How to Keep Tropical Plants Happy

Fine Gardening – Issue 212
how to keep a tropical plant happy
Photo: Tracy Walsh

Most tropical plants are pretty easygoing if they have their preferred levels of light and moisture. Following just a few key pointers will help you get the most out of your tender plants from early summer until frost brings their outdoor days to an end. 

Get the container size right, AND skip the fillers

If you set your plants up for success with properly sized containers, they won’t be subject to the cycles of under­watering that plague many arrangements. The larger the container, the greater the water volume it can hold. Fill your containers completely with soil from bottom to top, leaving out any filler materials. This will ensure that your plants have the reservoir of moisture they need to get through the height of summer. 

Keep plants well watered and fed

Most tropical plants love to sink their roots into evenly moist soil, so water deeply and on a regular basis, especially during the hottest days of the year. It’s normal for tropicals to put on most of their growth early in the season as temperatures rise and days get longer. Planting in a moisture-retentive yet well-drained medium that is rich in organic material will help your plants get the most out of those early days of growth. Add fertilizer at regular intervals throughout the growing season, starting a few weeks to a month after the initial potting. Always follow the label instructions, as application timing and amounts will vary. 

Keep the container going through the end of the season

You may see plant growth slow down in the peak of summer heat, but with proper watering your container should stay lush all season long. Trim or pinch plants back as needed to maintain the overall look of your containers throughout the summer. At the end of the outdoor season, you can transition many tropical plants indoors for the winter. For best plant health and vigor, bring them indoors before overnight temperatures drop to 45°F.

Scott Endres, Derrik Gagliardi, and Laura Mathews are horticulturists and designers at Tangletown Gardens in Minneapolis.

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