Hardy Tropicals for zone 5-6

Springfield, OH(Zone 5b)

I just found out that there were some banana plants that can overwinter here in Ohio and that was pretty exciting. I was wondering if there were any others that work here..I like big ones..lol..
While I do drag the brugs in every winter I really don't enjoy it and want something that I can put in the ground and leave.. any suggestions would be appreciated

Springfield, MO(Zone 6a)

The basjoo, a high altitude banana (Japan's Ryukyu Islands) may be what you want. But, of course, it will have to start over each and every year from ground zero and it must be well mulched in the north. They won't get very big until the end of Summer when they retreat once again.
Another possibility is Musella lasiocarpa - look here http://natureproducts.net/forest_products/Bananas/musella.html

Both are available from various sources.

Bucyrus, OH(Zone 6a)



I can't help but smile. From such innocent questions are new addictions born! Palms (trachycarpus, forrtuneii & takil; serenoa repens, rhaphidophyllum hystrix), camillas, bananas, elephant ears, bamboos, two varieties of gardenias, two jasmines, yuccas, agaves, citrus ...

Some of these I grow, see my journal. Many others are grown by bwilliams and hikaro_tatayama, also near our zone. :)

I'll be back later and post some links. : )



Chariton, IA(Zone 5b)

Ohio and Iowa...both places that aren't very tropical. I'd love to find some tropical looking plants that would survive our winters, but even the basjoo didn't survive for me. I mulched one well and put the other one on the South side of the house and neither made it through. I'm getting too old to be dragging pots in and out for the winter. Roses and sedum are looking better and better. LOL! I wonder if a well places Crepe Myrtle would make it here. I am sure it would die back to the ground every year and not sure they would have enough time to grow and bloom each summer. They sure are pretty and I do have potted ones, but again...it's a job.

Bucyrus, OH(Zone 6a)

For us northerners:

yucca rostrata, trunking yucca , can be found at plant delights.


agave parryi, hardy century plant, also at pdn.


This fellow in Georgia is pushing zones:


And then the folks at 2Lazy2P in Colorado Springs:


And the needle palms of Cincinnatti


And Miami University



Bucyrus, OH(Zone 6a)

Brugie, lagerstroemia indica "Pocemoke", http://davesgarden.com/pf/go/38111/index.html, might do OK for you as a foundation planting. I have an unprotected planting of bamboo, phyllostachys aureosulcata , http://davesgarden.com/pf/go/81044/index.html , thriving here. I have a gardenia, gardenia jasminoides "Kleim's Hardy" , http://davesgarden.com/pf/go/79807/index.html , growing as a sheltered (planted in a basement window well with an improvised cold frame) foundation planting, also a true jasmine jasminum x stephanense "Stephan's Jasmine" http://davesgarden.com/pf/go/80118/index.html as a foundation planting on an eastern exposure with no other protection.

I am growing poncirus trifoliata, Japanese hardy orange, http://davesgarden.com/pf/go/55494/index.html with only some protection from a privacy fence.

Some natives have a tropical feel to them. I find paw paw, asimina triloba http://davesgarden.com/pf/go/37/index.html has a very tropical look, as do many daturas http://davesgarden.com/pf/go/1235/index.html (just make sure you don't have any people or animals that chew on plants -- the daturas are toxic.) Cannas are a decent banana substitute, and our own bwilliams is a fantastic canna hybridizer. :) Other flowers include orchids, lady slipper and bletillas.


Chariton, IA(Zone 5b)

Thanks Joe. I'll look into a couple of these things. I do know that Canna's don't winter over here in the open and my beds that need the plants are in full exposure to sun, wind, cold, etc. Datura are okay as they come back from seed, but they are a little to invasive here for me. I do my best to remove all seed pods, but sometimes in the past they have got away from me. The doubles won't come back for me from dropped seed, so I will plant them this year, but again, they won't be perennial. I think the key to having tropicals is to move south. LOL! Way south.

Des Moines, IA(Zone 5a)

Brugie.. Thats why I stick with roses & hardy hibiscus & a few holly hock, I am trying some double holly holly hock. I had pink & white ones that bloomed last year so I bought Red -yellow & peaches & cream. This is the second year for the new double ones, They didn't bloom the first year. If they bloom like the pink & the white ones then I should have a good mix of flowers that come back every year. I think you told me that the doubles go back to singles after a year or two. I don't care if they do because I like the colors & the fact they come back each year.

Bucyrus, OH(Zone 6a)

I love double hollyhocks, roseman! Right now I have a dark maroon double, but I love to get a mix of colors. When I get a decent number of mixed doubles blooming, I'll pop a few blossoms off of, say a yellow, a pink, and a white, and float them in a sherbert dish with a spoon sticking out. :)

They're one of my favorite flowers for our climate.


