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A Tropical Garden Landscape

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 30 Sep 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
Tropical Landscape Plant Planting

Many gardeners are astounded at the appearance of tropical landscapes and plants in the most unlikely places. It's perhaps understandable in the very southernmost parts of the United Kingdom but many tropical plants can be grown successfully further north, as long as the growing sites are carefully selected and care is taken to protect them from the ravages of the winter.

Two Ways to Maintain a Tropical Landscape

There are to main approaches to making a tropical landscape in the UK. The first is to keep them in containers and wheel them in and out of a heated conservatory depending on the weather. The second is to choose the hardiest plants you can find, plant them permanently and protect them from the worst of the weather.

The container model works well and is more likely to lead to longer lasting tropical plants. By controlling the size of the pot you can also control the size of the plant, effectively keeping them as dwarf trees. This is important if you are going to be carrying or wheeling them in and out.

The trick is deciding when to take them in and when to bring them out again, and the increasing unpredictability of the climate here (and that's a phrase many people thought they'd never hear in these islands!) can make this a hard decision.

Taking Tropical Plants In and Out

Ideally you'll only want to take them in once in the autumn and then out again once in the spring. But balmy autumn weather can give way to sudden frost with no warning at all. The same is true in the spring; thinking the last of the winter frosts has gone has tricked many a gardener.

Although no-one can predict the weather with 100% accuracy this shouldn't cause too much of a problem though. Young (under three year old) plants like palms or yuccas should be taken in earlier and brought out later to be on the safe side. But established plants should be able to survive the odd light frost, so they can be left out to enhance an Indian summer and brought out once the worst of the winter weather has passed.

Taking the Planting Out Option

Permanently planting palms, yuccas and other tropical plants is riskier, particularly after the harsh winter of 2010, which did for a lot of native plants, let alone tropical ones. But with the advice of a specialist tropical plant garden centre you should be able to plant with optimism.

Picking the right spot in the garden is crucial. Shelter is paramount and if you have a natural sun-trap in your garden than that's the place for a yucca, palm or other tropical tree. A tropical tree will take a lot more care in its early days than a plant from a more temperate region but avoid nitrogen rich fertilisers in spring, autumn and winter. These encourage fast, sappy growth that is more vulnerable to attack by frost.

Over-Winter Protection

In the colder months it is important to protect the plant from wind, cold and becoming water-logged. Many palm owners wrap their trees in fleece, folding the leaves up if they are flexible enough. Put a thick layer of mulch down, up to three inches, gently sloping away from the trunk to encourage water to run away.

Keep an eye on weather forecasts to help you decide when to wrap plants. But mulch is beneficial through the summer months too. It helps cut down moisture loss from the soil, prevents roots from getting too hot and as it breaks down it releases nutrients. So just renew the layer in the autumn.

Going Artificial is an Option Too

Having said there are two approaches to creating a tropical landscape, we will end by suggesting a third, but it's one that many people will naturally shy away from. That third way is to buy artificial plants.

Although it may seem like cheating there's no denying that upkeep is easier (the occasional dust or wipe over) and the plants won’t succumb to frost. They won't last forever but, particularly if you are away a lot of the time, planting artificial trees may be the safest bet for a tropical landscape in the garden.

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