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A humane way to overwinter bananas (please don’t cut them down, that makes me sad!)

Sunday 9 November 2008 - Filed under Gardens + Plants

Banana insulated and wrapped in burlap for aesthetic reasons

I’ve been kicking myself for the entire last year after I missed the Chinese Garden’s demonstration of wrapping bananas and winterizing the garden. Hardy bananas (musa basjoo) are root hardy to 0, but you can lose the “trunk” in much warmer temperatures than that (and I have), and then you’re starting over the next year. The Chinese garden boasts huge tall bananas all around the garden, and when they wrap them up for the winter, not only does the pseudotrunk survive, but they’re not an eyesore while they’re wrapped.

I didn’t panic at first when I realized I’d missed the lesson last year, since I thought I’d be able to find some sort of reasonable directions online to do much the same thing. False. Everything I found said step one: cut the stem down… and from there I think I blacked out. CUT IT DOWN? That’s… wow… um… I could never… I muddled through last year’s brief cold snap by clumsily tying a layer of bubble wrap to the stalk, and didn’t lose any height, but I’m not sure it had anything to do with my technique, and I’m not sure I didn’t stunt it and cook it, since I only added a couple feet of new height this year, when I had been hoping for more like 5 or 10 feet of growth. At best, my tallest leaf currently reaches about 8 feet.

Banana

This year, though, I went to the free hour-long demo and am now feeling 3.5 times smarter than when I started. I learned how to get the bananas through the winter and what tools (YES! I LOVE NEW TOOLS!!!) and supplies to buy.

I’d like to share what I learned, because good lord, I don’t ever want to see someone spending this:

Banana price tag

on this:

Banana at portland nursery

I’ve spent about $70 on larger specimen bananas before, but $400 on a skinny 5 footer with three leaves is ridiculous, considering how fast they grow if you give them lots of water, compost, and fertilizer. And the whole point, to me anyway, is to have one that is statement-making, a little bit shocking, impress-your-friends big. The only way that’s going to happen is to get more than one year out of the stem.

The clever presenters gave us two options for wrapping bananas. The first one involved a two person process of donning safety gear, cutting several strips of insulation twice as wide as the stem circumference, rolling it around the stem, duct taping it in pace, covering in plastic, and tucking and tying it off. That was the hard way: the time-consuming, labor intensive, needs to be repeated every year, requires working for a while in miserable weather as soon as the forecast looks threatening, non-earth-friendly-reusable way. And good luck getting your spider and dirt fearing fiance to do all that if you have a business trip to Texas scheduled in December, hypothetically speaking. Please forgive the poor picture quality, I am embarrassed to take pictures in front of people, and try to do it on the sly.

Rolling strips on the ground

Rolling up the insulation strip

Winding rolls around stem

Winterizing presentation

Taping

Duct taping the insulation

Plastic, tucked in snugly and tied

Tying the tucked in plastic sheeting over the insulation

Decorative burlap stapled to the outside

Stapling the burlap around the insulation with plier grip staple gun

The base will be covered in a foot of dark hemlock mulch (don’t mulch with compost)

Base of winterized banana will be covered in a foot of mulch

The punch line, after all that, was where they debuted the re-usable banana wrap, which you can store and reuse every year, that you can run out and throw on for the winter as soon as your weather forecast starts showing lows in the 30s (F). You still have the inconvenience of assembling it the first time, but you can do so in the comfort of your workshop, or outside in better weather or whatever, and just run out there and slap it on when it’s time. The decorative cover and mulch still need to happen, same as the first method.

Winterizing presentation

Step-by-step instructions from the class handout, all credit goes to the Chinese Garden

Supplies for one reusable banana wrap

R-13 insulation, 30-50 lb test fishing oine, 6-8 mill plastic sheeting (12 ft x 5 ft), 5 ft x 4 ft section of 2 x 4 fencing, plier type stapler (upholsterer stapler), scissors, dust mask, gloves.
I would add safety goggles to the list, and research any handling instructions for insulation.
With your reusable wrap, you will also need a decorative cover if you want one, either burlap, or something like reed fencing.
Dark Hemlock mulch for a 1′ cover around the base of the plant.

Instructions

  • Safety gear!
  • Cut 4 pieces of insulation 4 ft long.
  • Place fencing wire flat on a hard surface. Weigh down both ends so that the fencing remains flat.
  • Place a piece of insulation on the wire.
  • Tie the fishing line to the fence section at one end, then proceed to weave down the length of the piece of insulation, alternating from the top to the bottom of the piece in a manner that will hold the insulation in place.
  • Repeat until all pieces of insulation are attached. Take care that there are minimal gaps between layers.
  • Cover the completed assembly with plastic. The unopened end of plastic should be placed at the bottom (where you began with the first piece of insulation). 1 foot of overhanging plastic should be left at the top. (I am guessing this is where you will tie the thing on to the top of the banana below the leaves to create a good snug fit)
  • Staple all three open ends to the fencing wire.
  • Some things to note: you don’t HAVE to insulate all the way to the top of the stem, wherever you stop is where you will start the next year if the uninsulated tip dies down. Leave the leaves alone until they eventually die off on their own in the cold weather. Also, some people don’t do anything at all and an established banana makes it through the winter here just fine, no stem melting or anything.

    2008-11-09  »  megan

Talkback x 5

  1. Karen
    9 November 2008 @ 10:34 pm

    Wow, very cool! I have always admired bananas in Northwest gardens, they look so far out. Had heard you need to chop or wrap, both seem maybe too labor intensive for me, but it’s great that you’re going to do it and have provided instructions for others!

  2. easygardener
    10 November 2008 @ 5:42 am

    I’ve just bought a small one (4 feet to base of first leaf)in an end of season sale, £5 UK pounds (about 8 dollars)I think I got a bargain! It will stay in the greenhouse this winter but I hope to plant it outside next year.
    I agree that it’s a shame not to preserve the stem if possible and a removable ready made jacket sounds the best way. I might give it a go.

  3. philip
    10 November 2008 @ 11:35 am

    Great info. Wonderful setting!

  4. Patricia
    10 November 2008 @ 7:04 pm

    It still looks kinda hard, but I’ll be interested in seeing how it all works out. I couldn’t even make myself put out yard recycling today. That would have involved not only gathering it up, but then having to push the bin all the way out to the curb.

  5. Bad at winter - nest maker
    17 January 2009 @ 11:17 pm

    [...] I tried a shortcut of one large insulating cage for a clump of bananas, rather than following instructions, and making individual insulation wrappers for each banana stalk. After a windy night last week, I [...]