How to Plant and Care for Rare Tropical Plants in Your Backyard

How to Plant and Care for Rare Tropical Plants in Your Backyard

Introduction

Having rare and exotic tropical plants in your own backyard can transform it into a lush, private oasis. While challenging, growing rare tropicals is an extremely rewarding experience. With proper care and conditions, your backyard can flourish with unique and vibrant rare specimens. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know to successfully plant and nurture rare tropicals.

Choosing the Right Rare Tropical Plants

The first step is selecting which rare tropicals you want to grow. Here are some factors to consider:

Climate and Growing Conditions

  • Research your hardiness zone and average seasonal temperatures. Make sure to pick tropicals that can thrive in your zone.

  • Many rare tropicals require very warm, humid, frost-free conditions. Having a greenhouse or solarium can help meet their needs.

  • Check the sun exposure required by different plants. Some need full sun while others prefer shade.

Plant Size and Growth Habits

  • Consider the mature size of each plant, both height and width. Make sure they will fit the space you have.

  • Look at their growth habit – do they have aggressive roots or vines that need room to spread out? This will impact how close together you can plant them.

Difficulty Level

  • Opt for rare tropicals suited for your gardening experience level. Some very rare orchids or aroids, for example, are quite challenging.

  • Research specific care needs to determine if you can provide what each plant requires to thrive.

Preparing the Planting Site

Once you’ve selected your rare tropicals, the next key step is preparing the backyard site for planting:

Soil Prep

  • Many tropicals like loose, humus-rich soil high in organic matter. Incorporate compost and manure into the top 6-12 inches of soil.

  • Test drainage by digging a hole 12″ deep and filling with water. It should drain fully in 2 hours. Improve drainage with organic material if needed.

Sunlight and Shelter

  • Plan sight lines and spacing to provide each plant its optimal sunlight exposure.

  • Add shelters and shading with pergolas, shade sails or shade trees if the space lacks natural shade options.

  • For full-sun plants, avoid planting near structures or trees that will later cast shade on them.

Hardscaping and Irrigation

  • Add pathways, patios and benches to create a tropical garden oasis for relaxing.

  • Install drip irrigation to supplement natural rainfall and provide consistent watering. Group plants with similar watering needs on shared lines.

Planting and Initial Care

Once your site is fully prepped, it’s time to bring home your rare tropicals! Follow these tips when planting:

Planting Steps

  • Carefully remove the plant from its nursery pot without damaging roots. Loosen tangled root balls.

  • Dig a hole 2-3 times as wide as the root ball but no deeper than it.

  • Backfill with native soil and press firmly around roots to stabilize.

  • Water thoroughly until the soil is moist but not sodden.

Acclimation

  • Allow plants a few weeks to establish before exposing them to strong sun, heat or cold.

  • Gradually move outdoor container plants into their permanent beds over 7-10 days.

  • Mist leaves and provide shade with screening if plants show stress like wilting or yellowed leaves.

Mulch and Staking

  • Apply 2-4″ of pine straw or other mulch to retain moisture and reduce weeds. Leave space around stems.

  • Insert stakes and ties for better support while young plants are establishing.

Ongoing Rare Tropical Plant Care

Caring for rare tropicals is a labor of love. Expect to spend time daily tending to these delicate, finicky plants. Here are some key elements of ongoing care:

Watering

  • Check soil moisture frequently, watering before plants show any drought stress.

  • Group pots together on saucers filled with gravel to increase humidity.

  • Install mist nozzles or use a hose sprayer to regularly mist leaves.

Temperature, Light and Humidity

  • Move potted plants to protected areas or bring indoors if temps dip below 50°F.

  • Humidity levels should stay above 50%. Run a humidifier or mist more on dry winter days.

  • Adjust shade structures with the seasons to provide the right light levels.

Fertilizing and Pruning

  • Use a balanced liquid fertilizer like 10-10-10 monthly during the growing season. Reduce feeding in winter.

  • Prune dead leaves and stems promptly to maintain health. Shape plants and restrict overly aggressive growers.

Pest and Disease Prevention

  • Inspect plants frequently and treat issues early before they spread.

  • Quarantine new plants and prune away any diseased material.

  • Consider investing in a greenhouse to better control conditions and prevent pests.

Overwintering Tender Rare Tropicals

The key to overwintering tender rare tropicals like orchids, bananas, and tree ferns is preventing cold damage. Here are some tips:

Moving Plants Indoors

  • Identify the frost tolerance level of each plant and bring tender ones inside before nighttime temperatures drop below 50°F.

  • Check for and treat any insect pests before moving plants indoors.

Maintaining Growth

  • Place plants in south-facing windows to receive maximum winter light. Supplement with grow lights if needed.

  • Water sparingly in winter, allowing the top few inches of soil to dry between waterings.

Managing Transplant Shock

  • Make indoor conditions match the greenhouse or outdoor environment as closely as possible.

  • Use humidifiers to keep humidity above 50% to prevent leaf scorching.

  • Keep plants away from heating vents to avoid temperature extremes.

With the right rare plant selections, proper growing conditions, attentive care and winter protection, your backyard can flourish with a fascinating collection of unique tropicals! Let this guide set you on the path to creating your own exotic botanical oasis.