It has probably been a long time since you sat under a palm tree or took a whiff of jasmine flowering by the pool.
While you may miss dancing on the beach in the moonlight or the swim-up bar, the things we miss about the tropics are the exotic plants.
While neither of us have been to a resort with a swim-up bar, we do we miss the tropical plants we have come to know on annual family trips to Florida. A highlight of recent years has been the discovery of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota (https://selby.org/). Exotic plants delight while grandchildren or nieces/nephews play in the expansive children’s garden and outdoor tree “fort”, which is, in our opinion, the best of its kind in North America.
Leafy foliage plants like fig trees and pothos seem to be most popular for indoor growing this time of year but there are some terrific tropical flowers that flourish indoors. Here are a few of our recommendations:
Hibiscus: Tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) goes by a lot of names – Chinese hibiscus, China Rose, Hawaiian hibiscus and rose mallow. A variety that we like is ice dancer, which sounds like a racehorse and features purple-blue flowers that have bloomed reliably in Ben’s office window for four years. So far it has not raced anywhere.
Like most tropical plants, the dry air of our homes during winter is one of the biggest challenges for indoor tropicals. A soft mist daily of water benefits most houseplants, including hibiscus.
A hibiscus will grow well in indirect sunlight, but it will never bloom. In a south-facing window, it will really impress. No amount of sunlight is too much.
When new growth appears, fertilize using a plant food that has a high middle and third number, like 12-28-12. The first number represents nitrogen, which promotes green growth, phosphorous and potassium, while the second and third numbers help to promote roots and flowers.
In March, prune your hibiscus back by about one third. In May, move it outside for some summer love.
Jasmine: Ever wondered what scent hangs over your dreams of tropical vacations? It is likely jasmine flower.
The small-white flowers of a jasmine plant can fill a room with fragrance and can be kept going through the winter with the right conditions. Jasmine plans prefer a sunny window with good air circulation. They also prefer porous growing mediums such as bark or coir and should remain moist but not soggy. Like hibiscus, a high phosphorus fertilizer will encourage more blooms rather than green growth, and an early spring pruning will help before you move it to an outdoor balcony for the summer.
Christmas Cactus: The perfect gift at this time of year, a Christmas cactus will happily flower in indirect light where most other tropicals prefer direct sunlight. If properly taken care of, a Christmas cactus will produce pink, red or white blooms at Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter (depending on variety) for decades. It is often considered an heirloom plant.
It’s easy to care for. Water only when dry. Pinch back or prune immediately after flowering by up to one-third.
With the floral tropics in your living room, you might find yourself wondering in 2021 why you ever bothered with airport security.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son, Ben, is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening and on Facebook.