Gardening with Tropical Plants

Learn about gardening with tropical plants, in greenhouses, protected garden spaces, indoors or in warmer climates. An entry level course suitable for anyone new to horticultural study.

Course Code: AHT109
Fee Code: S2
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Learn About Gardening with Tropical Plants

Tropical gardens can vary from dry and desert-like, to coastal, to dense, lush and leafy environs resembling the dynamic workings of a rainforest. Many different garden effects are possible using tropical plants.

Certain plants that originate in tropical or sub-tropical climates can sometimes be grown successfully out of doors in a cooler climate - particularly if provided with some protection (e.g. under the canopy of a large tree or beside a wall to protect from wind and/or frost). With the right conditions (i.e. light, ventilation, temperature, humidity etc) any tropical plant can be grown in a greenhouse, or as an indoor plant, no matter where you live.

This course aims to provide a sound introduction to gardening with tropical plants, in greenhouses, protected garden spaces, indoors or in warmer climates. It provides a good first step for anyone new to horticultural study, whether amateur gardeners, volunteers or aspiring professionals.

NOTE - This course is based on our "Tropical Plants" course - adapted to be more suitable for entry level students.



Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Introducing Tropical Plants
    • What does the term "Tropical Plant" mean
    • What tropical plants can you grow
    • Plant naming - levels of division, genus, species, hybrid, variety, cultivar
    • Monocotyledon versus dicotyledon
    • Plan families
    • Growing tropicals - climatic zones
    • Tropical and Sub tropical
    • Temperate
    • Arid
    • Climatic variations - seasonal or constant, mountain, savannahs, rainforest, coastal
    • What causes an area to be warm
    • Good an bad news about tropical gardens
    • Common hot garden area
    • Heat traps
    • Warming the garden
    • Greenhouse growing
  2. Plant Cultural Practices
    • Common garden problems
    • Understanding soils - texture, pH, nutrient availability, improving soi, fertility
    • Water and plant growth
    • Water deficiency and excess
    • Water loss from soil
    • Improving water retention
    • Planting
    • Plant establishment methods
    • Trickle irrigation
    • Light requirements
    • Mulches
    • Tree guards
    • Common problems
    • Plant nutrition - nutrient elements, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, etc.
    • Deficiencies and toxicities
    • Propagation
    • Cuttings & Seeds - techniques, propagating mixes, equipment
    • Potting mixes
    • How to pot up a plant
    • Taking care of young plants
    • Pruning
  3. Tropical Annuals, Perennials, Bulbous Plants, Bamboos and Lawns
    • Some Bamboos and Grass like plants
    • Arundinaria, Bambusa, Pennisetum, Phyllostachys, Saccharum, Cortaderia
    • Carex, Dianella, Imperata, Liriope, Ophiopogon
    • Bamboos and selected bamboo species
    • Bulbs and Herbaceous Perennials
    • Achimenes,Agapanthus, Clivia, Crinum, Crocosmia, Cyrtanthus, Dichorisandra, Dierama
    • Amorphophallus, Aristea, Babiana, Boophone, Brunsvigia, Calostemma,Eucharis, Eucomis, Gladiolus, Gloriosa, Haemanthus, Hippeastrum, Hymenocallis, Hypoxis,Iris, Kniphofia, Lilium, Lycaris, Moraea, Ornithogalum, Sparaxis Phaedranassa, Sprekelia, Tacca, Zephyranthes, Alstroemeria, Amaryllis
    • Alocasia, Caladium, Calathea, Colocasia, Heliconia, Maranta
  4. Ornamental Gingers and Heliconias (and Related Plants Including Alpinia, Hedychium, Zingiber, Musa and Costus)
    • Zingiberales
    • Musaceae - bananas
    • Strelitziaceae - bird of paradise
    • Lowiaceae
    • Heliconiaceae -heliconias
