How cold can a banana tree tolerate


How to Overwinter Banana Plants

Before we talk about how to overwinter banana plants, the first thing we need to get straight is that the banana tree (Musa spp.) is not actually a tree. It’s an herb! A rather sizeable herb.

Its “trunk” is actually a cylinder of tightly layered leaves called a pseudostem.

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The banana is an attractive herbaceous flowering plant that grows to a mature height of 12 to 18 feet tall. Its large leaves, purple flowers, and brightly colored fruit make a dramatic statement in the garden.

How to Overwinter Your Banana Tree

  • It’s a Tropical Plant
  • Keeping Your Banana Plant Alive
    • Container Growing
    • Cover It
    • Dig It Up

It’s a Tropical Plant

There are about 70 species of the genus Musa, and they are indigenous to tropical areas of India, Southeast Asia, and northern Australia.

They are now grown in more than 135 countries, mostly for their fruit, which is enjoyed around the world.

Given their native climate, it is unsurprising that banana plants are cold intolerant. They need mild temperatures in order to grow; their leaves will stop growing at around 55°F.

They will suffer leaf damage at 32°F, and their underground rhizomes will die at sustained temperatures of 22°F or lower.

Having said that, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that there are indeed a few cold-tolerant varieties available.

For example, the ‘Japanese Fiber’ variety (M. basjoo) can withstand sub-zero temperatures. It’s hardy to Zone 5 or 6, and can be overwintered in colder areas by cutting it back and providing a protective mulch around the stem.

Nevertheless, most banana plants like it hot, and if you don’t live in USDA Hardiness Zone 9 or higher, you may wonder how you can add one of these tropical beauties to your landscape and keep it alive over winter.

Let’s learn more!

Keeping Your Banana Plant Alive

Here, we’ll offer three ways you can protect and preserve your banana plant over the winter months:

Container Growing

Perhaps the most obvious way to successfully overwinter a banana tree is to grow it in a container and bring it indoors when temperatures drop.

It is best to select a dwarf variety for container growing. A 15-foot “tree” in a pot would be a bit unwieldy!

Simply enjoy your potted plant on the patio or deck all summer, and then bring it indoors when outdoor temperatures begin to drop.

You have a couple options in terms of where you place it indoors.

If you’d like to adorn an empty corner of your living room, make sure it’s a sunny spot and be sure to keep the soil moist, but not soggy.

Provide humidity by misting the leaves via a squirt bottle filled with water.

Expect to see slow growth during this period.

If an attached garage or crawl space makes more sense for overwintering your container grown banana, begin preparing the plant by gradually reducing irrigation as the weather cools.

Before the first frost, cut the stem back to about six inches tall, and place it in a cool, dark place – approximately 40-50°F.

Water just enough so that the soil doesn’t separate from the sides of the container.

It will go dormant through the cold months, and you can take it outdoors again and start watering it properly once temperatures start to climb and all risk of frost has passed.

Cover It

If your plant is growing in the ground, one option for safely overwintering it is to protect it with thick layers of mulch.

The goal here is to protect the large rhizome at the base of the pseudostem, which is known as the “corm.” The corm has several growing points that will sprout new rhizomes – or “pups” – which can be transplanted.

Cut the plant back to about 4-6 inches above the ground, and then pile on at least a foot of leaves, straw, or other mulching material.

You might also cover the pile with plastic sheeting, row cover material, or a cloche for more protection, and to keep the mulch in place.

If you can’t bear to cut your plant down, you can leave it intact and fashion a wire cage around the pseudostem, leaving one to two feet of horizontal clearance from the stem to the cage.

Make the cage as high as the amount of pseudostem you want to protect.

After the first light frost, fill the cage with shredded leaves or straw. Make sure you pack it in well, so it completely surrounds the stem.

You may lose any portion of the plant that sticks out above the cage, but the covered portions and the rhizome underground should be protected.

You can also wrap hessian or row cover material around the outside of the wire cage to add insulation and keep the material in place.

Remove the cage and mulching material when warm weather returns and the plant shows signs of regrowth.

Trim off any dead material and start watering.

You can spread the shredded leaves or straw around the base of the plant to provide some extra organic material to the soil.

Dig It Up

Another way to protect your banana plant during wintertime is to dig it up and move it to a cellar, crawlspace, or similar area where the temperature is consistently 45-50°F. Ideally, this should be done before the first frost.

Before you start moving earth, though, you’ll want to cut the plant back to about six inches tall. When that’s done, carefully dig out the rhizomes and roots. Make sure you dig out at least 6-8 inches on either side of the base of the stem.

Place the root ball in a container of slightly moist sand. The tree will go dormant so it won’t need light, and you shouldn’t water it at all during this time.

Banana trees with pseudostems that are larger than five inches in diameter can be dug up and stored without lopping off the top first. Shake the soil from the roots and lay the plant on its side on top of a tarp or newspaper in your chosen location.

Replant when all danger of frost has passed. You’ll want to give your tree plenty of water to revive it.

