Giving an exotic look to your northern summer garden is easy when using these fast-growing tropicals as annuals. The colorful leaves and flowers add a touch of the jungle to your landscape.
The variegated garden croton, Codiaeum variegatum, is an extremely colorful plant with large, multi-colored leaves in shades of red, burgundy, yellow, orange, green, chartreuse and purple. It is a perennial shrub in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11, but is easily killed by freezing temperatures. Crotons like moisture, so they should never be allowed to dry completely out between waterings or they will drop leaves. They grow well in shade, but their colors become brighter in sunlight. Leaf shapes vary from large, flat leaves to swirly narrow ribbons. They create a magnificent riot of color when displayed in a large planting of different sizes and leaf forms.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, or tropical hibiscus, is a showy, fast-growing plant prized for its large, colorful flowers. Although it is only hardy to zone 9, it grows so quickly that it is often used as an annual shrub in more northern climates. The tree-forms, especially the weeping varieties, are exceptionally striking when used as a focal point in a larger planting. Over the years, fancy hybrids have been developed featuring flowers with multiple bright colors and ruffled petals that make a stunning showcase plant in any garden. Tropical hibiscus can be temperamental, dropping leaves for no reason at all, but as long as they are not kept too wet or too dry, this shouldn't be a problem. Look out for their two most common pests: mealybug and hibiscus scale.
Justicias range from large shrubs to small plants, but if you're looking for something to bring fireworks to a shady area, these are a perfect choice. Hardy to USDA zones 9 to 11, they grow like wildfire during the summer months, putting out voluminous blooms. Justicia carnea, or flamingo plant, with its large pink powderpuff flowers is a striking focal point for a mixed container. Justicia brandegeana or red shrimp plant, puts out dozens of lovely red-and-white flowers with overlapping bracts that make it resemble shrimp. Justicia scheidweileri has gorgeous lance-shaped green leaves accented with white veins and spikes of maroon flowers.
These three wonderful tropicals are easy to find in most garden centers during the summer, although you may have to look in the florist section for some. Ask your landscaper about these and many other fast-growing tropicals suitable for use as annuals for your northern garden. Visit http://www.lawnscapeshydroseed.com to learn more.