How to winterize banana tree

How Do I Prepare My Banana Trees for Winter?

The Hardy Japanese Banana, or Musa sp. basjoo, is a hardy banana tree that grows up to twelve feet tall and produces leaves several feet long. Although they freeze back to the ground each fall, with proper care they will resprout in the spring. Hardy bananas grow fast enough to match their previous year’s size by early to mid summer, and it usually only takes about two years for a young plant to reach its full size.
You can read more about this beautiful ornamental or buy young plants here: Hardy Banana – Musa basjoo.

Basjoo Bananas are hardy, but some fall care is needed to help them get through the winter – especially on first year plants.

Once banana trees are established the roots are frost hardy but young plants do not tolerate the cold nearly as well as older plants. If you receive your plant in the winter or spring before the expected last frost date you should protect your plant from frosts. Plant your banana directly into a container and keep it in your garage or another non-freezing location. Water the banana plant when you put it into the container but be sure there are drainage holes in the pot so that the tree doesn’t rot. As soon as the danger of frost has passed you can plant your tree outdoors. If you purchase your banana tree during the growing season you should plant it outdoors right away.

Fall preparation for outdoor banana trees.

Fall: To keep your banana plant happy it needs a little bit of preparation for winter in the fall. Right before or after the first frost you should cut the tree back to about one foot tall. Make sure to cut the trunk at an angle so water doesn’t pool up all winter and start rotting the crown. Many people put a plastic bag over the trunk to further prevent water from pooling in the cut end, which is especially helpful in areas with particularly long winters.
The trunk is cut at an angle about one
foot above the ground. Cover the cut trunk under a mulch pile of wood chips, bark, or raked leaves as an insulating protective layer to prevent damaging freeze/thaw cycles.
Apply mulch over the trunk. Spring: Remove the mulch pile and bag in the spring after the last frost and fertilize your banana to help get it jump started. Established plants will typically grow to five or six feet tall within a month or two and start producing additional trunks around the base of the original in mid-summer. Eventually banana plants form a small grove, you can protect the largest trunks in the fall to keep a larger grove or only protect the largest trunk to maintain a single tree specimen.
Three month old Musa basjoo trees in two gallon pots.

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Before we talk about how to overwinter banana plants, the first thing we need to get straight is that the banana tree (Musa spp.) is not actually a tree. It’s an herb! A rather sizeable herb.

Its “trunk” is actually a cylinder of tightly layered leaves called a pseudostem.

The banana is an attractive herbaceous flowering plant that grows to a mature height of 12 to 18 feet tall. Its large leaves, purple flowers, and brightly colored fruit make a dramatic statement in the garden.

How to Overwinter Your Banana Tree

  • It’s a Tropical Plant
  • Keeping Your Banana Plant Alive
    • Container Growing
    • Cover It
    • Dig It Up

It’s a Tropical Plant

There are about 70 species of the genus Musa, and they are indigenous to tropical areas of India, Southeast Asia, and northern Australia.

They are now grown in more than 135 countries, mostly for their fruit, which is enjoyed around the world.

Given their native climate, it is unsurprising that banana plants are cold intolerant. They need mild temperatures in order to grow; their leaves will stop growing at around 55°F.

They will suffer leaf damage at 32°F, and their underground rhizomes will die at sustained temperatures of 22°F or lower.

Having said that, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that there are indeed a few cold-tolerant varieties available.

For example, the ‘Japanese Fiber’ variety (M. basjoo) can withstand sub-zero temperatures. It’s hardy to Zone 5 or 6, and can be overwintered in colder areas by cutting it back and providing a protective mulch around the stem.

Nevertheless, most banana plants like it hot, and if you don’t live in USDA Hardiness Zone 9 or higher, you may wonder how you can add one of these tropical beauties to your landscape and keep it alive over winter.

Let’s learn more!

Keeping Your Banana Plant Alive

Here, we’ll offer three ways you can protect and preserve your banana plant over the winter months:

Container Growing

Perhaps the most obvious way to successfully overwinter a banana tree is to grow it in a container and bring it indoors when temperatures drop.

It is best to select a dwarf variety for container growing. A 15-foot “tree” in a pot would be a bit unwieldy!

Simply enjoy your potted plant on the patio or deck all summer, and then bring it indoors when outdoor temperatures begin to drop.

