tropical plants in tennessee

mossyrockNovember 21, 2007

Does anyone know if tropical plants can be grown in your state. Im planning for a new location in Tennessee . I would like to try banana and even palm trees . My favorite is camellia and lantana . Thanks for any advice.

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amazindirt(7A mid-TN)

Define "tropical". There are certainly some types of bananas and some types of palm trees that will thrive in TN, as well as many camellias. Lantanas will occasionally survive, but not often. Purple trailing lantanas (uhhhhh......Lantana montevidiensis?? I forget at the moment) do tend to survive.

Musa basjoo is the most common banana grown around here. Other people can chime in with other bananas and with some palms to try. Experiment and have fun!

    Bookmark   November 21, 2007 at 9:12PM
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greenhouser(Middle TN Zone 6)

amazindirt z

Which part of TN did you find bananas and palm trees to live? Even Memphis gets bitter cold snaps in winter, killing anything tropical.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2007 at 2:46AM
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greenhouser(Middle TN Zone 6)


Camellia and common lantana will not survive the winters here in TN. They can drop below zero with the wind-chill factor.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2007 at 2:48AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Greenhouser, I guess you are new to our forum. I haven't seen you on here before. If you'll look at some of the previous threads, you'll find that growing certain types of bananas and palms is very common throughout Tennessee. As Amazindirt indicated above, some types are more hardy than others. These types can be grown in most of Tennessee even without a lot of special protection. Even the more sensitive varieties can be grown in Tennessee with just a little love and protection. Many Camellias are hardy down through zone 6a! Mom and Dad's Camellia doesn't suffer any setback whatsoever from winters here. Check out local nurseries and you'll find they are full of Camellias that will do wonderfully here.

Another thing to consider about growing tropicals is that the official zone chart isn't currently matching up to actual conditions. In the past decade or more, the actual conditions have been similar to adding about a zone or even a zone and a half to the official chart. That would put Memphis around zone 8b or 9a!

When I plant trees that I plan on being around for 100 years or more, I am conservative with zone placement. Here in Knoxville I use 7a as my tree planting zone limit (especially with no microclimate present). However for smaller plants, Knoxville has no problem right now supporting plants hardy in zone 7b and maybe even 8a.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2007 at 9:52AM
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amazindirt(7A mid-TN)

Greenhouser -- I'm sorry, but you're quite mistaken about the camellias.

There are several large stands of bananas at the UT Gardens here in Knoxville. They do just great from year to year. The trick is to pick only hardy species. As I mentioned, Musa basjoo is one that does well here without protection -- it is even grown outside much north of here (with more protection the farther north you go).

I grow about 8 camellias myself -- in pots! -- without protection! -- and they do just fine. I also know of several old camellias in the ground scattered around town. Again, it is a matter of picking the hardier varieties.

Over the last couple of years, several palms have also been planted at UT. I am not good at remembering the really hardy palm species, but I believe the saw palmettos are amongst them. I do know that the various fan palms (Mexican, Chinese, European) are hardy to at least zone 8. I have one of each of those in pots outside right now, but I'll stick them inside once it gets really cold.

If you do google searches on "hardy palms", "hardy bananas", and "hardy camellias", you'll probably find quite a lot of info.

Oh, and the lantana -- most will die, but a few people every year seem to report that theirs has survived. The best chance for them is to make sure they have VERY good drainage over the winter. And as I mentioned earlier, the purple trailing lantana (a different species) is hardier than the normal varieties you usually see.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2007 at 11:45AM
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amazindirt(7A mid-TN)

Oh, I forgot to mention --

There was a looooooooong thread right here in the TN forum about hardy palms for TN -- it went on for more than a year. Do a search on "palms" here in the forum, and you'll probably find more info than you ever wanted to know. ;-)

    Bookmark   November 22, 2007 at 11:48AM
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intimidator_3(7a TN)

Tropicals wont grow in Tennessee? Well, then whats all that stuff in my yard? Here in our garden over the last several years we have had an interest in growing cold hardy tropicals.

We have tried a little of everything to that end over the last five years or so with quite a bit of success and little effort. In addition to Palms, Camellia, Lantana, and Banana, we also grow two types of Oleander, Sagos, several types of Ginger, a Tapioca tree(12 ft this year!), Fatsia japonica, and we've even had a few Brugs that come back for us from the ground every year as well as a Gloriosa vine that has came back for us for 4 years now.

