Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
Regardless of the climate, cacti and succulents are perfect companion plants for tropical plantings.
Tropical gardens are all the rage. Even folks in cold climates are using tropical plants as annuals. In recent years, interest in tropicals has continued to grow.
Most of the cacti and succulents used in tropical designs will be tender species. However, some are hardier than others.
Of all the cacti and succulents, the following are ideal choices for tropical garden plantings. In cold climates, just grow these in containers so you can bring them indoors for the winter.
The aloes lend a very exotic tropical touch to a garden design. Mostly native to Africa, these are hardy to about zone nine. Depending on the species, these are around one to three feet or so in height. Grown mostly for their beautifully mottled foliage, aloes can produce lovely yellow or red blooms. Typically, the foliage forms neat rosettes.
The agaves or century plants are a dream come true. They lend a flamboyant, architectural shape to the landscape. Yet, some species are hardy to zone six or so. Others are only winter hardy to zone ten. These are noted for their spiky foliage, which forms neat rosettes. The unusual blooms open on tall, stately stems and bring a nice touch to the tropical garden.
What can be more exotic looking than the crown of thorns or euphorbias? These are related to the garden spurges and the poinsettia. Crown of thorns can reach four feet or so in height. It is hardy to around zone ten. Most varieties have lovely red bracts. Best known for their inch long thorns, this has foliage that can be short lived.
For a really unusual look in the tropical garden, choose species that one would rarely see outdoors, such as the elephant bush. Native to South Africa, this succulent shrub can eventually reach 12 feet under ideal growing conditions. It has lovely pink blooms and fleshy leaves.
Whatever kind of snake plant you have on hand, this is a great addition to the tropical garden. Though some species can reach four feet in height, there are dwarf cultivars as well. The stiff, upright foliage has gorgeous coloring. These are suitable for partial shade when grown outdoors as a tropical.
Kalanchoes, which are members of the stonecrop family, are mainly native to Africa and Madagascar. Only hardy to about zone ten, they have fleshy attractive foliage. The common kalanchoe that is sold as a flowering pot plant is very suitable for tropical gardens as well. The growing habit and ultimate size of kalanchoes varies greatly. Some are a foot or so in height. Others are shrubby—up to five feet or more.
In the tropical garden, mix and match cacti and succulents with tropical plants that require the same growing conditions.