Have you ever wanted to grow your own tropical plants, even if you don't live in the tropics? Now's your chance!
We all love the idea of tropical plants, well, anything tropical really. It puts our mind in a place of relaxation, fresh plants, and juiciness that can only be found in tropical fruits. The only problem is when you want to grow these plants yourself, especially when you can’t find them in your local market, and you live in a very non-tropical place like northern Canada.
Even if you live in a semi-tropical location for part of the year, what if you want to have these plants available all year? You may be surprised to know that it’s very possible to do this. Even some of those locations with harsh winters but good indoor insulation, it’s possible, although a little harder sometimes than growing outside.
With this easy-to-reference guide, I hope you all will try your hand at growing a unique tropical plant (like a papaya tree!), at some point this year.
So, let’s get started with the basics of what you need to know. Since every plant has its own unique needs and requirements, I’ve broken up the article by basic tips to start off with and then specific directions on how to grow a few different tropical plants at the end.
Setting Up a Home for Your Tropical Plant
In order for the fruit to be produced from these plants, you need to create an atmosphere that is as similar to their native growing conditions as possible. This would include lots of suns, sandy soil (with an abundance of organic matter), soil drainage and aeration, and protection from strong wind.
It’s usually recommended to first plant a tropical fruit during the rainy season of where you are located, this allows them to create strong roots from the beginning. Once the rainy season goes to the cold season, it’s best to bring the plants indoors as they need dry periods in order to flower. Applying a fertilizer blend made specifically for tropical fruit plants 3x a year is also recommended, to help the plant grow properly. Although this can change depending on the type of tropical plant you’re growing.
Of course, being able to grow plants outside is only available to a few areas with temperate weather and even then, only a select type of hardy tropical plants can be grown. Because of this, we’ll be focusing mainly on how to grow your tropical plants inside, because yes, you can even do that in Canada if you have the right set-up.
Where to Buy Tropical Plants/Seeds
Most garden centers should have a tropical plant department where they sell fruit trees. If that’s not a possibility, you can also order a live potted plant in the mail, although that can be a pricier option.
Make a note to buy a graft or cutting, but not a seedling. Fruit trees tend of having a very long childhood, so if you’re buying it as a seed you could be waiting a very long time (up to decades) for it to produce its first flower.
Protecting Plants From the Cold
This is especially the case if you’re growing outside with tropical plants, but it is always wise to think ahead. This means, don’t wait until you reach the coldest part of the year to take action and protect your plants. Instead, as you know the cold is approaching start looking for ways to take care of your tropical plant in the best way possible.
This could include pulling mulch and weeds away from the base of the plants to allow the sun to continue to hit the soil, protecting the trunk of the plant/tree with mounding soil or bubble wrap, and if you’re expecting a freeze, watering the plants extra since water helps store in heat and prevents the plants from freezing.
Read: How to Eat Papaya Seeds
Cold Damage, What Do I Do Now?
If your tropical plant does end up sustaining some damage from a recent freeze, don’t fear, it doesn’t mean that the plant can’t recover. You’d be surprised at how resilient some of these plants can be.
If there is damage from the cold, wait 2-6 months before pruning the dead wood around the plant since the extra vegetation actually helps to insulate the plants and nurse it back to life. If the leaves are drooped or wilted from the damage, reduce fertilizer and do not water until the plant starts showing signs of new growth - this is to avoid root rot.
Which Tropical Fruits to Choose
The easiest tropical plants/fruits to grow in colder climates would include pineapple, papaya, avocado, pomegranate, fig, and guava, but that’s not to say you can’t grow others as well.
With these relatively “easy growers,” you can set them up inside your home or greenhouse in the winter and put in minimum effort. As long as there is a decent amount of sun or grow lights in their life and they stay away from frost, they should grow nicely. Because they’re the easiest to grow for the beginner gardener, I’ll focus on these plants specifically for the rest of the article.
Pineapple is one of the few tropical fruits that actually does really well growing in pots and can be quite easy to grow indoors. Pineapple plants don’t need much water since they have such tough leaves that don’t lose much in water through evaporation. This makes them fairly low maintenance as a house fruit plant. They also don’t have an intricate root system, so they don’t need all that much soil (or high-quality soil). Pineapples are pretty versatile with the conditions they like, they can grow in full sun in super hot climates or select shade in temperate weather.
The thing to avoid with growing pineapples is soggy soil, frost, and concentrated fertilizers that burn their leaves.
You’ll want a decent amount of space for your pineapple plant(s), either a good part of a room or a spot in a greenhouse. They usually come out to just over 3 feet across and 3 feet high.
