Tropical Climate Gardening

Your guide to all things garden in the tropics

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Bloggers Kylie & Kevin Stephens have lived in the Northern Territory Australia for over 20 years and are based on a rural block outside of Darwin.

We run a small family business Lawn Ranger Landscaping & Irrigation and are very keen gardeners.

Our home is a lush block with 3 acres of our pride and joy, we have a large kitchen garden which boasts healthy veg, herbs and fruit, water wise/ native areas/ tropical areas/ Children garden and plenty of resting spots to admire the flora and fauna.

In our business we get the opportunity to travel all over Darwin and outer areas landscaping, irrigation design and maintenance, turf laying,and general garden maintenance.

We aim to help you understand gardening in tropical climates with a series of blog entries covering a wide range of topics. Our blog has started in Mid 2013 so if your new to the site keep watching as we build up our library of information.

Happy gardening.




The dry season in the Top End is always crazy jammed packed full of activities and events, one of my favourites is the annual Darwin Royal Show mainly for the poultry and gardening sections which is where I tend to spend most of my time going out my way to by pass the loud side show alleys. As my kids are growing older they are just starting to see the excitement with all the rides and show bags so by the end of the day I am very tired and very broke. As much as I hate the rides and show bags I do enjoy seeing my children having fun and this year was extra pleased to see both of them (5yrs & 3yrs) took so much interest in the farm animals and beautiful flowers on display. Paris my oldest said she wanted to enter a mini garden next year so I had better get our thinking caps on so we are ready.

Previous years we have entered in a category or two however this year we were so busy with the business that closing dates had passed long before I even thought about it, never mind there is always next year. I may enter one of my orchids and even give the preserves section a ago however the yummy displays I saw would be hard to beat I bet those ladies have spent years upon years mastering their secret recipe. I have been reading the Grass Roots magazine for a while now and have read so many yummy recipes my favourites are the ones that use the Rosella bush from jams,  cordials and even tea.

One of my dear friends from Katherine introduced me to Rosella tea at the Adelaide River markets earlier this year, there was a lady there selling the dried Rosella with a hint of ginger yummo!! If your ever at the markets make sure you pick up some of this refreshing tea its great hot or as iced tea on a very hot day.

I must say a massive thank you to all the men and ladies out there who contribute to the shows around Australia with their baking its a tradition thats been around for centuries and enjoyed by many. Not just for the old these days as we see so many entries from the younger generation coming through right down to the pre schoolers but I'll say the older generation certainly do know how to cook a mean fruit cake or lovely light sponge. Back when there were no fancy cookbooks, utensils or weird and wonderful ingredients our grandmothers used the simplest of ingredients with lots of love which produced some of the best baking around.  The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook is a must for any of you wanting to try a bit of show baking, I love the fact that a review I once read on this book said it had enough butter and sugar to sustain Australian dairy farmers  and cane growers for years. In the early days there were no waves of people stressing about their waist line they ate what was on the table and got outside allot more than we do today.

This year my husband and I also started dog showing with our Australian Kelpies so show time was busier than normal as we had dogs to wash, excercise and pamper ready for the ring. Usually I like to wander through the flowers and plants writing down the names however this year I only got time to write the bromeliads down so if your after the name of a certain plants just send me a message and I'll do my best to track down the name if I don't already know it.

We loved the Tropiculture display of tropical fruits, these guys always have such a good variety of fruits and vegetables you can grow in our climate and are full of friendly advice. Kev and I recently traveled out to their farm and picked up some tropical fruit trees for our property. It was a fantastic morning with the opening of their vegetable patch and a spread of delicious dishes for the public to try.

There is a long line of photos to scroll through but on our facebook page will also have their album for viewing.

Enjoy Winkb2ap3_thumbnail_fb24.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_fb15.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_fb5.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_fb2.jpg


©Lawn Ranger Landscaping & Irrigation
in Gardening 5272



No matter which garden nursery I enter the first place my feet tend to take me is straight over to the section with all the Bromeliads and I'm ever so disappointed if the selection is dismal or even worse they do not stock them! How can one resist the bright colours, strange flowers and fascinating foliage not to mention the instant feel of the tropics.