I think there would be a variety of tropicals that you can grow here in Tennessee. You just need to do a little research and get the best suited plants for colder climates


Heres a photo from a couple of winters ago. This Palm is much bigger now.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2007 at 12:01PM
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greenhouser(Middle TN Zone 6)

Thanks for the info. It's just that I'm living here outside Nashville for almost 30 years and everything considered "tropical" was killed off during our winters. I'm a gardening nut as are most of my friends. None of us had luck with bananas, palms or camellias. The nursery's here tell you to bring these plants into a "frost free" area during winter. Only common begonias will come back if in a protected area such as an el in a south wall.

I'm a little confused as to the terminology.... if they can live through a winter where temperatures can go down to zero, and they do here, why are they called "tropicals?"

    Bookmark   November 22, 2007 at 2:28PM
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amazindirt(7A mid-TN)

That's why I asked the original owner to define "tropical". ;-) People are finding more and more "tropical" plants that can be grown in TN, with varying degrees of protection.

If you are interested in bananas, try basjoo. Both HD and Lowes were selling them last year, so they aren't hard to find. They have also been selling hardy camellias and palms.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2007 at 2:42PM
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amazindirt(7A mid-TN)

Sorry, I've got dogs on the brain. I meant "original POSTER". LOL!

    Bookmark   November 22, 2007 at 2:52PM
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greenhouser(Middle TN Zone 6)

Yes, I knew what you meant. :-)

    Bookmark   November 22, 2007 at 10:42PM
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I'd also like to jump in and state that many tropicals are grown here as annuals. While only a few lantanas will overwinter here (Miss Huff is hardy for sure), many varieties are cheap enough to grow as annuals. Many tropicals thrive in our long, hot summers, and the larger greenhouses have a good selection of lantana, mandevillas, etc.

As Doug stated, there are several of us that are discovering tropical or tropical-like plants that are hardy through the majority of our winters. A few benefit from "caging" or having a heavy layer of mulch applied to help protect them during the winter. I have numerous gingers (hedychiums and curcumas) and colocasias that are hardy for me.

I am also able to store many tropicals dormant in my basement through the winter - various bananas, plumeria, adeniums, brugmansias, alocasias, etc.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2007 at 6:20PM
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Just to clarify one thing about the bananas,and this happens in the UT gardens, they do die to the ground but do return each spring.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2007 at 7:37PM
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myrtleoak(z7 TN)

OK, everyone knew that I was gonna pipe in on this one. Chinese windmill, needle palm, and sable minor are all being successfully grown in Knoxville RIGHT NOW. UT convention center and the Ag campus are two public places downtown where they can be seen. Needle has proven hardy to about -10 or more and the other two to at least 0 and possibly -5(maybe more, reports vary). Just as a safeguard, I would recommend throwing a blanket over them the first few years as they are becoming established during the coldest weather. I have many camellias in my yard; they are becoming more common in Knoxville. Check out West Town mall this holiday season and look for a long hedge of blooming sasanquas. Drive down Sutherland and check out a 10 foot(!) blooming sasanqua. Not previously mentioned: Cannas and elephant ears make nice die-back perennials. Cast iron plant also adds nice tropical-like green foliage through the drab winter months, as do trunk-forming yuccas.
PS If you live in the Knoxville area, check out Ellenburg's off Middlebrook across from West Hills elementary. Trachys, needles, cast iron, tea olives, large selection of camellias, anise tree(another nice plant that should be planted more), etc.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2007 at 4:11AM
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myrtleoak(z7 TN)

BTW: not all plants mentioned in this thread are "tropical". Many fall into the subtropical or warm temperate categories. If its actually tropical, it will die to the ground. Camellias, many palms, and oleander all fall into the subtropical and/or warm temperate categories. The temperature can drop well into the twenties all the way to the gulf coast; these areas grow many varieties of palms and oleander by the truckload. Las Vegas, renowned for its majestic date palms, is known to receive accumulating snowfall on occasion.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2007 at 4:31AM
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amazindirt(7A mid-TN)

"Drive down Sutherland and check out a 10 foot(!) blooming sasanqua."

Yupyupyup, that's one of the ones I had in mind!

"PS If you live in the Knoxville area, check out Ellenburg's off Middlebrook across from West Hills elementary."

Hey -- I knew that Ellenburg's was no longer off Kingston, but I thought they had just closed. Didn't know they had moved. Thanks for mentioning it!

