Tropical Climate Gardening

Your guide to gardening in the tropics

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There are a variety of reasons to use ground covers in your garden, we love them and encourage our clients to make good use of what is available up here in the tropics.

Ground covers will help drown out the weeds in your garden beds, give great dimension, elegance and attention to detail not to mention doing your part to prevent soil erosion.

When choosing a ground cover we have such a great selection here in the tropics however not all nurseries stock all ground covers. Online shopping can be a great tool in helping you track down the perfect ground cover.

Soil preparation is an essential part of ground covers because once the ground cover is settled in it can be quite hard to get into spaces to hand pick weeds, spraying poisons is risky and you may damage foliage of trying to get around the ground cover. Do compost with organic matter as this will kick you off to a great start.

In general most ground covers are low maintenance however a good irrigation set up will be required when establishing to ensure a good strong healthy root system.

Some of the ground covers we have used in the tropics include:

Mondo Grass (green) standard & mini

I was actually surprised to read one day in a book that the Mondo grass is not actually a grass at all but rather from the lily family.

It is evergreen with beautiful rich green foliage and spreads out in clumps. I like to hand pick dead foliage out of our Mondo's to give it a clean prestige look at all times. If your handy in the garden don't be scared to dig up clumps and start dividing, this will give you a ongoing supply.


Stripey Mondo

A stunning white and green variegated foliage growing approx 40cm in height.

Very easy to grow and quite hardy once established which is why its one of my top plants in the garden in fact i am using this type of Mondo to hedge around a garden bed which has allot of green. The silver foliage will break up the green, soften the edges and give a wonderful contrast.  



This would have to be the most widely used ground cover in Darwin, it has such a gorgeous contrast from a wonderful purple on one side of the leaf then a deep green on the other side.

This ground cover is very hardy, adaptable to most soil conditions and propagation is dead easy.

Requires little water, prefers full sun to part shade i have these in both but must say the Rhoeo that is in part shade has a richer color than the ones in full sun.

Fertilise regularly to keep Rhoeo looking at its best and don't over water will grow approx 30cm in height.


Stromanthe Purple

White and green upper leaves with a gorgeous purple underneath.

Grows well in shady or part shady positions, fertilise regularly and add organic mulch to see this ground cover at its best.

Approx 40cm in height


Aglanomea Silver King

A Great ground cover for shady areas and likes to be kept well watered, fertilise regular and add organic mulch to keep this one looking in top shape.



These carry some of the most interesting flowers to be seen, there are so many stunning varieties that i will have to make a post just one this topic to show you what is around. In Darwin we are spoilt for choice with all good garden nurseries stocking many variety as well as most of our weekend markets having selections at great prices.

Very easy to grow and propagate, just keep in the center of the broms- i like to give them a good hose down to clean the center out every now and then so the water is flushed clean.


Liriope (purple)

A dainty looking evergreen grassy leaf ground cover with perfect little purple flowers, very hardy and adaptable to most soil conditions.

Grows well in both sun and shade, approx 25cm.


Aloe Vera

Widely known for its medicinal properties these are very hardy growing in well drained soils, approx 30cm.

Leaves are dark grey/green with tiny blunt burs, flowers can be a yellow/orange, lightly fertilise.


Ruby Leaf

Year round deep ruby/ burgundy foliage, gets little cream flowers but mainly grown for the foliage colour.

Ive currently got this one in the garden but have to admit I'm not the biggest fan of it, it requires regular pruning to keep it looking neat and i find the sap seems to react with my skin. When Ive been a bit busy to cut it back it looks very twiggy and almost weed like in appearance. Can be grown in full sun to part shade and reaches half to a meter tall. Quite hardy requires little water.


Blue Marguerite

Bright blue daisy like flowers that look great scrambling over rockeries, full sun to part shade.

Water regular and best suited in free draining soil, approx 30cm in height



Coastal Morning Glory

A native ground cover with purple flowers, very hardy and grows well in sandy soils.



Seaside Daisy

Masses of dainty pink and white flowers, quite a hardy perennial ground cover growing well in full sun.

Slow growing however can get quite invasive so if growing this one keep an eye on it and cut back regularly, approx 40cm  


 Dichondra Repens

I love seeing this ground cover creeping in between pavers and cracks in concrete, it has a very dense clover like leaf and can grow in full sun to part shade conditions.

We have used this one as a full lawn substitute in the past with great success, low maintenance approx 15cm in height


Spider Lily

Another well known and seen plant in Darwin used for ground covering.

The strap leaves emerge from bulbs forming underground, they will grow in tight clusters and have a six spider like petals on flowers which will appear one and off all year round up here.

Very low maintenance, let the stems and leaves die off naturally then hand pick them out.

Fast spreading approx 60cm in height.


