Banana Plants In Winter: Tips For Successfully Overwintering A Banana Tree
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By: Liz Baessler
Banana trees are stunning additions to the garden. They can grow as much as ten feet (3 m.) in a single season, and their imposing size and large leaves give a tropical, exotic look to your home. But if you don’t actually live in the tropics, you’re going to have to find something to do with your tree once winter comes. Keep reading to learn more about how to keep a banana tree over winter.
Banana Plants in Winter
Temperatures below freezing will kill a banana’s leaves, and just a few degrees lower will kill the plant down to the ground. If your winters never get below the high 20s Fahrenheit (-6 to -1 C.), your tree’s roots may be able to survive outside to grow a new trunk in the spring. Any colder, though, and you’ll need to move it inside.
The absolute easiest way to deal with banana plants in winter is simply to treat them as annuals. Since they grow so fast in a single season, you can plant a new tree in the spring and have a striking presence in your garden all summer. When fall comes, simply let it die and start the process over again next year.
If you’re serious about keeping banana trees in winter, you’ll need to bring them indoors. Red banana plants are a popular choice for containers because they tend to be smaller. If you have a red banana that’s a manageable size, bring it inside before autumn temperatures start to drop and place it in as bright a window as you can find and water it regularly. Even with good treatment, the plant will probably decline. It should survive until spring, though.
Overwintering a Banana Tree Outside
Overwintering banana plants is a different story if they’re too big to fit inside. If this is the case, cut the plant down to 6 inches (15 cm.) above the ground and either apply a thick layer of mulch or store those in containers in a cool, dark place for the winter, watering it very minimally. You can also choose to leave foliage on hardier types over winter.
Give it a good watering in the spring to encourage new growth. It may not get as big as a plant that overwinters with its stem, but at least it will be alive for a new season. Hardy banana tree types will normally come back fine but may need pruning of any dead growth if it was left on.
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How to Winterize Potted Plants
The Spruce / Almar Creative
Outdoor container gardens typically involve annual plant species that are discarded come late fall and replaced with new plants each spring. However, many perennial plants such as roses, peonies, and hibiscus can also be grown outdoors in containers and kept alive through winter. That being said, protecting your potted plants throughout the cold winter is not always easy—even species that are technically cold-hardy in your area may experience harsh conditions they can't tolerate and many species that survive the winter just fine when planted in the ground can die in containers without the proper care.
As a general rule of thumb, a perennial plant should be rated for two hardiness zones colder than your climate to be dependably hardy in a container for winter. For example, a gardener in zone 5 can expect perennials rated for zone 3 or colder to survive the winter in containers. While some plants can survive light frosts, others will die for good as soon as their cells freeze. Depending on their hardiness, some potted plants will respond to the first frost by going dormant just like garden plants do. However, as the temperature continues to drop, their roots might die unless they are protected.
Whatever measures you take to protect your potted perennials for winter should be put into action a week or so before the first frost is expected. Follow these easy steps to learn to safeguard your container plants and ensure they make it through winter healthy and unscathed.
How to Winterize a Banana Tree Plant
Winterizing your banana tree plant ensures it will keep your property looking lush and verdant when spring rolls around. Plan to start the process when the temperature goes lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which causes the banana tree plant to stop growing. The many types of banana plants include the popular Dwarf Cavendish (Musa accuminata), which grows quickly and produces small bananas, and the Hardy Banana tree (Musa basjoo). The Dwarf Cavendish grows in Sunset's Garden Zones H1, H2, 8, 9 and 14 through 24. The Hardy Banana tree grows in Sunset's Garden Zones H1, H2, 2 through 9 and 14 through 24. Most banana tree plants prefer acidic soil, grow well in containers and don't need excessive watering.
Wait for the first frost to hit and then remove any curled or rotted leaves from the plant. If you don't, rot spreads through the plant, eventually killing it. The frost alerts the plant that winter has arrived and that it is time to stop blooming.
Spread mulch at the base of the tree. Use at least 8 inches -- 12 inches in areas with cold winters. Use peat moss, which won't soak through if a chill is interrupted by a warm snap.
Transfer the plant to a pot if it is small enough. Till the soil with a spade and gently transfer the plant by the roots into a waiting pot.
Place the banana tree plant in a cool room to ensure it doesn't blossom. If the winter is gentle and temperatures stay between 40 and 50 F, you can keep it outside. A higher temperature may cause the banana tree to bloom prematurely.
