Gardening in the Subtropics

The Seasons of the Subtropics Explained

Gardening in the subtropics is new to me so this has been all a steep learning curve.  Here are my observations.  We actually have four seasons, but they are a lot less severe than in Northern climates, and so, loosely speaking, we divide the four seasons between wet and dry seasons.

gardening in the subtropics

In subtropical Hong Kong,  there are essentially two seasons: Wet and Dry.  Fall and Winter are the dry season, with Fall being the driest of the two.  Sometimes Winter can be wet and cold.  Then Spring comes bringing rain and increased humidity and warmth.  And then Summer arrives bringing with it hot, humid weather.  Winter is the monsoon season and Summer is the typhoon season.  Of course, this is just a very loose definition as it can vary from year to year in intensity.  For example, the past two winters have been very pleasant with temperatures ranging from the teens to the low twenties centigrade.  Previous winters saw temperatures of +4 C to +15 C.  That’s on the cool side when you have no central heating!  And Summer usually brings typhoons to Hong Kong, but the past two years, there were hardly any, although several passed us by.  We had a dryer summer  in 2014.  What we did have last year was lots of rain in May, …torrents…every…day.

Challenges for the subtropical gardener


Gardening in the subtropics can be challenging.  When you have humidity, you have fungal issues. (You should see my Sweet Peas.  They hate humidity.) Fungal disease has covered my Sweet Peas in a horrible, unsightly, white coating.  Fortunately, the flowers on the strongest plant in the pot are fine.  The rest of the plants were stunted and dwarfed.  They look really sad.  So far, none of my efforts to contain it have succeeded.  Any ideas on how to get rid of it???  I’d love to hear!

gardening in the subtropics


Spring Rains:

And you risk losing the entire contents of your containers in the Spring rains!!  It’s just a fright.  You have no idea…unless you live in the subtropics or the tropics.   Then you know exactly what I mean.  There isn’t much you can do to protect them unless you are lucky enough to have a shelter for them.  I think I’ll try using umbrellas this year if we get the kind of rain we got last year!

gardening in the subtropics


Summer Heat:

HOT!!  That Summer sun can fry your garden in an hour.  You have to make sure you keep on top of your watering, especially if your garden is in containers sitting on hot concrete, (which mine is). There is no protection from the sun for my garden, except when the sun goes around behind the building next door.  It’s best to offer your subtropical garden some shade if it’s available.

gardening in the subtropics

Wind (Typhoon):

In Hong Kong, there is a weather warning system in place to let you know how close the storm is and when you need to take action to make your outdoor stuff secure so it won’t blow away.  Signal 3 is the time to bring in the small containers.  I don’t really have anywhere to put mine, so I usually just put them all in a big plastic tub, secure it the best I can, and hope for the best. The bigger ones won’t move because they are full of plants and water from the rain.  It’s best to choose sturdy ceramic or clay containers so the added weight will hold them down.  Avoid small plastic pots for the summer garden. Group your plants in larger containers for an instant garden effect.



I haven’t encountered anything too out of the ordinary in the insect department.  Seems like there are ants everywhere in the world.  But they haven’t caused any harm to my plants…yet.  I even had carrot fly on my carrots.  And now I have butterfly caterpillars busily gorging on my mizuna.  I’m letting them eat away because we decided we don’t really like the strong mustardy flavor of the greens.  Besides I like to see butterflies in the garden.  If I kill their babies, then I won’t have anymore butterflies.


My worst garden enemies aren’t what you think.  Rats and birds were the nemesis of my very first garden attempt in Hong Kong.  I had no idea what was eating my Dianthus flowers and leaves, my mint, my thyme.  Until I got the evidence on video!  A bird was cheerily munching away on my mint.  Then I learned that birds are plant lovers.  They ate a lot of my stuff.  But the worst, sneakiest rascal of all, was the rat.  If I spent too long in my garden, he would come out to investigate what I’d been up to that night.  I had the worst time growing sweet potatoes because the rat would chew the whole stem off and take it away to eat.  He also destroyed my first attempts to grow avocado from seed.  The seedlings were about a foot and a half tall and he came and bit it off at the base.  All of them.  Not for eating either.  Just for sport.  I’m so glad someone took action to get rid of the rat!  It wasn’t me!

Plant Choices

gardening in the subtropics

Lastly, you can be a successful gardener in the subtropics if you grow what is suited to your location.  If all you have is an open, unprotected roof space, then you need to grow things that like full sun and lots of heat.  If all you can provide some shade for you plants, then your plant selection choices grow.

What challenges do you face gardening in the subtropics?  Let me know in the comments!



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