Help! Tropical Plants in Texas?

oregontejanoSeptember 21, 2007


I'm new to Garden Web so here goes...

We are seriously considering relocating from Northwest Oregon to Texas, most likely around Corpus Christi or Victoria. I've been dreaming about growing tropicals/subtropicals in my own (future) backyard, but all of the info on coastal Texas paints a pretty bleak picture! I expected to find exotic plants galore, but most of the websites "highly" recommended things like oaks, maples, pines, and other "northern" trees. HOW BORING! The shrub and flower recommendations weren't much better. We can grow more than that here in the Willamette Valley! I also found that the majority of the palm species suggested for the gulf coast were ones that we grow here!

So, my question is this. Does gulf coast Texas get so cold that tropicals are just out of the question? Or are these sites just not a real representation of what gardeners actually grow?

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ltcollins1949(9a TX)

I hope that my comments will help a little. First, yes you can grow a tropical garden, but it will take lots of work and maybe more water than you want to use.

Texas is a really big state. We go from zone 6 all the way to zone 10, so it depends on where you are living. Victoria is not on the coast, but about 40 minutes away from the water. They are only about 1 1/2 hour NE of Corpus Christi, but because they are not on the water, their temperatures get much colder in the winter. Corpus Christi is on the Corpus Christi Bay and sees less freezing weather. I live between the two on a salt water bay in zone 9a, but actually with the water, it should be a zone 9b. With the exception of the Rio Grande Valley which is zone 10, the rest of the coast is zone 9. However, there is a big difference in those zones. The upper coast gets a lot more cold than we do down here even though we are all zone 9.

OK, I don't know what you have been reading, but I can guarantee you that in south Texas, you will not find an reputable gardener recommend the planting of "northern" trees. Trees and plants that will grow up in the north, will not grow down here. It is just too hot and humid. If you haven't lived here, you have no idea what you are getting into regarding the combined high temperature and high humidity. Can you imagine stepping out your front door in the morning to find the temperature at 90 and the humidity at 100%? Well it happens more often than not. Living without A/C down here is darn near impossible if you want to sleep at night without sweating. And who needs a sauna in south Texas? Just step outside if you want to sweat.

Regarding planting tropicals, yes most of them will grow here. Maybe every 7 years or so, we might get a freeze which will kill the tropicals or at least burn them. Generally they will come back. However, I will tell you that "gardeners" down here prefer the "native plants and trees" for many reasons. One is that they cooperate with wildlife, and two they tend to use less water, and three they are better resistant to insects and diseases.

Some suggested palm trees for here on the Texas Coastal Bend are the two Texas native palms, i.e. Sabal texana or S. mexicana and Sabal minor. Some other palms are the Queen Palm Trees Syagrus romanzoffiana and Pindo Palms Butia capitata. The Mexican Fan Palm Washingtonia robusta is not recommended although it grows much faster and taller and is very invasive.

I recommend that you go to several websites for more information: TAMU, Texas Native Plant Society, and Texas Master Gardeners.

Also remember that there are some areas where you cannot just go in and cut down trees without permission from the city, and if you do so without permission a fine can be imposed.

So can you grow tropicals? Yes, you can. Just know what you are planting, know the growing conditions and make sure that they are not invasive plants.

And the weather? Can you handle it? I happen to love it very much even though by August, I'm ready for some relief from the heat, but that won't come for a month or so. More often than not, on Thanksgiving we eat outside, and many times we eat outside on Christmas. Generally January, February and into mid-March are very cold, windy and rainy months where you won't want to go outside.

I hope this helps you a little. Texas is a great place to live, and I love it, and wouldn't live anywhere else.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2007 at 10:53AM
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Thanks for the help. It seems so strange to me that it could possibly get that cold there, with Texas being so close to the tropic of cancer. I'm assuming that your cold weather comes off the Great Plains?

Yes, we are prepared to deal with the heat. That is one of the reasons we chose Texas. We are originally from San Jose, California, but have spent a little time in Mississippi and Nicaragua, and so are familiar with a "sauna climate". Around here we have wet, cold weather most of the year. November through March it rains almost constantly with 33-36 degree rain. Not cold enough to snow, but cold enough to be miserable. We don't start having reliably "warm" days (over 78 degrees) until mid-May. Having Thanksgiving dinner outside sound great. Can't wait to get there.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2007 at 12:55PM
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lac1361(z9a Lake Charles, LA)


I don't live in Corpus but my brother does and we've shared dozens of "tropicals". I've grubbed him for plumeria cuttings and I've given him dozens of different gingers and bananas which have done well. The main problem he's encountered, at least the part of Corpus he lives in is that the soil is alkaline. Most tropicals want acidic soil and he's had to amend the soil. Both the orange and white bird of paradise do great there as do all Hawaiian Ti plants. He has grown and bloomed Heliconia Rostrata (Hanging Lobster Claw) in the ground in a protected location. I gave him his first plant. He grows other smaller heliconia in containers and moves them around for protection during the winter. In fact, you can grow a lot of container tropicals if you don't mind moving them around during the winter. Many winters, he never has to dig up his plumeria; he just throws a blanket over them. The downside to that region of Texas is that, while most would think it is semi tropical, it is really more arid. Rain is usually scarce during the summer; except this summer. So watering is sometimes a problem in CC; especially if Lake CC is low, so you might have water rationing for your lawn. It's a great place though and you'll enjoy it a lot.