Most people do not realise even the good old pineapple is a bromeliad, this is usually the first one most Top End gardeners start off with without even knowing it in fact the pineapple is the only bromeliad variety cultivated for food.

The bromeliad has been in the western world now for more than 300 years and was origionaly bought over by a Spanish explorer by the name of Christopher Columbus. The bromeliad was an instant hit and soon spread all over the world around the sixteenth century with other botanist subdividing and introducing new names at a rapid rate. By the nineteenth century there was so much interest in these plants that collectors started to travel to all parts of the glob in search for new plants then they would send them back home.

When I was reading about the history of these plants I found they actually have so much heritage behind them that it's well worth taking the time to read about these fascinating plants they have a very interesting story to tell.  One man that interest me was a Mr Mulford Foster who died in 1978, he had collected so many bromeliads that he was actually the one responsible for introducing more bromeliads than anyone one else in the world. He use to travel with his wife to South America to find and introduce new plants, I recall it was something like 200 or more so he took this business very seriously.

Unfortunately I couldn't read anywhere when bromeliads were actually introduced into Australia but varieties such as the Billbergia pyramidalis concolor have been growing in Australian gardens since the nineteenth century either way it's been a long time. Mr Charles Hodgson was the first Australian to have a specialist collection back in the 1930's and when the USA Bromeliad Society was formed in 1950 Charles was the first Australian Trustee. In 1963 the Australian Society was formed and from there our love for the bromeliad exploded growing each year even today.

Now that you know a little about where the bromeliad came from the rest gets very complicated, I have many books on bromeliads and still find out more information when reading newsletters, web pages and gardening shows as there are so many varieties however there are basically three subfamilies (Pitcairniodeae, Bromelioideae & Tillandsiodeae)

  • Pitcairnioideae- Has sixteen genera and subdivides into 1070 species
  • Bromelioideae -Has 31 Genera containing over 1140 species
  • Tillandsiodeae- Has  9 Genera and makes up the largest known bromeliads



Bromeliades can be grown all around Australia and will also grow indoors and in pots as long as they get light and good drainage. If your planting your bromeliads in the ground make sure the cup (centre of plant which holds the water) is upright it's such a simple task but all to often I see clients cups tilted and the poor bromeliad suffering. b2ap3_thumbnail_Bromeliade-Cup.jpg

Up here in the tropics we have one thing most bromeliads love and that's humidity and warmth but don't over water as they really don't like to be too wet, you will find the wet season will have an effect on your bromeliads in the ground.

Be careful when also fertilising as they don't like allot of this either (see very easy going plants.)

I was told by a local lady to just mix a little slow release fertiler in with the potting mix and that should be sufficient for the plants life time. When the pups start growing just once again apply a small amount of slow release fertiliser or i hear you can even use orchid fertiliser in a spray bottle and spray once every few months.

*Never fertilise directly into the cup



Your bromeliad takes water through the cup not the root system like most plants, your smart plant will use the reservoir of water when it needs it. In the wet season your bromeliads will comes to life with the best coloring as they love the rainwater over tap water which contains chemicals. The Bromeliades mounted and the ones in pots should do really well but those days where we get never ending rain you may need to just watch the ones in the ground (water logging.)

Tree mounting is a fun way to grow your bromeliads, start off with easy ones such as the minature neo's, you wont need to worry about the roots being covered only that the cup gets watered.

Lighting is an important factor, it's good to know which variety you have as some will grow better in more shaded areas and other with more light. As a general rule try to imagine the amount of sun light 50-70% shade cloth gives and find areas where the light reflects this environment. 



Your beloved bromliad will eventually die in about 1-2 years however pups will produce over the flowering period which is when its time to get propagating.

Pups will start at the base of the mother plant and will develop a small rosette shape (approx 1/3 the size of the mother plant), at this stage you can separate.

