The Best Cold Hardy Tropical Plants

The Best Cold Hardy Tropical Plants

The Best Cold Hardy Tropical Plants
big purple rose of sharon hibiscus flowers have a tropical look

Plant photos by Doreen Wynja and Brandon Friend-Solis

Are you dreaming of a tropical oasis in your garden, even in the face of winter's chill? While you may not realize it, many tropical plants can happily withstand colder weather and continue to bring an exotic allure to your garden.

Here, we'll give you some of our favorite picks for these winter warriors plus tips for how to grow them.

(Above) Chateau™ de Versailles Rose of Sharon is covered in large, vibrant hibiscus flowers that have a tropical look. Chateau™ Rose of Sharon shrubs like this one are hardy all the way down to Zone 5!

What Are Cold-Hardy Tropical Plants?

While most tropical plants make you think of delicate flowers that wilt at the first sign of frost, there are actually such things as cold-hardy tropical plants. These botanical rebels defy expectations, thriving in regions with cooler climates and even tolerating occasional dips below freezing. We've also included plants that aren't truly tropical but are exceptionally hardy options that look the part.

These plants bring a touch of the tropics to your garden, boasting exotic foliage textures, interesting colors, and sometimes surprising blooms, all while withstanding cooler temperatures.

Best Cold-Hardy Tropical Plants to Add to Your Garden

Now, let's dive into our recommendations for cold-hardy tropical plants. For our purposes, we consider "cold hardy" tropical plants to be plants that can withstand a hard freeze. Some of our recommendations are hardy down to Zone 4, while others are hardy to Zone 7.

Here are some of our picks for our favorite cold-hardy tropicals:

(Above) Head Over Heels® Desire Hibiscus is a cold-hardy perennial that has large red summer flowers.

Cold-Hardy Hibiscus

 If you're looking for bold blooms (some the size of dinner plates!) in the summer and a plant that can withstand a range of Zones, this is your pick. We cover everything you need to know about hibiscus and its care needs in our guide.

Hardy hibiscus is an herbaceous perennial that dies back to the ground each winter. The Head Over Heels® series features several eye-catching plants that bloom in shades of white, pink, and red and grow in Zones 4-10.

Take the Blush Hibiscus, for example, with its big pale-pink summer flowers and bold crimson center that pops dramatically against its burgundy foliage. This cold-hardy perennial dies back to the ground in winter, but its fast growth and enormous blooms, bigger than even the frost-tender species, more than makeup for the missed time.

(Above) The Chateau™ de Chantilly Rose of Sharon is hardy down to zone 5. 

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon is also a type of cold-hardy hibiscus that's perfect for Zones 5-9. Rose of Sharon tolerates poor soil and dry conditions better than other hibiscus varieties. Explore our Chateau™ Series, which features enchanting Rose of Sharon shrubs that bloom nonstop from early summer through autumn. The de Chantilly variety (pictured here) will bring you exquisite white flowers with a deep red-violet center, while our de Versailles Rose of Sharon produces blue-violet flowers that make a statement in borders and island beds.

(Above) Hardy Fiber Banana is hardy all the way down to zone 5. 

Hardy Banana

Large and lush, the Hardy Fiber Banana is considered the most cold-hardy banana. This fast grower has lush green foliage and leaves that can reach 2 feet wide and 6 feet long. This plant's roots survive much colder temperatures than other bananas, and it can be grown in Zones 5-11. The Hardy Fiber Banana produces golden cream flowers and small, seedy fruit.

(Above) Camouflage® Variegated Japanese Aralia is hardy down to Zone 7.

Japanese Aralia

Grown in Zones 8-11, the Japanese Aralia is an evergreen plant that produces exotic green foliage for a bold, tropical look in your garden. This aralia thrives in low-light, urban settings and produces winter flowers followed by black ornamental berries.

Similarly, our Camouflage® Variegated Japanese Aralia, grown in Zones 7-10, also produces fall and winter flowers that bloom as white flower clusters. This showy shrub's color is a combination of yellow, lime, and green, and its textural foliage is perfect for gardeners who want exquisite detail in their gardens.

(Above) Tropicanna® Canna is a classic tropical plant that is also hardy down to Zone 7. A favorite for containers! 


Gardeners looking for an exotic plant will love the Tropicanna® Canna, grown in Zones 7-11. This plant elevates your landscape with tall stems crowned by large, orange blooms. Its foliage piques interest as it emerges, with bright burgundy leaves that mature with stripes of red, pink, yellow, and green. This plant is an herbaceous perennial that is easily overwintered indoors.

(Above) Jurassic™ Stegosaurus Holly Fern is a cold-hardy evergreen fern that adds a lush, tropical look to woodland plantings or containers. 

Holly Fern

Holly ferns are prized for their resemblance to holly bushes but have the low-maintenance appeal of ferns. The Jurassic™ Stegosaurus Holly Fern is an evergreen fern that delivers bold texture, holly-like fronds, and large leaflets. Grown in Zones 6-9, this evergreen beauty will thrive in woodland planting or in a container on a shaded terrace.

