Tropical Gardening in New England

Part One of an Ongoing Series

What do you envision when you think of a tropical destination? Maybe the image that comes to mind is based on a previous vacation, advertisement or a television show.  I am willing to bet a tasty mango that we all have one thing that comes to mind and that is the unbeatable palm tree!  Does that mean that growing palm trees in your garden will make you feel like you are on a luxurious vacation? Well, not exactly. However, I am guessing it will bring you one step closer to grabbing a bit of that paradise and putting it in your back yard.

                Now that we have established our goal, lets become realistic New England is no place for palm trees and our winters are very unfavorable for nearly all tropical plants. Outside of the ridiculously hardy hibiscus plant, we need to tweak our image of image of what the New England tropical yard can look like.  It is imperative that we get real and understand that any success will depend on a little ingenuity on our parts. If you want easy, plant a hibiscus. If you want lush tropical, read on!

                For starters, let us forget about the one thing we all agreed on, the palm tree. Their survival in our latitudes better include a giant, heated greenhouse which I will assume is not an option.  With that disappointment out of the way, let us instead focus on what comes next in our vison of the equatorial regions. Since you are unfortunately not able to partake in this article, I will throw a few options your way. That is how this whole blogging thing works anyways, right?

                Getting back to that post card image of Montego Bay, there is probably a banana tree somewhere. How about giant elephant ears? Not only are they part of nearly all tropical landscapes, with a little help, they can make their home much further north than you would have guessed. If you get summer temperatures that remain above 50 degrees at night and 70 degrees during daytime, you are in luck.

                The key to these wonderful plants is that they grow from what we typically refer to as a bulb. Much like lilies and irises that we all recognize as garden favorites the rhizome/corm/bulb (use whichever name you prefer) allows for us to not only grow but create multiples of the original. Just be prepared to handle the tropical brethren a little differently.

                The most important part is to know that these corms will need to be brought indoors for winter, either with or without foliage.  Being very hardy, many varieties will survive the dry indoor environment with limited leaves allowing you to bring that paradise into your living room. If you do not have the space or prefer to stick with more traditional house plants, the psuedostem can be cut just above the corm, dug up and left to remain dormant in your basement through the winter months.  Next spring, the now larger corm can be replanted and start the process yet again.

                There are many different varieties of both options and some corms may even survive outdoors if insulated with a heavy layer of mulch.  The size of your plants will obviously be dependent on soil conditions, moisture, wind and amount of sunlight. We also cannot forget about the potential for pests becoming involved but let us leave these for another day. For now, just sleep well knowing that moving to South Florida is not the only way to enjoy its foliage.  Stay tuned for future articles on how, with a little care and research, you can cultivate your own tropical oasis in New England.


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