The 3 Most Important Tropical Landscape Design Principles

Three simple steps to a show-stopping tropical landscape design. The most beautiful plants to use when landscaping tropical yards. How to add year-round color to tropical landscapes.

Sunbury Plantation House, St. Phillip Parish, Barbados, Caribbean

The plants used here include: tropical HibiscusChristmas palm trees, and the versatile sea grape.

Asparagus ferns spill from the urns on either side of the staircase.

Restraint has no place in a tropical garden.  The best tropical landscapes are like Palm Beach socialites–unashamedly flush.  And, just as diamonds are a girl’s best friend, jewel tones are right at home in the hot zone.

Ruby red Hibiscus blossoms and the amethyst flowers of Tibouchina glow like embers under a sun whose brightness would have faded more subtle colors.  That they also contrast nicely with the pale-colored stucco with which concrete block tropical homes are coated and complement the turquoise water of their swimming pools is an added serendipity.

This is the kind of landscaping you often see around island homes.  In fact, it is sometimes referred to as Key West style.  The Caribbean landscape in the image above exemplifies the three keys to pulling off the tropical look:

  1. Stuff the plants in.  Leave no space unfilled.
  2. Do not be timid.  Use big plants with bold foliage in a variety of shapes and textures.
  3. Use color appropriately.  Rich green is always the dominant hue in tropical landscape designs.  Interjecting swatches of chartreuse and teal will enhance the fabric of a good design.  Punctuating it with touches of bright color will transform a mediocre hot zone landscape into a spectacular one.

Ginger and other tropical plants fill this shady Asian pond-scape with broad, green leaves.  The hot-colored blooms of these plants punctuate the cool greenness, periodically, throughout the growing season.

The striped leaves of variegated ginger could be used in this type of planting to bring in additional, permanent color.

The courtyard of a 1930s Mediterranean style home is made lush by the bold leaves of giant bird of paradise plants and areca palm trees.

These massive plants are tall enough not to be dwarfed by the structure, yet their small root systems will grow in the limited soil available in this setting.

Click here, to see the rest of the landscape surrounding this Lake Wales, FL estate.

Plants to Use in Tropical Landscape Design

Large, sprawling plants and trees are the bones of the tropical landscape.  The pool here is dressed in three of the very best: the prehistoric looking split leaf Philodendron, a clump of bananas, and a fan palm.  The purple leaves between them are those of a tender perennial called purple queen.

See Tropical Rainforest Plants and Pool Landscaping for more exciting ideas.

Palms Glorious Palms…

The palms here make this man-made pool feel like a natural grotto.

If there is one plant a tropical landscape design cannot do without, it has got to be the palm tree.  Planting a palm tree will do more to make a garden feel tropical than any other single thing you can do.

Tall, single-trunked palms like the Cuban royal or Canary Island Date, are useful in large, formal gardens.  A row of either variety marching up your drive is sure to put visitors in mind of the palm-lined avenues of the pleasure capitals of the world.  They will know, before they reach your door, that a good time is at hand!

Smaller, shrubby types like the dense-growing Lady palm can make effective privacy hedges around pools and keep prying eyes from spoiling the fun.

See Florida Palm Trees for pictures and growing info for these and other types.

Small Palm Trees is a more helpful list for small yard landscaping.

Adding Color to Tropical Landscape Designs

Bright orange aechemeas and red ti plants flow like hot lava around this bed at the Maui Tropical Plantation.

Plants with intensely-hued foliage bring year-round color to tropical planting beds. 

Urn plants come in many colors and some varieties can grow to be quite large. Bromeliads sometimes feature colored or striped leaves, and will also send up colorful, long-lasting flower bracts every few months.

And, don’t forget about ornamental pineapple plants.  Their red, or green and white striped, leaves will add a color accent, while the small fruits they produce contribute visual interest and make excellent cut flowers.

Other Plants with Colored Leaves:

Variegated Elephant Ear
Aspidistra elatior ‘Milky Way’
Variegated Hibiscus features white splashed leaves and bright red blossoms. Other types display dark red leaves.Red castor bean is a quick-growing annual with big maroon leaves.
 Variegated Schefflera
Variegated Rubber Tree
Dracaena marginata ‘Tri Colo

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