Ostrich Fern

Ostrich ferns are perfect for adding a dramatic touch to your garden. Their large size makes them a focal point in shady areas, and graceful fronds create a sense of movement and texture. The European Ostrich Fern, grown in Zones 3-7, is the perfect cold-hardy companion. This fern is great for woodland gardens and damp areas and produces light green fronds reminiscent of showy ostrich plumes.


A cold-hardy shade plant, Hosta's aren't a tropical plant at all, but they give gardens a tropical look thanks to their wide, lush leaves. The Blue Angel Hosta (Zones 3-9) is the largest of the blue hostas, perfect for creating a tropical feel. Its silver-blue leaves form a cascading mound, and in the summer it produces white, bell-like flowers.

If you're in an especially cold region, the T Rex Hosta is hardy all the way down to Zone 2 and up to Zone 9. This enormous plant produces foliage of epic proportions with slightly corrugated green leaves. While it's relatively slow growing, it will thrive in a shady spot with plenty of room and soon become a focal point of your garden.

Cold Hardy Drought-Tolerant Plants for a "Dry Tropical" Look

If you want to achieve the distinct "dry tropical" look and you're in a sunny, drought-prone location, here are some of our favorite cold-hardy picks:

Poco™ Orange 
Hot Poker

Part of the Poco™ series, this orange hot poker is a long-blooming dwarf variety that is ideal for smaller spaces. With orange spikes of tubular flowers and red tips, this plant blooms continuously from summer to fall. Its grass-like foliage and attractive color give it that distinct "dry tropical" look. Full sun. Up to 14" tall, 21" wide. Zones 6-9.

Blue Beaked 

Our Blue Beaked Yucca is a bold tropical plant with striking blue-green leaves that form a dense crown. As the plant matures, it develops a short trunk. This Yucca thrives in full sun and tolerates drought; it makes an excellent container specimen. Up to 15' tall, 8' wide. Full sun. Zones 5-10.

Bright Star 

For gardeners who love the sharp, dramatic look of tropical plants, the Bright Star Yucca is your new companion. Its boldly colored rosettes of strappy green leaves with bright yellow edges are eye-catching and unforgettable. The Bright Star Yucca tolerates drought and, when it blooms in the summer, produces fragrant, white, bell-shaped flowers. Full sun. Up to 2' tall, 5' wide. Zones 7-10.


Artichoke Agave makes a bright accent plant in a waterwise landscape or as a ground cover in mass plantings. With an abundance of dense, symmetrical rosettes and blue-grey foliage, this agave gives you that tropical look with minimal care. Once established, it's drought tolerant. Full sun. Rosettes up to 4' wide. Zones 6-10.

Red Yucca

A compact yucca-like plant with soft, green leaves, this species adds a touch of tropical allure to gardens and boasts stunning crimson-red flowers and tall stalks.  Its vibrant, tubular blooms are loved by hummingbirds and various pollinators, Thriving in hot, arid climates and poor soils, this desert gem brings both beauty and resilience to any landscape. Full sun. Up to 2' tall, 3' wide. Zones 5-11.


An exceptional vine for trellises, arbors, and fencing, this plant not only provides excellent coverage but also lends a tropical feel, even in colder zones. When pruned, it can take on a dense shrub-like form, adding versatility to its charm. Throughout summer, its purple to deep-pink buds unfurl into sweetly fragrant, golden yellow, tubular flowers. Part to full sun. Up to 15' long. Zones 4-9.

Tips for Growing Cold Hardy Tropical Plants in the Winter

So, you've brought a touch of the tropics to your garden with your collection of cold-hardy tropical plants. Now that winter's frost approaches, how can you make sure these beauties continue to thrive? Here are some tips to help your plants weather the colder months:


  • Winter Mulch Magic: Some plants will appreciate a layer of mulch (2-3 inches thick) around their base before the first frost arrives. This insulates the root system, protecting it from sudden drops in temperature and helping retain soil moisture. Use organic materials like shredded bark, wood chips, or compost.
  • Shelter from the Storm: For particularly sensitive, cold-hardy tropical plants, consider providing additional protection during harsh winter weather. You can use burlap wrap, frost blankets, or evergreen boughs to shield them from strong winds and biting cold. On warmer days, remove the covering to allow for ventilation.
  • Container Conundrums: If you have any cold-hardy tropical plants in containers, relocate them to a sheltered location during winter. A garage, shed, or unheated sunroom offers extra protection from the elements. Group container plants together for added warmth.
  • Embrace the Unexpected: Remember, even cold-hardy plants have their limits. Some may lose some foliage during winter, but this doesn't necessarily mean they're dying. With proper care, they should bounce back with renewed vigor in spring. Don't be tempted to prune frost-damaged leaves prematurely; wait until new growth emerges in spring.
  • Winter Watering for Evergreens: For evergreen cold-hardy tropical plants, occasional watering during extended dry spells in winter is crucial. This is especially important if there's little to no snowfall, as evergreen plants can still lose moisture through their leaves, even in dormancy.

Always check specific care guidelines for your cold-hardy tropical plants, as they all have unique needs. With a little love and nurturing, these plants will bring a touch of the tropics to your landscape year-round.

Learn More About Gardening with Tropical Plants

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2024-05-03 16:12:00