Root hardy banana with a covering of straw for winter protection
Hardy banana - Musa basjoo, with winter protection

There are only a couple of banana species that are hardy enough to over-winter in this country, the most reliable being Musa basjoo, but you would be foolish to leave them outside without any protection in all but the mildest parts of the country. Even so, while it is true that the plant may not die, you may well lose the highly ornamental single stems, and instead be left with numerous small stems growing back through in the spring. Although this may still sound like an attractive prospect, in reality your prized banana will end up looking little more than a regular canna lily - minus any ornamental flowers.

Banana stems tightly covered by a layer of straw for cold protection
How to protect and overwinter bananas
While the plants are still reasonable small you will be able to get away with having them planted in the ground while still in their pots. This will make it much easier - come late autumn/early winter - to lift and store in a frost free area. However there will be a time when its size makes this is no longer practical and the plant will need to be protected where it stands.

A tried and tested method of protection is to lag it with straw. Now this next piece is important. Before you start you will need to remove any dying or frost damaged leaves at the base of the stem, as these can be a point of entry for fungal rots once the stem has been wrapped. The next thing to do is to create a large ring of chicken wire or heavy duty mesh around the stem - with the stem acting as the centre. Securely join the ends of the mesh together, then backfill with heaps of dry straw - compacting it well. Make sure that the entire plant is protected and leave no gaps with can allow the cold and wet to get in. Secure the mesh/wire to the ground and to the plant (making sure the plant isn't damaged), to make sure that your good work isn't destroyed by unfavourable weather conditions.

This protection can be removed come April or May, making sure that any threat of late frost has passed.

If you only suffer from mild winters, you may be able to get away with a simple wrapping of large-bubble bubble wrap. You can bubble wrap the trunks in late October, and this can be left on until the end of March. Again, remove the leaves at the base of the stalk to minimise any risk of fungal infection.

Try not overwinter in waterlogged conditions as the root system can be prone to rot, and stop feeding at the same time you stop watering. One more thing, Musa basjoo is considerably hardier than it cousin Ensete ventricosum so protect accordingly.

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