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Tropical Plants In Cold Climates: Overwinter Tropical Plants Or Start Over Each Year From Seed

When you grow tropical plants in cold climates you have to decide if you want to overwinter them or let them die and start over again come spring.

Many tropical plants bloom the first year when grown from seed while others have bulbs or tubers that are easy to overwinter or buy each spring.

Tropical plants, known for their exotic and jungle-like appearance make perfect specimens to grow for a quick privacy fence without the expense, work or unnatural appearance that a true fence would have.

They are also excellent choices for a quick cover up to make a garden look established.

Finally they do make great houseplants – and when you consider what a houseplant is, you are sure to realize it is a tropical plant.


The parrot impatiens or Congo cockatoo flower, seen above, is one example of a tropical plant you might consider an annual and start from seed every spring.

However, Impatiens niamniamensis is actually a tropical plant that hails from Africa.

It can reach a height of four feet tall, however the typical height is two to three feet tall.

It is a shade plant that actually prefers low light, so it is ideal for those less than sunny areas in your home.

Not to mention it may even flower and those tri-colored blooms are even more impressive in person than they are in a picture.

Ricinus communis or Castor Beans as they are commonly called are easy to start from seed each spring.

By fall you will have a full sized plant that will have flowered and be producing seeds for you to save for next year’s garden.

The typical castor bean plant grows quite tall making it an excellent specimen for the back of a border, be aware however that there are miniature varieties available.

The seeds are toxic so keep the both the plant and the seeds out of reach of children and pets.

This plant prefers full sun but can tolerate some shade.

While I have grown this indoors, it is one that really is better to be started from seed each spring.
Terracotta Composting 50-Plant Garden Tower by Garden Tower Project

Cannas are easy enough to grow indoors provided they get plenty of light, but honestly it is easier to dig the rhizomes once the foliage dies back from frost.

Store the canna rhizomes in a cool, dark place such as an unheated garage or basement.

Once spring rolls around again, just replant the rhizomes.

For an earlier start Cannas can be started in pots around March then transplanted into the garden once warm weather sets in.

Cannas can be grown in full sun, but depending on the variety you may find that there is less leaf burn if they are grown in light shade.

Brugmansia are easily over wintered in an unheated garage or basement.

They can also be brought indoors where they will continue to grow.

While you can start Brugmansia from seed, it is easier to just keep the plant alive or take cuttings and root them over the winter if you don’t have room for the entire plant.

Brugmansia are toxic so this is a plant to keep away from children and pets.

When over wintering indoors you may want to keep the blooms cut off to prevent any allergic reactions to the incredibly strong perfume these plants produce after dark.

Outdoors Brugmansia plants prefer at least six hours a day of sun.

Colocasias are an easy bulb to over winter.

You can continue to grow them indoors or dig them and store them along with your other bulbs.

Personally I’d just dig and store the colocasia bulbs because there doesn’t seem to be a benefit to growing them indoors.

Of course some people may want those large leaves as part of their home decor and if that is the case, go right ahead and grow them through the winter months.

These plants prefer slightly damp soil and full sun to part shade.

The Calocasia with dark leaves, such as ‘Blackie,’ seem to loose their color in the shade.

Ipomea batatas or sweet potato vines can be dug and stored or you may continue to grow them indoors.

These plants are best used as a ground cover instead of a typical climbing vine.

Another popular use for them is trailing over the side of containers.

The key to over wintering any type of bulb is to either dig it and store it in a cool, dark place or leave it in the pot and give a small amount of water every four to six weeks to keep the tuber moist.

Caladiums and Tuberous Begonias are both bulbs that can either be dug and stored or kept growing.

If they do die back on you it is likely that they have just gone dormant.

Once spring rolls back around bring them out and begin watering again.

Caladiums prefer shade.

Tuberous Begonias prefer a bright, shaded spot.

Both plants like to be kept moist but not wet.

The last plant that is easy enough to grow from seed is Clitoria.

Available in single and double forms with either white or blue flowers this vigorous vine can quickly cover a trellis.

Grown indoors, it will flower in the winter as long as it gets enough light.

The real advantage to overwintering this plant is that even if it does not flower indoors, it will burst into blooms as soon as it is back outdoors.

If you decide to over winter your plants in the house and they go dormant, either move them to a cooler area or be sure to give them a small amount of water each month so that the bulbs or rhizomes do not dry up and die.

Flowering Tropical Plants


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