The use of interior foliage continues to become more popular each season; the crops not only add a coarse texture to mixed containers but also a new sense of novelty and a built-in tolerance for shady garden settings. Every year we seem to draw closer to the concept that color is color, and traditional definitions of annual and perennial have less and less to do with what we use in the color portion of the landscape. Not to take away from landscape performance of good perennials, but when looking at containers and signature color areas of business and home landscapes we seem to be moving more and more to using whatever generates a double take. Getting our consumers to do a double take in shady locations has always been a big problem because most of our product is designed to succeed in the blazing sun. The re-introduction of tropical foliage into the mix has been a huge boost to sales of all color crops.
In the last two years there has been a newcomer to the foliage crossover: the dracaena called 'Limelight'. 'Limelight' is a sport of Dracaena deremensis 'Janet Craig' — one of the staples of the indoor plant trade known for its durability and performance under very low light conditions. While 'Limelight' still has the wide glossy leaves of its parent, the foliage emerges and stays a lime green reminiscent of 'Margarita' ('Marguerite') and 'Sweet Caroline Light Green' ornamental sweet potatoes. The nice part about this dracaena is that it can be used as the upright component in mixed containers and will still perform better under lower light conditions than the sweet potatoes.
Things to consider before you begin bringing this or any other tropical foliage crop in for spring sales: You will have a hard time justifying the space these plants take up if you are hoping to grow them to a larger size. When you are ordering, try a few different sizes (6, 8 and 10 inches and larger) to see what works best for you; ordering a larger size will ensure that you don't have anything too small to use. Also, ordering larger sizes helps to compensate for indoor foliage plants having a much slower growth rate than annuals; in mixed containers a small foliage plant will simply be overwhelmed, so get larger plants to start with, or match these plants with low-vigor color items. In your greenhouse, you are going to need to place foliage plants in a warm area where you can watch watering and light levels. Cold, wet soil and bright light are great ways to damage the plants before you ever get to use them; remember, foliage plants don't regenerate leaves as quickly as our herbaceous color, so any damage lingers well past spring.
Some tropical foliage fallacies
They require 65¡ F nights to grow. In truth, many of our crops are produced with 55¡ F nights and will hold up to the 40s if acclimated. Check out the use of tropical foliage in the Portland, Ore., area. The mixture of tropical and temperate crops in this part of the country is absolutely amazing. In almost all cases, temperatures below 40¡ F are going to be detrimental, so plan sales for later spring when temperatures are milder.
Foliage crops scorch in any sun. Again, the key is acclimation to different light levels. Once acclimated and maintained properly, many of our traditional indoor plants are even more attractive in brighter sun; there are exceptions of course.
They are too slow for me to produce. Possibly true, depending on where you are growing, but if you are buying the material in for winter indoor sales, you'll want to continue to buy the product for spring sales. You may even find this is a good way to turn over your winter indoor crops, as spring flowers take up more floor space.
Don't limit your purchasing to just dracaena 'Limelight'; there are many great dracaena cultivars that can add some great texture and color to mixed containers and give that upright element to shade mixed containers or other uses. You also may find that your conditions or customers have better luck with one cultivar or another. Check out Dracaena warneckii 'Lemon Lime' for a combination of lime green with white and grey variegation; this is a really nice plant and makes an excellent foliage item as well as brightening up indoor spaces. One of my favorites is dracaena 'Rikki' — long thin foliage with stripes of cream to yellow tones, a different texture but a strong grower. Don't forget all the great Dracaena marginata cultivars — sporting green, red toned, variegated and tricolor foliage.
What about the living trellis concept? We are all familiar with the three-cane Dracaena massangeana (or corn plant) marketed in this fashion, so try using these plants as a centerpiece and support for annual vines like thunbergia, rhodochiton or lophospermum. Most of these vines can tolerate a little shade and in turn provide shade for the dracaena at the same time. After all, if color is color and the customer wants something different, this could be a great way to develop a signature item.