Cool Climate Tropical Gardens: Best Plants For A Tropical Look In Cold Climates

tropicals winter
tropicals winter
(Image credit: micheldenijs)

With huge leaves and bright colors, tropical gardens have a unique and exciting look that is popular the world over. If you don’t live in a tropical area, however, you don’t have to despair. There are ways to achieve that tropical look even if your local temperature dips well below freezing. Keep reading to learn more about creating tropical gardens in a cool climate.

Cool Climate Tropical Gardens

There are a few ways to go about creating cool climate tropical gardens. One obvious choice is to select tropical plants that can tolerate the cold. They aren’t too numerous, but there are some tropical plants that can survive outdoors through the winter. The passionflower, for example, can survive in environments as cold as USDA zone 6. Gunnera is hardy down to zone 7. The Hedychium ginger lily can tolerate temperatures down to 23 F. (-5 C.). Additional hardy plants for a tropical look in cold climates include:

Another way to achieve a tropical look is to opt for plants that have just that - the right look. The toad lily (Tricyrtis hirta), for example, looks like a lush orchid but is actually a tough northern plant native to zones 4-9.

Overwintering Cold Climate Tropicals

If you’re willing to replant every spring, most tropical plants can be enjoyed in the summer and simply treated as annuals. If you don’t want to give up so easily, though, you’d be surprised at how many tropical plants can be overwintered in containers. Before the first frost of autumn, bring your containers inside. While you may be able to keep your tropicals growing as houseplants, an easier and likely more successful course of action is to let them go dormant for the winter months. Place your containers in a dark, cool place (55-60 F,/13-15 C.) and water very sparingly. The plants will likely lose their leaves and some, such as banana trees, can be cut back drastically before entering dormancy. When temperatures rise again, bring them back out into the light and you should be greeted with new growth ready for another tropical appearance in the garden.

Liz Baessler
Senior Editor

The only child of a horticulturist and an English teacher, Liz Baessler was destined to become a gardening editor. She has been with Gardening Know how since 2015, and a Senior Editor since 2020. She holds a BA in English from Brandeis University and an MA in English from the University of Geneva, Switzerland. After years of gardening in containers and community garden plots, she finally has a backyard of her own, which she is systematically filling with vegetables and flowers.