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How to Choose Plants for Hot Climates

Roger Cook, landscape contractor, visits a large nursery in Fayetteville, NC, to see which plants will work well for landscaping in warmer, southern climates.

Looking for landscaping plants that will flourish in a hot, sunny climate? Blaze Podgorski, field operations manager at Green Biz Nursery, discusses which plants will thrive in these conditions with Roger Cook and This Old House.

From understanding your Plant Hardiness Zone to researching which flora will ideally fill in your design, use the guide to help choose your next plant for hot climates.

How to Choose Plants for Your Climate

Use the following steps to choose and purchase plants for your landscaping needs—not just for hot climates.

Step 1: Determine Your Plant Hardiness Zone

  • Use this interactive map from the USDA by plugging in your zip code to determine which zone(s) and sub-zones your home is located. Each plant has an ideal hardy zone—essential information that discloses whether or not the plant you want will thrive in your climate and how tolerant it is to temperature changes.
  • Other factors to consider that help contribute to a plant’s success? Light, soil moisture, temperature, duration of exposure to cold, along with humidity.

Step 2: Research Native Plants

Native plants require less maintenance than non-native species—saving you both time, water and money.

The National Wildlife Foundation, along with this list of U.S. Forest Service’s state-specific website databases has information about which native plants that will thrive in your environment.

Step 3: Establish Your Needs

Determine the space you are trying to fill and check that the plant you want will address your landscaping needs. Are you looking for a privacy screen? You’ll need to look for plants that grow tall and wide. Are you filling in a small area? Make sure you don’t choose a plant that will outgrow the space in a few short years.

Step 4: Find a Reputable Grower

Use a reputable nursery to purchase your plants to avoid buying unhealthy, diseased, or pest-ridden plants.

Hot Climate Plant Recommendations

Roger is looking for plants for a home located in the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 8-10. Blaze highlights which plants will thrive in these hot climate zones—conditions that are typical of the southern United States and Hawaii.

Calamondin Orange

The result of a natural cross between a mandarin and a kumquat, this edible tree bears tangerine-like fruit year-round and can grow to be 10 to 20’ high. As the tree matures, the rinds on the oranges will get more orange, and the fruit will get softer and sweeter.

Blaze warns that young trees are susceptible to temperature drops, so be prepared to protect plants in the winter and during frost and cold snaps. These plants do well planted in containers or planted in the ground.

Meyer Lemon

These hardy trees love 6 plus hours of sunlight and can thrive in containers or planted in the ground. Once they are mature (around 3-5 years old), they’ll produce white flowers and fruit all year long for decades. Good to know: A Meyer lemon is larger and sweeter than grocery store lemons, which are small and sour.

Bougainvillea

Except for some varieties, this spiky-thorny plant can be a vine, bush, or tree depending on how it is cultivated. Bougainvilleas do well in both the ground and in containers. Full warning though: These prolific bloomers are fast-growing—some more than 36” of growth per year—and can easily climb and take over a fence or side of a house—tapping out around 20’ high and wide. Regular pruning is essential to keep its size under control.

Needle Palms

This adaptable and easy-to-care-for plant will add a tropical feel to your landscape. While it’s a slow grower, it will eventually reach 8’ high and 8’ wide. Remember to keep this shrub away from children—the Needle Palm got its name for very good reasons—those leaves are sharp!

Tropical Hibiscus

A shrub that produces red, pink, or yellow flowers; these bloomers thrive in temperatures that stay above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If your zone falls below that threshold, this plant is better served being grown in a container rather than in the ground. Simply bring it indoors when colder temperatures set in.

Japanese Loquat

Another fruit-bearing tree, this plant will grow into a 25’ high and 20’ wide tree, although you can prune it and keep it much smaller than that. The loquat produces a sweet-bearing fruit that is a cross between citrus fruits, mangos, and peaches. Worth noting: The tree blooms in the fall and produces fruit in the spring, offering your garden a lovely set of blooms when the rest of the garden is relatively quiet.

Banana Plants

With around 70 species of banana plants, the choices are extensive, but for residential landscapes, Blaze recommends the Dwarf Plantain, Cavendish Banana, “Ice Cream” (also called the Blue Java Plant), and the Basjoo.

The Basjoo, in particular, is the coldest hardy of the bunch and can thrive up to Massachusetts and in negative 10 degrees Fahrenheit weather. The main difference between these plants? It comes down to looks—whether or not you want all green leaves or some variation in color in your landscaping.

Cold Hardy Tea

A beautiful white flowering plant, this fast grower can reach 10 to 15’ in height and 10 to 15’ wide, making it a great privacy screen. This plant also does well in containers—just make sure there is adequate drainage. Bonus: You can harvest the leaves to make your tea at home.