Overwintering Elephant Ears and Banana Trees

Overwintering Elephant Ears and Banana Trees

Elephant Ear Plants and Banana Trees with their large leaves add a tropical or coastal feel to our landscape.  Grown in ground or in containers these perennials can be enjoyed year after year in our yards. 

Their foliage is affected by freezing temps and heavy frost turning their leaves dark brown to black almost overnight, but the underground tuber is not affected on many species – so they are still very much alive!

Only the foliage has died back, the tubers (bulb and root ball underground) are still kickin’.  In our climate, the tubers are winter hardy, so removing them from the garden in fall or early winter and replanting them in the spring is not necessary.

Over the past 30 years our area has experienced 2 periods of prolonged excessive cold (consistent low temps in the 20s and teens) that caused serious damage to most Elephant Ears and Banana Trees, resulting in some to not come back.  No one can control or guess what Mother Nature will do, but under normal conditions these plants overwinter well.

Overwintering Elephant Ears Tips

– You can prepare them for winter prior to inclement weather when it is more pleasant to work outdoors, or you can wait and cut them back after the foliage turns black. 

– Some gardeners believe it is best to let the stems die back naturally versus cutting them which could lead to rot. I’ve done this both ways and have not noticed a difference. 

– When cutting the stems off be careful of the milky sap, it can be a skin irritant.  My husband discovered this the hard way, he had itchy skin for several days where the sap came in to contact with his skin, whereas it didn’t have that effect on me.

– After cutting or allowing them to die back cover the plant with a small mound of mulch, leaves, grass cuttings – something to help protect it from the cold.

– When spring arrives, remove some of the protective layer so the sun can help heat the soil.  Once our soil is 60 to 65 degrees you should see new growth emerging.

Overwintering Banana Tree Tips

– Just like the Elephant Ears you can prepare them for winter prior to the arrival of inclement weather or wait until the foliage turns black.

– Again, like the Elephant Ears, be careful of the milky sap, it can be a skin irritant.

– You can cut each leaf frond from the trunk and then remove the trunk itself or cut the whole tree down fronds intact.  (I suggest removing the fronds first if it is a large tree, they can be quite heavy and bulky to move otherwise.)

– Cut the trunk down close to the ground and cover the plant with a small mound of much, leaves or grass cuttings to help protect it from the cold.

– When spring arrives, remove some of the protective layer so the sun can help heat the soil.  You will see a new plant emerge from the edge of the tuber once the ground temperature has warmed up to 60 – 65 degrees.

Going “Bananas” for the Banana Tree Plant

Going “Bananas” for the Banana Tree Plant

Banana trees are one of the common trees that come to mind when dreaming of the tropics, but did you know that it is not really a tree? It is the world’s largest herb.transparent-banana-9

The trunk is composed of the main fruiting stem enrobed by leaves. Still, due to its size, it is commonly thought of as a tree.

How to Grow a Banana Tree

You may plant a single banana plant but you will end up with several – so choose a spot that will accommodate several plants.  There are different varieties available, the main difference being their height and leaf color.

The question we get the MOST is “Can my tree produce bananas?” Sadly, our growing season is not long enough to produce ripened bananas.  They will set fruit and it is most interesting to watch them change from the flower stage to bunches of small bananas.

  • Light

Banana plants prefer full sun.

  • Soil

The soil should be well-drained, deep, and organically amended. Slightly acidic soil (5.5 to 6.5 pH) is preferred.

  • Water

Since banana trees are tropical and hail from rain forests, they need a lot of water and plenty of moisture in the air. They do best when planted in groups rather than as single specimens. Being close together helps them retain moisture in the leaves. Provide 1 or 2 inches of water weekly or MORE (especially during the heat of July and August) and check frequently to make certain the soil stays evenly moist. Make sure they are not over-watered, so you do not develop root rot. The soil should always be moist but not soggy, if possible.

  • Temperature and Humidity

Bananas thrive in warm, humid conditions. When temperatures drop, growth slows down, and very cold temperatures cause plants to die back.  It is best to cut the plant down to ground level and cover with mulch for the winter.  Only in the extremist winters have we lost hardy banana plants due to prolonged below freezing temperatures.

  • Fertilizer

Banana plants should also be fertilized very well. Use a balanced fertilizer once a month. Spread the fertilizer evenly around the plant in a circle extending 4 to 8 feet from the trunk. Do not allow the fertilizer to come in contact with the trunk. Feed container plants on the same monthly schedule using about half the rate for outside plants.