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Protecting Bananas for Winter - Give them a Parka!

by Cliff Sharples (chief cultivator)

A tropical garden is just not complete without banana plants... Especially if you can get them to grow nice and high. Up here in the Northwest, it gets a little too cold in the winter for bananas to retain their stalks, melting with the first freeze in a puddle of dull, wet, pulpy leaves. So, each year around early November, we wrap each banana stalk we care to save in a warm, protective parka of hay and planting fabric.

Until Next Year...

The bananas in our courtyard are definitely the prize plant in the garden. I baby them all season, feeding them rich, organic fertilizer; supplying plenty of water; trimming dead leaves; and sitting in general adoration with either coffee or a glass of wine in hand!

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So, it's always with a hint of sadness, but also the promise of next year's heights, that I prepare to trim back the huge, broad leaves and wrap each trunk.

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I've experimented over the past couple of years with different methods, leading me to my current technique of creating giant tubes made out of garden ground cloth material stuffed with hay. It's kind of like making a scarecrow out of your plants! It's pretty easy, though labor intensive:

Step 1

Unroll the ground cover fabric and cut it to the height of the banana trunk you're trying to wrap.

Step 2

Starting at the base of the tree, make a tube with the fabric so that you have at least 4-6 inches of space to stuff the hay around the entire plant trunk. Join the two edges of the fabric with shoat rings (used to put a nose ring in a pig!) or staples from a staple gun. Go up approximately 2 feet and then on to Step 3...

Step 3

Stuff the tube with hay. Don't pack it too tightly, as this will add weight and also prevent good drainage. As you stuff, keep closing up more fabric creating a growing tube.

Step 4

The final step is to take a sturdy garden twine to make a protective web holding the tube in place, and also tying together multiple trunks. But beware: if you tie too many trunks together, it makes it an even heavier mass to all fall over after lots of rain and some wind!

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This year, we used two new materials which made our job much easier. The first was to use a biodegradeable, all-natural fabric made out of corn starch. The large rolls made it easier to make up to 12 foot high tubes, and the natural material kept our largely organic courtyard aesthetic intact! We also used shoat rings, which are used to put nose rings in pigs (I have no idea WHY!) as the mechanism to sew up the tube. With the aide of shoat ring plyers, this was a much more efficient and effective method than staples.

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The other change this year was the help of a couple of friends! The banana trees are just too tall and there are too many bananas around the garden for me to deal with alone! Ned and Curtis, I am indebted to you as always!

Hay Isn't Just for Horses

The hay serves as the insulating material for the banana tree coat, which has it's pros and cons, but seems relatively effective. On the pro side, it defintiely protects the trunk from freezing, offers good drainage and is an inexpensive, natural solution that can be composted in the spring. On the cons list, whie drainage is good, it gets very heavy with rain. And here in the Seattle area, we get a lot of rain! This year, the banana plants reached 10-12 feet, so the hay-stuffed tubes are very heavy when wet and sure enough, a few of them have fallen over with the weight...

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We've tried to fortify some of the plants with 1/2 inch pipe to serve as a large stake to hold up the heavy tubes, which seems to be working in a couple of cases.

The other con is that hay is messy, so you have some cleaning up to do in the Spring! And, if you're not careful, you'll start to see lots of little seedlings appear around where the hay is left, so clean up well!

Staying the Course

As Spring approaches and life returns to my tropical Seattle garden, I can't wait to unwrap the banana trees and give them a feast of organic fertilizer. The first year I wrapped my bananas, I unwrapped a little too early... I think it was mid-March, which is usually past the last frost date. Unfortunately, none of us can count on history for changes in the climate, and sure enough, we had a week of temperatures below 32 degrees at the beginning of April, with some light snow thrown in! Luckily several of the plants were strong enough to only sustain moderate damage, but after all the work involved with wrapping the trees, I was pretty sick to my stomach as I waited to see if they'd all just collapse in a heap of goo! So, I now wait until the end of March / beginning of April to shed the winter coats.

The Art of Japan

While I am relatively pleased with the results of my wrapping technique, I someday wish to learn the ways of the gardeners in Japan, who use straw to protect banana trees with the art of a basket weaver. I saw this work of art in Tokyo last winter, amazed by how beautiful a winterized, wrapped plant could be!

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I'll follow up this post with a report on how our bananas fared the cold winter this year... In th meantime, if you've used other methods of winterizing plants, I would LOVE to hear about it!

I can't wait for Spring :-).

 

Tags

Bananas, tropical, winterizing, protecting plants

comments

Are those Basjoo ?
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jer-hiki commented on 07/08/11
I&#x27;m awestruck!!! First, your bananas look beautiful! So green, lush and tall! And honestly, I&#x27;ve never witnessed or heard of winterizing bananas, but it&#x27;s obviously an art form! I understand how you would be sad to cut the leaves back, but I&#x27;ve never heard of wrapping the stalks. <br/>As you know, I&#x27;m not even close to an expert on the subject, although I have two groups of banana trees. Mine never grow as tall as yours, though. And once they produce their harvest, the stalk dies. In fact, I&#x27;m currently supporting the stalks with shovels, broom sticks, etc. in order to keep the banana clusters on the tree a little longer. <br/>I really like the Japanese method...tall tiki huts...what fun!! <br/>Bravo!!! I can&#x27;t wait to see the spring update to this post!
Sprite
Lily commented on 12/29/09

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