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Top tropicals for dazzling containers

Plants that thrive in summer's heat and humidity.

By Logee's / July 29, 2008

Looking for a quick way to spruce up your home’s curb appeal or create the outdoor living room in the backyard that you’ve always dreamt about, even in midsummer?

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Think container gardening and tropicals.

“Nothing brightens up a front porch, patio or balcony like an assortment of pots and containers filled with vibrant, healthy plants,” says Byron Martin, co-owner of Logee’s Tropical Plants.

“You don’t need a green thumb to grow container plants, and the results are both fast and impressive. It’s like an extreme home makeover without the enormous budget or the demolition crew.”

Mr. Martin knows what he's talking about. When Martha Stewart needs a container plant or houseplant expert on her television show, she calls Byron Martin.

According to Martin, one secret to successful container gardens is choosing the right plants and putting them in the right spots.

For a back patio that bakes in the afternoon sun, choose a heat- and sun-loving plant. For a shady spot that gets little or no direct sun, select a plant that naturally grows comfortably in the shade of a canopy of trees.

Another key to success is choosing the right plants for a mixed container planting.

“Plants need to have the same rate of growth, so one plant doesn’t completely overtake he others,” says Martin. “Also, typically you want to have one plant in the center as the focal point, such as a papyrus or a banana, and have other plants as fillers and even a variety or two that cascade down the sides of the pot.”

Don’t know a passion flower from a hibiscus? Here is Martin’s list of easy-to-grow container plants for a dazzling summer display:

1. Brugmansia ‘Cypress Gardens
Brugmansias are commonly called angel’s trumpets for a good reason. The prolific flowers do look like heavenly trumpets, hanging down gracefully from the treelike plant.

‘Cypress Gardens’ is a variety that flowers quickly as a young plant, often at just 3 feet in height, with dozens of trumpets opening at once. (The mature plant reaches 4 to 6 feet tall in a container.)

The white flowers are fragrant at night, have the pendant grace typical of Brugmansias, and fade to a light salmon with age. In no time, you will have more trumpets than a royal wedding. Brugmansia ‘Cypress Gardens’ loves full sun, and it blooms in spring, summer, and fall.

This plant is hardy only to USDA Zone 8, so most gardeners will need to bring it indoors during the winter.

Another great choice is Brugmansia ‘Inca Sun,’ which boasts yellow-peach flowers that continuously bloom during the warmer months.

2. Colocasia ‘Black Magic’
A perfect plant for accenting the summer garden or potted container, Colocasia ‘Black Magic’ is fast growing and has eye-catching appeal with its gigantic leaves that resemble elephant ears.

The black-leafed taro, as it is sometimes called, has leaves and stems that are actually a dark purple — not quite black.

When this plant is well watered and placed in a bright growing area it quickly fills out to become a stunning specimen. This is a cultivar of the taro root that is used as a food staple in tropical regions.

‘Black Magic’ will reach up to 3 feet tall when grown in a large container. Plants grown outside in summer in Zone 6 and colder can be wintered-over as potted plants inside.

3. Hibiscus ‘Stolen Kiss’
If you are looking for colorful flowers, try ‘Stolen Kiss.’ The flowers of this new hibiscus variety are not quite sure whether to blush slightly around the edges or deeply fill with a hot pink color.

Either way, ‘Stolen Kiss’ lives up to its name.The large 9- to 10-inch blooms emerge on the first day as bright pink, then fade to a lighter pink with frilly two-toned yellow and hot-pink edges on the second day, and fade to white the third day.

This plant is a vigorous grower and bloomer with dark green, heavily serrated leaves. Grow in full sun and add lots of fertilizer, and this plant will grow from 2 to 4 feet tall in a container.

Other great new hibiscus varieties include ‘Fall Harvest’ and ‘Tsunami.’