When you propagate this way its called the vegetative way and is by far the most fast and simple way to propagate. I have heard you can keep fertilising the mother plant with a mixture of diluted fertiliser and more pups will re produce however a experienced grower once told me its only the first lot of pups that the plant produces which are your strongest, the more pups the weaker they will eventually become. 

When separating the pup from the mother plant do not use any force, it should all be done with ease . You simply snap the pup off with a clean break, if you use force then your risking the pup snapping leaving its lower part still attached to the mother plant (I was always told to stick to using a saw edged knife which I still use today.) 

Once you have succeeded with your pups let them dry out for 24hours then plant in damp peat moss and sand, I also use my trusty old vermiculite but only during the wet season as it can be to drying in the dry season. One of my books also suggests another great method is to place the pups on a base of wet peat moss in a plastic pot so the pup is secure and wont move. Just rest the pup on the moss (do not bury it) I'm yet to try this way out but apparently it gives a fantastic strike rate.  b2ap3_thumbnail_pups.jpg

Note: Not all species will produce pups, some will seed to carry on the species so it's important when you do buy a plant you intend to propagate know the species your dealing with.


Pests & Diseases

I wish I had of read up on this topic long before my first bromeliad as I have lost a few in the past due to pests and disease issues and now I'm having a hard time finding the species I once had here in Darwin, looks like I might need to do some late night internet shopping.

Avoid using white oil or copper based fungicides or pesticides, if you must use oil rationale with vegetable oil as it will degrade easily without causing your plant problems.

  • Aphids- Use a strong jet hose to remove what you can and use of chemicals such as Bugmaster, Malathion, Fenthion/Lebaycid and pyrethrin.
  • Caterpillars- Remove any caterpillars seen to the eye by hand and then use some Dipel, if this wont make them budge try the Bugmaster or Permethrin.
  • Grasshoppers - Spray with Permethrin.
  • Mealy Bugs- Use Carbaryl, Rogor, Malathion or Lebaycid.
  • Fungus- This is what made my poor foliage deteriorate, remove effected foliage immediately as it will spread.
  • Crown Rot- If your center leaves are turning brown and start to decay drain the sour water off the plant and soak the plant in Dithane for 40mins. Let the plant dry for a day in the shade then give water once again.


  • Base Leaves are starting to brown- Possible over watering and poor drainage.
  • Leaves Wilting- Lack of water, poor drainage
  • Brown marks on leaves- Watering has been done possibly in direct sunlight, check the light intensity and maybe use of pesticide has caused by incorrect application.
  • Inner leaves sticking together- No water in cup (reservoir of plant), insufficient misting
  • Bottom leaves yellow- brown (dying)- Could be just a healthy plant that is shedding its older base leaves as it ages or insufficient nutrients.
  • Leaves elongated- Not enough sun light, too much nitrogen in your fertiliser


Bromeliad Varieties

There are so many that I think it's probably better if I link you to a great website which goes through many of the varieties. *warning its addictive once you start.

Bromeliad Varieties b2ap3_thumbnail_brom.jpg


Fun Facts

  • The Puya ramondii is the largest bromeliad in the world, foliage can reach 10 feet in height and 9 feet in width with infloresence reaching 30 feet tall 
  • The pineapple is the only bromeliad cultivated for food
  • Bromeliads do not have one typical flower, instead they have array of smaller flowers on spikes or inflorescenses or in rosette shapes
  • Most bromeliads will only bloom once in their life time
  • Sometimes called air plants as they do not root in the ground


Where to buy?

In Darwin most our local markets will sell bromeliades as well as our garden nurseries, price anywhere from $15- $100 depending on the type

There are also many internet mail order specialty sites where you have access to a bigger variety, these people are usually full of knowledge and very helpful as they deal with bromeliades day in and day out.




