Croton and ivy

These crotons provide a blast of color, indoors or out.


Outdoors, Cissus discolor grows best in shade or part shade.

Who hasn’t brought a houseplant or two outdoors for an open-air, summer vacation? Every summer I hang plants from the branches of my dogwood where they thrive in dappled light and benefit from the summer rains. Many of our favorite indoor plants are actually tropical perennials that thrive in our hot, humid summers. Why not expand your plant palette and use some of these beauties in the outdoor garden? Here are five that make excellent garden annuals.

Cissus discolor: The rex begonia vine is a tricky plant for indoor growers because it requires very high humidity. In the average home, foliage may develop brown edges, but outdoors it thrives in areas with humid summers. Grow it on a teepee or trellis for 10 to 15 feet of colorful coverage in a single season.

Codiaeum variegatum: Crotons are splashy houseplants that grow best in full sun indoors. When grown outdoors, they thrive in part sun with regular watering. They’re happy in containers or in the ground and really light up the annual garden.


Use snakeskin plant to add a touch of color at ground level.

Fittonia verschafelttii: Snakeskin plant makes an excellent ground cover for a shady spot. Venation may be pink or white, depending on the variety, and it grows tight and low to the ground, filling in nicely.


Mandevilla vine turns a temperate garden into a tropical paradise.

Mandevilla: This tropical vine has been a greenhouse favorite for years and now it’s being sold as a garden annual. Trumpet-shaped flowers may be deep pink, pale pink or white, and the vine can be used to dress a trellis, cover a railing, or cascade from a hanging basket.


This purple passionflower is just one of the gorgeous varieties available. Others may be red, white, or blue.

Passiflora: Plant this tropical passionflower vine at the base of a tree or shrub and watch it scramble, draping the tree (or shrub) in a necklace of gorgeous flowers. This is a full-sun plant in its natural habitat and often struggles indoors. But as a garden annual it’s a knockout.

Ellen Zachos is the proprietor of Acme Plant Stuff, a garden design, installation, and maintenance company in New York City. She is a Harvard graduate, a garden writer and photographer, and an instructor at the New York Botanical Garden. Ellen is the author of six books, including Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat.

Vermont Seminar

Ellen Zachos

Ellen Zachos
Photo by Rob Cardillo

If you live in Vermont, I hope you’ll join me for two seminars on March 29 at the Burlington Gardener’s Supply garden center.

Backyard Foraging
9:30 to 11 a.m. March 29
When you think about hostas and daylilies, you probably focus on their appealing foliage and vibrant blooms. Surprisingly, these perennials are delicious as well. Many of our favorite garden plants can feed both body and soul. Learn how to recognize, harvest and prepare tasty treats, such as wintergreen sorbet, rose hip soup and dahlia tuber bread from plants you already have around your home.

Awesome Annuals
11:30 to 1 p.m. March 29
Annuals are popular as stand-alone plantings and mixed with perennials to fill in gaps and add splashes of color throughout the season. Learn how to grow and maintain old favorites and new varieties of annuals. Look at basic propagation techniques, such as starting from seed and transplanting seedlings successfully.

The spring seminar series is under way at our Vermont garden centers. Click to see the full schedule.