Chariton, IA(Zone 5b)

What a cool idea for a centerpiece.

(Zone 6a)

Jazzpunkin, If you want a good read on this subject, try: Palms Won't Grow Here And Other Myths by David Franko. Its very interesting to read and should give you LOTS of ideas! I know it did for me!


Springfield, OH(Zone 5b)

Wow..I really appreciate all the leads and suggestions! I haven't checked them all out yet because my computer crashed againa nd i am playing catchup :( But I am getting hopeful that I can have a cool little mini tropical garden room..maybe with a water feature!

(Zone 6a)

If you read David Frankos book theres a whole section on hardy palms that can grow reliably well even in zone 6! Also check out here http://www.gardenstore-n-more.com/gardenstorenmore.html theres a whole bunch of really exotic tropical plants and vines that can be grown as annuals. I've ordered from there before and it's great service.
Also be on the lookout for Begonia grandis, a hardy perennial begonia.

Hope this helps,

Fayetteville, PA(Zone 6b)


Check out some of my recent palm pics in the Palms and Cycads forum... those same palms (just planted this year) have (appearantly) survived a 2 degree freeze overnight, and have endured a few weeks of freezing weather (including a 10 degree and 9 degree low) about 2 weeks ago.

Other plants that have proven surprisingly hardy for me are:

Aspidistra elaitor, the extremely aptly named Cast Iron Plant.... This thing went through a 1 month drought without supplemental watering this past summer with no ill effects, and has survived single-digit freezes with no appearant ill effects.... In addition, they will grow in total shade, making them sort of like an evergreen super-hosta.


Rhapidophyllum hystrix, the needle palm. Get about a 3-gallon or larger specimen, unless you want to wrap/cover it for the first several winters. My 3-gallon specimens have shown no damage from the cold thus far, and two seedlings I have have shown only minor cold damage, with one being eaten by wild rabbits (the spear and bud are still alive, so hopefully it should recover next year).

Trachycarpus takil: looking kind of yellow, but hanging in there. I had to fence them off with hardware cloth or the rabbits would have eaten them to death.

T. fortunei x wagnerinsis: I got these unusual hybrid windmill palms from Brian Williams, and they show a lot of the Waggie traits, including smaller, stiff leaves that fold part-way up when temps drop to around 10 degrees or lower. The same plants that I planted this year have already survived a -5 degree freeze when they were seedlings and their container froze in Brian's cold frame one winter. They are now 1-gallon sized, in the ground and mulched, so they should handle these single digit temps with no problem at all.

Sabal minor "Mc Curtain" Mc Curtain County variety of the dwarf palmetto.... this is a very hardy subspecies, having survived lower temps than any other palms on record (-24 degrees F). Mine have shown some very slight wind damage (one of the leaves has two tears in it), but chugging along nicely.

Other plants:

Cordyline australis: there are some in containers outside a local gas station, beside the pumps that have survived single-digit temps this past week, as well as one planted in someones front garden that is about 2 ft tall. They all survived with no appearant damage.... Unlike mine, which have all been eaten to the ground by rabbits.....

Yucca recurvifolia: Weeping Yucca. There is a 10 year old (at least) specimen in my area that has two 4-5 ft tall trunks, and I have 3 in my back yard that are just starting to form trunks... Very hardy.


Phyllostachys aureosulcata: PA's favorite bamboo... It seems like everyone and their uncle has some around here. Reliably hardy in this area, and even in points N. and W (1/2 to a full zone colder)... I've even seen a nice, big grove near Mt. Union, PA (zone 5b).

Phyllostachys rubromarginata: Large timber bamboo that is at least as hardy, from my experience, as P. aureosulcata. I planted a 3 gallon specimen last year, and it survived its first year outside with no protection and only had a bit of tip burn on the leaves.

P. atrovaginata: pretty much the same deal, however all the leaves were unscathed with the exception of 1 tuft of leaves at the end of 1 branch that got fried... I still can't figure that one out.

Fargesia nitida: Blue fountain bamboo. Very hardy clumping bamboo from N. China. It tends to look a bit ratty after several weeks of freezing weather, but when warm weather returns, the leaves uncurl and it looks healthy again.

I have a few other plants I'm trying, but I won't know until spring weather or not they survived, but I'll try to keep everyone posted.

(Zone 6a)

Hikayro, do you spay your palms with any sort of antidesiccant or fungicide spay for the winter?

Fayetteville, PA(Zone 6b)

Nope! I figure if they can't make it without a whole lot of fussing around, then they aren't for me.... Besides, I can't seem to find anything like that at any of the local garden stores....

Bucyrus, OH(Zone 6a)

Hikaro, you're farther into this than I am. I'm hoping to get down to Brian's this summer to grab a few of those fortunei x wagnerus hybrids myself. :)

Excellent advice!


