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Pushing the limits of your growing area

17 years ago

How many of you grow tropicals successfully, in a less than tropical climate?

Here in 8B, many people are too afraid to plant tropicals. Our weather dips into the 20s about 15 days out of the year. But every once in a while I have seen a successful tropical plant grown by locals in their back yards. I'm not talking about potted plants that can be moved indoors. I'm talking plants in the ground that have grown to full size. Most of the time, these gardenrs were able to find a suitable micro-climate by luck. They throw a seed in the ground and it just happens to live year after year.

what are some of your success stories? what kind of protection was used? Here are my stories:

My mom's friend has a 4-5 year old sugar apple grown from seed and has picked about 10 delicious fruit last year.

My sister has a grove (15 trees) of Vietnamese guava, from seed, planted next to the house facing south, last year she harvested 8 fruit, about 4 in across, excellent flavor. Last winter created very little damage to the leaves. So far this year there are a ton of flowers and lots of tiny fruit.

She also had several hawaiian papaya grown from seed. they suffered considerable leaf damage this winter, but not enough to kill them. They are now flowering and some are fruiting.

The only protection was a tarp covering the plants on top. That was it. Whereas my parents house, most tropical trees died to the ground. They have a larger yard, I think that may cause too much open space for wind damage. This happens every year and they will never get fruit at that rate.

Comments (72)

  • jun_
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    that mountain apple must be related to the wax jambu, looks just like the picture except pink. That is a fruit that brings back childhood memories. A lot of the plants I grow are probably ill-suited to my climate. But I have to try because of the emotional aspect. thanks for the inspiring pix.

  • plummy
    17 years ago

    Hey Cagary awsome gh! I just got one and need to get around to put it all together. Some day, soon hopefuly, I will have gh like you! Where did you get it? Jun mountain apple and wax jambu are relitives, but that looked more like wax jambu. I have seen wax jambus that ripen green. I wish I was more daring with my plants but mabye I'll try some more tropicals. Thx for the insparation.

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  • Gardener972
    17 years ago

    Great pics! I'm jealous!! You must be up by Athens?

  • gardenalive
    17 years ago

    I think when an author states that you can not grow a tender plant in a specific zone he is really thinking in a long term situation.

    So don't take the literature too too seriously. Often time, you can grow a tropical/subtropical plant a zone below what would normally be recommended.

    If you follow the book too much, you gonna miss out on alot of cool, unique (not to mention tasty) plants. Sure, eventually, your area may be in for a severe freeze, but accept the truth and go on and enjoy what you can while the weather is still quite mild.

    Life is too short to worry alot!!

  • Kameha
    17 years ago

    Well said GA!

  • jun_
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    I agree. Most people are just afraid to spend say $30 on a tree that may not survive the winter. To me even if it produces one fruit, or even just one flower, it is 30 well spent. Compare that to a flower arrangement about $30-$60 that only lasts a week.

    I have to start posting pix of my sisters guava trees, they are to die for.

  • wilmington_islander
    17 years ago

    Please do!

  • vickie704
    17 years ago

    Here in Virginia Beach, many of the hotels down by the beach have nice, tall palm trees growing outside. In the wintertime they wrap them in plastic from the ground to the top, leaving the tip of the top unwrapped. Even as cold as it got here this winter, the palms survived and are looking great.

  • Kameha
    17 years ago

    Vickie I remembered there being sabal palms in VA beach because that is their northernmost limit(my cousin lived there when I was a kid and I loved visiting him in chilly november). Do you know if that's the palm you are talking about or do they have more cold sensitive palms they are wrapping up?

  • wilmington_islander
    17 years ago

    The northenmost limit of their native range is in Bald Head Island, N.C., a bit Southeast of Wilmington, several miles offshore. It is also the northernmost "subtropical" area in the US.

  • Kameha
    17 years ago

    Really Wilm? I remember clearly that there were sabal palms growing in VA beach...maybe Bald Head Island is their northernmost range of growing in the wild?

  • wilmington_islander
    17 years ago

    Yes; native means "indigenous" or "naturally from that area". The sabals can survive for many years with a little protection further VA Beach!

