Although we all sometimes wish we were lounging about on a tropical island somewhere, the reality is usually very different. Instead of sipping refreshing adult beverages under some palm trees, we’re laboring in areas reminiscent of those seen in the movie Office Space. No, you can’t borrow my stapler. Yet with tropical plants in our gardens we can at least pretend to be happily basking in the Caribbean sun, even if the reality is that our cruel boss has canceled all vacation leave indefinitely.
In much of the United States, tropical plants are fragile perennials that can’t remain outside year round. But there many of them can be easily grown in a container and brought indoors when nighttime temperatures become too cold for their liking (assuming you’re not living a climate like southern Florida, where they can thrive outdoors year-round). The following is a list of some varieties that I’ve successfully grown both indoors and out. While I did kill a few plants before I got them to live through the winter, at least the ones that died had been on sale.
Coffee – Coffea Arabica
These plants should not be allowed to stand in water or your hopes of growing your own cup of coffee will be a ghostly memory. That’s what happened to the original plant I had. During the winter, coffee plants should be watered about once a week. They will not lose their foliage or go dormant and will need to be placed near a window so they don’t end up looking pathetic. Bright, filtered sunlight year round is recommended for coffee plants, as are temperatures between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. These perennials are good sized trees in their native environments. So if they’re touching the ceiling, it might be a good idea to prune them. If you have pets, be sure they don’t make the possibly fatal mistake of eating the leaves.
Bananas – Musa Species
This is a good choice because some banana cultivars can even remain outdoors all winter in zones as low as 6 or 7. Some varieties are sold for decorative purposes and not making bananas, so be sure the selected plant will produce edible fruit if that is your preference. Otherwise, you might find yourself dancing about and singing “Yes! We have no bananas!” Dwarf varieties of bananas grow decently in pots and some of them produce fruit. Starting bananas in small plastic container will work at first, but try to eventually upgrade these plants to larger containers or in-ground (in suitable climates) in order to increase the chances of getting a larger harvest. Our editor is a banana-growing freak (his words), so be sure to read his post on how to grow bananas for very useful information and resources on banana growing.
Ginger – Zingiber Officinale and Turmeric- Curcuma Longa
It’s great to have one or two plants that can be pretty much forgotten about all winter. You should still water these plants about once weekly after bringing them indoors until their foliage dies completely back. After that, they can be ignored as long as they kept in a location where the rhizomes won’t freeze. These plants even come back from dormant roots in the same way that bulb plants do when dug up on an annual basis.
Both ginger and Turmeric can be started from organic rhizomes, which can be found in local grocery or health food stores. This saves you from having to pay those pesky shipping fees that come with online ordering. Although medium-sized, plastic pots are a good beginning, you should grow ginger and turmeric in the biggest containers that can be found for the highest possible yields. During the summer, they like about as much water as mints and about as much nutrients as tomatoes.
Ginger and turmeric can be harvested throughout the year by using a hand trowel to cut off small segments, but these plants are said to have a less pungent taste when they are not fully mature. Periodic small harvests are part of the reason for keeping these spices in plastic containers. Otherwise, it’s very easy to smash terracotta while trying to dig up pieces. These plants also love moisture and plastic pots keep them from drying out during hot summers.
Arabian Jasmine – Jasminum Sambac
During the winter months, I keep this plant in a brightly lit window with the curtains left open so it gets enough sunlight. It gets watered weekly during those times of year, but if it is blooming I try to give it a bit more liquid in order to encourage flowers. Its perfume can take away the stale smell that houses sometimes get in the winter, especially when unwashed pets are involved. For more flowers, it’s best to add some compost or fertilizer. In the summer months, this plant prefers bright but filtered sunlight or morning sun.
Have you successfully grown tropical plants in your area? Do you have any additional tips for doing so? Tell us all about in the comment section below.