 'Giant Bromeliad'












©Kylie Stephens
Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Karen
    Karen says #
    I am confused on which ones grow in full sun here in Cairns. I have a lot of the bright green ones and some darker ones with spot
  • Helen
    Helen says #
    Thank you for these excellent tips! I have to say I love your website. It is always easy to understand and covers what I have wan
in Gardening 36797




One of the recognisable plants from the tropics has to be the famous frangipani or called by its botanic name Plumeria. From the frangipani's sweet scent to it's gorgeous spiral flowers it's no wonder this plant is found in so many gardens in the Top End and around parts of Australia. The frangipani is commonly known as the flower of love and used in Feng Shui it was fascinating to see whilst in Bangkok last year the flowers scattered around many temples. In our garden we have a favourite frangipani tree its a Obtusa and we often picnic under it so we can smell the sweet perfumed scent wafting past, my daughter loves to also pick the flowers and make her own version of Paris perfume.   

Frangipani's arrived in Australia from South America in the 1800's through to the 1920's through the Polynesian missionaries and very early travelers. The islanders considered the  frangipani plant to be sacred and used it in many traditional ceremonies. In the 1970's the flower was used allot in political movements to promote world peace and a gained its status as a symbol of harmony which is when the popularity really took off. In Australian backyards the frangipani is more grown for its colour rather than variety but many serious growers and collectors from the frangipani society of Australia are even starting to form new varieties.

The frangipani flower has many uses from perfumes, soaps, oils and pot puris in fact the flower has been used in perfumery since the sixteenth century so its been around a long time. The flowers form a nearly perfect spiral in the bud and then opens up to a pretty spiral shaped flower with 5 petals. You can use your frangipani in many ways around the home too, I like to use my flowers for a perfumed water spray in the build up season, its very refreshing.


Frangipani varieties to consider when buying

  • Evergreen frangipanis- these offer year round foliage in the tropical climate zones however I think these are some that do well in the cooler zones. It's usually these type that offer the really amazing foliage which is a feature on its own.
  • Deciduous frangipanis- Most well known and most colourful type, they do shed all their leaves in the cooler months (dry season in the NT)   
  • Variegated frangipanis -Comes in both the evergreen and deciduous forms
  • Dward Frangipanis- Very popular in the landscapers world and in high demand, can be pruned and shaped. 
  • Large full sized frangipani trees- 5-6m high by  4-5m wide, these types are the fastest growing, great used around pools as the root system is still relatively small and soft so it wont damage pipes, concrete and drains.  b2ap3_thumbnail_nature-landscapes_hdwallpaper_exotic-plumeria_4682.jpg

How To Grow A Frangipani

Frangipanis like sub tropical to tropical climates and require partial to full sun in order to grow and flower well, if your in a cooler climate you can still grow a frangipani but they do prefer the warmer zones. Frangipanis are fairly hardy and I suppose they tend to remind me of a bougainvilleas as they tend to thrive on neglect, you can grow them in the ground or in large pots. I remember about two years ago I had a cutting and whilst in a rush i just stuck it in an old wheel barrow near the kids sand pit. Within no time it rooted and now its about 2m high flourishing in the wheel barrow, it seemed to love the spot so much I couldn't bare to move it.

If your going to plant your frangipani in a pot we use a ratio of 40-50% high quality potting mix to 50-60% organic materials with sand added. Make sure your frangipani is not exposed to wet feet for prolonged periods, free draining soil is preferred. But as you can see from my wheel barrow story don't stress about the ratio's especially if your in the tropics.

As for fertilising they love organic matter,good animal manure, fire ash and compost, your frangipani wont die if your not fertilising or composting but if you do the foliage will be more lush and I find the flowers tend to be more vibrant.

Prune Or Not To Prune?

Like everything in most gardens your plant or tree will benefit from a prune every now and then.I do both, some of my trees I don't touch, they are happy in their spots and not in high traffic areas whilst others I will prune once or twice year. The frangipani I do prune I like to keep smallish and dense so I prune to half their height. The branches I cut will sprout new multiple branches making it more bushy and ornamental looking but note it can take up to two years for the new branches to flower. 



Propagation is dead easy and done by cuttings (make sure the cut is clean) which all you need to do is dry your cutting for a week in a shady position then pot into pots with a sandy potting mixture. Water once a fortnight until the roots have formed. Frangipani can also be grown from grafting, seed and even air laying but to be honest they are easy to propagate I've only ever done the cutting method or bought whole plants from our wholesaler. When you do propagate your new plant may take up to two years to flower so just be patient, it will happen if you want to try your luck at early flowering look for a fertiliser that is high in phosphorous.  