  • tamstrees
    17 years ago

    Cagary how are you heating a greenhouse that size and what is it costing you (if you don't mind) per month/year? You can email me too if you want.
    I'm moving up to SC/NC/ or VA. I want to continue growing tropicals and citrus but worry about the cost to keep a greenhouse at 70-80 degrees. Any tips you could offer would be great. Keep in mind that this would be 3 or 4 large greenhouses able to also hold 10-15 foot trees.

  • kayjones
    17 years ago

    Tammy, you are MOVING!? What have you done with your FLA. acreage?

  • siegel2
    17 years ago


    The greenhouse is about 37 feet long, 17 feet wide and it has a 12 foot peak. I have a Modine heater that has performed very well through the two winters I have had the greenhouse. The heater is hooked up directly to the same line that heats the house so I don`t know exactly what it is costing me, but I figure about $60 to $70 a month during the winter when we have lows in the low 40's and high 30's. (Zone 10) The thermostat is set at 60 degrees.

    The greenhouse came as a pre-drilled/pre-cut kit from BC Greenhouses in Canada. I built it on top of a concrete block wall to increase the interior height.

    Here is a link that might be useful: BC Greenhouses

  • Kameha
    17 years ago

    Wilm, ah you're right! Take for example the pitch apple, native to the west indies but not Florida...however we are just a bit cooler and farther north and south Floridians can grow this. I feel stupid lol.

    Tammy I hope you're move is a safe one and that you will be happy with your new home up there. Those are three beautiful states, I like Florida more, however with all of those you get both mountains and the ocean.

  • cactusfreak
    17 years ago

    Tammy, my zone would be closer to what your zone would be in NC/SC or VA. I am in zone 7. We get single digits often and zero's at least once a winter. We have snow about twice a year and ice 4 or 5 times each winter.
    I have a single layer all glass greenhouse 32x37.
    I used three Magni-clear solar pool covers on the outside and line the north wall inside with plastic.
    I have 7 55gal drums filled with water for heat storage.
    I keep my greenhouse between 45-47 in the winter which is fine for my bananas, elephant ears, gingers and other tropical plants. My red passion vine and blue sky vine bloomed all winter. Also my calla lilies bloomed in Jan.
    I used 3 1500 watt space heaters. One that only cost $17. at Wal-mart. One I had had for years and a oiled filled radiant heater. I had kerosene as a back up but only used less than 5 gals of kerosene.
    My electric bill averaged $100. a month all winter.
    I have a 200,000 BTU Modine heater but it cost about $100 a week. I only used it in 2004 for six weeks. Our propane here is $1.49 9/10's a gallon.
    Greenhouse the first winter without solar cover.
    Ice the second winter with solar cover.
    Also pictures on 'My Page'

  • Eggo
    17 years ago

    WHOA Cactusfreak! That first picture with snow even makes my bones chill. Incredible things you guys are doing in your zone. WOW Great greenhouse and tropicals. What an amazing contrast between summer and winter! How do you do it!

    Jun, that is so great your sister is getting fruit from her sugar apple tree. It is even quite hard growing those fellas here. They get drastic dieback in winter and usually don't recover well.

  • DeltaTropicsGuy
    17 years ago

    Y'all can keep that horrid sight to yourselves up north! LOL That looks miserable!

  • cactusfreak
    17 years ago

    DeltaTropicsGuy, what do you mean up north? I'm in Georgia 45 miles NE of Atlanta.
    How do you get to be a zone8a? Surrounded by large buildings?
    Some people in downtown Atlanta say they are in zone 8 and have things to survive that I don't. Mostly do to winter rot. It seems the ground stays wet all winter in my back yard. And my front yard is under water from uphill run off. I have Hostas and ferns and woodland plants in the front so the wet doesn't bother them. Though I have had a few to wash out of the ground and I find them up against the fence.

  • abekhoury
    17 years ago

    I live just south of Macon Ga and I have had Cyathea and Dicksonia in the ground full time for five years.I also grow citrus, bottlebrush,gingers, philodendron and many others. I plan to try Bauhinia and Mexican Avocados soon.

