There’s a tropical plant to suit every garden in Australia and I’ve compiled a list of some of our tropical plants which will thrive in hot climates. Hot climates can be a challenge for the gardener, unless you want to grow a rock garden or cacti garden!
Tropical gardens in hot, dry climates
The very hottest we’ve ever experienced on our property here was last year, when it hit 41.6 degrees. I know it gets much hotter than that in many other places of Australia. Rain is scarce here, and generally comes in the form of a sky-sized bucket, which tips 800mm onto the land in 3 days. Then, nothing for the rest of year.
Despite this, our property looks like a tropical jungle. We have gardens everywhere and plants are generally very happy. Gingers grow in abundance, Bamboo’s are thriving, Heliconia’s flower all summer and autumn. It doesn’t come as easy in hot, dry climates as it does in a nice mild climate with lots of rain. It is however very possible!
How to create a tropical garden in hot, dry climates
- Mulch! Bring it in by the truckload if you can. Mulch is going to make all the difference for your tropical plants. Mulch enhances your soil structure and helps increase water permeability into the soil. Mulch can transform a rocky, barren piece of land into a fertile, rich tropical garden. We’ve transformed many of our gardens from rocky, dead soil into beautiful garden soil.
- Apply seaweed solution. Religiously, every 2 weeks. Apply with a watering can, plastic bottle or bucket, any way possible. Seaweed gives tropical plants strength and keeps bugs at bay in a nature friendly way. Seaweed solution makes plants more frost resistant, and it also helps them fight off excess perspiration, which makes them more drought hardy.
- Water. Applying deep mulch will greatly reduce the amount of water you’ll need to give your tropical plants, but you will still need to water. Tropical plants like water, and although there are some tropical plants which can withstand long periods of drought, most will look best with regular watering.
Below is a list of drought hardy tropical plants, in case you are not in a position where you can water regularly. If you can water regularly, and mulch deeply, you can grow all our tropical plants in hot, dry climates. Some of our tropical plants are suitable for full sun positions, you’ll find a list below.
4. Shade. If you really want to grow the more delicate forms of Gingers or tropical plants, or tropical plants which prefer shade, you can erect a temporary shade structure. I really wanted to grow an Australian Fan Palm (Licuala ramsayi) next to our house, but there’s no way this palm will establish in a hot, dry garden, in full sun. I’ve tied a piece of shade cloth to the 2 Bangalow Palms next to it (which are very, very sun, drought & heat hardy) and the cloth covers the Australian fan Palm. It is now 1m tall and performing very well.
5. Establish a canopy. Use tough plants to establish a tallish canopy, under which you can grow all your tropical plants. You can use tough tropical plants like Hibiscus, Spiral Ginger, Tiger Grass and Giant Bird of Paradise to create a tall screen, which will in turn create shade for your less-tough tropical plants. Palms like the Pink Crown Palm (Dypsis gracilis/Pink Crown) are ‘emergent’, meaning they start off as shade loving plants, and morph into sun lovers once they poke their head out of the top of the canopy.
6. Plant tropical plants close together. Plants perform better when they are clumped very closely together. The closer they are, the better they are at keeping humidity and cool air between them. Plants magically work together to create a micro climate, which will be the perfect tropical climate for the plants you’ve chosen to grow. The aim is to not have a single inch of soil uncovered!
Tough tropical plants for hot, dry climates
Hardy Gingers & Heliconia's
* Upright shell Ginger (Alpinia zerumbet) - Beautiful Ginger with large white and pink flowers and lush tropical foliage. Full sun to part shade. Fairly drought hardy. Heat hardy with enough water.
* Spiral Ginger (Costus pictus) - This is a great Ginger to grow! It always looks amazing with lush green foliage. Gorgeous little flowers which are edible. Very drought hardy, heat tolerant, and suitable for full sun to part shade. A good tropical plant to establish some shade for other tropical plants as it is very fast growing.
* Heliconia Strawberries & Cream - A beautiful small Heliconia for tropical gardens. It is suitable for full sun to part shade, heat tolerant and drought tolerant (although it looks best with regular watering). Flowers are stunning and brighten any garden heavy on foliage. Flowers for many months at a time.