Creeping Vitex

A native ground cover with grey green leaves and a gorgeous purple orchid like flower which grow in clusters with a spicy fragrance.

Will grow well in a variety of soil conditions.


Heucherella Spotlight

Burgundy veins flow through bright green leaves, a winner if looking for striking contrast in part shaded areas.

Keep well watered and divide every now  and then to remove any dead foliage and keep it looking fresh.

Butterfly attracting, approx 20cm in height


Cut Leaf Daisy

This is a sweet little daisy that comes in a variety of colours and is very hardy,  requires very little water once established.

Prefers free draining soils but ive had this one also in a few different soil conditions with success.


Canavalia Rosea

A decorative trailing ground cover with thick leathery leaves aad attractive purple/ pink flowers.

Grows well in a variety of soils, pest and disease resistant and requires no fertilising.

Harshly prune as this one can get away and grows quite rapid, Ive seen a few places in Darwin that have let this one go wild and its ended up in quite a mess and taken quite a bit of work to get under control. I have a book that says this one is slow growing but from my experience i'ld class it in the fast growing category maybe its my soil but i find myself always cutting it back.



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©Kylie Stephens
Tagged in: ground cover
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  • Smithf560
    Smithf560 says #
    This design is incredible! You obviously know how to keep a reader amused. dfcaebadkdekefkd
  • says #
    Well that’s really great and I appreciate it. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learni
in Gardening 330257



I think its pretty safe to say you can drive down any street in Darwin and know there will be at least one garden in the street with Heliconias. They are such a popular tropical plant adding spectacular color, interesting foliage and double up as one of the most sort after cut flowers. The leaves look allot like banana leaves, an interesting fact is the Heliconia flower isn't really a flower at all, its actually a group of colorful leaves  called "bracts" its the tiny flower inside the bracts that is the true flower of the Heliconia plant its here that the pollen and stamen are.

Heliconias are related to the canna, gingers and the banana there is over 100 species  with a large number of these all having all sorts of cultivars and hybrids. 

How do Heliconias grow?

Heliconias grow from a vigourous underground system of rhizomes which looks allot like the root of ginger that you would buy from the market or supermarket.  You can also grow from seed however the most common way is by rhizomes which is quite easy even for the beginner.

How to Grow Heliconias?

Heliconias like the sub tropical and tropical climate areas and thrive in free draining soils that are rich in organic matter.  You can grow these in full sun or partial shade, in my experience I find the ones that get shade tend to grow taller and look a bit fuller than the ones out in full sun. Watering requirements are quite heavy, they will need a good watering during the dry season as well as mulching which will also help produce organic matter into the soil. Fertilising can be done just with a general purpose fertiliser or home made orb2ap3_thumbnail_Rhizome.jpgganic one.

Each stem will only produce one flower, so once you have a gorgeous flower simply cut it then cut the stem out. Cutting the stems out will give air flow through the plant, encourage more flowering and lmprove the overall appearance of the plant. We are often called out to garden cleanups which have masses of Heliconias that havent had any attention, its resulted in dead stems and leaves and looks rather  unattractive.  There is basically two types of growing styles the clumping and spreading so when choosing the right plant for you consider a clumping Heliconia if your restricted on time in the garden. Psittocorums are the small fast growing heliconias that you see flowering all year round.

There is also two flowering styles the erect style and the hanging type flowers which some call pendant flowers.  The most popular and my fav of the hanging Heliconia is the rostrata (hanging lobster claw)  the flowers are large with striking red and yellow.  

When it comes to dividing the Heliconias you need to dig and take a rhizome which is the thick woody horizontal root from which the leaf stems grow up from. This can then be divided into pieces as long as there is eye growth on it, its the eye that the new plant will grow from.  After this stage i like to soak my rhizomes in a lit of liquid fertiliser, i water the fertiliser down so its not to strong. The rhizome will absorb the water and fertiliser and be hydrated to plant out.

Plant out your rhizome with the eye pointing upwards, depth should be roughly the same depth as it came out the ground as a guide. Cover will soil (not to heavy) and water the soil down to remove the from around the rhizome this will help keep fungus away. After this stage you can cover with organic mulch to protect it from the sun. Once you have planted do not disturb as the roots and shoots are quite fragile at this stage. As for time to shoot it could be days or months, never give up watering ive had one take so long to shoot that i was convinced it was dead but out of the blue i saw a shoot and from there it bloomed into one of my best plants yet.

Containing Heliconias

For spreading Heliconias the best way to contain is either plant out in pots or simply use a root barrier its fairly cheap to buy and easy to install.  We like to use root barrier made from 100% recycled plastic at 1mm thickness.