  • bihai
    17 years ago

    Cagary I never pegged you for a blonde in all these years!
    I have the following planted out in zone 8B that are hardy:

    All types of bananas
    Variegated Pink Lemon
    Neoregelia bromeliads
    Dyckia bromeliads
    Cryptbergia bromeliads
    Brugmansia (root hardy, come back bigger each year, to 16 ft)
    Heliconia schiediana
    many gingers (costus, zingiber, hedychium etc)
    Heliconia rostrata (can suffer a freeze to the ground but the ones in the woods do better)
    all types of elephant ears (alocasia, xanthosoma, colocasia)
    Tropical water lilies (some bloom all winter, even through the 20's)
    Ti Plants (if they freeze, they come back in spring)

    I have never really been a tropical fruit tree fan.

  • citrus_master
    17 years ago

    Here in zone 7 I still got lemons, limes, oranges, coffees, and pineapples in a UN-heated greenhouse in the middle of winter. And my lemon is blooming and fruiting now too.

  • franktank232
    17 years ago

    I thought this we be a place to ask this, considering I've always consider CUBA to be tropical (considering it lies SOUTH of the Tropic of Cancer).

    Last night it bottomed out @ 40F in Havana, Cuba and almost all of the 22 stations reporting in Cuba saw temps below 62F.

    Obviously if this is normal(low temps) then true "tropical" plants must be able to take some cold???

  • paradisi
    17 years ago

    I live in a sub tropical coastal area of Queensland in Australia - I don't know if we could ever qualify for pushing the limits - - here we push the limits by trying to grow the absolute tropic plants - I'm experimenting with mangosteen and cacao - two plants that our local government agriculture department say have no hope of growing let alone flowering.

    The protection I give the seedlings (this years so a few years off flowering) are a ring of banana plants and that's about it.

  • mangogrower
    17 years ago

    Hi, I live in Jacksonville, FL (Duval County) and am kind of cheating with some of the stuff that i grow. IÂve got a Mango tree in my back yard, now for about 3 years and it actually produces Mangos every year, All I do is throw about 2 sheets and one huge comforter over it whenever we have a freeze, I also have a White Sapote, now for 4 years and it produces fruit every year, i protect it the same as the Mango tree. IÂve got a Cattley (Strawberry Guava) growing beside my porch, between my privacy fence and my screened patio, now on its 6th year, with no protection in about 4 years, the tree is as high as my roof and produces 100Âs of Guava every year. I also planted another Strawberry Guava on the south side of the front of my house, no protection and its on its 3rd year, and it is fine. IÂm thinking about attempting the biggest challenge of all, which i probably wont be successful, but its all fun, I want to plant a Breadfruit tree in the back yard and just protect it the same as the Mango tree, only instead of freezing, I will protect it when the temp drops in the 40Âs, also in the winter, i would have to protect it like the Mango, only with a light as well... I also have 6 types of Banana trees and 1 Papaya tree that produces fruit, the secret with the Papaya tree is this, I wrap it thick all the way up the trunk, and usually it will survive to that point and just sprout at that point and still produce fruit... Good luck to all !!!

  • greenfrog
    17 years ago

    Happy to hear there are other people (nearly) as crazy as I am! I'm in something like a zone 8, with overnight temperatures dropping to freezing point sometimes even in summer.
    The plant which I'm proudest of growing outdoors all year round is a Stephanotis floribunda. It's in an exceptionally well protected position in a corner where 2 brick walls meet on the sunniest side of the house, with a large shrub in front of it and plenty of scoria mixed in with the soil to keep it well drained during the colder months.
    This year I'm attempting to grow some Dendrobium and Laeliocattleya orchids and Aechmea bromeliads as epiphytes on trees in another very sheltered section of the garden where I've already had wonderful success with Epiphyllum cacti.

  • butterfly15_ca
    17 years ago

    Although I am in zone 9 of California, there are many plants that are "pushing the limits" here. If you go to the nursery and ask a person, "Can I grow Bird of Paradise in the ground?", they will almost certainly tell you no. But take a trip around town and you will see they are planted everywhere! Same goes for king palms, which I thought could never survive here in the hot East Bay Area of California, but low and behold, I have seen 4 of them! And everybody knows bananas are tropical plants that won't grow here. Right? Wrong! I have seen bananas in many neighborhoods around town. Just goes to show you that plants are hardier than people give them credit for.

