Tag Archives: The Cactus Family

Growing Tropical Plants in Cold Europe – Tips

Canarius | Tuesday January 5th, 2010 |

Tropical and Mediterranean garden styles are spreading through Europe. People are trying new species and new techniques to create exotic gardens in colder, northern climates. While many tropical species cannot survive cold winters, some can be replaced by subtropical species or tropical-looking hardy species. Tropical gardens are often rich in large leaved plants, such as palms and bananas. Mediterranean gardens are not so dense and lush, they rather show open vegetation, sculptured by wind and sun. Shrubs and trees are often enhanced by cacti, yuccas and palms from dry habitats.

Trachycarpus wagnerianus is a frost proof palm species

Trachycarpus wagnerianus is a frost proof palm species, hardy to about -18 C.

Canarius offers some tips to help growers in their tropical adventures:

  • Young plants are often less resistant to cold. If you are purchasing small sizes from Canarius, protect them in winter during a few years, especially if you are pushing the limits of your climate by introducing tender species.
  • Get protection from walls and canopy. Walls and buildings can stop the wind and release warmth at night. Even some large rocks on the ground can help. Canopy (a tree above) make a sheltered environment and helps to minimize the effect of frost or hail.
  • Sun in, wind out. Design the garden so that it can catch the sunlight from the South and trap the warmth. Keep it screened from the coldest winter winds.
  • Try the right speciesPalms and cacti are tropical plants but SOME palms and SOME cacti can grow in even in Northern Europe. Many tropical families or genera include a few species which are hardier than others, usually because their wild habitat is located at high elevations or high latitudes. Hardy Palms will take -18 or below! Canarius offers an excellent selection of hardy tropicals. Check our blog article Hardy Palms for Europe.

    Echinocereus  enneacanthus sarissophorus

    Cold hardy cactus. Echinocereus enneacanthus sarissophorus can take about – 20 C if kept dry.

  • All plants from dry areas increase their hardiness if kept dry. For example, many cacti can take freezes if kept dry. The same species might rot in warmer Mediterranean climates if left outdoors during the winter rains.
  • Desert plants in the garden do better on raised mounds. Palm-like plants from dry regions (Yucca and Dasylirion) and various cacti can take frosts to harder than -10 C (14 F). They will be even hardier if planted in a much drained site, such as a raised mound or in sandy soil.
  • Plants with underground stems increase resistance if mulched. Use abundant mulching during the coldest months. Heliconiabananas, Strelitziasugar-cane, gingers.
  • Use winter protections. All tropical plants will benefit from some protection, from cold, wind or hail. Plants from dry climates, such as cacti, succulents or desert palms might need a shelter for the rain. Learn about how to protect them. Cover them with anti-frost fabric. Build temporary shelters. Use plastic or bubblewrap, Check the temperature. Keen collectors use a number of materials and often provide some heating to the most valuable plants they grow outdoors.

    Yucca rostrata

    Yucca rostrata is a grey leaved beauty from American deserts. It grows into a palm-like frost hardy tree.

  • Think of pots. Move them in for winter. Some exotic plants, like cacti and cycads do very well in pots. Grow tropicals in large pots and take them to a protected place in winter. In many cases a sheltered patio, balcony or the southern wall of the house will be enough. Cacti and succulents will be protected from rain.
  • Cacti and Succulents will rest in winter. Many species can be grown in the North, as long as they are induced to rest during the long and dark months. It is possible to store resting cacti anywhere, as long as they are kept dry and above freezing. Some collectors store them in closets. Few succulents will grow actively indoors in house conditions, because of the lack of sunlight. Gasteria and Haworthia are some exceptions.
  • It is not all about temperature. Warmth is just one of the many needs of a tropical plant. The “Tropical people of the North” often focus too much on temperatures. Think of general horticulture, and think about irrigation, fertilizing, sunlight or shade, pest protection, etc. A well grown healthy plant will tolerate much colder temperatures than its weaker counterpart.