You have a couple options in terms of where you place it indoors.

If you’d like to adorn an empty corner of your living room, make sure it’s a sunny spot and be sure to keep the soil moist, but not soggy.

Provide humidity by misting the leaves via a squirt bottle filled with water.

Expect to see slow growth during this period.

If an attached garage or crawl space makes more sense for overwintering your container grown banana, begin preparing the plant by gradually reducing irrigation as the weather cools.

Before the first frost, cut the stem back to about six inches tall, and place it in a cool, dark place – approximately 40-50°F.

Water just enough so that the soil doesn’t separate from the sides of the container.

It will go dormant through the cold months, and you can take it outdoors again and start watering it properly once temperatures start to climb and all risk of frost has passed.

Cover It

If your plant is growing in the ground, one option for safely overwintering it is to protect it with thick layers of mulch.

The goal here is to protect the large rhizome at the base of the pseudostem, which is known as the “corm.” The corm has several growing points that will sprout new rhizomes – or “pups” – which can be transplanted.

Cut the plant back to about 4-6 inches above the ground, and then pile on at least a foot of leaves, straw, or other mulching material.

You might also cover the pile with plastic sheeting, row cover material, or a cloche for more protection, and to keep the mulch in place.

If you can’t bear to cut your plant down, you can leave it intact and fashion a wire cage around the pseudostem, leaving one to two feet of horizontal clearance from the stem to the cage.

Make the cage as high as the amount of pseudostem you want to protect.

After the first light frost, fill the cage with shredded leaves or straw. Make sure you pack it in well, so it completely surrounds the stem.

You may lose any portion of the plant that sticks out above the cage, but the covered portions and the rhizome underground should be protected.

You can also wrap hessian or row cover material around the outside of the wire cage to add insulation and keep the material in place.

Remove the cage and mulching material when warm weather returns and the plant shows signs of regrowth.

Trim off any dead material and start watering.

You can spread the shredded leaves or straw around the base of the plant to provide some extra organic material to the soil.

Dig It Up

Another way to protect your banana plant during wintertime is to dig it up and move it to a cellar, crawlspace, or similar area where the temperature is consistently 45-50°F. Ideally, this should be done before the first frost.

Before you start moving earth, though, you’ll want to cut the plant back to about six inches tall. When that’s done, carefully dig out the rhizomes and roots. Make sure you dig out at least 6-8 inches on either side of the base of the stem.

Place the root ball in a container of slightly moist sand. The tree will go dormant so it won’t need light, and you shouldn’t water it at all during this time.

Banana trees with pseudostems that are larger than five inches in diameter can be dug up and stored without lopping off the top first. Shake the soil from the roots and lay the plant on its side on top of a tarp or newspaper in your chosen location.

Replant when all danger of frost has passed. You’ll want to give your tree plenty of water to revive it.

A Statement Plant that Deserves a Second Life

With their large leaves and impressive height, banana plants can make a spectacular statement in the landscape. But for most of us in the United States, the beauty fades when the winter’s chill approaches.

Rather than simply abandoning your bananas to the whims of weather, you have several choices for protecting them for a return engagement come springtime.

Have you successfully overwintered one of these tropical beauties? How do you revive them after winter? Share your tips in the comments section below.

Do you have other plants you need to protect from the cold? Check out these guides:

  • Guide to Clematis Winter Care: Protect Your Vines From Freezing and Frost
  • Lemongrass Winter Care: How to Prepare for the Cold
  • How to Protect Rosemary Plants in the Winter

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© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on December 29, 2019. Last updated: January 7, 2020 at 19:50 pm. Uncredited photos: .

About Gretchen Heber

A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

How to Trim a Non-Blooming Banana Tree

Tips

  • Bananas grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 11 depending on the species. Many bananas are tropicals that cannot survive any cold temperatures. Several species of hardy banana can survive hard frost at the root level, but the foliage will die back with the first killing frost. In spring, new growth will emerge from the roots. The Japanese banana (Musa basjoo), hardy to USDA zones 5, is an option for frost-prone areas. When growing a frost-hardy banana in a cold part of the growing region, cut back the whole plant 24 inches from the base. Use a tree saw to cut through the fleshy stalks. Spread a 4- to 6-inch-deep layer around the base of the stalk. In spring, pull back the mulch to expose the new shoots.
  • Always sanitize your pruning tools after trimming bananas and other garden plants. Fill a bucket with 3 parts water and 1 part bleach, then dip the cutting blades of each tool into the bucket for at least five minutes. Rinse the tools and leave them to dry before putting them away. Keep pruning tools away from young children and pets while they are drying to prevent injury.
  • If you are growing bananas outdoors, pick a spot out of the wind. Strong winds will shred the leaves to ribbons and can cause the whole leaf stalk to break.

