A Seattle gardener shares his culture tips for growing tropical plants.
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The general cold-weather rule for tropicals and subtropicals is acclimate or hibernate. Tender cannas need more warmth in the winter than a cloche provides, so for them, it's time to come in from the cold. After the first frost, when the tops have been knocked to the ground, Hedgepeth digs up his cannas. What you get is a root ball that looks like this.
After cleaning off as much soil as possible from the root ball, Hedgepeth washes it with a hose, dries it for a few days, then wraps it in newspaper before storing it in a cool, dry place for the winter. The same procedure goes for the banana. The idea is to put the plant into dormancy during the cold winter.
Protecting tender subtropicals can also be as easy as bringing potted plants indoors or snuggling them up to the house. According to Hedgepeth, the best part is that it only takes a day to put his garden to bed in the winter and a day to bring it back out in the spring. "It really isn't that much work, and you just get such cool plants if you take the time," says Hedgepeth.
While it may never get warm enough in Seattle for some of the more exotic plants to fruit, a tropical flavor permeates the yard in other ways. Take this empress tree or Paulownia tomentosa, which grows so well that pruning is necessary to keep it in check. And even pruning has its advantages.
When pruned, the tree produces large, lush, tropical leaves compared to the small contrasting leaf size of the same tree left unpruned. There's no cutting back on the beauty of Hedgepeth's garden. By combining hardy plants with heat-loving plants, the tropics feel right at home even this far north of the equator.
What do you do with a long, sloping yard with no style? Turn it into an exotic escape with a touch of the tropics.