Tropical blooms brighten decks Plants: Mandevilla, hibiscus, heliotrope and pentas are among the gorgeous possibilities.

July 21, 1996|By Nancy Brachey | Nancy Brachey,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

The deck-sitting season is in full swing, and I hope you've done more than just move the house plants outside for the summer.

Tropical plants that bear beautiful flowers are waiting to brighten sunny decks, patios and terraces. These lovelies are easy to grow, and rewarding through the spring and summer and well into the autumn. And by bringing them indoors before frost, you can keep them through the winter.

Mandevilla, hibiscus, heliotrope and pentas are just four tropical plants that have hit the charts in the last few years, particularly as potted plants for the gardenless gardener.

Now I am not saying one unkind word about that potted classic, the geranium. (Just between us, I'll say I love the ivy-leaf, trailing geraniums that are so popular in European window boxes, but will remain silent about the ordinary geranium.)

The potted geranium remains, of course, quite popular, but these newer plants offer fresh alternatives, as well as more choice of style (the vining mandevilla) and color (the heliotrope's fragrant violet and the hibiscus' stunning shades of pink, red, peach and melon).

So who are these beauties?

Pentas. Small, star-shaped flowers, usually red or pink, appear in globe-shaped clusters that rise above bright green, lance-shaped foliage. I have grown pentas in the hottest, brightest location and found it to bloom very well through the summer. (Geraniums in the same place simply stopped blooming.)

No disease or insect has ever invaded pentas. I think it looks best grown one or three to the pot. But you could add a low trailer such as the Swan River daisy as a tiny blue frill.

Mandevilla. Another plant that has won quick acceptance, the mandevilla bears rich, rosy-pink flowers over vining leaves with an attractive texture.

Its long season of bloom and twining habit make mandevilla an excellent choice for very public locations, such as lamp posts or mailbox posts, as well as for pots with small trellises, hoops or stakes. Were it not subject to death by frost sometime each autumn, mandevilla might succeed clematis as the top choice for lamp posts.

Tropical hibiscus. Though each flower lasts just a day, the tropical hibiscus grows so vigorously in warm, sunny weather you can count on a good show through the season. Trumpet-shaped flowers, often several inches in diameter, will dazzle you with their vivid colors, which include salmon, pink, orange, yellow and reds, as well as white and cream.

This hibiscus often suffers from becoming root-bound in a pot that is too small and thus dries out and wilts the moment you turn your back. Check by tipping out the root ball gently during the summer to see if the plant needs a larger pot. Beware of aphids and whiteflies.

Heliotrope. Clusters of tiny blue, purple or white flowers rise above textured, hairy dark green leaves to create a stunning combination.

I like this plant mixed with a complementary color such as a

yellow daisy that will bring out the intensity of the blue and purple flowers. I've never encountered pests on this plant.

None of these plants will survive a winter. Bring them indoors to a sunny window.

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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