How to Garden Tropical Plants


You can grow many tropical plants outdoors if you live in a temperate climate zone, such as the southern areas of the United States. Some plants considered tropical are surprisingly hardy---for example, the Mexican fan palm can withstand temperatures as low as 18 degrees Fahrenheit, making it popular as far north as San Francisco. If you love the look of tropical plants but are hesitant to plant them in your more northerly garden, many of them do well in large pots, which you can move indoors before the first frost arrives in your area.

Growing Tropicals Outdoors

Step 1

Prepare your planting area in winter or early spring to allow soil amendments to "mellow" and become well integrated. Dig 1 gallon of rich, organic compost into every 5 linear feet of garden row. If you're planting only one tropical plant, dig a hole twice as large as the root system and then combine it with about one-fourth of its volume of compost.

Step 2

Take your plant out of its nursery pot and then set it into the planting hole. Fill in with additional soil/compost and then pat down the soil firmly with your hands. Water well and keep your plant watered when the soil begins to dry out---about once a week during summer is often what it will need.

Step 3

Fertilize most plants with a balanced fertilizer beginning about one month after you plant. Repeat your feeding about four times each year, during the plant's active growing season, which is from spring through fall. Avoid fertilizing in winter, but keep your plant watered if rains don't do the job.

Step 4

Mist your plant every day with a fine spray of water if you live in an arid climate. Tropical plants need higher humidity than many parts of the United States normally have.

Growing Tropicals Indoors

Step 1

Purchase containers with drainage holes and matching saucers. Base the size of your pots on the size of the plants' nursery pots---choose containers that are only 1- to 2-inches larger in diameter than their nursery pots.

Step 2

Fill your container with standard potting soil and then dig a hole large enough for your plant's root system. Set your plant into the hole and then pat the soil gently around its base to secure it in the center of the pot.

Step 3

Fill a plant saucer with small pebbles and then place your pot on top. Keeping water in the saucer will help to give the plant additional humidity, which it needs, without forcing the plant to sit in a puddle. Spraying your plant with a fine mist of water every day also helps to raise the humidity.

Step 4

Water your potted tropical plant once each week, allowing the soil to dry out slightly between waterings.

Step 5

Fertilize your tropical potted plant with a balanced plant food once a month, or follow label instructions for diluting your fertilizer, which allows you to provide nourishment every time you water.

Things You'll Need

  • Compost
  • Shovel
  • Pots(s) with drainage hole(s)
  • Potting soil
  • Plant saucers
  • Pebbles
  • Balanced fertilizer


  • Sunset Magazine: Great Garden Features
  • Going Bananas

Who Can Help

  • Aloha Tropicals: Plant source
Keywords: tropical plants, houseplants palms, coleus orchid

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, GardenGuides and eHow. She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.