On Gardening: Royal Hawaiians perfect for your summer staycation


Typically, the words Royal Hawaiian would direct your thoughts to tropical islands, vacations and exotic getaways among lush foliage and clear blue seas. As wonderful as those dreams seem, I won’t try to anticipate your travel plans for the summer but instead invite you to let the words Royal Hawaiian be a transformational landscape moment for the long summer growing season ahead.

Proven Winners the company known for bringing you Supertunia petunias, Superbena verbenas and Superbells calibrachoas has made it simple to take that tropical vacation at home, a Royal Hawaiian staycation with a six-pack of choices if you will, of tropical elephant ears.

Botanically speaking these are Colocasia esculenta selections known for offering a riveting tropical experience as a thriller plant in a mixed container or the perfect landscape partner for bananas, hibiscus or your favorite tropical, whether poolside or on the porch, patio or deck.

The newest in the Royal Hawaiian line is Royal Hawaiian Maui Sunrise with a prominent white vein in the center of the dramatic foliage. But there are varieties like Black Coral with deep dark purple leaves, Hawaiian Punch with Red Stems and The Garden Guy’s personal favorite Maui Gold with outlandish lime green leaves. Don’t forget each begins with the name Royal Hawaiian.

Thanks to son James love for the tropical look he has been using them at shopping centers and planned communities in Columbus, Ga., this year, creating a look that has everyone’s spirits pepped up despite the somewhat stressful times of social distancing.

It is really quite simple to look like a design pro and that is to use your favorite color of Royal Hawaiian as the thriller plant in mixed container of your favorite flowers. Now don’t forget I’m the guy who thinks all other colors look better with the addition of lime as in the Maui Gold.

So, whether your favorite flowers are begonias, petunias, salvias or even a mix of all three, the Maui Gold will simply make the container look as though it is a designer style mixed container.

In commercial settings like my son’s applications, they are treated as annuals and revamped in the fall with cool season flowers. The good news for you the gardeners is that most of these are perennial in zone 7b or 8a. Those of you in colder regions probably already know these are among the easiest bulbs to dig, dry and store for the winter if you so choose.

Since they do have a touch of cold hardiness and multi-season by storing, this opens the door for some exotic landscape usage. Consider combining with the Japanese fiber banana Musa basjoo, which is cold hardy to zone 5. Add Proven Winners hardy hibiscus like Summerific Holy Grail cold hardy to zone 4 and you’ll have garnered your own corner of paradise.

For all of our tropical foliage plants, I like the soil to be fertile, organic rich, and well-drained, especially for winter survival. If yours is tight and heavy then incorporate 3 to 4 inches of organic matter for good aeration and drainage or plant on raised beds like commercial landscapers. Obviously, for containers, you want a good light potting soil.

While you are preparing your bed, work in a slow release pre-plant fertilizer, like a 10-10-10 with minor nutrients. Use about 2 pounds per 100 square feet of bed space. You may have been used to buying bulbs of the old standard Colocasia varieties, but these new Royal Hawaiian selections are being sold as container grown plants. If you still buy bulbs make sure and plant them deep enough so that the top of the bulb is 2 inches below the soil. If you are planting these container grown plants, then set them at the same depth they are growing in the container.

You may have never considered going to a garden center to purchase elephant ears by named variety, but it is a new and wonderful day. It is time to go shopping and see if you can create a corner of a tropical paradise, a Royal Hawaiian one, in your backyard.

(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)

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