14 Tips for Growing Tropical Plants in a Temperate Climate

14 Tips for Growing Tropical Plants in a Temperate Climate

Tropical plants can transport you to another place with their lush, vibrant looks. Often, tropical plants can be found happily growing in the South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, Florida coastline, and Hawaii. However, you can also find tropical plants in many other parts of the world, even in areas that aren’t tropical. 

So, what can you do if you want to grow tropical plants but aren’t lucky enough to live in a balmy, tropical area?

Even if you don’t live in a tropical or Mediterranean biome, tropical plants can be easy to grow in a temperate climate as long as you follow a few essential tips. 

In this article, we’re sharing our top 14 tips for growing tropical plants in a temperate climate, including protecting your tropical plants during the winter, choosing the right tropical plants, and much more. 

Assess your Climate

The most important thing to consider is your area’s microclimate when choosing tropical plants. 

If you live in snowy Michigan, you may only be able to grow tropical plants indoors in a pot. Tropical plants simply won’t be able to survive outdoors in areas that are hit with intense snow or have intense cold periods. Generally, tropical plants will not grow in hardiness zones eight or colder. 

If your area is pretty temperate, you have a good chance of being able to plant and have tropical plants thrive in your backyard. If you want to grow tropical plants outdoors, you’ll need to live somewhere where nighttime temperatures don’t drop below 50°F. Subtropical plants can only survive in temperatures above freezing, so they are slightly more forgiving but still not ideal for anywhere that gets snow or freezing temperatures. You should also consider windchill because that can be even more dangerous than low temperatures to tropical plants. 

Consider Plants That Look Tropical

If you live in an area that is too cold to plant tropical or subtropical plants outside but are determined to have a tropical garden, consider plants with a tropical look. 

Many plants are excellent imposters for tropical plants but are cold-hardy. Choose plants with bright colors, large leaves, unique broadleaf shapes, and other tropical elements to create a tropical jungle environment in your very own backyard. 

Some of the best tropical-looking plants that thrive in cold climates include: 

  • Toad lily
  • Hosta
  • Ferns
  • Pampas grass
  • Strawberry tree
  • Princess tree
  • Magnolia
  • Camellia
  • Hydrangea
  • Hibiscus 
  • Honeysuckle

Choose Tropical Plants Wisely

Choose low-maintenance tropical plants if you live in a temperate climate. 

Some of our favorite tropical plants for a temperate climate include: 

  • Hibiscus
  • Gingers
  • Orchids
  • Flowering vines
  • Tropical foliage, like bamboo, bananas, ferns, and philodendrons
  • Flowering shrubs like angel shrubs, carnation of India, firecracker plants, cashmere bouquets, and shooting stars
  • Flowering trees like orchid trees, camphor trees, golden rain trees, and palm trees
  • Bromeliads
  • Rhizomes

Choose Hardier Tropical Plants

Tropical plants that are naturally hardier and can be established in the summer will have a better chance of survival during the cooler fall and winter months. 

Plant tropical plants in late spring or summer to give them as much time as possible to establish their root systems. Fertilize them, and use micro-elements sprays or growth hormones to encourage tropical plants to survive the winter. A very healthy tropical plant may survive colder winters with this extra encouragement, nutrition, and a ground cover. 

Skip Fertilizer During the Winter

Tropical plants are out of their growing season during the winter, so they do not need fertilizer to grow. Fertilization, mainly if it contains nitrogen, can encourage your tropical plant to try and grow during the winter, resulting in these sprouts dying off from the cold. This stress may lead to the entire plant’s death. 

In short, skip the fertilizer during the winter and provide plenty of fertilizer and mulch during the spring and summer to help your tropical plant thrive. 

Place Your Tropical Plant Strategically

The warmer you can make it for your tropical plants, the better. If you have any protection on your property, such as a fence or other big trees, plant your tropical plants there. 

This protective area creates a warm pocket of air, which will linger and keep the climate warmer for your plants. If you have a southern slope on your property, we also recommend placing your tropical plants there because these areas tend to get warm and stay warm longer. 

We also recommend planting your tropical plants near water sources so that you won’t need to drag your hose over to water them constantly. If possible, plant them near a water source. The more water these plants have access to, the bigger and stronger they will grow. 

Mix and Match Plants to Create a Tropical Environment

Mix tall plants with medium-sized flowering shrubs to create a tropical, layered effect that gives off lush jungle vibes. Plant your tropical garden densely and fill it to the brim with deep, bright flowering plants, shrubs, and trees to add to this jungle-like feeling. 

Use palm trees to create your tropical garden’s structural element and backbone. If palm trees can’t thrive where you live, consider alternatives like clumping bamboos, Queensland umbrella trees, or frangipanis. 

Break up a wall of green with bright foliage and flowers, such as bloodleaf or orchids, to add those beautiful pops of color to your tropical garden. 

Shelter your Tropical Plants

Tropical plants thrive in layered, tropical forests. Natural tropical environments usually have levels of canopies to protect the soft, delicate leaves and plants from strong winds. 