If you do buy one from the shops depending on size price can be from $22 upwards, markets are a great place to find cheap cuttings and a good place to find rare colours. If your right into the rare finds there are some online places you can try but beware the price for the rare ones can be $100- $250 just for a standard size opposed to the common found colours $22-60

TIP- Use terracotta pots for your cuttings as they can breath and stake the cutting in place, 

Frangipani Problems

  • Rust (Coleosporium plumeriae) This rust looks like small orange pustules which will be found on the backs of the leaves whilst not serious it will contribute to early defoliation. There are varieties which are rust resistant I've read there are three levels of rust tolerance from low resistance to full immune, in Darwin I've not yet come across any frangipani that was affected. If you do happen to come across rust hand pick the leaves and bin them straight away (don't compost)
  • Heat Stress, mainly caused by watering during the heat of the day
  • Powdery Mildew- High humidity can cause this but easily treated with a white oil solution, spay late in the arvo so the leaves wont burn.
  • Mould -Spray with white oil and then feed with a fertiliser high in potassium or potash which will help your frangipanis natural resistance.




There are so many colours around today it must be in the 100's they range from the single uniformed colours then there is the two toned colour such as the white and yellow ( still referred to as a white) or the pink and white (referred to as a pink.) The pinks I find very fascinating as they tend to have hues of orange and/ or yellow so you get these pretty tri colours forming. A new variety/ colour is named when these variations are shown consistently and have a unique character.    b2ap3_thumbnail_frangipani.jpg

Did you know?

  • The frangipani flower is the flower of the city Palermo in Sicily, Italy
  • The frangipani flower is the national flower of Nicaragua
  • In the Carribean the frangipani leaf is used as a healing wrap for bruises and latex used for rheumatism
  • Frangipani flowers are worn by Polynesian women to indicate their relationship status, over the left ear means she is taken
  • The frangipani tree is the national tree of Laos where its called dok jampa, all their Buddhist temples have them planted as they are classed as the sacred tree.
  • Nicaragua also have the flower as their national flower and it can be seen on many of their notes of currency
  • In Hindu culture the flower means loyalty
  • Sailors from the Hawaii waters back in the war days would toss a frangipani lei into the waters as the ships passed diamond head. If the lei floated ashore the sailor would return but if it floated towards the ship  it was feared he would not be coming home.
  • Frangipanis are rare in China and more precious than an orchid, if a loved one in China receives a frangipani flower then this means a long lasting relationship.
  • In mexican myth the gods were born from frangipani flowers
  • Frangipanis are drought and fire hardy



Frangipani Face Cream Recipe

1/2 Cup Aloe Vera Gel

1/8 Cup Glycerin

1/2 Teaspoon royal jelly

1 Teaspoon Frangipani Essence ( I buy mine from Bush Flower Essences approx $14)

Combine all ingredients and dab onto face, gently massage in. this recipe can be kepyt in the fridge for up to 6 months

Frangipani Essence

Great for a calming in stressful situations, inner and outer self awareness, passion, loyalty, peace and harmony 












©Kylie Stephens- Lawn Ranger
in Gardening 40496





Christmas time in our family calls for allot of home-made treats, we use this time of year to try and slow down a little and do some grass roots activities with our children from cooking to Christmas crafts and of course whats a Christmas without a brew of home-made baileys.

I know its probably quite inapropirate  these days to associate alcohol with anything child related but in my family its been tradition Santa likes a little glass of baileys with a small bowl of strawberries under the tree on Christmas eve. My kids are quite young so as far as they are concerned I'm just making up a drink with cream and a few other ingredients, only mummy and daddy know the little secret. b2ap3_thumbnail_Baileys-1.jpg

There are so many recipes on the internet all with variations but I've made this one a few times now and absolutely loved it each time.  Its quite a traditional recipe I don't really go trying to alter it to much as I'm happy with the result but I'm sure there are some creative readers out there that might like to alter the ingredients or ratio's. 


