More Thrilling than Spikes!

An update to our May 2019 Newsletter, which featured alternatives to spike plants

Cordylines: Here I’m talking about Cordyline fruticosa, commonly known as “Ti” plant, not Cordyline australis, which still looks like a spike (but at least is being bred now in pinks and yellows). Ti plant boasts large, wide, pointed glossy leaves, often striped, in shades and mixtures of pink, burgundy, purple to almost black, orange, peach, yellow, cream and/or green. They can eventually grow to 10 feet, but 3-4 feet is more likely in a season for a containerized plant. For smaller containers, start with a plant in a 6 inch pot. They do not branch, so stems will grow straight up.

A hardy evergreen in zones 10-12, in colder zones they can be overwintered indoors in bright indirect light. (Always make sure to properly transition your plants from indoors to outdoors and vice versa).  They grow well at 55 to 95 degrees, and enjoy a humid environment.  Depending on variety, they can grow in full sun to heavy shade, but most are at their best in morning sun, all-day filtered sun, or bright shade.  Take note of where they are merchandised when you purchase—if they are shaded you will need to acclimate gently to full sun. Leaves may lose their vibrant coloring in lighting that is too dim.  Cordylines prefer a moist, well-drained soil—too dry and the leaf edges may brown, while very wet plants may rot.  Don’t use fluoridated water or leaf edge browning may occur. 

All that being said, they’re really very easy to grow—the only issue I’ve ever had is an occasional mealybug or aphid breakout, so keep an eye out and treat quickly should you find a pest.  Check at leaf joints and under the leaves—if you find a mealybug, apply rubbing alcohol to the insect with a cotton swab.  For aphids, spray with an insecticidal soap. 

You can create fabulous monochromatic designs with these gorgeous foliage plants.  I love the peachy tones of “Morning Sunshine” with Supercal TerraCotta Petchoa (a cross of petunia and calibrachoa), creeping jenny, and burgundy verbena. Or “Red Sister,” with petunia Supertunia® Vista Fuchsia , verbena Superbena® Burgundy, and scaevola Scalora® Topaz Pink.  “Candy Cane” is awesome with petunia Supertunia® “Picasso in Pink” and Breathless® Blush euphorbia.  If you desire a larger palette, try "Red Sister" with Supertunia® "Royal Velvet", Bandana® Cherry Sunrise lantana, gold bidens and green sweet potato vine.

 Houseplants:  Many plants can do double duty like cordylines—outdoors for the summer and providing interior decoration during the cold months.  Most houseplants do not like full sun, so are perfect for adding some excitement to shadier planters. 

  • Sansieveria, or snake plant, has an extremely upright habit with long pointed leaves, and many different patterns of variegation to choose from, in green/white or green/yellow.  Despite its famed drought tolerance and dislike of overly wet soils, it fares quite well mixed with New Guinea impatiens—which I never would have believed had I not seen it myself.   For drier soils, mix with heuchera, begonias, and lamium.  Snake plants can be grown in full sun as well, but you must take care to transition them slowly to avoid sun damage.  My favorite varieties include "Bantel’s Sensation"—narrow leaves with heavy white longitudinal streaking, and “Moonshine”-wider silvery leaves.  Both look fantastic in part shade with white New Guinea Impatiens and “White Nancy” lamium.  Another favorite, "Black and Gold", lights up the shade combined with yellow tuberous begonias and lamium “Golden Anniversary.”
  • Dracaena, or corn plant, is a commonly grown houseplant.  The most striking varieties are cultivars of Dracaena demerensis.  Dracaena "Limelight" is a solid chartreuse,"Lemon-Lime" has wide bands of chartreuse and dark green with a slim white striping, and "Whitney" is streaked green and white.  Any of these, or one of their variably sized cousins, will thrive in bright shade outdoors, making a magnificent statement as the centerpiece of your design. 
  • Other plants you might consider to add height and structure to a shade planting are Strelitzia (bird-of-paradise), Spathiphyllum (peace lily), and bamboo palm.  Keep in mind that dracaena, snake plant, peace lily, and bamboo palm are all excellent indoor air-cleaning plants, included on the NASA list. Once transitioned to indoor living, you'll get an added benefit from these long after summer container season is over.

For more infomation on cordylines and other housplants, check out Costa Farms at