  • trianglejohn
    17 years ago

    Though most of the posts concern tropical fruit plants, my garden features a few tropical foliage plants that have overwintered for around 4 years now in my zone 7b yard. I have Sago Palm the cycad planted against the brick wall of the house going on five years (bury it deep in a pile of leaves each winter). I have a few versions of Philodendron selloum that have all overwintered under piles of leaves for three winters - and we've had a few nights in the teens (not this year though). I have some hybrid and true species brugmansia that overwinter, though they die back to the ground. I've had Alpinia and Kaempheria gingers overwinter but they suffered for it, so I now pot them up and move them into a hoop house. I've had the epiphytic cactus (the one they get Devil Fruit from) survive 28 degrees without any damage before I remembered to move it indoors (it hangs up high and is easily overlooked). Though I don't grow them, plenty of Raleigh area gardeners grow Musa basjoo without any problems and no winter protection and a few have success with Alocasia/Colocasia.

  • amazondk
    17 years ago

    Regarding Franktank's question on tropical cold weather. Although all areas within the north and south lines of the tropics are tropical there are tremendous differences depending on altitude and percipitation. I live at 3.35 South Latitude on the Amazon River in Northern Brazil. You really can not find a much more tropical climate than ours, the tricky thing is to grow plants from colder climes. All of Brazil is either tropical or subtropical and many of the plants cited above are from here. In the south, even within the tropics temperatures can get close to freezing during the winter, and in the mountains below freezing. So many of them can take fairly chilly temperatures. Here in Manaus the lowest temperature on record I think was 57 degrees F. Our average temperatures are low of around 70 F at night and high of around 93 F in the daytime, that is almost everyday of the year. On rare occaisions it gets over 100 F and during the rainy season some days it stays under 90F. I grew up in Montana and always liked tropical plants. It turned out a lot easier just to live here where I don't every have to worry about cold.

  • barefootgardentender
    16 years ago

    Zone 5. I grow breadfruit, papaya, bougainvillea, ixora, gardenias, jasmines, hibiscus, stephanotis, cacti, orchids, plumeria, citrus, bananas, mahogany, and much, much more.

  • birdsnblooms
    16 years ago

    Barefoot, are you growing the plants outside yr round or in the house?
    I assumed this topic was meant for growing I incorrect? Toni

  • sandy0225
    16 years ago

    Zone 5, Indiana checking in!
    I grow musa basjoo, yellow groove bamboo and hardy hibiscus outdoors year round, then I fill in the holes in between with reseeding annuals, and add my true tropicals in June (aka houseplants). This makes for a pretty good show--for not all that much work.
    The red leaved varieties of bananas aren't hardy, but they are easy to store in the heated garage for winter, then pop them right back out in the spring.
    My customers at the greenhouse are amazed when I take them around and show them the tropical pond area--because the whole area is shielded behind a giant blue spruce tree and you can't see any of it from the road. You just walk around behind the house, and there it is.

    Here is a link that might be useful: {{gwi:1303723}}

  • godschild
    16 years ago

    Has anyone ever grown a sago palm in Pennsylvania? and is it possible to train a 6'' sago palm for cold weather. instructions say nothing below 40 degree's but my cousin bought one online and they trained theirs at seedlings in 0 degree's and say it can hold up down to -20 degree's. Can anyone give me any advice? i've done alot of research and haven't found what im looking for.

  • josh_palm_crazy
    16 years ago

    Hi godschild

    Im pretty sure sagos are only good to about 20 not -20. Someone in my neighborhood has one about 4ft wide and takes it in during the winter. Try some form of trachycarpus. Thats what I have. Much more hardier.

  • xerophyte NYC
    16 years ago

    Sago palm (Cycas revoluta), which is not even related to a true palm, will survive cold temps down into the teens, but will not survive a northern winter where it is cold for months.

    A very cold night every now and then is one thing, but constant cold and moisture will kill.

