Growing Tropical Plants in Western Oregon

Shonnard’s Nursery serves folks predominantly living in central Willamette Valley and the mid- Oregon coast range. This region of Oregon experiences mild temperatures due to it’s classification as a maritime climate, thus allows for great growing potential! Learn more about Western Oregon climate zones HERE.

Since our area experiences warm summer temperatures, we can grow a wonderful variety of plant species, including some from more tropical climates.  A few of these tropical plants are hardy enough to survive our mild winters; others can be grown as summer annuals, or brought inside through the winter as a houseplant.

So when thinking about what plants you want to grow this summer (and when daydreaming about a tropical getaway while it’s raining in July), consider inviting a few familiar tropical plants to your garden and create your own paradise at home.


Native from the Southwestern United States to South America, mandevillas are vigorous, twining vine plants that will grow to around 10-12 feet long and bloom early summer into fall. Their displays of vibrant tubular flowers offered in shades of pinks, reds, or whites are loved by hummingbirds and butterflies, and not particularly attractive to deer. It’s sun requirements are versatile, growing well in full sun to partial shade.


A South American native features unique flowers that cover the vining plant in an impressive display. This one really pops in the garden! The flowers attract butterflies. Bougainvillea grows best in full sun, and prefers the soil to be dry to average moisture level. The vine can grow to 20 feet tall so provide a strong support for it to show off all summer long.

Tropical Hibiscus

With Southern Asian origins, the beloved hibiscus flower immediately transports us to paradise. The signature tropical kind that we carry are the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (pictured at the top). They have large flowers with a distinctive shape and very vivid colors  that are absolutely stunning. Choose this plant for growing in a container, planting complimentary plants around the base and that will spill over the edges.

Other hibiscus that can provide a tropical feel include the much hardier Hibiscus moschuetos, with softer color but even larger, more saucer-shaped flowers.


Asian natives, bananas instantly create a lush tropical vibe. A few banana plants can actually be quite hardy and survive our western Oregon winters. The variety ‘Musa basjoo’ or Japanese Banana is one of the most common varieties you’ll find available at our nursery – and the hardiest. It is fast growing and makes a wonderful thriller plant in containers.

Canna Lily

Of South American origins, this plant is treasured for it’s bold and beautiful features. The foliage of canna lilies can be the key to balancing a garden composition, while the vibrant long-lasting blooms make this plant a double thriller. These are fast growing and loved by hummingbirds. Many canna varieties are quite hardy, providing reliable interest year after year in a pond or flower bed.

Growing Tips

Light & Environment

Although it may seem exotic, it’s really just like any other plant. The first thing you should always do – read the label. The label will let you know if the plant will grow best in a full sun to part shade, or part to full shade location.

Most tags or labels will also specify the USDA zone to which the plant is hardy. So if it says Zone 7 or 8, there’s a pretty good chance it can endure our cold, at least in a protected spot. If it says Zone 9 or 10, then you can assume that this plant will not survive outside through the Pacific Northwest winter.


Again, read the plant label. If the tag says “Keep evenly moist”, then the plant will do best with regular watering which may mean watering every day or every other couple of days.

The frequency of watering will vary depending on the size of container, the type of soil the plant is growing in, if the plant is placed in a windy location, or if the sun is beating down on the plant all day.


Since the tropical plants have a short season of interest in our neck of the woods, feed them well to make the most of their display.  Since granular slow-release fertilizers take time for nutrients to become available we recommend using a liquid fertilizer for immediate availability.

For bold leafy green plants the liquid fertilizer G&B Organics High Growth is a good choice; whereas for the bloomers you’d want to choose a product made for flowering plants. Read our article about using liquid fertilizers to learn more.