Popular Psittocorums                     Popular Erect                                      Propular Hanging

-Golden Torch                                   - Bihai Claw 2                                        - Sexy Pink

-Red Gold                                         - Bihai Nappy Red                                  - Sexy Orange

-Daintree                                          - Carabea Red                                      - Rostrata

-Red Cross                                        - Bihai Yellow Dancer                             - Collinsiana

-Tropica                                           - Champneiana Maya Blood

b2ap3_thumbnail_red-heliconia.jpg                b2ap3_thumbnail_Heliconia_bihai_Claw_III.jpg                  b2ap3_thumbnail_Heliconia-rostrata-6inch.JPG


©Kylie Stephens
Tagged in: Heliconia Tropical
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  • josephine
    josephine says #
    I love the pic. & info.
  • Ground Force  garden nursery - Port Vila - Vanuatu
    Ground Force garden nursery - Port Vila - Vanuatu says #
    Great info thanks !
in Gardening 311176



This is a bit of a late post, i have been busy re designing this new website so we can share more to our viewers. I'm no web designer but i am very stubborn when it comes to learning every aspect in our business which includes web design. 

Darwin recently hosted  the 2013 Tropical Garden Spectacular at the Botanical Gardens in June in which we were a part of.

For those of you that are in Darwin or planning to be in Darwin during the dry season come along and enjoy what the Territory has to offer.  The event is all about creating inspiration and full of entertainment.


Kevin the irrigation guru was there all weekend doing irrigation demonstrations & talking all things irrigation. We also had a display this year which took a bit of planning and last minute madness but was well worth it. Our theme was children in the garden, we basically wanted to show what you can do yourself with DIY projects using recyclable materials. Displays included a pencil fence, poly rainbow, the hungry caterpillar, scarecrows, birds, paper flowers, sea saw and much more. When i am on top of things in the office i will add some how to posts for those of you that would like to out a few of the projects.

The much loved Costa from Gardening Australia was at the event this year, sadly i didn't get to meet him but Kevin had a good chat with him and got come great photos together. Its great to see such well know garden celebrity's coming along to our Top End events. Costa spent a week in the Tiwi Islands the week before checking out what the guys have been up to out there. Last Saturday Gardening Australia had an episode showing the Islands, it looked beautiful and some amazing work happening out there even a boasting nursery which i didn't know existed out there.  



in Gardening 62799


Creating a habitat garden can be very rewarding for the whole family, you will not only be attracting all sorts of birds but also creatures like frogs,lizards, insects and other reptiles.

Here in the Top End of Australia we house some of Australia's most spectacular birds, as i have kids we created a log where the kids get to record any new species seen on our property. This is a great way to get the kids interested, they get so excited when a new species enters our place we then Google the bird species and learn a little about the bird.

Firstly research your local area, study the native species of plants, trees and grasses as these will be the type of plants you will want to introduce into your own garden. Your local Greening Australia is a great place to pop into, they have a fantastic variety of native plants and are full of knowledge. Our Greening Australia also sell interesting books all relating to our area, such as weed control, native grasses and all kinds of books on plants. We have a great book i once picked up there called "Native Plants for Top End Gardens" Its my go to book when designing anything native or water wise up here. We are also professional landscapers in the Top End so we tend to have more than one copy of this book and regularly borrow the book out to our customers.

There are plenty of good things about natives but i must admit i just love how resilient they are, take little water and easily adapt to climate & soil conditions without to much hassle.

When buying your plants try to mimic the natural bushland so think tall trees, small trees, ground covers, shrubs all of these will play a vital role into your habitat. To attract birds plant dense areas for birds to nest in and include a water source like a pond or bird bath, you can pick up some really nice natural looking ones from nurseries. When planting out remember not to plant anything in rows as this will take that natural feel and look away.

Be sure to include flat rock so lizards & geckos that pop in to say hi have a place to sun themselves and hide from any preying birds. When getting all your bush rock just keep in mind whilst its attracting lizards it maybe encourage some snakes through the area so if you have kids around be sure to educate them not to just lift rocks or put their little hands in any holes. 

If your wanting to encourage possums include possum boxes, we have one that i purchased off the internet which had a possum last year. But we are also lucky enough to have some old gum trees with hollows which house families of galahs and cockatoos.

There is no need to feed any of the native animals that enter your garden in fact this never be done as it may teach the animals to start relying on your for food as their main source. Mulching areas will encourage  worms which double up as a natural food source not to mention do wonders for your soil.   

So why natives?

  • Provides Habitat
  • Low Maintenance
  • Water wise so saves you money & helps the planet
  • Reduces weeds
  • Produce your own bush tucker
  • Free Nature Sounds
  • Looks Great!

After all your careful planning remember to place a nice wooden seat somewhere so you can sit and enjoy.


We invite you to come join us on our Facebook page where you can find out more information on topics just like this one.

Our page is aimed at like minded people who enjoy gardening, nature photography ,permaculture & sustainable healthy living

 Tropical Gardening- Facebook page





Tagged in: native
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