Pics of my "tropical" New York City yard. I am in a USDA gardening zone 7 and I use plants that are hardy to our winters, are easy to overwinter indoors, or use as annuals to get the tropical look this far north.
Please ask for my permission and give me credit if you use any of my pics!
Thanks for looking!
December is the first month of Meteorological Winter and we saw a few dips below freezing before the photos in this post were taken, but that did not stop some flowers from putting on a show. Here's what you'd see blooming if you stepped into my yard earlier this month. As I write this post we have already seen a low temperature of 16F, but the loquats, honeysuckles, and Delosperma ice plants are still blooming so you can have flowers still kicking after seeing the teens. Pretty amazing and definitely a nice sight to see. I saw roses blooming in Manhattan this weekend with no problems and it was only in the 20s that afternoon.
Anyway here are some winter blooms in my yard in New York City! Photos taken from December 2nd to December 10th.
I'll make a post later this week about all my winter preparations!
I have had Ageratums in my yard for a few years now but this year was the first time I actually planted them. In past years they just tend to pop up in spots. The ones in this photo were not planted by me. So this December bloom was definitely gifted to me by mother nature. They can handle light frosts into the upper 20s before damage occurs.
Geraniums are so common and maybe a bit underrated. Mine actually STOP blooming when it is too hot outside unless they are in some shade. They do so much better in slightly cooler weather and can handle some cold weather too. These saw temperatures below freezing and still held onto beautiful blooms. Once you start dipping below the upper 20s geraniums will die.
Mandevillas need a lot of heat to create buds but they will hold onto buds and open up flowers even in cooler weather. I can't remember the last time I had Mandevilla blooms in December! You can tell they are looking worn though.
My Farfugiums have long outlived the mums I bought from the store and when they are finished blooming I still have beautiful foliage to look forward to!
These Ice plants are fully hardy to my climate (and can handle below zero temperatures with ease). They have not stopped blooming from the day I planted then in May. I am absolutely blown away by their ability to never quit blooming even as I write this post a week before Christmas and after some serious cold!
Ginger plants are definitely not very frost tolerant. The foliage will get damage at about 30 and the flowers are extremely delicate. A cold rain or snow falling (even if temperatures are above freezing), will ruin open flowers. But if enough of the plant stays green and you have some mild weather between freezes new buds will open up like they did on my plant. Of couse now as I write this post my ginger are safely dug up and inside the garage.
Million Bells are popular annuals and can handle a light frost. I'll never forget my grandmother had one in front of her house that survived into New Years Day and she bragged about it the whole holiday.
These fancy large leafed begonias (Dragon Wing Begonias) do take a beating even in weather that is above freezing. These experienced a few freezes and while they don't look great they are blooming!
Apparently Thyme is a bit hardier than I expected!
Fushias, like geraniums, are better bloomers for me in cool weather than in warm weather. Last year I didn't put these plants into the garage until January and they were very happy outside handling light freezes.
Knockout Roses are incredible! They bloom from March to December for me. When I took this photo very cold weather was forecasted so I clipped off the half a dozen blooms I found on the plant and brought them inside to enjoy.
Loquats are winter bloomers which means I'll never see fruit here in NYC, but they are worth growing for their foliage which looks extremely tropical. While I would not trust this plant to survive in temperatures below 15 degrees for a long duration, I have never had cold damage on it with my protection method (which likely has exposed it to below 10F), and the fact that the blooms themselves can survive temperatures into the teens is a pretty good sign!
My Cleomes were hanging on pretty late into the season surviving several dips below freezing!
Black and Blue Salvia is a returning annual here and blooms from April until your first hard freeze which was November last year and December this year. Amazing to see these blooms so late in the season even though the plant itself is not too impressive looking at this point in the year!
I did not realize honeysuckles bloomed this time of the year but here it was blooming like it was spring.
While December started out mild, it really was the lack of severe nighttime cold that kept these plants blooming. They were exposed to many cold days in the 40s, snow events, and more than a handful of nights in the 30s. So all these flowers are just about guaranteed to still be around after that first devastating freeze which is just about all a gardener who hates winter (like I do!) could ask for!
Although winter is certainly knocking on the door there are still some interesting plants to see in my yard. My Loquat gets lost under over tropical plants during the summer but it really shines this time of the year. The leathery leaves and fragrant blooms are a big hit in the yard in November. The blooms smell a bit like honey.
Not sure what cultivar of ivy this is but it is a beauty. The leaves are huge and the coloration is consistent and unusual. It is a slow grower though.
Mahonias are great for adding some complex foliage to the winter landscape.
Soft Caress Mahonias are definitely not hardy to New York City long term. I covered them with blankets and even christmas lights on one night. Both survived but with some defoliation. It is a beautiful plant with palm - like foliage so worth a try in zone 7 but certainly a plant for 8a and up!