    Bookmark   September 25, 2007 at 11:42AM
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I'm in Galveston. I don't grow anything BUT tropical and subtropical stuff. I can't imagine anyone telling you to plant those "northern" trees. They'll just curl up & die. We don't even have any big trees on the coast, too many storms knocking them down.
One thing about our heat, it lasts for MONTHS. While other people claim they have heat, they don't have heat like we do. It is not unusual for the heat index to be above 100 at 2 am, and along the coast we cool off even less than places like Houston. So if it's 99 at noon with a heat index of 114, it will probably cool off to 90 or 95 with a heat index of 100 in the middle of the night. AND then you have 90++% humidity almost year around. Don't buy leather.
Go to the Texas forum to see what we all grow.
Tally HO!
Me: bananas, plumeria, palms, cupheas, amorphophallus, crinum, hibiscus, fig tree, pecan tree, peach tree, persimmon tree, avocado tree, gingers, tacca, allamanda, brugmansia, canna, pineapple lilies, bromeliads, orchids, agaves, aloes, cacti, crown of thorns, pregnant onion, "lucky bean" tree, jatrophas, clerodendrums, camelia, gardenia, crape myrtle, firespike, piper, easter lilies, scheffelera, ti plants, draceneas, evergreen wisteria, althea, coral vine, passionflowers, dutchman pipe vines, pride of barbados, chinese silk plant, ipomeas, citrus, LA iris, dietes, etc. etc. etc. All outside, no winter protection as a rule.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2007 at 5:14PM
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Tally, what is the secret to growing a gardenia at the coast, I have planted more than 5 beautiful plants, and all have died. Last time, I bought a 5 gallon healthy plant, dug a hugh hole and replaced all the soil with 3 hugh bags of miracle grow potting soil, even bought a bag of ironite. I planted it in the morning sun, and it still died. I have given up. I have planted in the shade, sun, and morning sun, it doesn't seen to like my yard. Do you have any suggestions, my husband really wants one. Barbra,

    Bookmark   October 2, 2007 at 7:34AM
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little_dani(9, S. Tex Coast)

It could be a matter of drainage, Barbra. If you dug a hole in our soil, (clay) you would just be making a bowl to drown the gardenia in.

We grow all kinds of stuff down here in South Texas. Victoria is the closest "Big" town to us, and we are ALL ALWAYS looking for something different, something exotic. AND.....we usually find it.

This was my garden in August. There is a pond behind the foliage.

There is a lot more, I am a collector. I don't think there is a cure for that, but there always seems to be something different for us to grow, to try, to look at that makes us happy.

I grow what Tally grows for the most part. They are fairly typical for real gardeners here. (Garden nuts, really, but don't tell Tally I said that. LOL)


    Bookmark   October 2, 2007 at 5:13PM
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Josh, Janie you yard looks like paradise. How long did it take you to get it to look like that? Everything looks so beautiful. Barbra,

    Bookmark   October 2, 2007 at 9:31PM
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little_dani(9, S. Tex Coast)

We planted most of this a year or so ago. Not very old.

Mostly it is so happy that we had so much rain this year. It really went crazy!

I like the tropical look. It keeps me from having to cut the grass.

LOL, my DH has a 26hp, 42" cut riding mower, and I have ripped almost all the grass from our yard. He has forbidden me to expand anymore.

Grass is a 'guy' thing, I think.


    Bookmark   October 2, 2007 at 10:31PM
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Wow, Janie, your tropical garden is gorgeous. I have a virtual blank slate at my house and would be thrilled if it looked a fraction like that in a year or so. Really beautiful. Thanks for posting.


