Tropical Outdoor Design Ideas

Transform your outdoor areas into paradise for much less than a trip to a romantic island resort. Don’t feel stressed to tackle all of these projects at one time. Introduce them as your budget allows. Before you know it, you will be kicking back with an umbrella drink enjoying your own personal tropical oasis.

Lush plantings give your outdoor space that tropical flavor!
Lush plantings give your outdoor space that tropical flavor! | Source

Lush Plantings

Think about the pictures you’ve seen or the tropical locales you have visited. Lush plantings are the main attraction. In the case of tropical outdoor spaces, more is better. In fact, you can’t have too much in the way of lush landscaping materials. Tropical greenery creates a cooling effect and offsets the heat created by hardscape.

Inject various shades of green, different sizes of leaves and plant heights to create visual interest. Layer low-growing ferns and hostas, philodendrons and cycads with taller palms and trees to give your tropical garden interesting sections of texture and greenery. Bring in subtle and vibrant color with plants like native woodviolet, bird of paradise, hibiscus and bromeliads.

Pick colorful flowering plants to enhance your outdoor design.
Pick colorful flowering plants to enhance your outdoor design. | Source

If you live in a temperate zone, recreating a lush tropical landscape is fairly easy. If you reside in a four-season zone, check with your local nursery or garden center for planting suggestions that will give you a similar look that withstands colder temperatures.

One way to bring the tropics to northern growing zones is to choose native plants with large, rounded leaf shapes that evoke a similar feeling. Also consider using patio containers to house tropical plant species – you can move them indoors when the weather gets cold.

Before buying any plants, check to make sure they are suitable for your planting zone.
Before buying any plants, check to make sure they are suitable for your planting zone. | Source

Water Features

Water features can be as simple as a homemade fountain fashioned out of a decorative urn to ponds with waterfalls and pools with spouting water features. Moving water can be used to drown out surrounding environmental noise and provides a soothing backdrop for your tropical outdoor space.

Get creative with your tropical water feature!
Get creative with your tropical water feature! | Source

If you opt for a large water feature, try to incorporate nature into the design. A lagoon with flowering water lilies and stocked with colorful carp will be a focal point – it's a tranquil place to while away the afternoon. You may also want to incorporate natural rocks and boulders into a more elaborate water feature such as a waterfall.

Don't worry if your budget isn't big enough for a large water feature. Even a simple solar powered fountain or birdbath can add an exotic air to a small tropical courtyard, patio or balcony.

Exotic Furnishings

You’re in luck! There are many choices for exotic outdoor furniture available today. You won’t have to search very far to find just the right style for your tropical outdoor design. Rattan, teak and woven wicker furniture looks right at home in a tropical outdoor setting.

A thatched palapa adds an authentic touch to a tropical backyard.
A thatched palapa adds an authentic touch to a tropical backyard. | Source


Add the element of fire by placing oil torches or lanterns around the patio to light up the night with a soft glow. If you really want to take the tropical theme literally, find a contractor that constructs palapas to give your patio or pool area that authentic island feel. Use a festive, thatched palapa to cover a dining or lounge area.


Use an outdoor sisal area rug to define a seating area just as you would for indoor spaces. Large seashells make lovely accents for tables. Install a tropical outdoor ceiling fan to recreate gentle the trade winds!


A tropical cabana layered with sheer curtains creates a romantic outdoor space.
A tropical cabana layered with sheer curtains creates a romantic outdoor space. | Source

Fabric Shades and Curtains

If you don’t have a fully covered patio, but have a pergola, try this creative tropical idea. Attach panels of natural outdoor fabric to the pergola frame, creating a relaxed, shaded living space. Simply take the lengths of fabric down during stormy summer and harsh winter weather.

Covered patios get a dose of the tropics with the addition of grommeted curtains. Remember to purchase (or sew them) in a weather resistant fabric like Sunbrella. The grommets and curtain hardware should also be made from weather resistant materials. In a matter of a few hours, you can transform your plain patio into a tropical resort cabana with ready made curtain panels!

No patio cover at all? You can create a similar tropical look by purchasing two or three wooden patio umbrellas in a natural fabric. Several 7- to 9-ft. diameter umbrellas will easily shade an average size patio.