  • godschild
    16 years ago


    thank you for posting, but it gets in the single digits or even down in the negatives during the winter. and it say's nothing below 40. i dunno, this is my first palm maybe im just being too cautious. That and i can't seem to keep a regular plant alive lol too. i just know my cousin bought a different kind of palm tree a store on ebay and they say her's will survive even down to -20, like i said.

    thanks again :)

  • godschild
    16 years ago


    I just looked up what kind of palm tree that my cousin purchased from Brians Botanicals from an ebay store. it's the same thing you got Trackycarpus Fortunei. Even on that site it say's it's a Zone 7 tree. but she emailed him or called and asked and he said he could handle down to -20 how true that is, i don't know. She lives in Nebraska and it get's pretty cold there too. Do you know if those kind produce coconuts or not? She was asking and i know very very little about palm trees. I just love them and i have my bathroom decked out in palm tree stuff. I didn't even know there was such a thing as cold palms til she told me she bought one. I didn't think they'd survive the cold. Anymore info you got i'd love to have,


  • josh_palm_crazy
    16 years ago

    Hi godschild

    Here are some sites that might help you. just go under the cold hardy palm section. Also Another thing you can do is type cold hardy palms in your search bar. Its amazing what you can have even in Pennsylvania. Let me know if you find what your looking for.

    Here is a link that might be useful: The Hardiest Palms

  • xerophyte NYC
    16 years ago

    "Sago palm" is a cycad, they were around 100 million years before palm trees. Do a google search for Cycad, and you will learn a lot.

    Trachycarpus and several others (Sabal, Washingtonia) are true palm species that are cold hardy, but generally need lots of protection from harsh winters. Coconuts are true tropical palms, needing consistent temps above 60-70 to thrive. Many other species are in between - they like warmth but can tolerate an occasional freeze.

    People who grow palms successfully in colder areas like Zones 6-7 have devised all sorts of little tricks, such as using elaborate mulch systems to protect the roots and trunks or even using heating cables for extra protection. Even then, young plants are susceptible to damage from cold.

    Your best bet is to get your hands on some inexpensive cold-hardy palms and experiment before you invest in a large plant. Or just grow whatever you want in a pot, and bring it inside for the winter.

  • josh_palm_crazy
    16 years ago


    I know that Sagos are cycads. I wish they would drop the palm off the end. Just like the ponytail palm its not a palm either. But then what would they call them?lol! Im just trying to show godschild what cold hardy palms are. I have a trachy and my next will be washingtonia robusta. I havent had to protect my trachy yet. Its only 2ft tall. Im not ready to risk it yet. One thing though. The bigger the plant the harder it is to protect. Established or not, young or old, in my zone its all about protection.

  • birdsnblooms
    16 years ago

    Josh, I'm assuming they tag Sago's, 'Sago Palm' because it resembles a palm..just like other common plant names. And you're right, even Ponytail 'Palm' isn't a palm, but again when mature, resembles one.
    Protection is important in zones 6 and under..I had a trachy 3 yrs, a Musa, and citrus..last fall I didn't mulch, big big far I don't see growth on any of these 3 plants..What a disappointment..after all the work and effort..but it was my fault. I might retry, we'll see..Toni

  • tropicalfreak
    16 years ago


    Love the greenhouse!!! I always wanted something like that when I lived in Western NC.


  • pcbutt
    14 years ago

    Hi, I was looking for some advice here. I purchased Elephant Ear tree seeds to grow for their leaves. I do have access to a green house. Any advice and encouragement would be greatly appreciated. TIA


  • tirto
    12 years ago


    messy, bold, too green greenhouse, but THAT'S WHAT I LIKE. I admire them so much. i live in Melbourne (Australia), it's winter now, just had frost yesterday. coldest winter was -3C here. I manage to grow:
    Paw paw
    alocasia macrorhiza
    colocasia esculenta
    stromanthe sanguinea triostar
    marantha leuconostoc
    golden palm
    strelitzia (bird of paradise)
    aechmea fasciata and some other spp.
    philodendrom bipinatifidum (selloum)
    Banana rajapuri (dwarf banana)

    there are many more I grow, and I'm chalanging myself to push my limit with variety of heliconia.
    To be honest, the horticulturist told me it was impossible for me to grow some of this outside in melbourne. Maybe I was just lucky that there are many trees in my backyard as protection for these plants.

