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Gardening & More: Tropical plants create an island of oasis

MY, WHAT BIG LEAVES YOU HAVE ­— The anthurium is an indoor that will lend a tropical feel to a covered patio. You can use houseplants outside, but keep them in shady spots. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko.
WILLIAMSVILLE — Staycations have become popular in recent years, and for good reason. Our summers have been sunny and warm, even hot, but not as muggy as many vacation locales. Why travel, when it is so lovely at home?

Still, you may want to give your backyard an exotic touch and make it feel like a backyard oasis.

Try these plant suggestions from the folks at Mischler’s Florist and Greenhouses, located at 118 South Forest Road in Williamsville. You can visit them at their booth at Plantasia, from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. Thursday – Saturday, March 21 – 23 and from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sunday, March 24 at the Fairgrounds event center and exposition hall, 5820 South Park Ave., Hamburg.

First, try indoor plants. I mention these first because we’re all antsy for anything having to do with gardening. Indoor plants are something you can put your hands on right now.

Two flowering indoor plants are anthurium and peace lilies. In the summer, you can move the plants outdoors.

Warning: Don’t put these indoor plants in the sun. I made this mistake once ,and the edges of the leaves quickly turned brown.

When I think of the word “tropical,” I think of sandy beaches and lots of sun. But these indoor plants don’t grow on the beach. Their natural habitat is in a tropical forest, under a canopy of leaves, explained Frank Mischler, president of Mischler’s.

When it’s warm enough to move these tropical plants outside, find protected, shady spots for them, such as on a patio under an awning, in a breezeway or in an enclosed porch.

It’s best to gradually get them accustomed to being outdoors, according to Mischler. The drying wind can give them windburn.

You can group several indoor plants in a larger container to take outside, added Dan Meyer, greenhouse associate. Combining several plants can make a nice grouping and you won’t have to water a large pot as often as you have to water a small pot. You can use common indoor plants that you may already have.

When you bring your plants back inside for the fall, make sure you look them over for insects and diseases, Meyer suggested. Look on the undersides of the leaves, as well as on tops of the leaves.

If you see something that looks like it might be a problem and don’t know what to do, remove an affected leaf, pop it into a plastic bag, seal the bag and take it into Mischler’s. Their experts can help you identify what the problem is and make sure you buy the right product, if you need to use a product at all. Sometimes, all you have to do is pluck off the affected leaves. Mischler’s experts can advise customers on the right course of action.

Another plant that can add a tropical flair to your garden is the aptly-named elephant ear. These plants grow outside in part-sun to sun. The bulb needs to be brought indoors for the winter.

These plants will take up some room in your garden, said Mark Yadon, vice president at Mischler’s. The Thailand Giant grows to be 10 feet across, while more upright varieties such as Coffee Cups and Black Magic will spread about 3 feet.

However, elephant ears doesn’t have to be the only plant in that spot; you can grow things underneath, Yadon said.

You can grow banana trees in Western New York, but you have to bring them in during the winter. You’ll be able to buy them at Mischler’s in May. The plants you buy will be 4 – 6 feet tall and can grow 6 – 8 feet more, in one year.

“They’re fairly rapid growers,” Mischler said. If the leaves get yellow or blemished, cut the leaf off and another will grow rapidly to take its place, Meyer added.

Strong winds could rip the leaves, so you should try to find a protected spot for the banana tree. You probably won’t get fruit because you have to take it inside for the winter.

How do you keep a 12-foot tall plant inside your house, over the winter? You don’t. The banana tree will send out shoots, called pups at the bottom of the plant, Yadon said. When it’s time to bring the plant inside, cut the main stalk off completely, about 4 inches off the ground. The short pups are what you’ll nurture, over the winter.

Two colorful flowers that like sun are the mandevilla and the hibiscus. You can find them at Mischler’s, in May.

Mandevilla is very viney, Meyer said. It will climb up anything: a trellis, the supports of a patio, the branches of a tree or a string.

The mandevilla doesn’t like wet feet, so keep it in well-drained soil. In Western New York, it’s an annual, Mischler said. In the winter, you can bring it inside and keep it in a bright window.

The hibiscus has two varieties, the perennial and tropical.

The perennial can be planted outside, in the ground. It will winter over. It can get huge, 10-inch blossoms the size of dinner plates. The plant blooms late in the season.

The tropical hibiscus should be left in its pot because you need to bring it inside for the winter. The flowers get to be 4 or 5 inches across. It blooms throughout the summer.

Use these plants in your landscape, to create a tropical feeling for your backyard oasis.

Connie Oswald Stofko is the publisher of, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email


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