Tropical plants that are great to grow on Long Island
Jessica DamianoJessica Damiano
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1. BIRD OF PARADISE (Paradisaeidae)
This salt-tolerant plant puts forth blooms that resemble birds in flight. Plant in well-draining soil into which 2-3 inches of compost has been incorporated. Fertilize at planting time and monthly throughout summer, and water when soil surface becomes dry, providing about an inch or two of water per week, but taking care not to allow roots to get soggy. Move indoors in late summer, before nighttime temperatures drop below 50 degrees, and overwinter indoors as a houseplant.
Colocasia and Caladium prefer partial shade and soil that's consistently moist. Canna requires at least six hours of full sun daily and moist, but not soggy, soil. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage more blooms.
All can be planted in containers or in the ground in late May, or started indoors in potting mix in April and set by a sunny window or under grow lights. Soil should be kept lightly moist. Fertilize plants monthly.
After the first light frost turns foliage brown, cut plants down to 6 inches and dig up. Rinse the root system, separate "bulblets" and allow to air-dry completely, then place in peat moss in a box in which you've cut out some holes for ventilation. Place in a cool, dark place, such as a crawl space or cellar. Check monthly and spritz with water if they look like they're starting to shrivel. Discard rotted roots.
Potted plants can be set outdoors in late May.
Move indoors before the first frost and place in your sunniest location, watering as you would a houseplant. Expect plants to drop leaves; they should bounce back when returned outdoors in May and fertilized. Alternately, allow them to go dormant by storing at 40-45 degrees. Check every other week by sticking your finger as far as it will go into the soil. When it's dry at 3 inches deep, water very lightly. In May, bring plants into a warmer, sunny indoor location, prune back a bit, fertilize and set outdoors.
6. ACALYPHA WILKESIANA
Best grown in containers in consistently moist, fertile, well-draining soil. Can tolerate partial shade, but foliage color will be more dramatic in full sun. Overwinter indoors near your sunniest window, keeping soil evenly moist, and move back outdoors in late May.
7. HARDY BANANA
(Musa basjoo)Also called fiber banana, this is the hardiest of all bananas, so if planted in the ground there's little to worry about leaving it outdoors over the winter in New York. Foliage will die back when temperatures dip below freezing, at which point the stalk should be cut back to nearly ground level, and the roots covered with mulch at least 12 inches deep. During the growing season, the plant can grow up to 2 feet per week, so mature height is regained quickly. Hardy banana plants can reach 12-18 feet tall with ample water and fertilizer, but their fruit, if produced at all, isn't edible. Still, the plant has considerable value in the landscape as an attention-grabbing specimen.
8. XANTHOSOMA (grown from yautia tuber)Grown mainly in the Caribbean as a food crop, these starchy yautia tubers can be purchased in many grocery produce aisles or specialty stores. They can be potted up, kept in a warm spot and watered lightly until ready to move outdoors in May.
If you're curious about yautia's gastronomical qualities, note that the tuber should not be eaten raw or it will cause severe mouth and throat irritation; it must be cooked. Tubers also can cause skin irritation in those who are sensitive, so it's wise to wear gloves when handling.
Like many tropicals, Xantosoma prefers an abundance of humidity, fertilizer and heat. A bit of filtered afternoon shade, however, is appreciated.
Move potted plants indoors in late summer and back out in May, or cut down and follow advice for overwintering Colocasia.