Help! I cannot find this question addressed anywhere. I have a growing number of banana plants that I must bring inside during the winter. Somewhere I heard you could cut off the plants and store the roots. That would sure save space. Can I do that and how?

Banana trees are a fun way to add a tropical flare to your garden, even if you don’t live in the tropics!

Your question prompted me to look through my Stokes Tropicals catalogue to refresh my memory about these unique plants. I was impressed at the array of sizes, forms and leaf colors. And several varieties were cold tolerant to zone 7. I even found one called Musa Basjoo that, with a protective layer of mulch, is cold tolerant down to -24 degrees F. Now this is not to say that they will stay evergreen in these cooler climates. After the first hard freeze the plant will die down to the roots and then rebound with new growth next spring.

If you live in a zone 7 (0 to 10 degrees F) to zone 5 (-20 to -10 degrees F) and choose to leave your cold tolerant banana plants in the ground over winter, it is important to cover the rhizome (underground roots) with at least 1 foot of mulch. You may also find it helpful to top the mulch with a layer of plastic for extra insulation. If you add the plastic, be sure to remove it or replace it with a filter fabric in the early spring. You see, spring temperatures combined with the mulch and the plastic can create enough warmth that the tree may put out new growth, which might get zapped by a late frost.

Another alternative is to store your banana trees indoors during the winter. Before the first frost dig up the plant and gently remove any excess soil and then cut the leaves back close to the base of the trunk. You will be left with something that looks like a pole with roots.

Place the plant in a container filled with moist sand and store it in an area that will not drop below 50 degrees F. Stop watering or fertilizing and allow the plant to go dormant.

In the spring, after the last frost date in your area, you can plant your banana tree in the garden again.

If your banana trees are growing in containers and they are a manageable size you can move them indoors and treat them as houseplants. Just place them in a warm, sunny location, stop fertilizing and only water the plants as needed.

By Dan Gill, LSU AgCenter horticulturist and Times-Picayune gardening columnist

The hard freezes of this past week have damaged our tropical plants. Gardeners trying to minimize maintenance — and those who consider covering and uncovering plants a major hassle — should consider reducing or even eliminating tropicals in their landscapes.

But for the rest of us, tropical plants are worth the extra effort. Their ability to thrive during the intense heat and humidity of summer and the beauty of their foliage and flowers ensure that many gardeners will put up with the effort needed to protect them in winter and the sad, brown foliage that results from freezes.

Despite its effect on tender tropicals, this week’s almost record cold has not been enough to damage hardier plants, such as azaleas and gardenias. This sometimes happens when temperatures plunge to the low teens. But on the north shore, temperatures in the 20s and upper teens this week have not damaged hardy trees, shrubs, ground covers and lawns.

Also, many damaged tropicals will recover, especially if given protection. In New Orleans, temperatures stayed in the 20s. While the damage is extensive, if we don’t get anything worse, our landscapes should recover.

Despite how terrible this damage looks, it may be a benefit in disguise. With their exuberant growth, some tropicals seem determined to take over our yards. Few gardeners have the heart to prune back the plants to keep them under control because they bloom so frequently, and no one generally wants to cut back a plant in bloom. Now, nature has dealt with the situation for us by freezing back overgrown tropicals, and in many instances, we and our landscapes will be better off for it.

Another group of plants that has been severely damaged or killed are tender perennial summer bedding plants, such as impatiens, wax begonias, pentas, blue daze, scaevola, periwinkle and coleus. Although it’s nice when they make it through the winter and provide another year of flowers, we must remember these plants are not intended to be permanent. Check for signs of life at the base of these plants. If you still see some green, cut the plants back to the living parts and don’t forget to mulch over or cover them should we have additional freezes.