Interested in learning more? Read in detail about growing pineapples here.
Papaya is perhaps one of the least expensive tropical fruits to test out since every papaya that you buy encases multiple ready-to-use black seeds within the fruit. This is a tropical fruit that’s not necessarily meant as a houseplant, but it can definitely be done. You may be surprised to know as well that papaya is a plant that is fairly fast-growing and produces fruit year-round.
If you’re wanting the plant to produce fruit, you will really need a greenhouse or sunny patio since they get up to 15 feet tall, but if you’re content to just have a lovely papaya houseplant that doesn’t produce fruit, that’s an option too.
To start growing, first thoroughly dry out the black seeds from the papaya for about a week, and roll the seeds to remove the dried seed coverings. Once they’re ready to go, place them in a loose, well-drained and rich potting mix and they’ll start to grow very quickly.
Papayas need full sun or as much as you can provide, and need to be watered a lot (read: daily). Papayas like to bask in the warm weather and can flourish in up to 80F, so if you have them in a greenhouse during the winter, make sure there is a grow lamp for the papayas to stay warm. Since papayas grow so fast, they also need an abundance of fertilizer.
To read more in-depth about growing papayas, click here.
Avocados are easy to prune and can be a great houseplant if your home tends to get a lot of sunshine. They grow fine in a potting mix that is dried slightly between waterings, and although the fruit matures on the tree, it will not ripen until it is picked.
You can start growing an avocado plant with a pit, but if you would like to have it produce fruit, it’s most successful with a grafted dwarf avocado tree. Make sure to use a stake to keep the stem sturdy and straight, and fertilize the plant with water-soluble food monthly, turning the tree frequently to ensure even growth. Avocado plants do great with moderate water once you feel the soil is dry to touch.
It should be stressed that avocados need a lot of sunlight, if you see the plant start getting straggly, that means it’s yearning for the sun. It should also be stressed that although avocado trees are sturdy, this is probably one of the most difficult plants to grow inside and get it to produce fruit (unless you have a greenhouse, which is a little easier). But if you’re up for the challenge, fresh avocados are super delicious!
Learn more about indoor avocado planting here.
Pomegranates, as well as figs, maybe the easiest tropical houseplants to grow. For inside, you can plant a dwarf pomegranate tree which reaches about 2-4 feet, a much more manageable size than the usual 30-foot pomegranate tree.
Although these dwarf trees produce fruit, a lot of people just use them as an ornamental houseplant since the fruit from these smaller trees has so many seeds in them. It’s up to you!
Pomegranates need as much sunlight as possible, but average room temperatures are fine for growth. It’s ideal to keep the soil moist but not soggy, and let the soil dry slightly (but never completely) between waterings. An all-purpose liquid fertilizer should be fine for supporting your pomegranate tree, every other week during the spring and summer.
In the winter, the trees still need at least 4-6 hours of relatively good sunlight, so make sure to have access to a grow light if you don’t get that kind of sunlight in the winter. It’s especially important to keep the soil as healthy as possible during the winter, making sure it’s slightly on the drier side and you’re not overwatering the plant.
Read more about growing pomegranate trees indoors here.
Figs are one of the most easy-going trees to grow, especially indoors, as they actually tend to flourish when confined to a large pot. Figs want to go dormant, so they lose their leaves after the first frost (or in fall sometime). While they’re dormant, they really don’t need much light or heat and can be kept in an unheated basement, garage, or shed. Once the worst of winter has passed, it’s recommended to bring your fig tree outside for a few hours per day to acclimate it back to nice weather and keep it inside in the evenings. If you live in a place that has nice summers, feel free to leave it outside for the duration of the season.
If left unpruned, fig plants can generally grow into a brush that’s 10-15 feet tall, however, it’s just as easy to prune the plant to fit an indoor environment and train it into a small tree that’s around 6-8 feet tall. Fig trees generally take 1-2 years to produce fruit.
Learn more about planting fig trees here!
Since guavas are produced by small trees, they can do well growing in containers and even inside the house if you have space. They’re incredibly susceptible to cold weather, however, so make sure they’re kept in sunny and warm places to grow. Similar to papayas, they probably won’t produce fruit if grown in the house, but can still be a fun and tropical plant to grow for your own pleasure, and they’re known for their attractive appearance.
If you have the right climate or a workable greenhouse, guavas can be grown through grafting onto established rootstock. Guava trees can take up to 4 or 5 years to start growing fruit and take a lot of love and care, but if done right they can be worth the time.
To get more details about growing your own Guava tree, click here.
Have you tried growing a tropical plant before? Which one sounds like the best option (or challenge) to you?