7 Things I Wish I Knew Before Growing Tropical Plants

I have to admit, I have a bit of a problem when it comes to growing tropical fruit trees at home. I just love growing rare and exotic fruit that is either impossible to find fresh at a local store (or that doesn't cost an arm and a leg in the process).

But as I live in a cooler climate, one most certainly not suited for tropical fruit trees (zone 6b/7), growing these trees is also a bit of a challenge that only the most determined gardeners with ideal growing environments should consider.

In this one, we want to go beyond the basics- checking to see if a plant will do well in your growing zone and if it could thrive in a container or not based on your indoor lighting conditions. We hope (and assume) that you have already checked these things. Here, we want to dive into some considerations to think about once you are committed!

These are truly some of the finer points I wish I knew before getting into growing tropical plants at home.

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5 Things to Know Before Bringing Plants Inside for Winter

If you live in a cooler climate, as we do in zone 6b/7, odds are good you'll have to bring some container plants inside for winter.

We love growing tropical fruit trees, and, as you can expect, they do not do very well outside when temperatures drop close to freezing (let alone as low as 0 °F that we sometimes see in extreme cases). As such, we bring our plants inside for the winter to help give them an environment that they can tolerate until the following spring when temperatures rise once again. 

But there are some things you will likely experience when doing this, and after several seasons with our own citrus trees, we have some thoughts that you should know before heading into winter!

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What to Do When a Fruit Tree Has Two Sets of Leaves

When we bought our Meyer lemon tree, we thought it looked odd. We couldn't quite place our fingers on why, but it amounted to the fact that some leaves and branches seemed different.

One set of leaves had a single lobe, while other sets had three lobes similar to those of a very large clover.

It wasn't until the tree started producing flowers that we realized only specific branches were budding (only the branches with single-lobed leaves), and we investigated further.

As it turns out, we had a huge issue– fruit trees should not have two unique sets of leaves and the rootstock was growing a bit out of control!

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How We Saved a Dying Passionfruit Vine – Container Gardening

I always knew that it'd be a bit of a risk trying to grow a passionfruit vine in a container, but due to our location in the north this tropical plant simply would not have done well in the ground during winter.

The vine was growing quite fine for many months until it started losing leaves at the bottom. The problem got worse and worse and we knew we had to figure out a solution right away. The problem was that any solution we read about could also have been the problem!

So, after testing, we came to a conclusion- we were underwatering. Read more about how we figured this out below.

Note: Please keep in mind that my passionfruit vine is potted and trellised. I bring it inside in the winter as we live in Zone 6b with cold enough winters that would kill the plant. This more than likely influenced the issue that will be described below and may not have the same solution for those growing a plant in the ground.

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How to Grow Passion Fruit in Pots Outside of the Tropics

Although we live in Zone 6b, I knew I always wanted tropical plants that we take in and out of the house seasonally.

For things like fruit trees, this is pretty simple. Plant a dwarf citrus tree in a large enough pot, take it out when the risk of freeze passes, give it a ton of natural light when indoors, and you're (probably) good to go. But what about vines? Many of our favorite tropical fruits, like passion fruit, do not grow on trees but on sprawling vines.

As a passion fruit vine was high on my list of must-haves, we simply found ourselves with an issue of figuring out how to make the sprawling vine work outside of its ideal Zone 9-11. As you may expect, moving a 40+ foot vine in and out as seasons change sounded like a challenge.

Although one answer was simply to acquire native Maypops for planting outside (these are North American passion flowers with cold tolerance down to approximately Zones 6-7 pending varietal), which we also did, I still wanted to have a proper passion fruit all the same. 

So in this one, I wanted to share a bit more about how we planted our vine and, more importantly, share a passion fruit trellis idea that really allowed us to maximize our surface area while still being in a container!

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How to Pollinate a Lemon Tree (and Others) in a Few Simple Steps

When we first purchased citrus trees (such as our key lime, Meyer lemon, and others), one of the first questions we got from other gardeners was simply “you're going to keep them inside?”.

