How to Create Beautiful Tropical Planters and Container Gardens

Celebrate hot weather with the bold, graphic foliage of plants from the tropics. Try one of our nine favorite tropical container combinations, or create your own.

Tropical plants are known for their bright colors, unique textures, and large-scale statements. Add tall plants with jumbo leaves and transform your outdoor space into a tropical getaway. Try any of these tropical plants in an oversize container and notice the energy and impact they infuse into your border or deck.

Many tropical container plants or bulbs can be brought inside during the winter if you want to save them. To make tropical planters easier to relocate, plant them in lightweight resin containers or pots with casters on the bottom. The tubers of cannas, caladiums, dahlias, and sweet potato vines can be dug up in the fall and stored indoors in a cool, dry place until spring.

red planter with elephant ears and sweet potato vine
Peter Krumhardt. Peter Krumhardt

Tips For Planting Fail-Proof Combos

Be sure to choose the right combination of flowers and pair them with a container in an appropriate size. Use these tips to use tropical container plants to create a garden that will thrive.

Choose the best pot for a container garden: When choosing a tropical planter, the bigger, the better to keep your plants healthy. Find a pot that either picks up the accent colors of your plants or provides a neutral background to the lush foliage. Finally, make sure the container has good drainage, with ⁵⁄₈-inch diameter or larger holes.

Use the best soil for tropical plants: Use good-quality, lightweight potting soil mixed with about 20 percent compost.

Choose the right foliage: Choose a maximum of four flower or foliage hues for each tropical planter you're making.

Build the container garden: When planting, start with the tallest or biggest element—such as a banana tree, a palm, or a canna—as the focal point. Set the focal point to the side for an asymmetrical look center it if the pot will be viewed from all sides. If the container will be set against a wall, place the largest plant at the back of the container to create more planting room in the front. Mingle flowers and foliage to make a small but lavish expression of tropical planting.

purple and green plant in blue planter
Adam Albright. Adam Albright

Papyrus

A tall papyrus exudes the same breezy feel as a palm tree (but scaled down for a backyard tropical planter). Purple-tinged trailing plants ground the arrangement (an inch plant is on the right, and 'Burgundy Wedding Train' coleus is on the left). The silvery-purple Persian shield provides a little sheen and fills out the middle. Papyrus does well in sun or shade and loves water. So don't let it dry out!

tropical plant against white cloth
Adam Albright. Adam Albright

Bird of Paradise

The giant leaves of bird-of-paradise resemble a banana leaf, but it's much more drought-tolerant. Underplant it with frothy asparagus fern, red-heart coleus, and chartreuse creeping Jenny for textural and color contrast. These plants like bright light but prefer to be shielded from the harsh midday sun.

red flowering plants in pots
Adam Albright. Adam Albright

Cordyline

Pick a theme to achieve a cohesive look even with different plants. In this case, matching pots underscore the similarities between a collection of pink-tinged plants. 'Rubra' cordyline, bloodleaf, a cream-striped bromeliad, and a Siam tulip all do well in part-shade. Natives to Southeastern Asia and Brazil, these plants like high humidity.

blue ceramic container with bright tropical plants
Laurie Black. Laurie Black

Croton

In this brilliant cobalt blue pot, an oakleaf croton stands out as the design's upright element. A glorious mix of colorful plants echos its carnival colors, including: 'Sonic Hot Rose on Gold' New Guinea impatiens, 'Karen' Rieger begonias, Heuchera villosa 'Citronelle,' 'Sweet Caroline Bronze' sweet potato vine, and 'Sundew Springs' Lysimachia. The combination of foliage hues and warm-toned flowers makes this container garden and point of interest, texture, and color.

green ceramic planter with tropical plants
Laurie Black.

Begonias

Foliage is central in this tropical planter, starring the dramatically textured palm leaf begonia (Begonia luxurians), which can be brought indoors as a houseplant at the end of the season. Golden creeping Jenny drapes over the edge of the pineapple-texture pot, and a 'Painted Paradise Red New Guinea' impatiens adds beautiful dark contrast in flower and leaf. This grouping appreciates afternoon shade.

planter urn with caladium, coleus, fern
Laurie Black. Laurie Black

Caladium

Caladiums, especially the bicolor varieties with white or pink leaves, bring much-welcome color to part-shade containers. This easygoing collection of tropical-punch colors combines pale caladiums with rosy centers, purple-and-green Magilla perilla, the dark-purple leaves of Calathea' Dottie', ferns, and the feathery contrast of a ghost fern (Athyrium' Ghost'). Because this container has no flowers, you can rely on color and texture all summer and eliminate the need to deadhead faded blooms.

close up of pot with canna, sweet potato vine, lantana, creeping jenny and carex
Bob Stefko.

Canna

With lavish, oversized foliage and vivid blooms, cannas, like the top plant here, provide vertical sizzle in gardens and large containers. The Tropicanna or Pretoria cannas have incredibly gorgeous striped leaves. The dainty foliage and color variation of carex and creeping Jenny pair well with the canna's large leaves. 'Luscious Citrus Blend' lantana and 'Midnight Lace' sweet potato vine break up the green in the container and emphasize the distinct heights of the plants in this display.

tropical container with palm and begonia
Bob Stefko.

Palms

Verdant palms, including Trachycarpus fortunei, seen here, are cultivated for their fan-shaped foliage and breezy, easy attitude. The plants can spend the winters indoors, by a sunny window, and go outside when the weather warms up in late spring. In this container, a Chinese fantail palm sways above 'Alligator Tears' coleus, chartreuse 'Marguerite' sweet potato vine, angel wing begonia, and a bright orange-blooming New Guinea impatiens.

Tropical Container with Alocasia, Lantana, Coleus
Kritsada Panichgul.

Elephant's Ear

Elephant's ear stands out as the ultimate tropical container plant with its oversize leaves and tropical flair. Evoke the feeling of an island paradise with a container bursting with spotted elephant's ear (C. esculenta 'Hawaiian Punch'), which features a high-contrast red stem. Pair with pink lantana, burgundy variegated coleus, and bloodleaf (Iresine herbstii).

Tropical plants boast big, bold foliage and colorful flowers that make any container feel like paradise. These plants are the perfect way to fill an empty corner of the garden or patio with height, texture, and bright color. Try our tropical plant pairings or create your own for your next tropical planter garden.

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