Fayetteville, PA(Zone 6b)

Just a bit of an update:

I finally got to check my garden plants out after two straight nights of single-digit temps (2 on Mon and 3 last night), and here's the prognosis:

Hybrid Trachys: Leaves are a bit darker green than normal and folded almost closed, i.e. they look about like they did when it hit 9 two weeks ago, but they recovered from that with no damage.

S. minor 'Mc Curtain': leaves have turned a really dark blue color (I notice that when the temp drops, the blue coloring of the leaves tends to darken), but otherwise look fine.

Rhapidophyllum hystrix: All plants are completely unfazed (even the 2 year old seedling).

T. takil: Looks like they may have gotten fried, but we'll see.......

Aspidistra elaitor: No appearant damage whatsoever... The leaves look just as green and healthy as the one varegated Aspidistra I have in the house.... Truly amazing! Looks like this truly IS a cast-iron plant in all aspects.... Good thing it spreads so slow otherwise I have a feeling that it could become a serious weed as tough as it is....

I have two leatherleaf mahonias that are also doing good, but their leaves have taken on a purplish tinge, which I've noticed happen when temps dropped into the low teens....

My Yucca recurvifolias are all doing fine.

Bamboo report:

Phyllostachys aureosulcata: No damage, and it has never suffered damage (other than having 2 culms break during ice storms in different years and rabbits eating the culms when it was young) during the winter for the past 10 years I've had it.

Phyllostachys nigra: Defoliated.... AGAIN! Looks like I shouldn't have gambled with this one....

Phyllostachys atrovaginata: No appearant damage this year, so it seems to be toughening up a bit.

Phyllostachys rubromarginata: No damage

Phyllostachys bambusoides "Castillions Inversa": This plant came as a "volunteer" with some Pseudosasa japonica I transplanted this past spring, and frankly, I didn't expect it to survive this winter, however, it has sustained NO damage at all!! The funny part is that P. bambusoides is not supposed to be as hardy as P. nigra....

Pseudosasa japonica: No damage

Pleioblastus viridiostriatus: leaf burn, otherwise fine... Comes back bigger and better during the spring.

Arundinaria gigantea: No damage (this is a native bamboo, and it is native to OH, so you can get the extra-bonus good feeling of helping a native plant when you plant this guy)

Fargesia nitida: Leaves all curled up, but otherwise fine... The leaves will uncurl when it gets warm out.

Semiarundinaria fastuosa: as of right now, just appears to have some slight leaf burn... Last winter it was practically defoliated.... so we'll see.

That covers the immediate after-action report for this cold spell... Further updates as events warrant.

(Zone 6a)

Hikaro, thanks for the update! I read a book about hardy palms and it made sound like they'd all keel over and die without all the sprays. I'm glad to see it can be done without :)


Louisville, KY

I have been growing about 6 forms of Colocasia outside in zone6 with just a little protection of leaves or mulch over them. Their is also about 8 forms of banana that can survive it mulched up as well. Tons of other things as well protecting them with mulch in the winter months is key but it pays off and no greenhouse is needed. I have tons of stuff that stays out this way.

(Zone 6a)

Bwilliams, Does Musa Sikkimensis over winter for you?

This message was edited Feb 6, 2007 5:44 PM

Louisville, KY

The true Sikkimensis does over winter here for me with a good mulching. The photo on that site though has a kid under the plant Ensete ventricosum Maurelli and is mislabled as Sikkimensis. Ensetes are considered hardy in zone 8. I have a friend who has grown them in Alabama for many years. Down their they do not lose the trunks like we do here from the cold. I think with a very well constructed mulching or extra protection you could over winter it in zone 6 but it would take more effort than the other forms. IE using heat cables can help out a lot to keep the plants form freezing during the cold days. Also bags of leaves and black plastic all help to heat up and keep the plants warmer. The best thinks I have used to keep plants warm is something that will decompose very fast like chopped up leaves brown hard wood mulch. Then with the black plastic heats up in the sun and will keep the mound from freezing it will freeze slightly but thaws out everytime the sun it out. The heating cables can get around 100f and I would only use them on stuff like ensetes around the base and only on very cold night. I have not over wintered a Ensete outside in many years I find with my large greenhouses digging them up seems to be faster. But I may try it again. Also not many people know this but if you chop the Ensete down when its a few feet tall it will pup ton. This only works when the main growth stem is destroyed. Good luck.

Here is a photo out front of our place. I have about 15 different cannas 4 different bananas and 7 different colocasias and a handfull of other things out their. In winter the plants are cut back to the ground and bananas about 2 feet from the ground. Then they are covered with about 6 inches of chopped up leaves. come spring most the leaves are removed the rest act much like mulch keeping out weeds. They rot and feed the plant and also keep them damp during summer. This is the 5 year they have been out.