    Bookmark   November 25, 2007 at 11:47AM
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buckn21(TN 7)

Here is what I have done in Athens TN, about half way between Chattanooga and Knoxville. I have these palms in the gronund: Butia capitata (jelly palm), eriospatha (woolly Butia), Yatay (yatay palm), Chamaedorea radicalis (bamboo palm), Chamaerops humilis (European Fan palm), Rhapidophyllum hystrix (needle palm), Sabal bermudana (Bermuda Fan palm), etonia (scrub palmetto), Mexicana (Texas palmetto), minor (dwarf palmetto), Serenoa repens (saw palmetto), Trachycarpus fortunei (windmill palm), Nanus (Yunnan Drarf palm), Takil (Himalayas palm), Wagnerianus (Waggie Windmill), Washingtonia filifera (California Fan palm).

The hardest of them are the Rhapidophllum -10F, but has survivied -24F in Knoxville, Sabal minor -5 or little colder, the sabal etonia 5F, Sabal palmetto 10F and Trachycarpus fortunei 0F to 5F, but tender when young.

I have so have live oaks(Quercus virginiana), Fatsia japonica, cast iron plant, Eucalyptus neglecta, Gingers, camellias, gardenias, sago palms, spanish moss, hardy bananas, tea olive trees, and hardy eatable citrus trees.

I am the treasurer and membership contact for the Southeastern Palm Society. Here is the website:

Here is my personal website:

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 12:51PM
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myrtleoak(z7 TN)

Buckn21, what can you tell me about hardiness for pindo (is this another name for butia?). I have seen large specimens in northern georgia. Also, European fan. I have seen these listed as possibly hardy to 5 or lower. I am surprised to see the washingtonia on that list. I have read that they are less reliably hardy in wet climates and have not been successful in TN. Ok, last question (I promise). I have been reading about impressive hardiness results for the Afghan palm. Have you had any experience with it?


    Bookmark   December 3, 2007 at 3:13AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Hey, wait a minute Myrtleoak, you can't have that name. That's my name! (-:

    Bookmark   December 3, 2007 at 10:51AM
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amazindirt(7A mid-TN)

Hey Buckn --

How much do you protect your European fan palm? I'm interested in the possibility of leaving mine out. OTOH, I am VERY fond of that particular palm -- and I'd be very very sad if I lost it!

    Bookmark   December 3, 2007 at 11:05AM
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buckn21(TN 7)

Myrtleoak & Amazindirt-- The pindo palm is hardy to around 12-15F. It can take colder but it is the duration of the cold that does them in. I have had serval pindos in my garden. The oldest was planted in 1996. It has seen -2F. I lost all the leaves that year. But it came back, it took it 2 years to complete recover. I protected it with the small Christmas and a blanket. It is planted on the south side of my house...that helps. It is about 12 feet all from top to bottom My largest pindo is in the back yard. it is about 16-18 feet tall. It was planted in 2000. I don't worry about them unless it gets below 10F. European Fan palm is planted my cactus garden where it stays dry all winter. They are good to the single digids as long as it is kept dry in winter. The Afghan palm, I have had several, they all died. But I didn't keep the dry in winter. I think most of us that have tried them, gave up on them. The washingtonia palm, I cut all the leaves off if it is going to get in the low 20's, and just wrap it up. I use old blanket and maybe put some small Christmas light on it. But it is a high maintance palm in the winter, wrapping up and unwrapping. I did have one about 7 feet of trunk, but I moved it and it was not happy and died. There are 2 large ones in Knoxville, I'm guessing they are at least 18-20 ft tall. One is off of Cherokee Bvld down bye the river. The onwers wrap them up and leave them all winter.(and remove all the fronds). They bounce back very quickly each year. In one of my albums on webshots I think I have pictures of them. I think it is in the one titled "I-75 Tennessee Palm Corridor."

