Digging up Bananas in the winter?

pseudostemJuly 9, 2006

Being in 7b, I can't grow most types of bananas outside without protection, and I don't have much indoor space either. However, I've read about how some people dig up bananas in the fall, insulate them, and store them for the winter in a crawlspace or garage.

Question #1: What materials (insulation, etc.) would I need to do this?

Question #2: How would I go about this? Should I cut off the leaves? Leave dirt on the roots?

Thanks in advance for your time.

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microfarmer(z9 Sac-o-tomato)

I just read anothe thread on split leaves that had this in it...


    Bookmark   July 10, 2006 at 12:28AM
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Thanks for the link!

    Bookmark   July 10, 2006 at 4:49PM
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Hi, this is a link to a great article. It is about a judge who grow's them in Ohio. It talk's about how he digg's them up and everything.


oh, and if anybody would like to give directions on how to cut and paste that would be cool, i had to find this article from memory then copy the link down on a piece of paper and it seems it would be a lot easier.

thanks, goodbye

    Bookmark   July 14, 2006 at 2:29AM
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unautre(8B San Antonio TX)

Bananas move north of the tropics - growing bananas is
northern gardens

Monica Brandies

Whenever I miss the plants I grew in Northern gardens, I console myself: "You can't grow bananas there." And homegrown bananas are the thrill of my gardening life.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was walking around during a visit to my hometown of Xenia, Ohio, and suddenly saw a yard full of banana plants that stopped me in my tracks.

Judge Judson Shattuck has grown bananas for several summers in Ohio and, yes, his bananas are as delicious as Florida's. Homegrown bananas differ as much in taste from their store-bought counterparts as do green beans. Shattuck grows six different varieties but none of the dwarfs because, he says, "I figure, what the heck -- if you're going to have a banana tree, might as well have a big one."

In the best conditions, it takes a banana plant nine to 10 months to put out a bud. In Florida it took mine three years because of freezes my first three winters. Today, however, I grow 12 to 20 bunches every year, and they are well worth the wait. Shattuck's banana plants produce fruit in 18 months (or about three growing seasons), but his fruit bunches are much larger.

In the meantime, bananas make interesting and very attractive plants. They grow mostly straight up, so they don't require too much space or create too much shade, and the leaves make a wonderful rustling noise in the slightest breeze. There is still room in Shattuck's 75- by 150-foot yard -- and time in his schedule -- for 300 roses, cannas, hundreds of tulips and irises, apples, peaches, apricots, pears, chestnuts, walnuts and his wife's tomatoes and other vegetables.


Winter care of bananas is crucial in areas that experience frost. Judge Shattuck brings his plants indoors for the winter. Sometime in October, before frost, he digs up the plants and cuts off the rest of the leaves at the top so each looks like a great, fat pole. He puts them in small garbage buckets with only the soil that clings. Then he moves them into a basement garage where temperatures in winter hover around 50 degrees, waters them once and allows them to go dormant for the rest of the winter.

Shattuck's plants range from small to 15 feet in height. Ropes hanging from the garage ceiling help to hold up the plants but, even so, some must stand at an angle.

In his Complete Book of Bananas, Florida banana expert William O. Lessard has written a chapter on growing bananas in the North. He says the plant will perish if the root is in frozen ground, but cutting the stem to the ground just before a frost and mulching the corm or root area with at least a foot of much may allow it to overwinter more easily and with less shock to the plant. He says to cover the mulch with a sheet of plastic and hold the edges in place with heavy stones.

When I lived in Iowa, I covered carrots with bags of leaves of bales of hay to keep them digable all winter, so this technique may work farther north than one would expect. For growers who are willing to experiment with a surplus plant or two, it would bear trying. Bring indoors any plants you don't want to risk.

If you leave roots in the ground, be sure to remove the plastic in the spring to avoid trapping the warmth from decomposing mulch. Warm temperatures can lead to premature growth that is susceptible to late freezes. Replace the plastic in early spring with weed barrier fabric, which allows the heat to dissipate. Also, plant such bananas in open spots rather than against a south wall where early warm-up could spark premature growth.

