If you’ve ever been to a garden in more tropical climates think about the feelings that these gardens invoke. They are lush, very green, most often shady and give you a sensation of being cool even though temperatures are very warm. Can you get that same feeling in northern Minnesota? It can be done, not with the same plants, but by mimicking tropical plants with cold-tolerant perennials.
Here are a few guidelines to follow before you choose the plants for your backyard Minnesota tropics.
Start with a shady area and choose plants with large shiny leaves. In the tropics, plants grow year-round and they get huge as a result. Often the plants are giant versions of our house plants. Next, cover every inch of ground with plantings. In the tropics, no plant stands alone. There are actually several layers of plants in tropical gardens beginning with epiphytes growing in the trees to vines sprawling across the earth and ferns and mosses underfoot. One feels completely immersed.
Large flowers may also be present in the tropics, a feat that’s a little harder to replicate in Zone 3. The flowers are usually brightly colored to attract hummingbirds. Large-leafed plants available to northern gardeners are really quite easy to come by.
Choose large-leafed hostas. Varieties like Blue Angel, Sum and Substance and Madame Wu are just a few of them. These plants will grow to 8 to 10 feet across when they are mature. Rodgersia pinnata is grown for its large leathery palmated leaves. They can grow to 4 to 5 feet and produce panicles of pink or ivory flowers during mid-summer. Rodgersias prefer a moist environment. They are loved by the pollinators.
Podophyllum peltatum, (with the common name Mayapple), has showy and conspicuous umbrella-like leaves. Mayapples are unique as they each have only two leaves on a stem that emerges like a closed umbrella until it reaches a height of 18 to 24 inches and opens. They produce one waxy white flower in late spring that matures to a lemon-shaped berry. Mayapples spread by rhizomes forming dense mats in damp woods. The leaves, roots and seeds are poisonous although the fruit is edible.
Ferns are a good choice for creating a tropical feel in a garden. They spread prolifically and can quickly create that lush and dense green atmosphere. Ostrich ferns are a grand native plant that prefers a cool, moist spot. They emerge in early spring as fiddleheads and are commonly found in Minnesota woods. Many different varieties of ferns abound and creating a mass planting with them is appealing. Maidenhair ferns are another favorite of mine. Their light gray-green feathery foliage adds charm to any semi-shaded moist area of the garden.
Adding true tropical plants to your garden can be done by placing them in pots and bringing them inside for the cold winter months. Colocasias or Elephant Ears are actually taro plants. Some varieties have leaves that can grow to 12 to 18 inches and come in shades of greens and maroons. They make fabulous specimen plants. Hibiscus plants can add a floral element and have the large, colorful blooms of the tropics. Colorful large-leafed begonias add interest.
Again, to create a tropical feel in your garden, choose plants with large leaves, site plants strategically and densely, bring in pots of bright large blooms, pull up a lounge chair, pour yourself a tropical drink and enjoy!
These local garden articles will reach you each week throughout the gardening season, but gardening information can be found year-round by clicking on "Yard and Garden” at the University of Minnesota Extension website, www.extension.umn.edu, or by visiting our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Beltramicountymastergardeners.
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