Remove the mulch or replant the plant in the spring when temperatures are consistently in the '60s. Give it water and fertilizer to optimize growth.
Storing banana plants in winter: Garden Detective
The Japanese hardy banana (Musa basjoo) -- also called fiber banana -- is the hardiest of all bananas. Credit: BriansBotanicals.net
DEAR JESSICA: I have a Japanese hardy banana plant. I got it in spring 2012 as a single- stalk plant that was 3 feet tall. I planted it in a large pot, and it took off, along with numerous babies. It now has five large stalks. Last winter, I brought it indoors, and because I don't have room by a sunny window, I put it in a room with a grow light, and it grew well all winter. This year, it's gotten way too big to bring indoors. I'm wondering if I can cut it back and store it, dry, in a cool dark place (basement) like my canna. Or can I cut it back, water it and put it in the room with the grow light again? How far can I cut the stalks? -- Bill Nass, Rocky Point
DEAR BILL: The Japanese hardy banana (Musa basjoo) -- also called fiber banana -- is the hardiest of all bananas. Fiber from the plant, which hails from the Ryukyu Islands of Japan, has been used for centuries to make fabric. And it's indeed hardy -- all the way up to Zone 4 (the top of New England) -- so if planted in the ground, there's little to worry about leaving it outdoors over the winter in Long Island's Zone 7 climate. Foliage will die back when temperatures dip below freezing, at which point the stalk should be cut back to nearly ground level, and the roots covered with mulch at least 12 inches deep. During the growing season, the plant can grow as much as 2 feet in a week, so mature height is regained quickly.
Hardy banana plants reach 12-18 feet tall with ample water and fertilizer, but its fruit, if produced at all, isn't edible. Still, the plant has considerable value in the landscape as an attention-grabbing specimen.
Because your plant is growing in a pot, you should bring it indoors over the winter, because the limited amount of soil in the container won't provide adequate insulation to protect its rhizomes from freezing. It can be kept as a houseplant in a sunny location or under grow lights, as you've done in the past, with reduced water and fertilizer. Or you can opt to store the potted plant in a cool but frost-free basement, occasionally watering only slightly to prevent the soil from completely drying out. If you lack sufficient space to do that, you can cut the foliage off after the first frost, remove roots from the pot and replant them in a container with moist sand. Don't add additional water, and allow the plant to go dormant at about 50 degrees. Good luck!
DEAR JESSICA: I have a fig tree that is at least 30 years old. It produces a lot of figs, but in the past few years I have found that much of the fruit is being eaten by bees overnight. Generally they attack the riper figs, so I have taken to picking morning and evening (even ones that are not fully ripe), but I am still losing a lot of figs. We don't use pesticides and don't want to. Any suggestions for how to deal with this problem? -- Elizabeth Parrella, Manhasset
DEAR ELIZABETH: I believe your problem is caused by yellow jackets, not bees, as bees don't typically destroy figs. There are three approaches you can take, and you've already taken the first, harvesting in early morning and at night.
My second suggestion is to find the nest and spray it with a pesticide, after dark, when all the yellow jackets have gone home for the night.
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Finally, depending on the size of your tree, you might be able to wrap it in shade cloth material, which will allow water and sunlight to reach the plant but will keep birds and larger insects, like yellow jackets, out. Look for a product with no more than 30 percent protection to avoid blocking out too much sunlight.
DEAR JESSICA: I would appreciate any information you can give me on how to turn my hydrangea pink. I know I have to add lime to the soil, but I do not know the best time to do this, how much to apply and how often. -- Cel Sal, Hicksville
DEAR CEL: Some hydrangeas have been bred to remain whatever color they happen to be, regardless of soil conditions. But many hydrangeas change color depending on the soil's pH, much to the dismay of some gardeners who buy pink-blossomed plants at the nursery only to have them turn blue after they've planted them at home, or vice versa.
Acidic soil, indicated by a pH reading lower than 7, will turn hydrangeas blue. Alkaline soil, with a pH above 7, will turn them pink.
It's a lot harder to turn alkaline soil acidic than the other way around, so you're in luck: To make acidic soil more alkaline -- to make blue blooms turn pink -- all you have to do is raise the pH level of the soil by adding lime. It works pretty quickly and may not have to be repeated for a few years.
To make soil more acidic and encourage blue blooms, however, sulfur must be added. The problem is that applications must be repeated regularly to maintain the lower pH level. Those wishing to attempt this should follow package instructions very closely and carefully.