Hardy ornamentals, foliage and flowering plants
* Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) - a stunning plant with amazing orange flowers and big, lush green foliage. Full sun to part shade. Very drought hardy tropical plant. Copes with heat beautifully.
* Giant Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia nicolai) - Very fast growing tropical foliage plant with big, beautiful, bird attracting flowers. Full sun & very, very drought hardy.
* Tiger Grass (Thysanolaena maxima) - a Bamboo look-alike from the grass family; this is a beautiful tropical plant for every garden. Frost hardy, drought hardy, full sun to part shade, heat hardy.
* Canna indica - Any Canna is a fantastic addition to your garden, every single Canna flower is a work of art, absolutely stunning. Canna indica is one of the toughest Canna's around, and is suitable for full sun to part shade positions. Very heat tolerant. Looks best with regular watering, but is very drought tolerant also.
* Petunia Bush (Ipomoea carnea) - Petunia Bush is a beautiful plant which can be grown as a small tree, shrub or in pots. It responds very well to pruning and can be kept at any height required. Flowers are stunning, a pale pink. Leaves are large and lush-looking. A great plant for tropical gardens. Drought tolerant, full sun, heat tolerant.
Hardy Palm Trees
* Alexander Palm (Archontophoenix alexandrae) - A beautiful, easy to grow palm tree. Palms are a staple of the tropical garden and the Alexander Palm is about as easy as it gets. This palm doesn't ask for much. It's suitable for full sun to part shade. It is drought hardy and heat tolerant. Grows well in pots as well as tropical style gardens.
Hardy tropical ground covers
Fantastic tropical ground cover for adding some year-round colour to your garden, with purple and green foliage - a must have. Suitable for full sun. Heat & drought hardy.
* Pink Rain Lily (Zephyranthes grandiflora) - very drought hardy little ground cover with beautiful pink flowers. It flowers after rain, and will lie dormant for many months, unaffected by drought. Full sun to shade.
* Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) - an essential garden plant! Edible, great chook food, useful as green mulch, enhances compost piles and more. Full sun to part shade, drought & heat hardy.
* Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum tricolor) - Amazing colourful groundcover! Very drought hardy. Full sun to part shade. Suitable for hot positions.
* Liriope (Purple Flowers) - one of the toughest tropical ground covers available. Full sun, drought hardy and heat hardy. Suitable for gardens and pots. Gorgeous purple little flowers with dark green strap-like foliage.
* Blue Sapphire (Evolvulus pilosus) - One of my favourite groundcovers. This plant will cover good ground in a tropical garden in a short amount of time. Very tough, drought hardy and heat tolerant. Full sun to part shade. Also looks great in hanging baskets and pots.
* Stripey Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon intermedians) - A great little ground cover with very unusual white and green variegated, strap-like foliage.
* Syngonium White Butterfly - super tough ground covering plant, which is also very suitable for pots and hanging baskets. Best in a shady to part shady position. Very drought hardy and heat tolerant.
Hardy Succulents and Cacti
If you're into succulents and cacti, and live in a hot climate (especially hot and dry) you're in luck! Succulents and cacti are well suited to hot, dry climates and require very little water. Here's a few of ours:
* Lady Slipper (Euphorbia tithymaloides) - a lovely little shrub-like succulent which looks great in rockeries, cacti gardens, but also tropical gardens. I have mine growing amongst Gingers and other tropical plants and it looks great. It flowers nearly year round and never looks scruffy. Full sun, drought hardy, heat hardy. Gardens or pots.
* Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia millii) - Another beautiful, very tough succulent. Gorgeous little red flowers and dark green foliage. Very easy to grow and very drought hardy. Heat tolerant, full sun. Suitable for gardens (including tropical gardens) and pots.
Hardy Australian native plants
* Most Australian native plants are very drought hardy, and very used to dry conditions. An example would be the Kurrajong Tree (Brachychiton populneus), which is edible as well as beautiful.