Tropical-like plants can highlight summer landscapes
By: LSU AgCenter Horticulturists Dan Gill, Kyle Huffstickler and Allen Owings
Mid- to late spring is when we start seeing tropical-like plants take off and start growing as we enter our warmest time of year. Instead of summer being a “down time” in the landscape, you can use these plants to enhance your warm-season efforts.
When you get beyond gingers, tropical hibiscus and a few others, most folks may not recognize some of these plants with hot weather potential. They are available at many independent garden centers around the state, and May through midsummer is generally when they are most widely available. So consider some of the following examples.
Pride of Barbados is a great, small-growing tropical tree. You see more of these planted in Houston, San Antonio and Austin, Texas, than you do in Louisiana, but we should use these plants more.
The scientific name of this plant is Caesalpinia. Plants usually are 5-8 feet tall by fall and start producing orangy-red flowers on the terminal growth in midsummer. Stems are spiny. Foliage is fernlike. And because this plant is in the legume family, it sets seed pods similar to what you see on beans.
People in south Louisiana should consider white and red flower forms of Texas star hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineaus). They are a hardy perennial, unlike the popular tropical hibiscus. Large five-petal flowers appear in early summer and continue through fall. Plants go dormant in winter and start re-growing from the roots in April. Birds, butterflies and bees are attracted to the flowers. This plant is commonly confused with marijuana, so don’t be surprised if the police show up or someone harvests foliage from your plants.
Cassava is a tropical, shrubby perennial. This plant goes by the scientific name of Manihot. The variegated form is the one you usually see in landscapes. Once again, garden centers easily sell this plant when they have some available.
Alternanthera is what we used to call Joseph’s coat. It is typically placed in the warm-season bedding plant foliage category with plants like coleus. The foliage of most alternantheras is multi-colored. The most spectacular of these is the variety Brazilian Red Hot. This plant may be a perennial in protected landscapes in south Louisiana, but in most years it is probably best treated as an annual. Some alternanthera do best in sun, and some do best in shade, so be sure to check to see which setting your variety prefers.
Copper plants also continue to be popular. The common copper plant in Louisiana is called Louisiana Red. Of course, this variety is known for red foliage on a vigorous-growing plant. Other new copper plant varieties include Bronze, Beyond Paradise, Bourbon Street and Swizzle Scissors.
Similar plants to try include durantas, princess flowers (Tibouchina), tricolor hibiscus, purple leaf vitex, ixora, cassias and more. Check out these plants and see which are available locally. All of them are great landscape plants for late summer in Louisiana. Keep in mind, however, that if you plant now, you will receive the maximum landscape enjoyment until the first killing frost in late fall or early winter.
Visit LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (La. 30) in Baton Rouge, across the street from the LSU baseball stadium. For more information, go to www.lsuagcenter.com/lahouse or www.lsuagcenter.com/lyn.