All the Dirt on Gardening: Cold Hardy Banana Trees

Cold Hardy Japanese Banana, Musa basjoo, gives local gardens a tropical look.

The tropical look that banana trees, Musa Basjoo, give our gardens always gets attention from visitors. Also called Japanese Fiber Bananas, they are cold hardy to 20 degrees below zero, withstanding our winters quite nicely.

In warmer climates Japanese Banana will grow to 18 feet tall. Locally, they seem to mature at 8 to 10 feet with 4- to 6-foot-long leaves. The new leaves in the photo that are still round are called cigar leaves until they unroll.

If your plants flower and make fruit, remember that they are not grocery store bananas, so they are not edible. The flowers are self-fertile; there is no need to plant male and female plants.

Musa Basjoo spreads like a lily, by making offset pups that grow over the summer. To divide, wait until a pup is a foot tall, then remove the soil between the mother plant and the pup so you can dig it out with some root attached. You can plant the pups into containers and protect them over the winter or take your chances and just transplant them into a new garden location.

Give your banana trees full sun and regular water during drought periods and they will reward you will a gorgeous display to enjoy until the first hard freeze.

When the leaves fall to the ground in winter leave them in place to cover the roots to protect them from a hard freeze. If you want to mulch the plants more, apply several inches of bark or pine needles.

Cold hardy banana makes a great patio container plant, though it will have to be protected over the winter as containers have colder soil than the ground. Some gardeners wrap the trunks with burlap or bubble wrap up to 2 feet before high the first killing frost, and prune off any damaged leaves and stem.

The pseudostem trunk is used to make clothing fibers in China. The plant genus, Musa, is named for a first century B.C. physician, Antonia Musa.

Molly Day has been gardening for 40 years and garden writing for 15 years. You can search 2,000 entries in her blog at www.allthedirtongardening.blogspot.com.

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