Here is a link that might be useful: Buckn21's Webpage

    Bookmark   December 3, 2007 at 11:38AM
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myrtleoak(z7 TN)

Think I might try a European fan if I can find a dry area (maybe under the eave of the house). Brandon7: I guess this has been the first time I have signed my real name at the bottom! Lol.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2007 at 6:47PM
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amazindirt(7A mid-TN)

I fell in love with European fans when I saw them in the Biltmore greenhouses. There's just something very graceful about the smaller, finer fans, IMHO. And I managed to get a FANTASTIC deal on mine thanks to a clueless Lowe's employee and a missing tag (ended up buying a $60 plant for $15!), so I'm especially fond of this one. ;-)

Mine is doing just great *so far* -- sitting in a 5 gallon pot on my front stoop right now. I was gonna bring it in yesterday, but decided against. We'll see how brave I am about leaving it out as the weather really gets colder, but right now it looks happy. My Chinese fan (also in a pot) is now officially an experimental subject -- it's on its own for the winter!

    Bookmark   December 4, 2007 at 8:08PM
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myrtleoak(z7 TN)

My chinese fan sailed through the past two winters with ease! If you want to leave it outside, though, you may want it in the ground.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2007 at 3:30AM
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amazindirt(7A mid-TN)

I may pile some leaves around it, but it ain't going in the ground. It probably wouldn't like my ground anyway -- too wet. If it dies, it dies. It only cost me a couple bucks, and I'm not nearly as fond of it as I am of the European, so I won't be crushed. We will learn something either way!

    Bookmark   December 6, 2007 at 10:33AM
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Camellias, yep - and if you go for some of the 'cold-hardy' Ackerman & National Arboretum selections, you'd have even less to worry about than with some of the japonicas & sasanquas.

Live oaks - I know of Q.virginiana trees in Huntsville AL, and we have one here in southern KY(an hour north of Nashville) probably Q.fusiformis - that's been in the ground for over 35 years, with no evidence of significant winter damage. I've got a few young, 5-6 yr old Q.virginiana seedlings here; leaves are sometimes frostbitten/dessicated after a harsh winter, but no major damage, so far.

Trifoliate orange(Poncirus trifoliata) is pretty much unscathed, at least as far north as Cincinnati OH. The one across the street from my office has been undamaged, and fruiting heavily for years - is/was at least 12-15 feet tall - but the Easter Big Freeze Disaster we had this year - 5 consecutive nights of subfreezing temps following several weeks of daytime temps approaching the 80s - wreaked havoc on it(and many other native trees) - widespread bark splitting from small 1-yr twigs to branches 3" in diameter.

I have a buddy in Flint, MI who grows Musa basjoo outdoors, in the ground , without having to dig or bring it in for the winter.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 10:57AM
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amazindirt(7A mid-TN)

Hiya Lucky!

Speaking of trifoliate orange, I still have some of the seedlings I grew from the seeds you gave me two or three years ago -- and that 'Flying Dragon' you sent me, as well. I was just looking at that one yesterday, in fact. :-) All of them outside, in pots, with no problems.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 11:52AM
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myrtleoak(z7 TN)

What is Q. fusiformis? Is this the renowned Texas Live Oak that is rumored to be hardier than virginiana?

    Bookmark   December 10, 2007 at 2:09AM
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buckn21(TN 7)

I found this info at Woodlanders in SC.

Quercus hemisphaerica
Common Name: Darlington Oak
Large, fast-growing tree much used as a street tree and shade tree in the South. It is almost evergreen and resembles Live Oak but is more upright and not so long-lived. Sometimes confused with Q. laurifolia, a bottomland species. (See DIR, S&W)...

Quercus myrsinaefolia
Common Name: Chinese Evergreen Oak
The most cold hardy evergreen oak. Extremely heat and soil tolerant. Smooth gray Beech-like bark. Superb small street or lawn tree. Handsome. Tolerates clay soil. Hardy to Washington, DC.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2007 at 3:26PM
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abercrombie4me03(z7 TN)

Update my Trachy is Doing AWESOME this year I do believe it has grown a foot since last year and also put on about 8 new fronds this year does great here in Nashville, TN. My sago palm is doing awesome.. I did have to give it protection in January from the big freeze. but it is really doing well this year brand new set of fronds on its crown. I purchased a European fan palm (chamerops humilis) this past spring. I Have it planted on a hill in my yard for drainage seems to be a very finicky palm but once planted and established does very well. I guess that sums all up my update... BTW! Blooms nursery unfortunately shut down this early spring I wanna say march a great nursery for palms cycads etc. However I was browsing around at k-mart in the nursery Believe it or not the other day and ran upon many many many palms and cycads and bananas amazingly fairly priced plants and in healthy looking conditions. sooo on that note any updates??!!

    Bookmark   July 25, 2008 at 4:55AM
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