Five Texas Tough Tropicals for Harris County Landscapes

By Cheyenne Griffin

Tropical gardens seem to glow and burst with color in the summer. They conjure images of cerulean waters lapping against white sand beaches that never fail to ease tensions and lift spirits. But when the first freeze hits, many of these vibrant tropicals wither and die, leaving winter gardens gray and lifeless. Thankfully, a few well-placed, cold-hardy tropicals can keep Houston gardens looking balmy year-round. These tough tropicals provide bright colors and exciting textures to transform even the blandest landscapes into serene oases. Here are five cold-hardy tropicals perfect for Harris County gardens.

Jelly Palm/Butia Palm (Butia capitata)

This cold-hardy palm can handle temperatures as low as 12 degrees with little damage, but may defoliate at 10 degrees. It grows in zones 9 and 10 and prefers full sun to part shade.

This dainty palm usually stays a manageable 10 to 15 feet tall, but occasionally grows to 20 feet. The fronds have a feather shape in an attractive silver to blue hue. The trunk can be rounded or cylindrical, depending on the plant’s location. This palm adds contrast to the garden and provides fruit in the summer.

Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis)
This palm usually grows 20 to 25 feet tall in Texas landscapes, but may reach 60 feet if given the right conditions. It grows in zones 9 to 11, and established trees can withstand temperatures in the 20s.

Plant it in full sun for an eye-catching specimen that adds contrast to the landscape. The leaves and trunk feature a coarse texture that pair beautifully with more delicate plants. Its trunk features a unique texture resembling scales or stonework, and the top of the palm favors a pineapple.

Texas Palmetto Palm (Sabal mexicana)

Texas palmetto palms, hardy in zones 8 through 11, grow to heights of 25-35 feet in the landscape. They are slow growers, adapted to dry and salty soils, and perform well in full sun.

The Texas palmetto palm has a costapalmate foliage frond, which looks like a bent fan palm.

The foliage has an attractive shape and texture that lends tropical flair and contrast to the landscape.

Dick Culbert from Gibsons, B.C., Canada, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Star Leaf Begonia (Begonia heracleifolia)

This cold-hardy begonia has beautifully unique foliage and dainty pale pink blooms. Blooms appear in late winter or early spring. It makes an excellent ground cover that reaches approximately 18 inches tall, with a spread of 36 inches or more. Begonia heracleifolia is cold hardy into the 20s, attracts bees, and tolerates high humidity. Add it to the front of the garden to brighten landscapes.

Lily-of-the-Nile (Agapanthus africanus)

Lily-of-the-Nile comes in a range of heights, from 18 inches to 4 feet. Rounded clusters of purple-blue to white blooms shaped like trumpets arrive in summer from June to July. It’s cold hardy in zones 6 to 10. Thanks to their tuberous roots, they can take temperatures below 0 degrees. Use it to provide a herbaceous green touch to the landscape during those cold winter days.

Mix and match these plants with more temperate landscape plants to add interest or use them together to create a new tropical landscape.

About the Author

Cheyenne Griffin received her bachelor’s degree in horticulture in 2016 from Texas A&M University. Shortly after graduation, she joined Mercer Botanic Gardens to maintain the Tropical Garden. After working at Mercer for three years, Griffin began pursuing a master’s degree in horticulture, also from Texas A&M University.