Short, darker days in the cold months of winter can be hard for gardeners. Fortunately, there are many tropical, cold hardy plants to help keep the winter blues at bay. By incorporating these into your garden, you can create the tropical vibe year round.
You may be surprised at how many options you have:
- Banana Trees
- Hardy Sugarcane
- Fig Trees
- Blue Palms
- Soft Shield Fern
- Elephant’s Ear
- Angel’s Trumpet
- Hardy Jasmine
Blue Palm Tree
Soft Shield Fern
Elephant Ears (Caladium)
Angel's Trumpet Flower
Banana trees are a great option for creating a tropical backdrop to any garden. These fruitless varieties have long, broad leaves that create a dramatic feel and can grow up to 15 feet tall.
The Japanese Fiber Banana is a good cold hardy ornamental variety that can withstand temperatures as low as -20 degrees F.
Hardy Sugar Cane is another option for a vertical accent plant. It can also grow to 15 feet tall and would look great as background to smaller plants.
It has gray-green foliage and soft, pink flowers that open to a silver color and look great in the winter months.
Fig trees are another tropical option for some height. They offer a bonus of bearing delicious fruit, which can be used in a variety of ways.
Fig trees are also widely adaptable to many types of soil. Most varieties are hardy to zone 7, with the Chicago Hardy and Violette de Bordeaux being hardy to zone 5.
The Blue Palm is a small tree or shrub with fan-like leaves. It brings a tropical look without being overly large or tall. They grow to 6 or 7 feet tall at maturity.
Blue palms produce small white flowers, followed by a black fruit. They are best in zones 7-10.
Ground Cover Plants
Soft Shield Ferns
Soft Shield Fern is an evergreen with feathery, dark green, narrow fronds. It thrives in shade gardens and woodland settings.
These ferns are “true ferns” in that they spread via spores rather than seeds or pollen. They’re cultivated as perennial or evergreens.
Elephant’s Ear is a tuber-based plant with a tropical feel. Its large, dramatic leaves can grow to up to 2 feet wide and 3 feet long.
They are tolerant to a wide array of conditions, but love damp, aquatic conditions the most. They are best for zone 7.
Angel’s Trumpet is named for the huge, trumpet-shaped flowers that grow among the large leaves of this plant. This plant makes a dramatic statement in any garden and also grows well in containers.
Angel’s Trumpet comes in white, pink, yellow, peach, and purple flowering varieties. It likes moist, rich, well drained soil with full sun exposure or light shade. It is hardy to zone 7.
Canna is another plant that comes in a large quantity of colors for blooms as well as its foliage. The leaves can range in color from greens to black, with variants in red, pink, and orange.
The blooms on a Canna can be white, red, orange, pink, or bi-color. Their blooming season spans from July to October, and they can reach 2 to 6 feet tall. They need heavy mulch to help with overwintering. Hardy to zones 6-7.
Nothing screams tropical more than hibiscus flowers. Fortunately, there is a Hardy Hibiscus. It has beautiful dinner-plate sized blooms from July to September, and can survive the winter if cut back to 3 or 4 inches in late fall.
Hibiscus also needs moist soil. It can be hardy from zones 4-9 with proper care and preparation.
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There are also a few tropical vines that can be hardy in winter months to add some range to your garden.
An exotic option for your winter garden is the Maypop, or “true” Passion Flower. This vine is the hardiest of the passion flowers. It produces unique blossoms that last from mid-summer through fall.
Though it is a vine, Maypop can also be grown in containers. It needs sunlight and water to thrive, and remains hardy in temperatures as low as -20 Fahrenheit.
Another popular vine is the Hardy Jasmine. Provide it with a trellis to climb and plenty of sun and water. It will reward you with small, fragrant white blooms late spring through the summer.
With some extra protection, Hardy Jasmine remains resilient in zones as low (cold) as zone 6. Here in North Texas, we are in zone 8.
There are a few things to remember when caring for tropical plants:
- Be sure to do your research, as every plant may have its own requirements beyond those of its preferred agricultural zone.
- Most tropical plants need more sun and water than other plants because they naturally grow in hot, humid climates. Water them properly and keep the soil moist.
- Heavy mulching is a good way to insulate the roots against temperature changes. It also helps retain moisture. It will also help keep the weeds down.
- Fertilizing with a blend that is made for tropical plants is a good way to make sure they get the nutrients they need.
- Finally, taking the time to winterize your plants properly will keep them healthy and beautiful year round. This is especially important if your garden is in colder zones or on the edge of one.