Mahonia Japconia is a much hardier species of the genus and quite beautiful! Mine is thriving in nearly complete shade and blooms when the yard NEEDS the color most. If you want winter blooms and nice winter foliage, this plant just might be the most reliable for a zone 7! Mine bloomed much of last winter even in the snow. The yellow flowers contrast snow beautifully. In early summer the flowers change into blue berries which also looks very nice. All around a great plant and hardy through zone 6!
And a wide shot with the livistonas and farfugiums
All these photos are from my phone so sorry for the lower quality. Thanks for looking!
If growing a tropical garden in a climate with four seasons had a symbol that symbol would be a windmill palm. Windmill palms can pack a punch, are easy to protect, and can grow long and slender trunks. Walking underneath palm fronds all year long can suddenly become a possibility for so many more people thanks to windmill palms.
Now as much as I would love to say that you can grow a windmill palm without protection here in New York City, USDA zone 7b, the reality is that you can't long term. You could be the exception if you have an incredible microclimate, but I have seen so many people try and while they can sail through a mild winter and get by during our average winters, anything a little colder than usual always knocks them out. They can handle more cold in southern states where the sun angle is a bit higher and the days are warmer. But anyway if you have any questions leave a comment below. I want to get into the positives because anyone serious about this hobby whether you are in a zone 5 or a zone 8, should have a windmill palm because they are beautiful and very tough.
I give mine pretty minor protection during the winter. Protection goes on when a bad storm is coming (to keep moisture away from the growing crown), when nighttime temperatures drop below 18F, and when days fail to get above freezing. And my protection method is very basic since I am not too handy when it comes to building things. Just some lights, a frost cloth, and a plastic garbage bin gets the job done. Just make sure not to use LED lights since those do not generate heat. I use c7 or c9 light strings since the bulbs are nice and large and they emit a lot of heat.
----------------- Growth Rate ------------------
I've been growing my oldest trachycarpus since 2009. They were just baby 3 gallon palms when I planted them out. Now they are taller than me and are the proudest thing I grow. I know people who live in colder climates who have had even faster growth than this, but here is what can be achieved here in New York City in 7 years. There is an expression that goes the 1st year a plant sleeps, the 2nd year it creeps, then the 3rd year it leaps. I found this to be very true with windmill palms. It grew very little the first 2 years in the ground but after that took off! The first two years I had it, they actually looked very unhealthy. Now I think they look as healthy as they would in a mild climate.
In the middle of these 2 trachycarpus is a Livistona palm which I've had in the ground since 2010. It's only hardy to zone 8b and usually defoliates completely with temperatures in the low 20s, but it always comes back with some protection. A great perennial palm. As you can see it really has not grown much in the past 6 years unlike my trachys!
Well last night's cold front came in and guys and girls, it was a real doozy! After some cold rain and wind, it started to sleet very heavily, which many forecasts did not exactly anticipate. The sleet occurred at a pretty warm temperature, but as hard as mother nature tried to hang on to the mildish weather, eventually the combination of the front and the evaporative cooling from the rain (sorry my meteorology degree is being put to work with this post!) led to some wet snowflakes at 2am.
So of course being the weather geek and tropical plant geek that I am I HAD to stay up until 3am so I could take photos of the snow before it melted. The overnight low was 33F, too warm for the snow to stay on surfaces for more than a very brief period of time. Some of the ginger flowers did not take well to the snow but believe it or not still no freeze damage to anything else. Mandevillas are blooming, and the cannas and bananas look good!
But what looks even better than some tender perennials clinging onto life are some PALM TREES COVERED IN SNOW (yes I am shouting!). Isn't that the fun in growing hardy palm trees. Maybe being able to live in a climate where palm trees can be covered in snow has its perks? It sure is beautiful.
Farfugium is still blooming despite the snowy weather.
This subtropical cat palm can only handle brief dips into the 20sF, but fortunately we stayed above freezing last night.
Of course here are my trachycarpus loving life in the snow!
It is not very common to ever see fall foliage reach its peak here in New York City. You'd think that would have to do with the lack of trees available to watch the colors, but there are actually plenty of beautiful spots to watch the trees show their colors. The biggest issue is the weather. Nor'easter season is upon us and the wind and rain usually knock down leaves prematurely this time of the year. But this Autumn has been extremely calm and perfect for the trees to put on an incredible show before winter. The drought and heat in late summer was horrible for gardens but a perfect set up to incite some stress in the trees which led to some nice fall color. More warm and sunny weather followed for the next few months leading up to now. We still have yet to see a heavy rain or wind event since early summer in my neck of the woods.
So the trees has held onto their leaves like never before even as they change into brilliant shades of reds, yellows, and oranges. Here are some photos of the awesome sight (which was even more awesome out in the mountains away from the city by the way!)
Thanks for looking. Sorry this was not a "tropical" post. I'll make up for it! :)