Tips to Create Tropical Gainesville Landscaping

When I first moved to Florida, I thought that with little effort I was going to have a yard with gorgeous tropical plants. I wanted my Gainesville yard to look like it was from the set of Tarzan or Jurassic Park. Little did I know that most lush, tropical foliage plants need moderate amounts of water and plenty of relief from the afternoon sun.

After my first investment of fuchsias kicked the bucket within a month, I knew it was time to rethink my landscape plans.

One of the reasons I have difficulty growing tropicals at my home is because Alachua County is in a transition area. We are considered to be in a subtropical climate, which is between tropical and temperate. Some plants like ixora and tibouchina are best suited for Orlando, Tampa and south Florida. These plants have no business being planted as a perennial in our area.

After my failure with both fuchsias and tibouchinas, I was on a mission to find Gainesville landscape plants that looked tropical but would survive Gainesville, Florida’s frosts and freezes. I poured through magazines and Internet resources to find ways to achieve that tropical look. Large, thick and bright foliage seemed to be a recurring theme.

There are several plants we can grow in Alachua County that fit this description. One example is variegated shell ginger.

This plant grows along the front entrance of Discovery Gardens to give the viewer that lush tropical feel. It has large, yellow striped leaves and is hardy in our area. It can withstand most frost and freezes, especially if grown under a tree canopy. Var iegated shell ginger does prefer light shade but can take both full sun and full shade. Shell ginger without variegation (yellow markings on the leaves) is a similar option.

Bromeliads give instant gratification to the home gardener as you don’t have to wait for a bloom to enjoy their beauty. Their foliage is coarse, thick and colorful. Colors can vary from light orange, to chartreuse green and burgundy red. The heights can also vary as some bromeliads can reach three feet tall while others may only reach six inches.

Bromeliads will need protection from frosts and freezes and most will benefit from afternoon shade. Morning sun is also beneficial as it brings out foliage color.

When shopping for bromeliads look for cold hardy types such as puya, aechmea, nidularium, and vriesia.

Other favorite tropical plants include the green, white and hot pink stromanthe, the wall-climbing magenta bougainvillea, and the variegated pothos vine.

Plant any foliage plant with large leaves and bold colors and it may look like Tarzan will walk out of your yard, too.

“Saturday in the Garden” is a new speaker series offered by UF/IFAS Extension on the first Saturday of each month. The speaker series will be held at 10 a.m., June 1, and will feature an hour-long class on Florida friendly landscaping.

Learn how you can have a beautiful, low-maintenance Gainesville landscape while protecting Alachua County’s beautiful environment.

To register for the Florida friendly landscaping class, go to the UF/IFAS extension office. The fee for the class if $5 for adults, and free for children under 16 years of age.

Following the class, feel free to explore the Discovery Gardens, our 3.5-acre gardens next to the ag center. The gardens will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 1 and every first Saturday of the month. You may enjoy the gardens without attending the class, and picnics are encouraged. Entrance to Discovery Gardens is free.

Visit both our plant clinic and Discovery Gardens from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., weekdays, at the ag center, 1951 Woodlea Road Tavares.


Brooke Moffis is the residential horticulture agent of the UF/IFAS Extension office.