  • lovemypup
    12 years ago

    although i'm in zone 8b-9a, we hit 10* a few years ago and have been down to 21 the past 3 years. these plants survived the 10 degree winter:
    phoenix canariensis
    strelitzia nicolai (giant bird of paradise)
    these made it through 21 degrees
    chorisia speciosa (on the porch)
    queen's tears bromeliad
    alpinia zerumbet
    musa 'dwarf orinoco'
    queen palms
    eureka lemon
    philodendron selloum
    brachychiton rupestris
    bacon avocado
    zutano avocado (since died)
    flame grapefruit seedling
    raphis humilis
    2 small giant birds of paradise
    plus several begonias that never stopped blooming all winter

  • norm52
    12 years ago

    Hello ,
    Read that someone might have yellow Jaboticaba seed and wonder If you would consider parting with a few seeds

  • nmcnear
    12 years ago

    Some great information on this thread. I am in the SF Bay Area, USDA zone 10a (according to the maps) or Sunset zone 16. Recently I've become interested in tropical and subtropical plants, and which species I might be able to grow in my yard. I do have some questions about the USDA zones though, I know they go by average low temperatures instead of extreme lows, so by that definition my zone should be 11, not 10a, because all the climate information I can find says that the lowest average temperature here is 40 degrees (December 28th through January 1st are statistically the coldest days of the year). Yet zone 10a is for average low temperatures between 30-35 degrees - which zone am I in?

    Temperatures in the mid- to upper-30s aren't uncommon at all here in the winter when cooler systems pass through, but drops into the 20s happen maybe 1-3 times a year. The lowest temperature I have recorded at my house is 27 degrees, and we have had snow once (about an inch or less) on one occasion in the past decade, that was sort of a freak incident. This is all pretty typical for Sunset zone 16, which I feel is a much better description of my area than USDA zone 10a. Using the Sunset zones is difficult though, because none of the nurseries here use them, and because they mainly describe where a plant grows best, not where it just grows.

    So now I'm left wondering what I can get away with in my area... As mentioned above, mature Strelitzia reginae is not an uncommon sight here in the Bay Area. Maybe it's not as common as in LA, but it's definitely here. I actually just planted one in my yard today, and I'm anxious to see how it does. I fully expect it to get a bit of frost damage in the winter, but that doesn't bother me at all as long as the plant itself lives. I was also considering putting a Dwarf Cavendish Banana in the same spot, but decided against it because they are apparently not as cold hardy, and that particular location can get a bit windy.

    I am interested in planting more subtropicals/hardy tropicals in my yard if I can. I know there are some particularly cold hardy bananas, so I'm going to look into those. Has anyone had success growing Passionfruit in the Bay Area? I love vines and particularly the flowers of Passiflora. I am also considering putting a Pineapple Guava if I can find a good place, since it would be nice to have something that bears fruit (I have a couple nectarine trees, but none of their fruits mature because of peach leaf curl that I can't get rid of).

  • stefanos689
    10 years ago

    As for jujubas, I can confirm they can take 0 F or even lower. There is a big tree in Slovakia(8 metres high) 48th paralel and it made even -20/-25 C over past 30 years.

  • subtropix
    10 years ago

    Nmcnear, those zones, as I understand them, are not set by the average low temp, but by the LOWEST temp that can be expected. For example, my January average, MIN temps are around 26 f. but the minimum that any occur in any given year is between 5 and 10 F.. It's that 5-10 f. range that establishes the range as 7b (not the 26 f. Average). You need to communicate though with people w. experience in S.F. as your climate is unique and Eastern gardening zone mostly useless. For tropicals you need to consider not only MINIMUMS but the HEAT zones requirements of tropicals. There are subtropicals, for example, that might do well in relatively cold winters but fail because of the lack of summer heat. Western climate zones get complicated--sometimes mere miles make for big differences.