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Tropical Plants in Cold-Climate Gardens

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Tropical plants -- and cold-tolerant plants that bear a resemblance -- bring a laidback attitude to the garden. Here's how to make them work in any climate.

Lush and Lovely

Lush and Lovely.
Big leaves and bright colors combine to shout a tropical “Hello!” in this pretty combo, which includes croton, hosta, lantana, sweet potato vine, and annual vinca.


Jungle effect

Jungle Effect.
Tropical gardens grow fast. That’s why they’re so lush and full. A jungle effect, however, can quickly become overpowering if it’s not tamed. In this case, a path provides visual (and physical) relief from the intense plantings.

Shrimp plants (Justicia brandegeeana)

No Short Shrift with Shrimp Plants.
Shrimp plants (Justicia brandegeeana) are a delightful landscape addition for the warmest climates, yet they can be grown as indoor or greenhouse plants elsewhere. The flowers are as long-lasting as they are remarkable.

tropical hibiscus (H. rosa-sinensis), Brazilian begonia (B. boliviensis), lily of the Nile (Agapanthus)

Up and at ’Em!
A tropical hibiscus (H. rosa-sinensis) trained into a treeform standard towers above Brazilian begonia (B. boliviensis) and lily of the Nile (Agapanthus) in this corner vignette. The blue spruce betrays the fact that this isn’t a tropical location. But these plants are easily overwintered indoors in cold climates.

‘Dwarf Red’ banana (Musa)

Go Bananas!
Nothing says tropical like bananas. Fortunately, there are smaller versions, such as this ‘Dwarf Red’ banana (Musa), that can be grown as container plants and whisked to shelter when cold temperatures are imminent. Some northern gardeners simply overwinter the root structures.


Passion for Passionflower.
This vigorous climber is impressive with its gorgeous flowers and colorful fruit. Some are true tropicals, others overwinter in the garden down to Zone 6. All will lend a large dose of tropical appeal.

bananas and gunnera plants

Big Leaves Rule.
A truly topical look isn’t necessarily dependent on vivid and unusual flowers. Much of the effect comes from plants with big leaves, such as the bananas and gunnera towering above the small pond. Bananas can be overwintered in an attached garage, while gunnera is hardy down to Zone 7.

toad lily (Tricyrtis hirta)

Not So Fast.
Don’t jump to conclusions. This fetching little flower isn’t a tropical at all -- it just looks like one! It’s actually toad lily (Tricyrtis hirta), which grows in Zones 4–9. The spotted flowers appear in late summer and early fall, when a boost of flower power is appreciated.

foliage, bromeliad with flower, and ornamental peppers with fruit

Multifaceted Color.
Individually, these plants would sound a quiet but happy note; together, they blast into the stratosphere with a multifaceted performance. Note how coleus and croton entertain with foliage, bromeliad with flower, and ornamental peppers with fruit.


Pulling Heartstrings.
Anyone who’s gaga strictly about flowers obviously hasn’t seen caladium. One look at its colorful, heart-shape foliage and you’re in love. Native to tropical regions of South America, the tuberous roots are easily overwintered indoors when dormant.


Refreshing Indeed.
You saw a bromeliad earlier as part of a group, but it’s fully capable of standing on its own. Many gardeners grow it happily as an indoor plant, but it likes warm summers outdoors, too. The key is to give it regular watering and a rapidly draining bark mix.


The Flowers Have It.
With a name like fuchsia, you know this plant has a way of drawing attention to itself. In addition to vivid color, the flowers have unique nodding shapes, too. Hardy in Zones 9–11, fuchsias are grown as annuals in colder climates.

elephant’s ears (Alocasia)

Bold Look in a Small Package.
When you think of elephant’s ears (Alocasia), you probably think of large plants. And there are several that top 15 feet in height. But smaller varieties such as this ‘Frydek’ Alocasia, can be grown as tabletop decorations. It maxes out at 2 to 3 feet.

tropical hibiscus and rose mallow

High on Hibiscus.
The name hibiscus is practically synonymous with “tropical,” thanks to the large, boldly colored flowers. Both tropical hibiscus (H. rosa-sinensis, Zones 14–15) and rose mallow (H. moscheutos, Zones 5–10) will delight on that score. Tropical hibiscus can be overwintered as a houseplant.

Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyeranus)

Unexpected Hues.
It’s not often you find an easy-care garden plant with purple- and silver-infused foliage. But that’s what Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyeranus) offers. Hardy in Zones 11–12, it’s grown as an annual elsewhere.

Japanese banana (Musa basjoo); color from bellflower (Campanula), lantana, rosemary, lily of the Nile (Agapanthus)

Completed Attraction.
If you’re going to create a tropical destination, you might as well hit all the notes: height and drama from Japanese banana (Musa basjoo); color from bellflower (Campanula), lantana, rosemary, lily of the Nile (Agapanthus), and confederate jasmine; and a beckoning call from the colorful chaise lounge.