An ongoing, ever-evolving list of plants we grow or that we have seen other gardeners growing well in the tropics. Full posts on all of these plants, trees, and herbs are to come. We focus on food plants that grow well and easily in tropical garden conditions, not those that require a lot of extra work, pesticides and chemicals.
In the tropics a lot of your gardening will revolve around perennials. The annual plantings that we’re used to in cooler climates don’t happen so often in a tropical climate. Some plants will almost grow themselves with zero effort, others need some work Of course, the best plants to grow in the tropics are the plants that are native to tropical areas.
This is not a complete list, this is what we’ve found works so far and have tried to grow with success. If you have any more suggestions for food plants to grow in the tropics, please do let us know in the comments.
Food Plants You Can Grow in The Tropics
A lot of the food plants you can grow in the tropics are quite surprising. If, like me, you’re from a cooler climate, be it temperate or Mediterranean, you might be amazed that you can grow crops like broccoli, snow peas, beans, and Mediterranean herbs. You certainly can grow these colder climate crops, just give them a little shade from other plants and most seem to do OK so long as the soil is good.
I like to grow trees for shade in my garden. The tropical sun is intense and a shady area just makes your garden more enjoyable, for us and for your plants. Yes, trees take a long time, some of mine I planted almost ten years ago, and I’m so glad I did. As the garden matures we see more and more birds and butterflies, it’s wonderful to create a natural habitat for wildlife. I plant food crops such as herbs tightly around young trees like lemons or grapefruit, once they grow bigger they’ll likely not grow there any more, but for the early years it’s a good use of space, so long as you feed and water well. None of my established trees really require watering at all, their roots are so deep and wide that they’re pretty self sufficient. I know this for sure because we went away and left them for 7 years. They were all just fine when we returned. My grapefruit tree is possibly my favourite, it gives us incredible amounts of fruit and doesn’t suffer from pests too badly at all. Lemons are also really useful in a tropical garden.
- Moringa for “superfood” leaves and drumsticks. Moringa is not a legume, although it’s often mistaken for one.
- Curry Leaf (a close relative of neem)
There are so many trees you can grow that produce food in the tropics. If I had to pick my favourite it would be grapefruit. We have never-ending fresh grapefruit juice for months of the year. Generally anything that produces a big fruit, is better value in a garden than small fruit. Lemons would be my top pick for a small garden or even a big pot. We have a dwarf lemon tree in only it’s second year giving us 20 or so lemons. Our lemons are ripe in January or February and flower in winter, around August. The grapefruit ripen later giving us a good succession.
Fruit That Grows in The Tropics
There is an incredible amount of fruit you can grow in the tropics. Citrus is my personal favourite, but we have a lot of success with most fruits. If we have too much we dry it or make jam. Papaya jam is really good!
We have success growing fruit plants and trees below in our tropical climate.
- Ruby Grapefruit
- Kaffir Limes
- Finger Limes
- Passion Fruit
- Star Apple
- Star Fruit
- Papaya (Paw Paw)
Green Leafy Veg to Grow in the Tropics
We eat a lot of greens that you may not have realised are edible. Tropical greens that can be eaten include sweet potato tops (same family as morning glory), radish tops, and pumpkin shoots. As well as these more unusual greens, standard greens like kale and broccoli can also grow in the tropics.We eat broccoli leaves as you would spinach and they’re particularly tasty. In our experience rocket grows very fast and well and will grow for years before going to seed.
Growing vegetables that are usually associated with colder climates mostly happens in winter in a tropical climate.
- Sweet Potato Vine Leaves
- Kale (many varieties)
- Broccoli leaves
- Pumpkin tops, radish tops, all can be eaten as greens
- Various types of perennial tropical spinach, including Brazillian, Okinawa, Malabar (Ceylon), longevity spinach, etc.
Peas Beans and Pulses to Grow in Tropical Conditions
- Bush Beans (French Beans)
- Snake Beans
- Red Snake Beans
- Purple Podded Beans
- Pigeon Peas (a huge perennial legume for fresh “peas” or lentils)
- Mung Beans
- Dwarf Red Snake Beans
Other Fruit and Veg to Grow in a Tropical Climate
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Larger Tomatoes
- Aubergines (Eggplant )
- Thai Eggplant
- Peppers, all kinds
- Chillies (can be perennial)
- Pumpkins Guide to growing pumpkins in the tropics here)
- Cucumbers, seem to not like the hottest months
- Cucamelons (easy)
- Radishes (fast)
- Snow Peas when it’s cool, a bit of shade helps
- Courgettes (with difficulty, powdery mildew and squash bugs love them)
- Patty Pan Squash (also tricky)
Herbs and Spices That Will Grow in The Tropics
I love herbs. My whole family loves herbs. We probably use herbs every single day and they’re a fantastic thing to grow if you only have a small space.
Grow your herbs as close to your back door as possible so that they’re easy to access and don’t forget that herbs are full of nutrients. Think of them as food, not flavouring.
The trick with herbs is to leave them before you pick them. Don’t be picking bits off that tiny seedling, wait until it’s a bigger plant. Of course, there are many ways to preserve your herbs too. We dry them, store them in oil, use them in pickles, you can even freeze them. Most of our herbs though, there’s no need to preserve, they grow all year-round.
- Lemon Grass
- Garlic Chives
- Asian coriander (this grows as a volunteer for us)
- Flat Leaf Parsley
- Vietnamese mint
- Mints – various (easy)
- Thai Basil, lemon basil etc.
- Mushroom plant.
- Mother of herbs, very good in sleepy tea. Photo above.
- Flat-leaf parsley ( needs effort)
- Celery leaf
Your options for growing food in the tropics are vast. When I first started gardening in a tropical climate I was really surprised by the food plants I’d normally associate with a temperate or Mediterranean climate, growing here. I was also surprised that so many plants that I’d thought of as annuals were actually perennials if winter didn’t happen. As a rule of thumb, if you want to try and grow a plant, fruit, or vegetable, at any time of year, try. This is how we learn by trying different things. With a packet of seeds costing barely anything, and so many foods we buy at the store being growable, there’s no harm in trying. Give it a go. What are your favourite food plants to grow,? For me, it’s chillies and tomatoes. They’re just so useful.