Plants to turn your backyard garden into a tropical paradise

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Have you recently, or in the past, taken a trip to a tropical destination and left the place thinking, ‘Man… I wish I could grow plants like these back home.’

Well, here’s the thing, you can.

Although Missouri and Kansas are not year-round, tropical destinations, our climate can still grow several plants you would never expect to see in the Midwest.

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According to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, — a map gardeners use to determine which perennial plants will thrive in their area — Kansas and Missouri fall mostly within the 7a, 6b and 6a zones. On both sides of the Kansas City border, the metro falls mostly within the 6b zone. This means that, in order to survive, plants must be able to tolerate temperatures of -5 to zero degrees.

You might be thinking, ‘OK, and how could any tropical plant survive that?’

The truth is, several tropical plants can withstand freezing Kansas City temperatures, and sometimes even colder.

So, if you’re curious, here are the tropical plants you can grow in your Midwest garden, and everything you need to know about them:

Canna Lily

The Canna Lily is a perfect plant for narrow, wet, and muddy spots that struggle to maintain consistent growth. They can thrive in large pots, making it a great, low-maintenance pop of color that will add some drama to any landscape.

These plants love sunlight and grow yellow, red, salmon, orange or pink, iris-like blooms in mid-to-late-summer, according to Midwest Living.

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Even though Canna Lilies are hardy and can withstand seasonal changes in Missouri and Kansas, it is best to winterize them before the ground freezes.

To learn how to grow your cannas and save them during the winter months, click here.

Hibiscus Trees and ‘Hardy Hibiscus’

If you want to add a splash of color to your Midwest garden, the ‘Hardy Hibiscus’ and Yellow Hibiscus Tree are the ways to go.

The Hardy Hibiscus is a native perennial found in North America that tends to have the largest flowers spanning approximately 10-12 inches in diameter.

Hardy Hibiscus flowers can range from bright red to light pink to blue or even purple, according to the National Garden Bureau (NGB).

These ‘pinwheel-like’ flowers are commonly misidentified as their Tropical Hibiscus cousins, NGB said. Unlike this less hardy variation, the Hardy Hibiscus can actually survive in temperatures as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Other types of hibiscus plants can survive in the fluctuating Midwest season. This includes the Yellow Hibiscus Tree, another hardy plant, that can survive in 6a zones and warmer.

Yellow Hibiscus Trees require full sun exposure and well-draining soil, according to Tropical Plants of Florida. Although they can also withstand Missouri and Kansas winters, the tree’s chances of survival will increase if covered with a frost blanket or moved indoors when the winter months arrive.

Banana Basjoo

The Banana Basjoo, also known as a ‘Hardy Banana Plant’ and the ‘Japanese Banana,’ is another surprisingly cold-weather tolerant plant that can grow in Kansas and Missouri gardens.

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This large and fast-growing herbaceous perennial can reach a height of 6-14 inches and produces little green fruits. But, despite the plant’s misleading name and the fruit’s misleading appearance, don’t eat them because they are incredibly bitter and dry.

Hardy Banana Plants have large, paddle-shaped leaves and can produce small, light yellow flowers. You can plant them in the yard, in a pot outside or a larger pot near an inside window.

According to This Old House, the steps to planting a Hardy Banana Plant are:

  1. Plant the sucker in a hole that’s three feet wide and two feet deep.

  2. Fill the hole with soil that’s half original dirt and half amended soil from well-rotted compost or aged manure.

  3. Deeply water the sucker and place a layer of mulch around the rhizome in a two- to three-inch layer.

Like most banana trees, the Hardy Banana Plant will live for about six years. Only, of course, if you take good care of it.

For more information about planting and caring for a banana plant, click here.

Needle Palm Tree

What screams ‘tropical’ more than a palm tree? Nothing.

The Needle Palm Tree is one of the most cold-hardy palm trees of them all.

Also known as the ‘Porcupine Palm,’ this tree doesn’t grow from a trunk like your stereotypical palm trees. Instead, it has multiple fan-shaped leaves growing from fiber-covered stalks, all of which hold 3-4 inch-long spines. The palm can measure anywhere between 3 to 6 feet tall and 4 to 8 feet wide, according to North Carolina State University’s Gardener Extension.

Because of its durability, the Needle Palm Tree is perfect for everything that Missouri and Kansas ecosystems have to offer.

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The Missouri Botanical Garden says the palm thrives in “organically rich, evenly moist, well-drained soils,” and partial shade. Even though they are known as being one of the hardiest palm trees, they survive best in areas protected from winter winds.

Needle Palm Trees can be expected to bloom in the spring and early summer and will fruit in the fall.

Plenty more tropical plants can thrive in your Missouri or Kansas garden. From Madevillas to Pineapple Lillies to Bromeliads, there are numerous possibilities for building and customizing a beautiful garden in the comfort of your Midwestern backyard.

So good luck, get to planting and may your tropical oasis come true.

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