If yours have been killed by sub-freezing temperatures (more likely on the north shore), remove the dead plants from the bed and mulch over the area to keep it looking neat. You also could prepare the bed and plant cool-season bedding plants, such as pansies, dianthus, alyssum, snapdragons, petunias or many others, anytime now through February for an outstanding display this spring.

The worst of the recent freezes will be over by this weekend, and you can begin to assess the damage.

Here are some general tips on what to do after the freeze:

Move container plants back to their location outside unless you intend to keep them inside for the rest of the winter. If you will keep them inside, make sure they are close to windows and receive plenty of light.

For plants that you covered, remove or vent clear plastic covers to prevent excessive heat buildup if the next day is sunny and mild. You do not need to completely remove the cover if it will freeze again the next night. We have left our plants covered all week as freezes occurred night after night, but this weekend it is time to uncover them so they can get light.

Do not prune anything for several days after a freeze. It often takes several days for all of the damage to be evident. You may even find that some plants that look damaged immediately after a freeze actually aren’t. I left a pot of Easter lilies in active growth out to see if the cold would hurt them. (It got down to 19 degrees in my area.) After the freeze, the foliage looked dark and water soaked, and I was afraid they had frozen back. By the next day, though, the foliage was bright green and healthy.

Damaged growth on herbaceous or non-woody plants, such as cannas, elephant ears, birds-of-paradise, begonias, impatiens, philodendrons and gingers, may be pruned back to living tissue. This pruning is optional, and is done more to neaten things up than to benefit the plants. However, if the damaged tissue is oozy, mushy, slimy and foul smelling, it should be removed.

Remove the damaged foliage from banana trees but do not cut back the trunk unless you can tell for sure that it has been killed. It will look brown, feel mushy, feel loose in the soil and will bleed a lot if punctured. The exception would be any banana trees that produced a bunch of fruit last year. They will not send up any more new growth, and should be cut to the ground to make room for new shoots that will come up this summer.

Dead leaves on woody tropical plants, such as hibiscus, tibouchina, angel trumpet, croton, ixora, schefflera, copper plant and rubber tree, can be picked off to make things look neater. If you can clearly determine what branches are dead on a woody plant, you can prune them back.

Try scratching the bark with your thumbnail. If the tissue underneath is green, it’s still alive. If the tissue is tan or brown, the branch is dead. Start at the top and work your way down to see how far back the plant was killed. Generally, it’s a good idea to delay hard pruning of woody plants until new growth begins in the spring and you can more accurately determine which parts are alive and what is dead.

Remember, we may see additional freezes before it’s all over. Continue to protect what you can when needed. And, don’t be too quick to dig up tropical plants that have been severely damaged. They may eventually resprout from the base of the plant or the roots in April or May.

Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. Email questions to [email protected] or add them to the comment section below. Follow his stories at www.nola.com/homegarden, on Facebook and @nolahomegardenon Instagram.

If you are growing banana trees that aren’t winter hardy in your climate, you have three good options for overwintering them. The first is to pot your banana plant and keep it indoors where the temperature remains between 40 and 70 degrees F. If your banana plant is too tall, it can be cut back to the ground without any adverse effects. If you store your banana plant where the temperatures remain steady between 40-50F, it can be kept in reduced light levels since growth will be minimal. If the storage temperatures are above 50F, the banana tree will be actively growing and will need brighter light to keep the plant healthy.

Musa basjoo

Banana trees that have a trunk diameter of 6” or greater can be dug just prior to frost and layed sideways without any soil on the roots. This is best done in a cellar, crawlspace, under a greenhouse bench or similar area. The best storage temperature for this to work is around 40-50 degrees F.

The third option is to leave the banana in the ground and build a wire cage around it. Concrete reinforcing wire is best, due to its sturdiness. The wire cage should be 4’ tall, and there needs to be 2’ distance from the wire to the outside trunk of the banana. We find it best to install the cage just after the first light frost. The cage should then be filled with shredded leaves. The shredding allows the leaves to pack properly, releasing some heat, and not holding too much moisture. We have not found any other organic materials that have been successful in overwintering bananas in cages. The cages are subsequently removed after last frost in spring. (Check out our detailed banana article)

