Have you ever returned home from a vacation and wished you could re-create the beautiful setting, lush landscapes, and relaxed vibe of your tropical retreat? Why leave vacation bliss behind? With a few tips and tricks, you can grow a beautiful garden filled with tropical plants – an oasis in your own backyard, where you can enjoy a mai tai while slowly transitioning back to reality. Here’s how to grow Hawaiian flowers at home.
There’s a reason I’m known as the Garden Geek TravelingMom. While my friends busily soaked up the sun or tried their talents at parasailing during our recent visit to Ka’anapali, I stalked flowers.
I preferred wandering the grounds of the Westin Nanea Ocean Resort Villas, photographing the gorgeous water lilies and koi, or taking a stroll through the fabulous foliage at Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, inhaling the fragrance of plumeria and ginger lilies. No matter where I travel, my souvenirs always include seeds or plants. Naturally, during my stay in Maui, I began plotting which Hawaiian flowers would find a place in my suitcase. After all, growing Hawaiian flowers at home is the perfect reminder of a lovely piece of paradise.
From the first whiff of its sweet fragrance as a lei was placed around my neck, plumeria played an essential role in creating a dreamy memory of Maui. While it’s not native to Hawaii (a German botanist introduced it in 1860), its presence is everywhere—from trees lining walkways to blossoms beautifully littering the garden paths to blooms worn behind an ear to signify relationship status. (A flower worn behind the left ear, closest to the heart, indicates the wearer’s heart is taken. A bloom behind the right ear signifies that the wearer is single.)
Growing Plumeria at Home.
Plumeria grows into large trees, if given the right conditions. However, look for varieties that remain smaller, and plant plumeria in a large container. Grow plumeria outside in the spring and summer to add incredible fragrance to your garden, but move the plant inside as soon as the danger of frost is present.
Hardiness: Zone 10 or warmer.
Soil: Well-drained potting soil.
Fertilizer: Organic fertilizer high in phosphorus, lower in nitrogen. Fertilize every two weeks during growing season, not during winter.
Water: Keep soil moist but not soggy.
Light: Full sun, at least six hours. Indoors, place in a window with good sunlight, or use grow lights. Plants most likely won’t bloom in winter, but they will be protected and ready to go back outside when the chance of frost is over in spring.
Is there a flower that’s more quintessentially Hawaiian than the tropical hibiscus? With seven species native to Hawaii and dozens of amazing varieties available from tropical plant breeders, online sources, nurseries, and even big box stores, hibiscus flowers add dramatic impact when recreating a tropical paradise in your garden. Plus, they’re easy to find at home—no need to carry them in your luggage.
As the official state flower of Hawaii, the yellow hibiscus brightens gardens throughout paradise. While the plant blooms continuously, each flower typically lasts only one day. Still, what a dramatic impact those flower make when creating a tropical escape!
Growing Hibiscus at Home.
Many people outside of tropical climates treat hibiscus as an expensive annual. However, tropical hibiscus overwinters well inside. The good news? There’s also a hardy perennial hibiscus that can be planted in landscapes in zones 4-9. It’s actually a herbaceous hibiscus, dying back to the ground in winter and re-emerging in late spring. Its large blooms add a tropical feel to landscapes, but for a true Hawaiian bloom, tropical hibiscus provides drop-dead glamour to the garden.
Hardiness: Zone 9 and warmer. Tropical hibiscus won’t survive a frost, so plant it in a container and bring inside during cold seasons.
Soil: Rich, well-drained potting soil.
Fertilizer: Feed every two weeks during growing season to promote blooms.
Water: Hibiscus are thirsty plants—water often, sometimes even twice a day in summer’s heat. Keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Light: Full sun. Place in bright light indoors. After danger of frost passes in spring, cut back plant, and place it outside when night temperatures are greater than 50 degrees.
Many people find growing orchids intimidating. But once you see them blooming in masses in landscapes, hanging from trees, and gracing containers everywhere in Hawaii, it’s easier to understand their needs—and to try to replicate the conditions at home.
From the stunning leis made from purple and white orchids to edible orchids garnishing cocktails and entrees, orchids prove tougher than their delicate looks suggest. Dendrobium and epidendrum varieties proliferate in Hawaii. While we consider orchids challenging and fussy on the mainland, their abundance in Hawaii proves that perfect conditions can create beautiful blooms. Don’t forget to look up—orchids are epiphytes and can grow on tree bark or stone!
Growing Orchids at Home.
The most common cause of orchid death: too much water. I’ve been known to rescue sad orchids on the sale rack at the big box stores, where they’ve been left to suffer certain death due to an over-zealous, water-wand-wielding employee. While orchids thrive in humidity and need moisture to grow and bloom, standing water is an orchid’s worst enemy, causing black root rot. In fact, using special orchid pots with holes in the sides ensures the roots receive the air flow they need.
Like other tropical plants, bring orchids inside when the temperatures begin to cool. They can’t tolerate frost, and their blooms will brighten winter days.
Hardiness: While there are landscape varieties that tolerate cold, the typical orchids you’ll find in big box stores–or even the grocery store–need warmth to survive. They prefer temperatures between 50 to 85 degrees.
Soil: Use a bark mix specific for orchids, which allows good drainage and airflow to roots.
Fertilizer: Use a liquid fertilizer specific to orchids every two weeks.
Water: Orchids need humidity to thrive, but don’t overwater. I always water orchids over a sink, soaking the roots—and then allowing them to drain completely before replacing the plants. Allow the orchid to dry out a bit before watering.
Light: Bright light. Avoid harsh afternoon sun.
