Getting exotic in South Louisiana

How to have a beautiful yard throughout the year

South Louisiana’s sub-tropical temperatures allow for a more lush, colorful garden or yard and, with a little creativity, can stay inviting throughout the year.“It’s kind of a trade off,” said Jennifer Osborn, owner of Martin’s Nursery in Luling. “You can plant five tropical plants all together and have a lush, colorful looking garden with different textures and colors, but you may have a less attractive garden in the winter.”

The solution is mixing plants for a tropical-looking yard yet still requires minimal maintenance, a factor that Osborn said is increasingly deciding yards with today’s more demanding schedules.

“I think that people’s focus is low maintenance,” she said. “Gardening requires some maintenance, but there are some that only require two or three times of maintenance a year. They look great the rest of the year, and they include a garden with a tropical feel.”

Full and lush are major characteristics of a tropical garden, she said.

“In Louisiana, because we have a semitropical climate, you achieve that look by combining evergreens that don’t die in the winter with tropical plants that could be affected by a cold snap.”

The goal is creating and keeping that continual lush look and feel.

“I think people are doing the combination because they don’t want it to look empty in the winter,” Osborn said. “Louisiana winters can be mild and you might want to be outside so I definitely tell people about combining tropicals with evergreens, and getting the benefits of that kind of garden.”

Plants that have color are generally the plants that could freeze, she said.

“Again, in Louisiana – because sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t – is we are able to plant tropical gardens that aren’t completely tropical,” Osborn added.

She said there are some beautiful yet surprisingly hardy tropical plants that can do the job.

One of them is the Bird of Paradise (also called the crane flower), with its strikingly colored blooms that resemble brightly colored birds in flight is considered one of most beautiful of the exotic flowers.

It’s actually a hardy plant, Osborn said, making it a good choice for a South Louisiana yard.

“It has to get pretty cold to kill a Bird of Paradise to the ground,” she said. “The foliage may be burned by frost, but once you trim it it rewards you with a bunch of new leaves in the springtime.”

Philodendrons, plumbago, ixora, lantana, caladiums, impatiens and coleous also all fall into the category of colorful additions to the yard.

She said there are also plants with a tropical look that makes them good choices for the yard, including hydrangeas, butterfly iris, variegated flax and bottle brush.

Banana plants are very tropical and will probably freeze, which means they won’t look great in winter. But Osborn said, as soon as the weather starts warming up, cut off the brown leaves and beautiful tropical foliage returns.

Variegated ginger, with its striped green and yellow leaves, is a fast grower and wide spreading for a tropical garden. It produces a flower that look like strands of tiny, white seashells.

“You want one variegated ginger and it will take up an area,” she said. “You’d have to plant three of something else, maybe not tropical, to displace that one plant.”

Osborn said this plant provides beautiful lush foliage that also isn’t as pretty in cold weather, but it is “undeniably the look you want for tropical.”

Hibiscus plants are also tropical with brilliantly colored flowers that has made them a highly desired addition to the garden or yard. Osborn added they are more tender with a “50-50 shot” they might be lost entirely in cold weather, but they’re relatively inexpensive to replace and they provide a healthy blooming time that typically ranges from May to November.

Evergreens are what help keep the garden or yard looking appealing throughout the year.

The asparagus fern is a frilly, feathery plant with a soft and fuzzy appeal that lends to a sunny garden, she said.

The holly fern, with its serrated, holly-like leaves, makes it one of the few plants that will happily grow in the shadier to dark places of the garden.

“Because we’re semi-tropical, we can get away with things that don’t work just a few miles north,” she said. “To make the best of it is to combine and add a few evergreens – that way, if we ever get cold, the garden still looks okay.”


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