If you're dreaming of a lush tropical garden, palm trees are the key to achieving a verdant look. Palm trees can actually survive in northern climates as long as winter temperatures don't drop below 25 degrees Fahrenheit. By planting a variety of different palm trees and incorporating plants such as ferns and bromeliads you can design a tropical landscape for your garden.
Varying Tropical Palms
Add interest to your tropical garden by using different varieties of palm trees. Some shorter palms such as the Chinese Windmill palm give the appearance of a shrub or a bush. The leaves are divided and can spread up to 4 feet across. The short Needle palm is a dramatic tropical shrub-like tree, while Dwarf Palmettos grow to only 10 feet. The short, full Mazari palm tree, featuring dramatic fan-shaped leaves with deep serration, is a good choice in cooler climates.
Choosing Tropical Plants
When you plan your tropical garden, select the palm trees first, then think about creating an interesting grouping using tropical plants to go along with the trees. It's important to find out how large each plant will be when it matures. Mix smaller plants among the larger varieties and juxtapose a plant with thin leaf sections -- such as the Needle Palm -- with a plant that has broad leaves, such as a bird of paradise. Alternatively, include a bougainvillea with small, rounded leaves near a plant with narrow leaves, such as the Needle Palm. Not only will the leaf shape add contrast with the palm tree's leaves, but the vibrant red flowers add a tropical feel to the garden.
Low Plants and Climbing Vines
Use an assortment of low tropical plants to add textural interest. Feathery ferns and philodendron are good choices. The dark, shiny leaves of climbing jasmine vines accent the grouping around the palm tree nicely. For color, add vivid caladiums around the base of the palm. Crotons and Ti plants also contribute color and variety. If you have a pathway in your garden near the palm trees, line it with tropical-looking hostas, ferns and bromeliads.
Additional Companion Plants
To complete the tropical look of a garden dominated by palms, use companion plants, including primitive Cycads such as the Sago Palm. These rare plants come in various shapes, colors and sizes and haven't progressed much since the dinosaur age. Add banana trees, moss, canna lilies, hibiscus, jasmine and rubber trees to complete the tropical garden. Be sure to mulch and water the garden sufficiently.
Sharon Penn is a writer based in South Florida. A professional writer since 1981, she has created numerous materials for a Princeton advertising agency. Her articles have appeared in "Golf Journal" and on industry blogs. Penn has traveled extensively, is an avid golfer and is eager to share her interests with her readers. She holds a Master of Science in Education.