Although Shattuck believes Northern plants grow faster if allowed to go dormant over the winter, the dwarf varieties of bananas do make interesting and attractive houseplants. Plants brought indoors can be potted and placed in a warm, sunny spot to keep growing, however slowly, over the winter. Don't let them dry out, but don't feed them, as they will make very little growth. Occasional misting is good, for the humidity in most houses is a far cry from the tropical outdoors.

Hauling banana plants indoors for the winter may seem like a great deal of trouble. My own bananas remain outdoors year-round in my Zone 9 yard near Tampa, Florida. They look pretty bad during a good winter and freeze to the ground during a bad one. I leave the dead leaves in place to help protect from possible frosts. Their appearance in winter is quite disenchanting, but I have seven large clumps in the back yard that I love almost as much as I would an ugly dog.


Judge Shattuck usually starts moving his plants out around April 15, although the average last frost date in Ohio is May 15. Plants come through light frosts with only a little burning of the leaves. The roots will be all right as long as the ground doesn't freeze.

Bananas require full sun and protection from the wind, which will shred their leaves. They also need good drainage and plenty of water so they never dry out. Enrich the soil with as much humus as possible. Bananas prefer a fairly acid soil (5.5 to 6.5 pH), so you may need to add sulfur if your soil is alkaline. They love 90-degree days but stop growing when temperatures drop below 55 degrees and won't start again until it has been warm for a while.

Shattuck feeds his bananas with a special soluble fertilizer he buys by the gallon, first thing in the spring and again when the leaves start to unfurl. He does not feed again until a bud shows, and then he feeds fruiting plants about once a week. The rapid growth of bananas requires plenty of nutrients; it's hard to overfeed a banana in Florida, but Shattuck says they can be burned from too much fertilizer in Northern gardens.


The formation of the banana fruit bud starts as early as the second or third month of growth, and by the fourth month the number of female flowers (and therefore, fruits) has already been determined. In the sixth to ninth months, the bud begins a three- to four-week journey up the stem, enlarging as it goes. Finally it emerges, wrapped in what looks like a short leaf. Within a few days, a large, purple raceme droops over and thereafter grows downward.

Every day or so another purple bract falls off as the flowers begin to open from the top of the pendant stem. First to peek out are the hands of female flowers blooming on the ends of ovaries that look like small bananas. The purple bud keeps getting smaller and the stem longer as the hands of hermaphroditic flowers and then of male flowers appear and bloom. Neither of these are necessary, though, and the blossom end can be severed as soon as no more fruits are being set. Doing so channels the plant's energy toward their ripening.

This process is slower in cooler climates where the season and the days are shorter. The stalk must remain on the plant until the bananas are of ample size, after which it can be safely cut and left to finish ripening indoors, sometimes for several weeks.

The weight of ripening fruit can cause the shallow-rooted plants to topple over. "Trees with fruit stalk 5 or 6 feet long can be very heavy and need some poles to help support them," Shattuck says. He also discovered that bananas grow better in a clump or circle so they can shade and support each other.

Sometimes a bud appears too late in the year for the fruit to ripen. Shattuck overwinters such plants with special care, protecting the bud from damage. Bud and fruit development resume in the spring when the plants return to the garden.


Northern gardeners will be comforted to learn that many dwarf plants produce fruit that equals that of the taller varieties in quality and quantity. `Dwarf Cavendish' is probably the most readily available. Some species have fruit and flowers that are more decorative than edible, such as Musa coccinea, with its bright red flowers, and Musa sumatrana, with its dark red-mottled leaves.

You may not want to spend the time and effort required for many banana plants or more than an occasional harvest. However, the inclusion of a few plants creates bold accents and unique focal points in home gardens. Even if your banana plants last only a single growing season, they can be fun to grow. And if I ever move back north, I'll be taking some along.

COPYRIGHT 1997 KC Publishers, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

    Bookmark   July 14, 2006 at 2:26PM
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