The banana plant is a tropical herb. That doesn’t stop people from all over the world enjoying the huge leaves and the delicious fruit. During the summer, whether planted in a container or ground, bananas look fantastic in a landscape.
I am enjoying my very first banana flower and fruit. Alas, a freeze warning was called so I ran outside with my “winter box,” a collection of old blankets, sheets and towels. Everything that needed protection was covered.
Well, almost everything. I know what will and won’t take cold- and my bananas don’t like it. Here in Bexar County, Texas, we do get below freezing, but that’s generally in January and February, sometimes in December. Although the weather folks aren’t perfect in their rain predictions, their freeze warnings are on the mark.
How does one go about protecting the largest herb from cold?
It depends on where you live. I belong to Bananas.org, a free organization dedicated to helping people grow all species of this plant all over the world. Every conceivable variety of banana is grown, and tips, hints, and help is available free.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
1. In the U.S. East Coast, bananas are dug up and stored in rented greenhouse space, much as a storage shed would charge. That’s one solution.
2. Members in Canada and Northern U.S. States cut the leaves off, and cut the plant to about 18-24 inches above the ground. The stalk is wrapped in blankets, burlap or other cloth and buried under mulch, straw or other protective covering.
3. Plants are dug up, placed in containers and kept in a garage or enclosed porch with heaters to keep temperatures above 50 degrees. At this temperature, the plant shuts down.
4. In Texas, members again take the leaves off, cut the stem, and wrap the stalk with several blankets. The corm, or root ball is the main target of protection. If it dies, the plant is gone.
5. Build a greenhouse around the plant. Using aluminum conduit or PVC, construct a frame around the plant(s). Provide extra heat as needed through a greenhouse heater attached to an outdoor extension cord. A heater attached to a Solar Power Pack will also provide heat for the plants.
6. In areas where the ground freezes solid, it is best to dig up the corm and move the plant to a heated area. A hand truck is especially useful if no help is available. Some of the plants and corms can weigh a couple of hundred pounds. If storing bare-root, cover the corm with moist burlap and wrap in blankets. Keep the burlap moist throughout the winter and do not allow the plant to experience temperatures below 30 degrees F. without protection. If the corm has pups (offshoots) on it, cut them off and pot them for separate plants in the spring.
7. Water your bananas during the winter, but sparingly. Use your finger or a water meter to determine how much to give. Don’t let them dry out, but don’t water log them either. If they have been cut to a stem, dig the mulch away from the stalk and test. Replace the mulch after testing and watering. Remember not to splash water on the fabric covers or on the mulch.
Keeping bananas alive in the winter takes some planning and work, but in the spring when the leaves come back, and the much anticipated flower (bringing bananas) shows up, you know your efforts are worth it.Source: Sylvia Cochran, “Winter Care of Banana Trees,” Garden Guides Website, no date given