How Cold Can a Tropical Plant Tolerate?

Tropical Plant Toleration of Cold Weather

Like their origins, tropical plants are bright and colorful and are loved by many people. However, their ideal environment in areas with a tropical climate which can make it difficult to maintain. Even though tropical plants can survive in colder temperatures, there are some temperatures that would kill them. But how cold is too cold?

Most tropical plants are in danger if the temperature is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Almost all tropical plants die once the temperature hits the freezing point of water at 32 degrees. Depending on the plant and its origins, different tropical fauna can survive lower temperatures.

Despite all tropical plants being unable to survive in colder weather, some plants that originate from certain tropics are more resilient than others. Even though not all of these plants will be suitable for colder climates, there are some that are, and knowing the options can make all the difference when designing one’s landscape.

Victoria Derrick
Published by: Victoria C. Derrick
Publisher / President
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Tropical Plants Don’t Do Well in the Cold

Any gardener or plant lover will tell you that the survival of most any plant is strongly dependent on the climate its in. In the case of tropical plants, the majority of them are killed once the temperature reaches the freezing point of water, which is 32 degrees Fahrenheit. These plants are used to sunny warm weather and were not genetically engineered to be able to survive colder weather.

The fauna of the tropics, which are the countries closer to the Equator, such as the Caribbean and parts of Australia are not the best options for colder temperatures. They are in danger of death whenever the temperature goes below 50 degrees Fahrenheit and will most likely die if the temperature decreases by ten degrees.

Plants that come from the subtropics, which consists of Australia, parts of South America, and Southeast Asia, are more resilient. While the plants from the tropics would die at 40 degrees, the plants from the subtropics can survive up till the freezing point of water on the Fahrenheit scale at 32 degrees. That is a difference of eight degrees.

With this piece of information, one can determine which plant would look best in their homes. When there is a will there is away. With a little more research or by talking to a professional, you can bring a little piece of the tropics to your not so tropical home.

What Happens When a Tropical Plant Freezes

During the cold, most plants usually shed all their leaves, only for them to grow back when the fairer weather has returned. However, since tropical plants are not used to having the colder weather, their bodies are not able to withstand the freeze damage. The plant's internal irrigation system and its roots are damaged by the cold. Stronger plants are usually able to regain their strength but not all plants are capable of doing so.

Plants that do not survive the winter are often referred to as annual plants since they die at the end of every year. Tropical plants are annual plants in colder areas, but can be perennial in the tropics. Even though it is harder for tropical plants to survive the cold, it is always best to check before chucking it.

Using a small knife, carve out a piece of the stem; if the tissue beneath is green, there is still a chance to save the plant. With some love and warmth, the plant should be able to fully recuperate.

The Difference Between Tropic and Subtropic Plants

There are two categories of tropical plants: tropical and subtropical. These are named based on their climatic regions. Tropical plants are from the tropics which is the region on earth that is closest to the equator and only has two seasons -- wet and dry. The subtropical plants on the other hand are from the subtropical regions, which border the tropical region and are characterized by hot summers, mild winters, and the occasional frost.

Since in the subtropical regions, there are occasional frosts and colder weather, the fauna is better adapted to lower temperatures. The plants from the tropics are only used to the rainy season and are unable to withstand as much cold as the subtropical ones. For a tropical plant with a higher tolerance to cold, it is best to opt with a subtropical plant.

Even though the subtropical plants are more resistant to the cold, if they are being planted somewhere with harsh winters, they will die. In those cases, it is best to keep them as a houseplant instead. That way it will be easier to monitor its health and make sure the cold is not affecting it.

And since tropical plants are considered one of the easiest houseplants to care for, it would be a great way to get kids to interact with nature.

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Winter Care For Tropical Plants

When it comes to tropical plants, they are one of the easiest plants to have. However, during colder weather, the plant should be moved indoors. If the plant had always been an indoor plant, then there should not be much change from the usual routine.

When starting winter care for a tropical plant, the first thing to do is to move it inside well before the first frost. Also, it is important to watch for pest infections. Occasionally, when plants are moved inside, they are attacked by insects and pests. To keep the plant clean and pest-free, spray it with a mixture of dish soap and water before bringing it inside the house. Wipe it clean then take it to the desired location.

Once the plant is in a comfortable position inside the house, with adequate lighting, it’s mostly all set. Just set a schedule to ensure that the plant is receiving sufficient water but not so much as to rot the roots. Since plant growth slows down in the colder months, liquid fertilizer monthly should be enough to keep the plant nourished.

With these simple steps, tropical plants will be able to survive the winter.

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Good Tropical Plants to Buy

Even though one can be hesitant about buying a tropical plant when they are not living in the tropics, if done properly, it can be successful. Here are some of the best tropical plants to buy for colder temperatures.

  • Hardy Sugar Cane- This sweet Caribbean treat is a great outdoor plant to add to one’s yard. 

  • Soft Shield Fern- Despite its tropical look, this plant is resilient and is a great option for outdoor shading. 

  • Elephant’s Ear- Like its name, this broad-leafed plant can be found in several tropical islands.

  • Chinese Windmill Palm- This slow-growing, fan-like plant is a great option for smaller yards.  

  • Hibiscus- Available in a myriad of different colors, the hibiscus is an amazing addition to any flower bed or windowsill. 

  • Blue Palm- This smaller and shorter palm is a go-to choice for many big landscape projects.

All of these tropical plants are perfect options for colder weather. Even though some of them are from the tropics, the majority of these plants can be found in the subtropical areas as well.

While tropical plants were made for the tropics, they are still able to withstand colder temperatures. Albeit some are better than others, but they can still be an option for the landscape of a home in Virginia or other less sunny spots.

Many people love the brilliant colors and unique shapes of tropical plants and would love to have them in their homes but don’t out of fear they will die. Even though that is a possibility, the chances of that happening are very low if one follows the steps. Tropical plants may not have an exuberantly high tolerance toward the cold, but what they have is enough.

Published/Updated on: 01-20-2021