    Bookmark   October 4, 2007 at 10:29PM
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Janie, you missed a great plant sale. I got a pink banana, cuban pea vine, 7 ft. orchid tree, 10ft jacaranda tree, another plant( I cannot remember the name), maybe Ruth can help, she got one too. Also herbs, and alot of good advise. The hidden garden tour was great, I never knew gardens like that existed in Rockport, these folks are serious gardeners. Barbra

    Bookmark   October 7, 2007 at 7:49PM
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Hi Barbra - Thank so much for helping me nab the plants I wanted - and some I didn't know I wanted until you told me I did. LOL. The plant we both got is a Jatropha - that's one you told me I needed and I really do like it. Thanks too for helping us plant some. I got home about 2 hours ago - stayed another day to get more done although my SIL and Dan (the guy that helped us that you met) planted EVERYTHING yesterday. We also went to Lowe's and bought more. Yes, more. 6 or 7 plumbagos to go along the fence, another Chinese Fan palm, and a Hibiscus, oh yes and another orchid I saw I couldn't (didn't try too hard) to resist. We worked until we literally dropped. Don't forget too that fun garage sale across the street from the garden sale. I bought 2 books, a silver colored crab tray and a neat nest of baskets. Fun day! Thanks again for helping and I really enjoyed meeting Jim and seeing Linda again. Oh, and the large cluster of Pygmy palms look great. It rained a little before I left this morning and everything looks happy and not in too much shock. Will go back in a couple of weeks and check on everything. Let me know when you're going again too. Ruth

    Bookmark   October 8, 2007 at 8:33PM
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Ruth, I am so glad to hear from you. I was so worried. I knew what you had in store. I was more than happy to help you get started. I bet everything looks great. I did not know about clay soil and posted, and we did everything right as far as I can tell. I am sorry I was so bossy( she said I sounded like at teacher), but I had to get back and plant my plants, I did not leave until 10:30 Sunday, this is the latest I have ever left. I planted my jacaranda tree, and tulip tree on Sunday before came home. I took the cuban pea vine home, I was just too tired. I bet you are sore today, but I bet your place looks great. I will be going down the last weekend in October, hope to see you then. Barbra,

    Bookmark   October 8, 2007 at 9:50PM
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Looks as if this thread was hijacked! Now, back to Oregontejano's question: no one has mentioned the humidity which is a shock to newcomers---50 per cent is a fairly low-normal, or the black gumbo clay you will find in Corpus (where I lived for 6 years). Also,the landscape is very flat, but the gulf is a plus, and fishing. I grew all kinds of citrus, hibiscus & gingers, but had to really amend the soil. Also the wind blows (thank goodness it does)stronger than you would be used to. And not very often, but still you should remember that we have hurricanes on the Gulf Coast. Some trees that I had were Australian pine, retama, cottonwood & crape myrtle. It will be an enormous change for you. Maybe you should take a vacation here, first? Good luck.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2007 at 12:06PM
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ltcollins1949(9a TX)


I'm not wanting to start an argument, but I wonder if you read the entire thread. You state . . .Looks as if this thread was hijacked! Now, back to Oregontejano's question: no one has mentioned the humidity. . . .

I guess you didn't read my first post where I went into detail about living conditions on the Texas Coastal Bend. In my post one of the first things I mentioned was: If you haven't lived here, you have no idea what you are getting into regarding the combined high temperature and high humidity. Can you imagine stepping out your front door in the morning to find the temperature at 90° and the humidity at 100%?

I have lived on the Gulf Coast for 40+ years, and am a Master Gardener, co-founder of the Rockport Herb & Rose Study Group and on the board of the South Texas Botanical Gardens. So I really am interested in giving people, wanting to move here to garden, information about gardening along with websites to check out. Since I teach growing herbs to both newbies to the coast and the ones that live here year round, I always mention the combined high heat-high humidity factor. That is one reason lots of herbs can't grow here on the coast. Regarding plants that grow well here, I provided the TAMU websites which gives lots of great information on gardening.

And your suggestion It will be an enormous change for you. Maybe you should take a vacation here, first? Good luck., well, . . . in the third post oregontejano responded We are originally from San Jose, California, but have spent a little time in Mississippi and Nicaragua, and so are familiar with a "sauna climate".

    Bookmark   October 31, 2007 at 10:05AM
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Linda - I'm glad you clarified some points for Oregontejano to consider as she and her family move to the great state of Texas. Anyone moving from climate extremes accross the country is bound to have adjustments to make, but I so want her and her family to anticipate the fun they will have in establishing a tropical garden on the Texas coast.

I live in San Antonio and have a beach house in Rockport and am having the time of my life planting palms and plants (that I have to protect in S.A. in the winter) in Rockport, or actually I'm on Salt Lake too. So far, so good although a few plumbagos look a little sad - not sure if it's the wind off the water or if they have been watered too much.

Anyway, welcome Oregontejano! Maybe we'll cross paths someday.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2007 at 10:40AM
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Ah, I dream of days of low humidity of only 50%, try closer to 90% or more on the coast. The other day it was 67% humidity, my skin felt sooooo dry!

Janie, garden nuts? Well, we nuts gotta stick together!
Tally HO!

    Bookmark   November 2, 2007 at 3:58PM
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katyrarefruitgrower(Central Florida)

There is al ot of things we can grow here that people don't know about.

