The Q&A Archives: caring for red banana plants in winter

Question: I have two red banana plants that are not looking to good. The leaves are falling over quite a bit. They were about 10ft. tall and pretty healthy. Now they have lees leaves. Could it be too cold? Please advise. Thank you

Answer: Musa (banana) plants are tropical in nature so when the weather gets cold, they respond by wilting or dropping leaves. These plants will grow quite rapidly during warm weather, though, so anything that you lose in the winter will be quickly replaced next spring. Your area is borderline for frost damage, but you may want to protect your plant.

Protecting your banana plant can be as laborious as you want. Several methods have been successful. The easiest is to allow the first hard freeze to knock the plant back, then cut the trunk to the ground and mulch over. The mulch should be 6-10 inches deep and can be leaves, bark, straw, or anything else that will provide insulation. The draw back to this method is the size of the plant, and it most likely will not flower. The most extreme method is to cut off the leaves after the first frost and build a cage around the banana clump, preferably a little taller than the plant. Fill the cage with insulating material and wrap with plastic. Such a procedure is especially good the first winter. The cage technique is not advisable in areas where you rarely get below 20 f and most of your winter is mild. We have lost more bananas due to fungus caused by being wrapped up than we have ever lost to cold. The middle-of-the-road method ( the one we use ) is to do nothing until it is going to be below 20 f for a period of time. We then wrap with household insulation and plastic bubble wrap until the cold spell is over. Then we pull the wrapping, preventing heating and cooling inside the tent. We don't even cut the damaged leaves off until spring. The method you choose depends on your expected low temperatures and the age of the plant. A new banana plant should always be protected the first year. Best wishes with your plant!

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