A Statement Plant that Deserves a Second Life

With their large leaves and impressive height, banana plants can make a spectacular statement in the landscape. But for most of us in the United States, the beauty fades when the winter’s chill approaches.

Rather than simply abandoning your bananas to the whims of weather, you have several choices for protecting them for a return engagement come springtime.

Have you successfully overwintered one of these tropical beauties? How do you revive them after winter? Share your tips in the comments section below.

Do you have other plants you need to protect from the cold? Check out these guides:

  • Guide to Clematis Winter Care: Protect Your Vines From Freezing and Frost
  • Lemongrass Winter Care: How to Prepare for the Cold
  • How to Protect Rosemary Plants in the Winter
  • How to Prepare Fruit Trees for Winter

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on December 29, 2019. [lastupdated]. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

A Guide to Cold Hardy Banana Trees

A cold hardy banana tree, also known as a Musa Basjoo banana tree, can grow in freezing temperatures all across the United States and gives off a tropical vibe, despite not producing any fruit. Keep reading to learn how to grow a cold hardy banana tree and where to buy one.

What Does a Cold Hardy Banana Tree Look Like?

The cold hardy banana tree produces green leaves and small, light yellow flowers. Inedible bananas grow out of these flowers, starting off bright green and turning yellow when the banana ripens. Unfortunately, the bananas aren’t edible, as the inside is bitter and dry.

Growing Conditions for a Cold Hardy Banana Tree

Here are a few factors to keep in mind when caring for your tropical plant.

Sun and Shade

Cold hardy banana plants grow best in direct sunlight, so consider planting your tree in the center of your yard away from other plants with foliage that creates shade, in a pot on an uncovered patio, or inside next to a large window.

Soil

These trees like highly fertile and well-drained soil and prefer a moderately acidic soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5.

Fertilizer

Cold hardy banana trees should be fertilized once every two to four weeks in the summer. You can use an organic fertilizer or a water soluble fertilizer with an 8-10-10 ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Watering

Banana trees require a deep watering that reaches the root system three to four times a week, especially during the summer months when it’s actively growing. If you don’t water regularly, the plant will dry out, stunting its growth.

Ideal Hardiness Zones

The cold hardy banana tree can be grown in hardiness zones 4–11 all across the US. However, if you live in colder parts of Alaska, the North, or the Midwest, you may have less success with keeping your tree alive for more than a few years.

How to Plant a Cold Hardy Banana Tree

When you purchase a cold hardy banana tree, you will be given a rhizome—a mass of roots with a starter plant, also known as a sucker, growing out of it. Cold hardy banana trees can be planted in your yard, in a pot on your patio, or in a large pot inside your home next to a window.

  1. Plant the sucker in a hole that’s three feet wide and two feet deep.
  2. Fill the hole with soil that’s half original dirt and half amended soil from well-rotted compost or aged manure.
  3. Deeply water the sucker and place a layer of mulch around the rhizome in a two- to three-inch layer.

Read more: How to Properly Mulch Around a Tree

As the tree grows, a pseudostem will grow out of the rhizome. The true stem will grow out of the center of the pseudostem and bloom yellow flowers that turn into bananas when fertilized. This entire process should take about nine months. Like other banana trees, a cold hardy banana tree will last about six years.

Tolerance and Susceptibility

Because bananas aren’t native to the United States, some diseases that afflict tropical bananas in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central and South America won’t cause damage to the ones here. The one major disease American bananas are susceptible to is root rot, which is when cold, wet soil causes the rhizome to rot away.

On top of disease susceptibility, the cold hardy banana tree is also susceptible to damage from strong winds. However, the plant does have a tolerance to cold temperatures, which allows them to grow in colder states.

Wildlife Threats

Since cold hardy bananas aren’t edible, you don’t have to worry about animals or insects attacking the fruit. However, common insects like aphids and moths may attack the leaves. You can prevent aphids and moths by spraying a regular or non-toxic insecticide.

Final Thoughts

Because the bananas from the cold hardy banana tree aren’t edible, this tree may be best for gardeners in colder states who want to create a tropical aesthetic without having to worry about insects or pests attacking the tree’s fruits. If you live in a warm to moderate climate and want a tropical feel and edible fruit, we recommend purchasing the ice cream banana tree instead.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cold Hardy Banana Trees

How much cold can a banana tree tolerate?

There are several species of bananas beside the cold hardy banana that can tolerate cold weather, like the Chinese yellow banana and Sikkim banana. However, the cold hardy banana is the hardiest banana and can withstand temperatures as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Should you cut dead leaves off banana trees?

Yes. Cutting off dead leaves can help stimulate growth. You can clear your tree of dead leaves by finding ones that are brown in color and cutting them off where the stem means the stalk.

What happens to the cold hardy banana tree during the winter?

A cold hardy banana tree that is planted outside will go dormant during the winter when temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. When that happens, cut the stem to 24 inches tall and loosely cover it with thick plastic or burlap. Mulch the root area to help regulate the temperature and provide a steady stream of nutrients. Unwrap the tree once temperatures are above 40 degrees.

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