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Tropical plants; Growing tropical plants in areas prone to frost

It is a fact of life that most people want something different, not just in the way of their looks, but in the way of their garden. No one wants to have the same plants as the neighbours, and wants their garden to stand out from the crowd. This does however often mean growing plants which do not grow easily in your climate. People in the tropics often wish to grow cottage plants in a cottage or formal style garden, whereas people in temperate and cool climates love growing tropical plants in a tropical, or Bali style garden.

Your aim is to provide a climate as close to the tropical plant’s natural climate, that is, the climate it originates from. Many plants come from places close to the equator for example, where the weather is always warm, and very humid. There are many things you can do to produce an artificial climate for the plants you want to grow. These frost protection methods range from very simple, temporary solutions, to permanent structures such as shade houses. The purpose of all the available frost protection methods listed below is to stimulate the natural needs of each plant so they grow well regardless of their position.

Often, when you live in a fairly mild climate where you do not experience a lot of frost, and when you do get frost it is very mild; you may not be prepared to protect your plants from frost. Most of the plants you are growing in your garden are probably semi hardy to frost, and would survive many winters without any damage. Until, one day, a hard frost strikes your garden.... This frost may only be a few degrees colder than the frosts you received the other years, but it’s enough to kill some of your semi-hardy plants if they are not protected from the frost.

You will usually get some warning about when a hard frost is about to strike. There will most likely be a few nights of mild frost preceding the really serious frost. You may also see some very mild damage on the foliage of the plants, or some frosted stretches of lawn or soil. Some places are more susceptible to frost; these places are known are ‘frost pockets’. Frost occurs more readily in stretches of open ground exposed to the sky (as frost settles from above), in hollows in the ground, and in valleys where the frost settles on the bottom and can’t escape easily.

Some simple ways of protecting your tropical plants from frost include a cardboard box placed around the plant, of which you can open the top (‘lid’) in the morning, and close it at night for protection. You can also pile up leaves or palm fronds around the plant to create a frost barrier, or use bamboo stakes to create a simple tent frame around the plant, which plastic covering. Hessian bags are a great way of covering plants to keep the cold out, and small greenhouses can be purchased very cheaply these days!

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