Bird of Paradise
While not native to Hawaii, Bird of Paradise is a flower most people associate with the islands. Its long-lasting blooms grace landscapes and bouquets everywhere in Maui, and kids love its whimsical, “bird-head” flower.
Growing Bird of Paradise at Home.
Over the past few years, Bird of Paradise plants became popular “expensive annuals” for sale at nurseries and even the big box stores. However, like other tropical plants, you can maximize your purchase by planting in a container, adding color and interest to your garden during the summer—and then enjoying them inside during cold months.
Hardiness: Zone 10 and warmer. Even a brief frost will damage the plant. It prefers 50-72 degree temperatures to thrive. Return the plant outdoors when daytime temperatures are at least 70 degrees.
Soil: Rich, moist soil amended with compost. Make sure the soil drains well.
Fertilizer: Organic liquid fertilizer every two weeks during growing season.
Water: Keep soil evenly moist. Water deeply once a week. Mist the leaves when inside if the air is dry.
Light: Full sun—at least 5 hours per day
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) and common white ginger lilies (Hedychium coronarium) vary a bit, but both are terrific plants to grow at home. Ginger’s roots are edible and known as a superfood, due to its anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties. The roots also relieve stomach ailments and speed digestion. Ginger lilies, however, tend to be the delicate flowers you’ll see in landscapes in Hawaii. While you can consume the roots, they’re bland and aren’t commonly used as an edible. Instead, grow ginger lilies, also commonly known as butterfly ginger lilies, for their lovely blooms to remind you of your stay in Hawaii. (While not on the invasive list for the U.S. mainland, they are considered invasive in some countries. Check with your agriculture department website before you grow.)
Growing Ginger Lilies at Home.
If you’re gardening in zones 8 or warmer, lucky you—you can plant ginger lilies in your landscape. However, for those of us in cooler climates, plant them in containers, and move them inside when frost threatens. Plant the rhizomes one-inch deep in potting soil, with the buds facing upward. Use a medium, deep container to give the roots room to grow.
Hardiness: Zones 8 and warmer.
Soil: Loose, well-drained, loamy soil rich in compost.
Fertilizer: Feed weekly with a balanced fertilizer.
Water: Keep well-watered—ginger lilies will stop blooming if dry. Water deeply and regularly, keeping the soil moist but not boggy, which can cause root rot.
Light: Partial sun.
Perhaps one of the weirdest, coolest, most interesting flowers you’ll see in Hawaii, protea can be found in amazing floral displays throughout the islands. One bloom alone makes a beautiful statement, but paired with other Hawaiian flowers, protea is the showstopper. In fact, protea is one of the oldest plants in the world, dating back 100 million years. It originates in Africa, but protea flower farms now add to Hawaii’s economy. The family Proteaceae includes many varieties, some which are more cold-hardy than others. Read plant descriptions before you buy. Protea can be grown successfully in containers.
Growing Protea at Home.
Growing protea is a bit challenging. However, follow the guidelines below, and soon you’ll have your own showstoppers for beautiful Hawaiian-inspired bouquets.
Hardiness: Depends on variety, but typically zone 8 and warmer.
Soil: Prefers sandy, acidic soil that drains well.
Fertilizer: Once per year. Don’t over fertilize, and avoid phosphorous.
Water: Protea prefers dry conditions. Water established plants every two to three weeks.
Light: Full sun.
How to Grow Hawaiian Flowers at Home: A Few Important Rules.
Before you pack your bags with cuttings from your favorite Hawaiian plants, you’ll need to know a few rules. Prepackaged, preapproved plants and seeds will easily speed through agriculture inspection when you depart the islands to return to the mainland. However, do not plan to return home with any plants in soil, or any fruits or flowers without the pre-certified “AG Inspected” stamp. Most likely, they’ll be confiscated at the airport. Plus, don’t cheat and try to sneak an unapproved plant into your suitcase. The rules (and fines) are in place to protect agricultural crops from foreign pests and diseases. Play it safe. You can find the guidelines here.
What’s Your Zone?
Know your hardiness zone. How cold is your area? Most of the lovely blooms you’ll find in Maui need warm weather to thrive, and many won’t survive a frost or freeze. Check your hardiness zone here.
Contain Your Hawaiian Beauties.
Even if you live in a cold climate, you can still grow Hawaiian flowers by planting them in containers. In fact, unless you live in zones 9 and above, you’ll most likely need to protect your tropical plants from cold. Most Hawaiian flowers will succumb to frost and freezes. By planting in containers, you can move your plants into a warm, protected space, like a greenhouse or inside your home, prior to frost.
The size of your container depends on what you plan to grow. However, for almost every Hawaiian plant, you’ll want to select a container with drainage holes. (If your container doesn’t already have drainage holes, you can use a drill to add some in the bottom of the pot depending on its material.) Add a saucer under the container to protect floors when you move the plant inside. Empty the saucer if any water drains into it. It’s also a good idea to elevate containers outside on patios and decks to ensure they drain well.
Select Good Soil.
Choose a good potting soil appropriate for what you want to grow. Garden soil is too heavy for containers and doesn’t allow adequate drainage. Check to see the plant’s requirements. Does it need sandy soil or potting soil rich with compost? Good, appropriate soil will help your plant thrive.
Certified Hawaiian nurseries can ship larger specimens to your home, if you prefer. Ask your hotel’s concierge for a recommendation.
Also, many tropical plants can be found locally during the summer months. Nurseries, big box stores, and online catalogs offer amazing selections of beautiful tropical plants.
Now, with your garden and home filled with beautiful Hawaiian flowers, it’s a bit easier to relax and enjoy your time between vacations. After all, you can enjoy your own bit of Hawaiian paradise while planning your next trip to Maui! Enjoy!