Thumbnail by bwilliams
Bucyrus, OH(Zone 6a)

Thanks Hikaro for the update. My p. aureosulcatus is laughing at our -F temps right now. The Kleim's Hardy is going well in its little makeshift cold frame. Everything else is buried in snow. :)


Fayetteville, PA(Zone 6b)

Oh, I forgot to mention, I also have one of the new Nat. Arboretum Camellia Hybrids in the ground as well... It is also seems to be doing fine with only minimal protection (mulching), and maximum protection from the rabbits (durn rabbits ate half the branches off).

I also have two Cherry laurels that look like they may have sustained minor leaf damage, but as I said, when it warms up a bit (like over the next two days), I'll have a better idea of how things actually are.

The worst part about this cold spell is that it has been below freezing for the past week, and the ground is like broken concrete when you walk on it, and the stream coming out of our pond actually froze solid! This is also the first time in a LONG time that the big stream (Conococheuge Creek, which averages about 25 ft wide and about 6 ft deep in the middle) where I live actually froze over...

(Zone 6a)

Thanks for that information Bwilliams, I've seen alot of different varieties of Sikkimensis when looking around the internet. Thats a gorgeous photo! WOW!


Lewisburg, KY(Zone 6a)

Hi, Jazz
I just happened to see your thread. I love tropicals but hate lugging them back and forth. This is the first year I left out 2 hardy bananas. I hope they return! I am doubtful. I probably should stick to our beloved dls. I reading along too. Thanks for all the links and info here.
Teresa in KY

Springfield, OH(Zone 5b)

Well.. let me know if they make it..I might try them even though I am a bit colder that you all

Fayetteville, PA(Zone 6b)

Ok, Quick update on the plant situation:

All of my Yucca Recurvifolia sustained no damage at all! The scary part is, I planted two of them in Mid-October, although those two sustained Rabbit-related damage (this is the first time I've EVER seen Rabbits eat Yucca leaves), but are otherwise alright.

The Two large Needle palms suffered NO damage... Actually, the one that had a half-opened leaf looks like the half-opened leaf may have got fried, but it is otherwise alright.... And in REALLY surprising news, the two SEEDLING needle palms suffered no damage... other than that resulting from rabbits using them as winter forage (the uneaten parts of the leaves are OK, though)

The two Sabal minor 'Mc Curtain's are also just fine and dandy... No damage whatsoever, and both plants have mostly strap leaves (which are more V-shaped on S. minor), and one has all strap leaves, meaning that as they mature, they will be even hardier still.

The two hybrid trachys I got from Brian aren't looking so hot... Sorry, Brian, but I may have killed one of your palms. :( One of the two, and surprisingly, it's the one in the heaviest shade, appears to have SOME leaf damage, but is mostly OK... The other one looks like it may have gotten freezer-burnt pretty bad.

The two T. takils look like they may be dead, but we'll see....

Here's the most shocking observations from the freeze of '07: BOTH my half gallon Aspidistra elaitor (cast iron plants) took NO damage from temps getting down to 2 degrees, possibly even colder since they are in a shady spot under my bamboo grove... And here I thought they were just some tropical houseplant that would die the moment frost hit it...

The other one is that there is a gas station in Chambersburg, and someone who lives in Greencastle who have New Zealand Cabbage Trees (Cordyline australis) planted outside (the ones at the gas station are in containers to boot), and NONE of them suffered any major damage.... Looks like yet another "tropical" plant that is much hardier than originally suspected... All mine have been eaten back to the ground by rabbits, so it was impossible to ascertain the effects of cold on them... Brian, looks like I'll be buying one of your trunked C. australis when I go to your place this spring..... since they seem to be really hardy here, and if they have a trunk, then the dadgum rabbits won't eat them.....

In addition, my Poncirus trifoliata (Japanese hardy orange) DID NOT LOSE ITS LEAVES!!! (well, the one that didn't get half-eaten by rabbits, that is) Those things are suposed to be deciduous here, but I may either have an unusually hardy specimen or it didn't get cold enough. (only got down to maybe 0... My indoor/outdoor thermometer read 2.5, but the outside probe is hanging out the window, next to the house, so I'm thinking it's reading about 2 degrees higher than the acutal outside temperature... not to mention that it may be a bit cooler in the woods due to the partial shade provided by the trees).

I'll have to wait until spring to see if any of my Colocasia Pink China or C. Big Dipper survied, as well as my Yellow Lotus banana, Japanese hardy banana, and other herbaceous plants survived.

Here's a recent pic of one of my aspidistras:

Thumbnail by Hikaro_Takayama

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