How to protect a banana plant in winter

Q: I have a very small banana tree in my front yard and would like to know the best way to protect my plant in winter. I have heard to wrap the tree in burlap and place leaves inside to protect from the frost. Can I also wrap my tree with garbage bags then with burlap and leaves.


This is how the 15-year-old Musa basjoo at VanDusen Botanical Garden was protected when I worked there: I called it a “banana fort.” After the first hard frost, the gardener cut off the stems about a metre above ground level. She built a cage about a half metre out from the stems and a half metre above the cut, using stakes and chicken wire. She then stuffed the cage with straw and placed the cut banana leaves across the top of the heap and covered it with plastic to protect everything from too much rain. In spring, when the gardener saw white “fingers” appearing through the mulch (usually in March), she removed the cage and all the mulch.

Note that this is a pretty large structure when it is done. It’s important to have a large volume of leaves between the protective structure and the pseudotrunk of the banana plant. Without this volume and distance, a sunny day would create so much heat inside the “fort” that the plant could be damaged or killed.

Some Lower Mainland gardeners cut the banana off at ground level and mulch it heavily. While they generally survive and grow in the spring, they never bloom with this treatment. I think the reason must be that the next year’s flowers are tucked into the pseudotrunk, and protection is needed for them to bloom the following year. Therefore, generous winter protection ensures flowers. The one at VanDusen used to bloom regularly, making little bunches of cute (if tough and inedible) bananas.
Where I currently work, a very old banana plant receives limited winter protection, but it is in a large, unheated plastic greenhouse tucked into a corner by the building, so it gets protection that way. It also blooms reliably.

According to my sources in Victoria, these guidelines also apply there, despite a climate milder than the mainland.