    • Zingiberaceae - gingers
    • Costaceae - costus
    • Cannaceae - cannas
    • Marantaceae - prayer plants
    • Ginger genera
    • Heliconias
    • Parrots beak heliconia
    • Heliconia species
    • Cannas
    • Costis
    • Strelitzias
  5. Palms and Palm Like Plants
    • Self cleaning or not
    • Solitary versus clumping
    • Pinnate or fan leaves
    • Palm propagation
    • Review of significant palm genera
    • Cycads
    • Yucca
    • Cordylines
  6. Shrubs, Trees and Climbers
    • Abelia, Abutilon, Acalypha, Adenium, Aphelandra, Ardisia, Barleria, Breynia, Browallia, Brunfelsia, Bouvardia, Calliandra, Callistemon, Camellia, and many others
    • Albizzia, Allocasuarina, Bauhinia, Bixa, Brachychiton, Caesalpinia, Callicarpa, Cannanga and many others
    • Conifers - covering 9 genera
    • Climbers - covering over 30 genera
  7. Orchids, Ferns and Bromeliads
    • Guidelines for orchid culture
    • Temperature
    • Light
    • Ventilation
    • Watering
    • Feeding
    • Potting media
    • Epiphytes
    • Cattleya
    • Epidendrum - crucifix orchid
    • Cymbidium
    • Dendrobium
    • Odontoglossum
    • Oncidium
    • Paphiopedilum -slipper orchid
    • Phalaenopsis
    • Pleione
    • Vanda
    • Orchid pests, diseases, viruses
    • Bromeliads - culture
    • Ferns - culture, genera, ferns as indoor plants
    • Tree ferns
    • Rock ferns
    • Terrestrial Filmy ferns
    • Other ferns
    • Epiphytic ferns
    • Fern families
    • Sun tolerant ferns
    • Dry soil ferns
    • Aroids
  8. Tropical Herbs, Vegetables and Fruit
    • Growing methods
    • Organic
    • No Dig, Sheet mulching, raised bed
    • Hydroponics
    • Permaculture
    • Container growing
    • Greenhouse growing
    • Plant needs - light, temperature
    • Choosing a good site
    • Selected vegetables for warm conditions
    • Cucumber, melon, watermelon, zucchini, sweet potato, Taro, Yam,
    • Tropical herbs
    • Galangal
    • Ginger, Lemon grass
    • Coffee
    • Vietnamese mint
    • Tea
    • Tropical Fruit Trees
    • Avocado
    • Banana
    • Carambola
    • Custard Apple
    • Guava
    • Fig
    • Paw Paw
    • Pepino
    • Macadamia
    • Mango
    • Pineapple
    • Passionfruit
    • Peanut
    • Pecan
    • Rosella
    • Other fruits
  9. Growing Tropical Plants Outside of the Tropics
    • Comparing indoor and outdoor growing
    • Indoor plants that adapt to varied light and temperature
    • Review of important indoor plant families
    • Problems with indoor plants
    • Potting mixes for indoor plants
  10. Landscaping with Tropical Plants
    • Landscape principles - unity, balance, proportion, harmony, contrast, rhythm
    • Qualities of landscape components - line, form, mass, space, texture, colour, tone
    • Creating landscape effects
    • Garden styles - formal, informal, natural
    • Pre planning information
    • What do you want from a garden
    • Cooling effects
    • Design procedure
    • Producing drawings to scale

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Explain the nature and scope of tropical plants.
  • Discuss cultural characteristics that are often peculiar to tropical plants.
  • Describe the taxonomy and culture of a range of soft wooded tropical plants including annuals, perennials and bulbs.
  • Describe the taxonomy and culture of Heliconias and gingers.
  • Describe the taxonomy and culture of palms and palm-like tropical plants.
  • Describe the taxonomy and culture of climber, tree and shrub tropical plants.
  • Describe the taxonomy and culture of orchids, ferns and bromeliads.
  • Describe the taxonomy and culture of herbs, vegetables and fruits in tropical conditions.
  • Determine ways to grow tropical plants outside of the tropics.
  • Explain the use of tropical plants in landscaping.