If you want to create a tropical garden, you’ll need to mimic a temperate forest with a canopy to build a shelter that protects your plants’ delicate, beautiful green leaves. If you can’t place your tropical plants by a house or building that provides protection, consider building a tall fence or hedge, which can act as a wind barrier. 

The shelter will help protect your tropical plants from dry, intense heat, which tropical plants can wither in. Use heavy mulch to keep moisture in areas susceptible to intensely hot temperatures, dry air, or drought. Heavy mulch may also keep your plants’ roots warm during low temperatures, frost, and snow

Check Soil Moisture Levels Frequently

Tropical plants are native to areas with lots of precipitation and sun. While they thrive during the warmer spring and summer months, they need plenty of water to maintain their health. 

Check the soil your plant is in regularly to ensure that it is not too dry. Water as needed throughout the spring and summer. Depending on the plant, you may need to place the flower pot into deep tubs or water saucers so that you can continually water them, especially if you live in an arid climate and it’s late summer. If you use a tub or saucer, treat it with mosquito granules to prevent mosquitoes from breeding around the standing water.  

Grow Tropical Plants in Containers

Grow your tropical plants outside in containers, then bring them indoors to keep them safe whenever your temperatures drop. This process makes overwintering easier because you don’t need to dig the plant up and shock it each time you transfer it to a container before winter. 

Tropical plants typically like porous and loose soil rich in organic matter. Find a potting mix that includes wood fines, also called raised-bed soil, and add compost to make an ideal container soil mixture for tropical plants. 

Tropical plants should be placed in bright but indirect light when inside. Humidity is also important. If you live in a dry area, consider setting up an inside humidifier to add moisture to the air. 

Great indoor tropical plant choices include: 

  • Bromeliads
  • Birds of paradise
  • Croton
  • Caladium
  • Stromanthe
  • Arrowhead vines
  • Any palms or ferns

Choose Well-drained, Nutrient-rich Soil

When planting your tropical plants, choose soil that drains well and quickly to keep your plants’ bulbs from rotting and dying. 

Research the type of tropical plant you’re planting to check how much moisture it needs because there are a few exceptions to this rule, such as cannas. 

Give Tropical Plants Additional Care During the Winter

Tropical plants can still thrive outside in the winter, depending on where you live and the plant’s hardiness. If your tropical plant is staying outside during winter, be prepared to give it additional care. 

Watering needs will decrease during the winter. However, they may still need occasional watering, so check the water content of the soil by inserting your finger into the ground about 2 inches. If it feels dry, water it. Let the soil dry out between waterings to avoid rotting the plant. This rule will vary based on the plant, so always do your research about the specific plant species before considering its water needs. 

Cold weather can be incredibly drying to tropical plants, which need constant humidity. If this is the case, increase the humidity outside by installing a misting or sprinkling system or simply sprinkling them with water yourself. This step can be the difference between your plant living or dying in the winter. 

Your tropical plant may also need additional lighting during the cold winter months. If your plants are in pots, move them closer to the window or a sunnier part of the yard. If you can’t move them, try adding artificial lighting to your outside space. Fluorescent lights are usually ideal. 

If you choose to remove the tropical plant from the outside by digging it up, remember that timing is critical. Remove it during the warmest part of the day and immediately move it inside. Short periods in freezing temperatures can kill a tropical plant. 

Choose the Optimal Fertilizer for Tropical Plants

Fertilize your tropical plants’ soil frequently because most tropical plants grow quickly and require a lot of organic matter to grow their beautiful foliage. Slow-release fertilizers are ideal, especially if they are supplemented with liquid feedings. Some soil mixtures already have slow-release fertilizers built-in, or they can be purchased separately and added to your soil. 

Study your fertilizer and soil mix to see how long it lasts because tropical plants require fertilizer throughout their entire growing season. Fertilizers may last anywhere from a few months to seven months, so check your package and add fertilizer to your tropical plants if the fertilizer runs out during the spring and summer. 

Pick Tropical Plants with Tender Bulbs

Tender bulbs are usually easier to grow as long as they are planted at the optimal depth and after the final spring frost. You can typically find these at your local garden center in spring. 

If you have tropical plants with tender bulbs, consider treating them as annual plants or dig them up each fall, then store them in a cool, dry space inside peat moss or sawdust during the winter. Then, replant them in the spring and repeat. 

Final Thoughts

A tropical garden or tropical potted plants can brighten any outdoor space. Before planting your favorite tropical plants, consider your climate and outdoor conditions. If tropical plants can survive in your climate, choose and place them strategically for optimal results. Growing tropical plants in a pot or container that you can move indoors is a great, low-maintenance choice that will make keeping your plants alive during harsher winters easy. 

Take your time to think about your strategy when growing tropical plants in a non-tropical climate. We recommend consulting with your local garden center for advice on growing tropical or subtropical plants in your area. If all else fails, consider the many beautiful plants that look tropical. 

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