Inject Tropical Color

Use vibrant hues, like coral, aqua, bright yellow and lime green to create a Caribbean-inspired tropical outdoor space. If you are not fond of vivid colors, stick to muted blues, greens and tans to pick up the colors of the sea and sand.

Choose wild or subtle colors to suit your tropical personality.
Choose wild or subtle colors to suit your tropical personality. | Source

Choose neutral cushions and bring in pops of the tropics with colorful patterned throw pillows that echo the colors of your landscape plants. By using smaller colorful accessories, you can easily change your color scheme just by switching out a few pillows and decorative accents.

Try these ideas to create a tropical outdoor oasis, you'll never have to leave your backyard!

Tropical Outdoor Tablescape

© 2012 lindacee

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Start a Conversation! 22 comments

rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

I love tropical décor. This is very cool. Great colors, those blues and greens. I will keep these ideas in mind. Thanks!


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

Oh, I love that cabana! There is nothing better than the feel of a tropical island - great hub!


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Rebecca, I love tropical décor as well. I think we all deserve to have a tropical hideaway. Happy I could provide some inspiration for yours!


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Leah, yes that cabana is just too wonderful! Writing this Hub made me realize I need a tropical vacation! Thanks for reading and commenting!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

With all your ideas I would not want to leave home! Love the suggestions on décor and plants. Your zone chart is a great add to the post.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 4 years ago

This hub is so lovely, lindacee. Your tips are very helpful and inspiring. I really want a thatched palapa like that one in the picture! I wouldn't have a place to put it, though. My apartment's balcony would be way too small for that. hehehe


greatstuff profile image

greatstuff 4 years ago from Malaysia

Wow, these are useful ideas. My garden is like a jungle now and your article will come in handy.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Teaches, the zone chart is so important to homeowners can select plants that impart a tropical feel, yet will survive local weather conditions. So pleased you liked the décor and plant suggestions! Thanks for the kind words. :)


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

I had a good time selecting the images for this hub, Om. Wish I had a tropical backyard so I could have used original photos! I think the palapas are so much fun and really speak to that tropical feel. I'd also like to have one, but I have a small balcony as well. ;) Glad you enjoyed this hub!


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Good luck with your garden, greatstuff. You'll have to do a hub about it and share the "after" photos with us! Happy to have provided some inspiration. Cheers!


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 4 years ago from San Francisco

Ugh, this awesome guide REALLY makes me wish I lived in a warmer area- or at least that I were about to visit one! I absolutely love the way people decorate in tropical areas. Palapas and billowing curtains are THE BEST!


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

They are so much fun to have for relaxing and entertaining, Simone! Well, at least I managed to give us all a little taste of the tropics with this Hub! Something to dream about. ;)


meloncauli profile image

meloncauli 4 years ago from UK

Really interesting hub Linda. Some beautiful photographs too making it a lovely read.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Thanks meloncauli, glad you enjoyed this brief tropical getaway!


ChristyWrites profile image

ChristyWrites 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

You have great ideas here. Love the idea of the water feature and there sounds like there is a lot of variety from what you describe!


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Christy, that's the beauty of this type of outdoor design -- so many options and ways to personalize your space! Thanks so much for reading and commenting! :)


CassyLu1981 profile image

CassyLu1981 4 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

Wish I could have that cabana in my yard! Excellent ideas! Voted up and shared :)


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

The cabana is one of my favorites also, CassyLu! They remind me of staying in a tropical resort hotel. A great way to feel pampered every day! Thank you for stopping by! :)


cperuzzi profile image

cperuzzi 4 years ago from Freehold, NJ

I love your ideas and will suggest them to my next door neighbor who's building a zen garden.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

I'm happy you will be sharing these ideas with your neighbor, cperuzzi. A water feature and lush plantings are great additions to a Zen garden. Thanks for reading and commenting!


CyberShelley profile image

CyberShelley 4 years ago

I have always believed a garden cannot be complete if it does not have a water feature, be it bird bath, pond or stunning water feature as above! Voted up and beautiful.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

I couldn't agree more, CyberShelley! There's just something soothing about a water feature. Doesn't need to be elaborate or expensive. Sometimes simple is best! Thank you for the votes, I had a great time coming up with the images for this Hub.

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