christmas decorated winter porch pot

Incorporating Tropicals in Your Container Garden

Most of us know and love tropicals as cheerful houseplants. As tough as it is to replicate their natural environment in the middle of a Manitoba winter, we certainly appreciate the little touch of the tropics to get us through! In the summertime, however, not everyone knows that we can bring some of that island aesthetic outside. In fact, incorporating tropicals into our container garden design is a great way to create a “staycation” destination in our own backyards. That’s especially great news for those of us who are passing on trips abroad this year!

Can I Plant Tropicals Outside in Manitoba?

With most of us sitting firmly in Zone 3 territory, it’s reasonable to be reserved about bringing tropicals outside. The fact of the matter is, though, while our growing season is famously short, our summers are perfectly hospitable to tropical plants! In fact, the best thing we can do for our existing tropical houseplants is to let them soak up all the extra sun possible during the warmer months. This is especially true if the plant has started to lean toward the sun, a major hint that the plant is craving more light. Treating them to direct sunlight is the least we can do after keeping them cooped up all year!

oakridge winter porch pot

Caring for Tropicals Outdoors

It goes without saying that our region is a long way from the tropics, but tropical plants are a lot more adaptable than we might give them credit for.

Sunlight is what tropicals crave the most (and even so, there are a fair number that are more adapted to the shady rainforest floor). When you think about it, sunlight is abundant here—in the summertime. We often forget that our summer days are much longer than the global average, so tropicals have a large window to get the minimum amount of sunlight they need during those warm July days. Allow them to adjust gradually by moving them into a brighter location, like a sunroom or gazebo, before moving them into direct light. If a plant appears to be yellowing, it may even be better off in a spot that gets some relief from the sun midday.

Watering is seldom an issue for outdoor tropicals. Manitoba summers can get fairly humid, which tropicals love, but we also get a fair amount of rain. Tropicals are adapted to moist soil and often prefer their soil to dry out between waterings, so enjoying the odd rain shower with the occasional watering suits them just fine.

Fertilizer for tropicals should have a lower middle number (phosphorus) than most flowering plants. Select a fertilizer specifically made for tropicals and follow the package directions for application.

Space can be an issue for larger species, like philodendrons, who tend to grow very large very fast in the right conditions. Make sure your container has the right space to accommodate your tropicals’ growing habits and keep an eye on them in case they need to be trimmed back.

Styling Tropicals in Your Container Garden

As with all container gardens, the rule of thumb is to include a thriller, a filler, and a spiller to balance the look and proportions of the arrangement. Since you’ll be fertilizing tropicals differently than most of your other plants, it makes the most sense to plant tropicals with other tropicals. This will also keep your arrangement looking cohesive. Here are some examples of tropicals to incorporate in your container garden design.

Tropical Thrillers

  • Palms
  • Croton
  • Canna Lily
  • Elephant’s Ear
  • Bird of Paradise
  • Philodendron
closeup of holiday decorated porch pot with berries, lights and pinecones
closeup of holiday decorated porch pot with berries, lights and pinecones

Tropical Fillers

  • Lantana
  • New Guinea impatiens
  • Dragon Wing Begonia
  • Cuphea
  • Ctenanthe
  • Succulents, like Leatherpetal or Ghost-plant

Tropical Spillers

  • Alternantera
  • Fittonia
  • Pilea
  • Peperomia
  • Clematis
  • Jasmine

Overwintering Tropicals

Keeping tropicals in containers makes it easy to bring them inside when the weather becomes less-than-ideal. In the fall, as soon you feel the urge to wear a light jacket, bring your tropicals back inside. Tropicals can’t handle frost, and it’s best not to tempt fate. Switch to a monthly dose of a balanced fertilizer during the cool months and keep them under a grow lamp in the evenings before bed when the days get short.

closeup of holiday decorated porch pot with berries, lights and pinecones

Even though they come from far away, tropicals are happy to vacation outside with us while the weather is warm! Incorporating them into your outdoor container design is a fabulous way to enjoy them while they best suit the season.