The Most Cold Tolerant Banana Plant - Musa Basjoo
Have you always loved the lush look of the tropics.. but you don't live there? There are many ways to give your garden a more tropical vibe. One of them is to use hardier cousins to those exotic plants that you find further south.
Introducing: Musa Basjoo, The Japanese Fiber Banana. This is the most cold tolerant variety of banana plant. It is hardy to zone 7, and with the right kind of protection is said to be able to survive to -20 degrees farenheit.
Water: requires regular watering. Keep soil moist, but do not allow standing water.
Sun: Full Sun
Soil: Ph range of 5.5-8, use well draining soil to avoid standing water.
Zone 7-10 (without protection)
Other: Protect Musa Basjoo from heavy winds. It's leaves are fragile and tear easily.
If you live any further north than zone 7 you will need to find a way to protect this banana plant from the winter cold. There are several ways to do this and I am going to explain three of them: protect it in the garden, dig up and store it dormant, or dig it up and store it as a houseplant.
Protecting Basjoo in the Garden
Pros: no need to replant in the spring. no need for storage during winter, plant will grow back larger than if it needs to be stored as a root ball.
Cons: more risk involved should weather be unusually cold, unlikely to survive if temperatures fall below -20 degrees.
How to do it: When the first frost arrives, cut it down. That's right, I know it sounds crazy, but cutting it down makes all the energy stay in the root mass. This helps it make it through the winter. Remember that bananas aren't actually trees after all, so it is no different than cutting your other plants back to prepare for winter.
You can leave some of the pseudo-stem. How much stem is up to you, but the more you leave the more risk you take, and the more effort it takes to protect it. The advantages of leaving some of the stem is that it will get a head start in the spring, and grow larger over the summer.
The next step is to cover everything with mulch or leaves. If you have chosen to cut it all the way back to the ground, you should cover spot with at least 6 inches of mulch. If you have left a stem, make sure you have a way to cover the entire thing with a 6 inch radius of leaves. One way to accomplis this is to take a trash bag that is taller than the stem, cut a hole in the bottom to pull the stem through, and fill the bag with leaves. Then just tie up the top of the bag.
Storing Basjoo Dormant
Pros: less risk, if you have any chance of moving during the winter you can take your banana with you.
Cons: has to be replanted in spring, slightly more maintenance than leaving in the ground, requires a space to store the root ball
How to do it: If you have ever dug up gladiolus or elephant ears the method is very similar. When weather gets cooler in the fall start withholding water. Once frost has hit, and the leaves are dying back, cut the foliage back to the ground. You may also allow the foliage to die back naturally, however make sure that you dig up the plant before temperatures reach 0 degrees fahrenheit. Without protection Musa Basjoo will only survive to -3 degrees.
Next, Bananas have corms, this is the part we will be digging up. This is the underground storage for the plant, similar to a bulb or root mass. The corm can be quite large, so make sure you dig a large enough hole, so you don't damage it with your spade or shovel.
Once you've got the corm out of the ground, shake off or brush off the eatra dirt. At this point you have a few options on how you store it. You can find a box that will hold it. Surround the corm with peat moss to keep it dry, or you can put it in a bag made of mesh or netting, like the ones the onions come in at the grocery store.
Now you need to store it over the winter in a cool dry place. Ideally around 40 degrees or so, cold enough to keep it dormant. Basements are a good place, provided there isn't a lot of humidity there. In the spring when the ground is thawed and can be worked, and when there's no chance of the temperature falling below 0 again. plant it back out in the garden.
Storing Basjoo as a Houseplant
Pros: You can enjoy your plant all winter long. You have more control over the elements in your home and can ensure its safety.
Cons: If you have a mature plant, they can be very large. Therefor they take up a lot of space, and can be heavy to bring inside and back out again. They need a sunny window to do their best. Banana plants need regular watering when potted.
How to do it: If your plant is very large, (taller than you) you may need help, since it may be heavy and awkward to work with. Get a large pot that would be suitable for a plant of its size. put a little potting soil or nice compost in the pot. Water the plant well to relieve stress during transplanting. Now dig up the banana plant, leaving plenty of dirt around its roots. Place it in the pot and fill around the edges with soil. Water it again, but not too much so that it has standing water. Remember, bananas don't like that.
Now you have your houseplant. Remember to water it regularly, enough so the soil never dries out, and keep it in a sunny window. In the spring once the last frost is past, start bringing the plant outdoors a few hours at a time each day, gradually increasing the time for about a week. Then you can transplant in the garden, in a sunny spot that is sheltered from wind.
The reason we gradually introduce it to the cold and wait until after frost for this method is because of Banana's delicate leaves. Any leaves that your plant produced while it was indoors will not be accosted to the cold and may become tattered and fall off. This is not the end of the world, because the plant will soon start producing more leaves in no time which are stronger. However it will have more energy if it's leaves are healthy.
One way to reduce this problem altogether is to pre-emptively cut of most of the leaves before you put them outside. I'm not sure this will really make a difference, but it won't kill the banana and it will force it to produce more leaves.