Here is a list of things I am growing in Katy:

In the ground:

White Sapote
Sugar Apple
A lot of citrus
Dragon Fruit

In Containers:

Miracle Fruit
Strawberry tree or panama berry
Sugar Apple


Ed Self
Katy, Texas

    Bookmark   November 18, 2007 at 11:57PM
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This is focused more on palms but there are some noted large tropical trees in some of the pictures.

Also, primarily focused on the upper tx coast (galveston)

    Bookmark   November 19, 2007 at 1:17AM
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prettyphysicslady(8B/N. Houston)

I moved to Houston from the Boston area.

Yes, you can grow tropicals here I grow many. It is much drier than you think down here. Which is probably your biggest limit on what you can grow.

I have a blog with photos and notes and a photo album - link on blog that you might find interesting. It may give you some ideas. The photo section also has sections from botanical gardens and travels around the state.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2008 at 12:03PM
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With a little bit of protection you can grow fairly tropical plants in Houston. Below are photos of some in my backyard.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 11:40PM
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Dani and Pat, your gardens are gorgeous!

I have to giggle about the humidity comments, here in Bozeman when I tell people I am moving back to Texas they all moan about the humidity in the South (even if they've never been!). But really, I think about my brittle skin and chapped lips and just crave the sauna that is Houston!

It is a shock though! Like living in a greenhouse.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2008 at 3:30PM
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Welcome oregontejano,

I have lived in Texas most of my life and I LOVE the coast here. You can grow many tropicals on the Lower Coast (from Corpus Christi southward), even coconut palms from North Padre Island southward, and they are becoming quite popular in the Brownsville/South Padre area. I would suggest that you move to the Corpus area or southward, because this area is Zone 9B/10A, and there are so many neat things you can grow in this region, and the fishing and snorkeling/scuba diving is pretty good too, especially in the summer and early fall. Last July, while snorkeling at the jetty at South Padre Island, I saw 10 sea turtles in an hour and a half!

Anyway, for palms (my specialty), you can grow queen palms, Medjool date palms, Canary Island date palms, pygmy date palms, Senegal date palms, pindo palms, Mexican fan palms, California fan palms, Texas palm (native to the Rio Grande Valley), the dwarf palm (native to East Texas and the Upper Coast), Mediterranean fan palm, Chinese fan palm, lady palm, various Chamaderea palms, and I am sure several others that I forgot to mention. You can also grow my two favorites from North Padre Island southward to the Rio Grande Valley, and those are the coconut palm, especially the Mexican Tall (the coconuts of which wash up on our beaches from spring to the fall, and yes they will sprout), and the royal palm, though the royal does better with some protection from salt spray. The coconut however, loves salt spray.

As far as flowers, try: hibiscus, bougainvillea, mandevilla, oleander, ixora, bird of paradise, etc.

The croton does well here too, especially with some protection from winter winds.

For flowering trees, the ordchid tree does well here.

If you move to the Rio Grande Valley, you can grow large beautiful royal poiciana trees, and they produce a lot of beautiful red blooms in the summer, and even seed there.

For fruits, you can grow: sea grapes (close to the coast), mangoes, avocadoes, papayas, pineapples, guavas, pineapple guavas, coconuts (the coconut palm will produce coconuts in the Brownsville/South Padre Island area), lemons, limes, oranges, tangelos, grapefruit, etc.

Welcome to our own little tropical paradise. Just be advised that every 10-15 years the area gets hit with a really hard freeze, but some tropicals will recover afterwards, and the others grow so fast, that all you have to do is replant the following spring! And remember to be willing to provide extra water, since as it was stated above the area is semi-arid. But other than the occasional hurricane (the Lower Texas Coast has the least incidents of hurricanes of any part of the Gulf Coast!), it is a really great place to live and much more reasonable cost of living wise than many coastal areas of the U.S.

If you have any questions, just email me at:


    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 10:36PM
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What is the name of that gorgeous amaryllid? I don't know if I've ever seen one with such rich colors. Is that an amorphophallus you're standing next to?

    Bookmark   June 19, 2008 at 1:25PM
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We've been living down here for years. Kingsville, about 50 miles southwest of c.c. The last freeze we had was in 1983. Don't let the tv stations lie to you. However, we do get down to 28 to 29 degrees, which means the soil temp gets cold but not freezing. It only stays there 1 to 2 hrs at most. Now for the real information, it is not the temperature that gets the plants, it is the shock of the cold wind and dryness. Many times I have seen tender plants that have been wisely planted up against a protective wall have no problems. Yet, another hardier plant die the death, when a cold wind blows through.
When you see a picture depicting the surrounding, very carefully examined it, you will see what I mean.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2011 at 5:50PM
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