Some people would think a tropical plant is a plant that comes from the tropics. Others might consider tropical plants to also include plants from sub-tropical places.

Gardeners in some parts of the world would also consider any plant that has a tropical appearance, to be a tropical plant.
Cordylines for instance, are often called ‘tropical plants’, even though many of the common cultivars have at least partially originated in New Zealand, which does not fall within the tropics.

This course is concentrating on plants which originate from tropical or sub-tropical climates; but there may be some plants covered which fit a looser definition of ‘tropical’.


Who is this Course For?

  • Horticulturists, Gardeners, Landscapers, Passionate amateurs or anyone else wanting to learn more about this subject
  • Anyone working with tropical plants, or with tropical or sub tropical environments (including greenhouses or other artificial environments)
  • Anyone wanting to create a tropical styled garden, even in marginal (not quite tropic) environments


How can I start this course?

You can enrol at anytime and start the course when you are ready. Enrolments are accepted all year - students can commence study at any time. All study is self paced and ACS does not set assignment deadlines.

Please note that if a student is being assisted by someone else (e.g. an employer or government subsidy), the body offering the assistance may set deadlines. Students in such situations are advised to check with their sponsor prior to enrolling. The nominal duration of a course is approximately how long a course takes to complete. A course with a nominal duration of 100 hours is expected to take roughly 100 hours of study time to complete. However, this will vary from student to student. Short courses (eg. 100 hrs duration) should be completed within 12 months of enrolment. Certificates, Advanced Certificates and Awards (eg. over 500 hours duration) would normally be completed within 3 -5 years of enrolment. Additional fees may apply if a student requires an extended period to complete.
If a student cannot submit their assignments for 6 months to ACS, they should advise the school to avoid cancellation of their student
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Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Adriana Fraser (Horticulturist)

Over 30 years working in horticulture, as a gardener, propagator, landscape designer
, teacher and consultant. Adriana has spent much of her life living on large properties, developing and maintaining her own gardens, and living a semi self sufficient lifestyle. She has decades of practical experience growing her own fruit, vegetables and herbs, and making her own preserves. She is well connected with horticulture professionals across Australia, and amongst other things, for a period, looked after Australia's national collection of Thymus. Advanced Diploma in Horticulture, Advanced Certificate in Horticulture.

Rosemary Davies (Horticulturist)

Leading horticultural expert in Australia.
Rosemary trained in Horticultural Applied Science at Melbourne University. Initially she worked with Agriculture Victoria as an extension officer, taught horticulture students, worked on radio with ABC radio (clocking up over 24 years as a presenter of garden talkback programs, initially the only woman presenter on gardening in Victoria) and she simultaneously developed a career as a writer.
She then studied Education and Training, teaching TAFE apprentices and developing curriculum for TAFE, before taking up an offer as a full time columnist with the Herald and Weekly Times and its magazine department after a number of years as columnist with the Age. She has worked for a number of companies in writing and publications, PR community education and management and has led several tours to Europe.
In 1999 Rosemary was BPW Bendigo Business Woman of the Year and is one of the founders and the Patron, of the Friends of the Bendigo Botanic gardens. She has completed her 6th book this year and is working on concepts for several others.
Rosemary has a B Ed, BSc Hort, Dip Advertising & Marketing

Jacinda Cole (Horticulturist)

B.Sc., Cert.Garden Design. Landscape Designer, Operations Manager, Consultant, Garden Writer.
She was operations manager for a highly reputable British Landscape firm (The Chelsea Gardener) before starting up her own landscaping firm. She spent three years working in our Gold Coast office, as a tutor and writer for Your Backyard (gardening magazine) which we produced monthly for a Sydney punlisher between 1999 and 2003. Since then, Jacinda has contributed regularly to many magazines, co authored several gardening books and is currently one of the "garden experts" writing regularly for the "green living" magazine "Home Grown".

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