Gardening by Elevation in Hawaii

Home to many diverse climates, from dry coastal areas to lush rain forests, the Big Island of Hawaii is a fantastic place to grow a variety of tropical plants. The trick is finding out what grows best in your Hawaii home’s elevation. Gardening by elevation in Hawaii is easy. Simply put, the higher up you go, the cooler and wetter the weather gets.

Sunset’s climate zone list identifies two elevation garden zones on Hawaii: the “coconut palm belt” from 0-2,000 feet, and the “cool volcano slopes” from 2,000-5,000 feet. (The Big Island reaches as high as 13,800 feet on the summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, but very few people live and garden above 5,000ft).

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Low Elevation Gardening in Hawaii

The majority of residents on Hawaii live in the first zone, the “coconut palm belt.” Kailua-Kona, the Waikoloa resort area and Hilo are all located in this zone. This is your typical tropical paradise weather, with warm days and nights, and steady temperatures throughout the year. Heat-loving tropical trees, such as mango and avocado, love this elevation, as do popular plants like bird-of-paradise, coconut trees, citrus trees and bougainvillea. Plants you may have loved on the mainland, however, including apple trees, certain vegetables and fruit bushes, do not grow well in this balmy tropical climate.

High Elevation Gardening in Hawaii

The “cool volcano slopes” zone, above 2,000ft, is slightly less populated, but is also a wonderful place to live and garden. This is the zone where Kona’s famous coffee trees thrive, and where adorable towns like Volcano, Holualoa and Kamuela are located. Weather here is markedly cooler than at the coast, with night temperatures that can dip into the 40s. The cooler, wetter weather is perfect for growing popular veggies like kale and lettuce, and is ideal for hydrangeas and sweet Maui onions. Mango and avocado trees will grow in this zone, but will rarely fruit. Low-chill varieties of peach and even apple trees, however, do well at this elevation.

Gardening by elevation in Hawaii is best understood by breaking it down into two distinct climate zones, but keep in mind that your home’s orientation (east/west) as well as soil will determine what grows best. When in doubt, contact the Hawaii county extension office or a local nursery to get some expert advice. Happy Hawaii gardening!

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