In living in western Pennsylvania, the answer was, of course- it will have to be indoors for half of the year.

The second question that then immediately would follow is “how will the flowers get pollinated?” to which I would reply “by me!” (by hand). After often surprising looks all around I would go on to say that hand-pollinating citrus trees is rather easy because, in all honesty, it is!

So in this one, I thought I would share the simple steps on how to pollinate lemon trees and other citrus trees you may have at home!

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How Long Does Gardening Take to Pay Itself Off? It Varies

We love to garden.

Nothing is more rewarding than going out into your own vegetable patch, picking something ripe, and then immediately cooking with it. From the flavors to the satisfaction that you did it yourself, it really can't be beaten.

But is gardening better than buying produce at the store? Particularly over buying produce from local farmer's markets where the quality would be comparable?

We thought we'd take a look at a cost-benefit analysis for all things gardening to see what the math says. But in this one, we have to look at two kinds of gardening outright- container gardening and in-ground gardening. The math for each is quite different!

Note: This evaluation considers gardening to be for more conventional items like tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, beans, and more. Perennial plants, like berry bushes and citrus trees, are not included in this discussion as, assuming they survive to production age, their payback period typically is the first year or two of a full harvest (generally 3-8 years) as maintenance costs can be quite low. As such, they are excluded from this evaluation. 

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3 Ways to Propagate Berry Vines, Bushes, and Plants (for Free)

When I said that I wanted to convert our weed-covered hillside into a fruit patch full of berry bushes, fruit trees, and more, Angie had one rule for me starting out- “don't spend money”.

This was partly because she (rightly) knew that our weeds are absurdly challenging (I'm still working on that one) but also because buying fruit trees and bushes can be very, very expensive. So since we were at extreme risks of failure for any endeavor on our hillside, it was logical to try and approach things for free.

So over the last two years, I've been trying just about every idea I can think of to see what will propagate berry bushes and vines at home, and have settled on three techniques you may want to try yourself.

But be warned- some have much higher rates of success than others and, while they can be achieved for free, those who have some equipment at home will be able to increase their success rates accordingly.

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How Long Until a Rain Barrel Pays Itself Off?

As part of our project here at Hipster Homesteaders, we wanted to help make our home as sustainable as possible. This includes making changes like expanding our garden to grow more of our own food, getting beehives, installing a composter, eventually buying solar panels, and of course, helping our water consumption by installing a rain barrel!

While we knew that having a rain barrel would generally be a good thing, as our water consumption often spikes considerably in the summer months when our garden is incredibly active, we didn't quite know just how much our savings would be.

So after installing our rain barrel, we tracked our consumption and had some rather interesting figures. So in this one, we thought we'd share what we found plus ways to calculate if a rain barrel is a good economic decision for your own home!

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4 Fig Propagation Techniques – A Test to Find What Works

One of the goals we have here at Hipster Homesteaders is to work on building a garden on our 3,000 square foot, south-facing hillside.

While we have many challenges associated with this, one of the biggest is that we've found buying young fruit bushes and trees for planting can be quite expensive. With the going rate and how much we want to plant on our hillside, buying all the plants, even from local sources, would cost thousands of dollars as most cuttings range from $10-$25 a pop.

Thankfully, plants are incredibly versatile. Many fruit plants can be grown from saved seeds from the previous season and others can be propagated via cuttings outright. Over the years, we've found that there is no shortage of cuttings available from neighbors in Buy Not a Thing social media groups, and as we learned more about plants, we've found many wild berry patches to cultivate from as well.

One of our first attempts at this process was with fig trees as they're known to be quite easy to propagate via cutting. We purchased a couple of trees at our local farmer's markets and received cuttings of white figs from a friend as well. When we wanted to propagate our two trees into a small orchard (along with the gifted cuttings), we thought it'd be fun to put together a fig propagation test to see what technique works the best!

In this one, we wanted to share our process and our findings.

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