1 Cup of fresh cream (not long life)

1 Can of sweetened condensed milk (full cream, why not)

1 Teaspoon of instant coffee

1 2/3 Cup Good quality Irish Whiskey

2-3 Tablespoons of chocolate syrup

1 Teaspoon of organic vanilla extract

1/2 Teaspoon of coconut extract ( I use this rather than the traditional almond extract)


Now blend all your ingredients in a blender for around 30-40 seconds and then bottle.







©Kylie Stephens- Lawn Ranger
in DIY Ideas 52373


DIY Sew A Bird





I've been saying I will add the DIY section to our site for months now so today is the day, I cant possibly celebrate Christmas without completing the task sadly. When I have an idea it will just stick in my head until it's complete, not so good for me but great for all you DIY people as I have loads of DIY stuff coming up in 2014.


Todays DIY will be these ever so cute and easy birds, I have been sewing these birds for the past two years for all sorts of occasions and every time I make one my children's eyes just light up.

Our business was part taking in a garden day in Darwin and silly me right in the peak of the dry season (our busiest time of year) thought of a DIY theme for our stand. My poor husband and I were up to midnight for weeks making all sorts of things from a large poly pipe rainbow, the hungry caterpillar, scarecrows and many more fun DIY projects. Anyway the show was a success and well worth it but in 2014 I will start planing in January not a6 weeks before the show.

Just a note on sewing, I am certainly not a professional in no shape or form, I can sew to get myself out of trouble that's about as far as I go so if your a novice this DIY project is for you.




  • You will need to print out the pattern, the pattern is not mine its one i found on the internet a few years ago, it can be modified for size if you wish.
  • Material, as its Christmas this time Ive chosen Christmas themed material.
  • Scissors
  • Marking pen or chalk
  • Pins
  • Sewing machine OR just a needle and thread- I use a machine only because its very quick, every time I make these I tend to make allot in the one hit so a machine suits me well.
  • Stuffing

 PDF of Pattern



Cut out the bird pattern then lay them on two pieces of contrasting material *Tip the most contrasting the better your bird will look. b2ap3_thumbnail_step-1.jpg

Trace around the bird pattern with chalk or a marker, when tracing around the side of the bird fold your fabric over so your cutting out two sides that are connected.



Cut out your bird.

Hope my picture helps where I said above fold the fabric for the bird sides, so your basically cutting two sides of the bird that is also connected so one piece.


 b2ap3_thumbnail_step-2-part-2.jpg b2ap3_thumbnail_step-2-part-3.jpg

See here, when I finish cutting out my pattern I can then turn out my bird and it's one piece.


Align the belly in the middle of the bird so you can be sure the belly that you have cut out will work, I say this as I am a shocking one for getting to confident with my cutting and after my 10th bird they start looking shocking mainly due to the fact that I start not using my template.

Now pin one edge of your belly to the edge of the bird, once again  I say pin for a nice even bird, I don't tend to pin all the timb2ap3_thumbnail_part-3.jpge which comes down to practice. 


Using a 1/4 seam allowance, place the two pieces together using just a plain straight stitch but dont sew over the tail. 

Below you can see two ways of sewing the birds, sometimes i start at the tail, other times I'll start near the head. The more you make the more you will find which style will suit you best. 

  b2ap3_thumbnail_part-3--part-2.jpg b2ap3_thumbnail_part-3--of-3.jpg


Now that you have sewn around the bird you should have something looking like this. Your bird should be wrong side showing and tail free from any stitch. Now trim any excess thread and seam allowance a little around the head so the beak comes out nice and sharp.



Turn you bird inside out so the right side of the fabric is shown.



Stuff your bird with filling from the tail end.




Now it's time to sew up your tail, straight stitch works well however  I like the scollop stitch my machine offers. Guess what? your done! How easy is that. Now make a whole heap and give out as gifts or glue a heap onto an old branch which is what i've done with allot of mine. When ever visitors come over my birds always get allot attention.


Finished Product



©Kylie Stephens
in DIY Ideas 55055