exterior Designs. And to get started on your own project today, stop by and chat with one of our trained horticultural staff!