Frankie Flowers on how to tropicalize your Toronto turf

Who needs an expensive trip to the tropics? Canadian television personality and gardener extraordinaire Frank Ferragine wants to make the staycation that much more awesome by outfitting gardens with flowers reminiscent of Hawaii, Thailand and California. He's got bountiful tips on how best to do it.
Who needs an expensive trip to the tropics? Canadian television personality and gardener extraordinaire Frank Ferragine wants to make the staycation that much more awesome by outfitting gardens with flowers reminiscent of Hawaii, Thailand and California. He’s got bountiful tips on how best to do it. (Photo courtesy of Frank Ferragine)

Gardener, weatherman and bestselling author Frank Ferragine — the Clark Kent behind the Frankie Flowers persona — wants to help. For those of us spending most of our quality time this summer on our balconies, patios and decks, Ferragine has offered Toronto Storeys his tips for tropicalizing Toronto. In other words, bringing the balmy back home.

“The vibrant blooms of hibiscus, the big, bold foliage of bird of paradise or the dramatic foliage of croton all add the flavour of the tropics to our outdoor space,” Ferragine says. “Enjoy them outdoors in the summer and bring them indoors in fall.”

Here are Frankie’s Five Faves for outdoor tropicals:

Hibiscus (Photo courtesy of Frank Ferragine)

Hibiscus: “Continuous blooms, big flowers, loves sun and reminds me of Hawaii.”

Interesting fact via SnaPlant.com: Yummy and useful. The flower is edible and has a citrusy taste. Leaves and flowers can also be mashed into a paste for a natural shampoo. Hibiscus tea has numerous health benefits.

Bougainvillea
Bougainvillea (Photo courtesy of Sheridan Nurseries)

Bougainvillea: “Flowering vine with numerous blooms, bright bold flowers in colours of purple, bright pink and mauve. Sun loving. Reminds me of the Caribbean.”

Interesting fact via GardenGuides.com: Don’t let it climb into someone else’s balcony. Bougainvillea, a vining plant, can grow up to 30 feet tall.

Oleander
Oleander (Photo courtesy of Sheridan Nurseries)

Oleander: “Easy-care flowering bush or tree, easily handles windy locations and sunny terraces.  Reminds me of California.”

Interesting fact via Arkive.org: A dangerous beauty. All parts of the oleander plant are poisonous to humans and many animals.

Star Jasmine
Star Jasmine

Star Jasmine: “Fragrant flowering vine. White blooms, perfect for spaces enjoyed at night, as white reflect lights. Reminds me of Thailand.”

Interesting fact via GardeningChannel.com: This plant isn’t picky about soil — it can grow in sand, clay or loam and tolerates both alkaline and acidic soils.

Pygmy Date Palm: “Extremely durable palm tree for outdoor containers. Great foliage, beware of its spikes. You need a palm for a tropical garden!”

Interesting fact via GardeningKnowHow.com: Relax in the shade. The up to six-foot-long fronds of the pygmy palm tree may even need pruning to rein it in.

Ferragine says tropical plants can be purchased almost anywhere during certain seasons — including Lowes, Home Depot, Loblaws and IKEA — but his two favourite nurseries are Summerhill Nurseries (Dupont & Davenport) and Sheridan Nurseries (Yonge & Glencairn).

As for arrangements in your backyard or on your balcony, Ferragine says “blending tropical plants with colourful flowering annuals is key.”

Now here’s an entranceway: Pink Dipladenia (tall vine in centre of planter), Pink Oleander (in front of Dipladenia), Pink and Cherry Pink Ivy Geranium (spilling over pot), Blue Scaevola (spilling over pot). (Photo courtesy of Frank Ferragine)

“I recommend picking a colour theme,” he says. “One of my favourites is what I call ‘Tropical Punch’, with a mix of orange, purple and bright pink flowers in foliage. Orange hibiscus for the thrill, the fabulous foliage of croton for fill and the vibrant purple flowers of purple wave petunias to spill over the edges of pots and gardens.

“Simple, colourful and tropical.”

Ferragine recommends selecting tropical plants that suit the amount of light you have. West- and south-facing balconies, with no obstructions, means you should pick plants that thrive in full sun. East- or north-facing balconies or terraces — which means mostly morning sun — is best suited for part-shade or shade-loving plants.

Once you have your tropical collection, use potting soil when potting or repotting, Ferragine says, and ensure your pots have drainage.

“Do not overwater,” he stresses. “Water when dry, but do not underwater. Depending on light, wind and weather, everyone’s watering schedule will be slightly different. Finally, keep an eye out for bugs — a quick application of insecticidal soap will be a saviour.”

Lastly, how to keep the tropical vibes alive? As autumn creeps closer and evenings get cooler, Ferragine says you can bring these tropical beauties indoors with you, as the last bright memories of summer.

“Tropical plants will not overwinter outdoors and most, if not all, will need to come indoors in early fall, before the threat of frost,” he says.

Ferragine offers these five steps:

  1. When bringing indoors, spray both tops and undersides of leaves with insecticidal soap to minimize insects from coming indoors.
  2. Move sun-loving plants into a bright room, but not directly in front of a window, and keep away from heating vents.
  3. Water only when dry — the No. 1 killer of indoor plants is overwatering.
  4. Do not fertilize until mid-March.
  5. Move back outdoors in spring, after the risk of frost (roughly mid- to late-May in our Toronto climate).
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