Colocasia esculenta ‘Mojito’ PP 21,995

The process for overwintering elephant ears is similar to that for banana trees. The best option is to pot elephant ears and bring them indoors for overwintering. While the old style elephant ears (like Colocasia esculenta ‘Jack’s Giant’) will form large tubers and can be stored dry in peat moss at temperatures around 45-50 degrees F, the new, fancier colored-leaf forms never form a large enough tuber to be stored dry. When potted and kept at temperatures around 45-50F, they can be stored in low light since growth will be minimal. When temperatures are kept above 50F, potted elephant ears will need more light, since the plants will be actively growing. Watch for spider mites when growing potted elephant ears indoors. Spider mites will appear as tiny spider webs on the back of the leaves accompanying a white flecking pattern on the leaf backs. There are a number of treatments for these, but we recommend starting with an insecticidal soap, then if needed, move to an insecticidal oil spray…both applied to the leaf back.

Canna ‘Blueberry Sparkler’

If you live in an area where elephant ears are marginally hardy, you can pile shredded leaves overtop of your clump to give a slight boost to winter hardiness. Leaf piles should be at least 12-18” deep. Small cages similar to those we recommended for bananas will also work. (Check out our detailed elephant ear article)

Other plants such as canna lilies and calla lilies, if grown outside of their hardiness zones, are best dug and stored dry. Dig canna and calla lilies after a light frost and allow the tubers to dry for a few days. At this time, shake off the loose soil and store them in a breathable bag in dry peat moss. The best temperature for storing cannas and callas dormant is 40-50 degrees F. Cannas can also be potted as we recommended for elephant ears. (Check out our detailed canna lily article)

Overwintering

Most tropicals are perennials in their native habitat. When used in midwestern landscapes, they are basically “one timers.” They die quickly if exposed to freezing temperatures. Overwintering allows you to start out with fairly large specimens for immediate impact. Having these plants on hand can be a time and cost saver. Instead of buying new each year, consider overwintering valuable specimens. The measures you take depend on the particular plant and its value as well as the facilities you have to successfully overwinter them.

There are five basic choices when it comes to overwintering tropicals: overwinter the plant as a growing houseplant if you have proper conditions indoors; store it as a dormant plant, tuber or root; collect seed; take cuttings or leave it outside in a protected location providing it with suitable mulch or covering. When it comes time to reintroduce tropicals to the garden, wait until night temperatures remain in the 50-degree range and the soil has warmed. Cold air and cold soil keep tropicals from growing, but warm soil and air will result in plants that take off and grow unbelievably fast.

As a Growing Houseplant

Many tropicals can be overwintered as houseplants. Large specimen palms, bananas and ficus can be brought indoors and enjoyed so long as two requirements are met – high amounts of light and added humidity. Provide plants with the brightest location possible. Locate plants in high humidity areas if good light is available or group plants together. Grouping naturally raises the humidity in the vicinity. Expect some leaf loss when they are brought indoors from their outdoor location.

Bulbs, Tubers and Corm

Many tropicals such as elephant ear, canna and caladium form bulbs, tubers or corms. When these plants die back, these underground structures can be dug and stored in a cool, dark place through the winter. The best time to dig the bulbs and tubers is after a light frost has killed the tops back. Trim the stems down to 4-6 inches and dig the plant up. Allow the tubers to dry slightly for a day or so before storing. Place the tubers in a crate or box with ventilation holes and bury the tubers in peat moss or wood shavings. Place the box in a cool (45-50 degree), dark area. Inspect the tubers regularly through the winter checking for rotting or excessive shrinkage. If tubers are drying out, add just a small amount of moisture to the peat. About 4-6 weeks before the last frost in the spring, pot the dormant tubers and place them in a warm, sunny area. This will give you a head start on having some tropical transplants for your garden.

Bananas

These are some of the easiest tropicals to overwinter. Overwintered bananas can become extremely large and even more exotic the following season. If the banana is container grown, cut the plant down to about 4-6 inches just before you bring it indoors. Store the container in a cool (45-50 degree), dark area. Keep the soil dry. In the spring, increase watering and a new shoot will push up from the center of the stem. Place outdoors after frost when temperatures start to warm.

If the banana was grown in the ground, dig it up before frost. Leave the soil around the roots and wrap the root ball in a plastic bag. Do not cut the plant back. Store the plant in a cool, dark location. The stem will dry down naturally. In the spring, cut the old stem off and replant after danger of frost is past.

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