Tropical Gardening: Fall gardening with flowering annuals, shrubs and trees

  • Courtesy of VOLTAIRE MOISE The Hong Kong orchid tree blooms several times a year, but is even more showy now.

Fall is officially here in the Northern Hemisphere, since the sun has moved south of the equator.

The autumnal equinox for us is the spring equinox for those south of the equator. As the sun moves farther from us, days are shorter and plants tend to slow their growth. This brings on the rainier season in East Hawaii and the drier season in West Hawaii.


Even though we do not see the brilliant fall colors ablaze like in the forests and gardens of the mainland, we can improvise.

This year with all the rain on Hawaii’s west side, Kona is green. So now is the time for nursery and garden store shopping. You can find some great ideas for bringing the feeling of fall into our gardens.

Where nights are cool and days frequently cloudy, try some of the fancy new impatiens hybrids. The New Guinea hybrids are especially attractive. These new hybrids are much more compact and flower abundantly. They come in all flower colors and have multicolored leaves as well. Other impatiens on the market are the traditional types hybridized to be compact and floriferous.

Fall in Hawaii is colorful with Hawaiian wiliwili, African tulip, Timor shower, rainbow shower and even the royal poinciana trees in late bloom. Also flowering now are several species of bauhinia, or orchid trees. One seldom seen here but common in cooler regions of South America is the silk floss tree, or Ceiba speciosa. This close relative of the kapok tree is rare here, but popular in Southern California. Some Hawaii nurseries will bring it in on request from California nurseries.

Your garden could be even brighter with the addition of crotons, bougainvillea and hibiscus, just to mention a few. Some large tropical trees such as false kamani and the blue marble tree begin to lose their old leaves as they put on new ones, thus the ground underneath is littered with color.

Besides the many tropical ornamental trees and shrubs available, you might also consider colorful annuals and perennials to brighten your winter garden or lanai. Many of the annual summer flowers that are prized most on the mainland are at their best here from November-May. These annuals are usually tolerant of cool weather. Since the winter temperature never goes extremely low, they thrive here, especially at higher elevations such as in Waimea and Volcano. Some, such as the marigold, are great the year around. They are especially good for sunny, drier locations.

The marigold is native to the southwestern United States and Mexico. It grows well and is popular in every state and also in every civilized country of the world.

When Cortez conquered ancient Mexico, he found marigolds growing there. The gorgeous golden marigolds were so beautiful that Cortez took seeds with him back to Spain. There, marigolds became the favorite flower of the devout to place at the altar of the Virgin Mary. Because of that, they were called Mary’s gold, eventually becoming known as marigolds.

Seeds of marigolds were taken to every civilized country of the world. They were so easy to grow and so beautiful, they grew popular everywhere. In India, marigolds are the favorite flower to put in lei to place around a person’s neck to indicate friendship, and because of that they have become known as friendship flowers.

Marigolds, zinnias, petunias and many other annuals with bright blooms are natural for adding color. You can also expand the beauty and interest of your floral borders by including low maintenance foliage plants. What are some of the best to add color and texture contrast?

Coleus immediately comes to mind and is probably the most popular. Little wonder, it’s so versatile and vivid!

The plants, with their brilliantly patterned leaves, are flashy in sun or shade. You will especially appreciate how coleus can transform problem shady spots into a rainbow of color. Use it to beautify areas along the north or east sides of your house or garage or in containers on shady porches or patios, even under trees. Coleus can also take direct sun in cooler gardens.

Coleus is just as much a favorite houseplant as it is a garden subject. They thrive in pots and are easy to propagate by cuttings. Other favorites include the many varieties of begonia, canna, caladium and geranium. Check out the vast array of seeds and bulbs available at garden shops.

Other interesting plants you will want to consider are Euphorbia leucocephala, or snow on the mountain, and the many colors of poinsettia. A close relative, the Christmas poinsettia, will soon be on the market, and early purchase can add color from November-March.

You can sow seeds of such annuals in boxes, pots or outdoors. If you use some sort of container, make certain that drainage is good. You can sow the seeds in vermiculite, peat moss, sand or mixtures of these. You can also buy plants already started at several garden stores and nurseries in the area.

If you start your own plants, water them, when seeds are in place, cover containers with a piece of glass or plastic and place in a protected location away from direct sunlight. In a few days, the seed will germinate and more light will be needed to prevent leggy and poorly colored seedlings.

When the first pair of true leaves develop, it is time for transplanting. Set the tiny plants in pots or plant bands. Later, plant them outdoors in their permanent location.


Using your creativity, you can brighten your home and garden from fall until spring.

For more information, contact the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Master Gardeners at 322-4893 in Kona or 981-9155 in Hilo.

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