Tropical Gardening: Create fall gardening color with flowering annuals

  • Photo courtesy of Voltaire Moise Local garden shops have a wide variety of colorful annuals available, like these marigolds, and are ready to dress up your home and garden for fall.

Sorry, it looks like no trip this year to enjoy the fall colors of mainland landscapes. The East Coast, especially New England, is famous for the brilliant riot of forests trees getting prepared for winter’s dormant season. Even deciduous trees of the Western United States are beginning to brighten landscapes as days grow shorter.

Hawaiian forests and gardens do go through a period of change but it is much more subtle, so to get in the mood for the holiday season we can add color to our little piece of paradise.


Even though we do not see the brilliant fall colors ablaze 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 like 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 ornamentals 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 to May. These annuals are usually tolerant of cool weather. Since the winter temperature never goes extremely low, they thrive here, especially at higher elevations like Waimea and Volcano. Some, like the marigold are great the year around. They are especially good for sunny dryer locations.

Marigolds, zinnias, petunias, and many other annuals with bright blooms are natural for adding color. You may 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 rainbow of color. Use it to beautify areas along the north or east sides of your home 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 our garden shops. Other interesting plants you will want to consider are Euphorbia leucocephala or Snow on the Mountain and the many colors of Poinsettia.


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.

For more information, contact the UHCTAHR Master Gardeners. On Kona side call 322-4893, and Hilo side call 981-9155.

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