Tropical climates typically retain temperatures of at least 64 degrees F. (18 C.) year-round. Zone 6 temperatures may drop to between 0 and -10 degrees F. (-18 to -23 C.). Finding tropical plant specimens that can survive such cold temperatures can be a challenge. Luckily, there are many hardy, tropical-looking plants that will thrive in zone 6, and a few actual tropical denizens that will survive with some protection. Tropical plants in zone 6 aren't just a pipedream, but some careful selection and site considerations are important for success with these heat loving plants.
Growing Tropical Plants in Zone 6
Who doesn't love the look of a tropical island, with its echoes of softly whispering surf and verdant green forests? Bringing these notes into the zone 6 garden is not as impossible as it once was due to hardier cultivars and hardy, tropical-looking plants. Another way to utilize zone 6 tropical plants is by taking advantage of microclimates. These vary depending upon elevation, topography, sun and wind exposure, humidity, and proximate shelters. Tropical plants for zone 6 need to withstand temperatures that can dip below -10 degrees F. (-23 C.). Most warm region plants are not hardy when freezing comes into play and will simply die, but there are some plants that are hardy tropical looking plants with durable winter hardiness. There are a great many ferns and hosta that have the foliage and lush characteristics of tropical rainforest foliage combined with winter hardiness. Hardy hibiscus flowering shrubs are North American natives and have extreme cold tolerance along with tropical-looking flowers. Many ornamental grasses, especially the smaller ones, have tropical appeal but are native to the region. These offer foolproof success in the tropical look garden.
Tropical Plants for Zone 6
If you ever wanted to grow a banana tree in zone 6 but didn't think you could, think again. The hardy Japanese banana (Musa basjoo) can survive and thrive in USDA zones 5 to 11. It will even develop fruit, unlike some of the other hardy banana trees. More food options that bring a tropical flair to the zone 6 garden might be:
Canna and Agapanthus can add jewel tones to the northern tropical garden. If you are willing to install sensitive specimens in containers and move them in for winter, there are many more zone 6 tropical plants to try. Suggestions include:
The 20 foot (6 m.) tall Chinese needle palm is one of the most cold tolerant palms in existence. The needle palm is the hardiest palm in the world and reaches a useful 8 feet (2 m.) with huge, broad fronds. There are many forms of the big leaved Colocasia with winter hardiness to zone 6, especially if they are planted against a protective structure. Hardy eucalyptus, rice paper plant, and Yucca rostrata are all wonderful tropical options for a 6 climate. Don't forget the clumping or Mexican bamboos which are excellent in cold regions and provide tropical foliage. Some varieties of crepe myrtle thrive in zone 6. Many lovely flower tones are represented, and trees have a steamy 6 to 20 foot (2-6 m.) tall presence. When in doubt in zone 6, use large containers on casters and introduce plant specimens to the patio in spring. By fall, roll any sensitive plants indoors to overwinter and start the process all over again. That way your garden has tropical tones during the season in which you most use it, but you don't have to consider sensitive plants disposable.
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Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.