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The new house also has a couple of banana trees! What is the best way of over-wintering them? I am in USDA Zone 8a and we've just started to get frosts.

From the research/asking around that I've done, it sounds like there are two main approaches: dig them up (like dahlias in the UK); or cut them down and cover them up with leaves or burlap.

One tree is pretty small - less than six foot including leaves. The other is much taller - well over 12 feet with leaves. This latter one is already showing signs of frost damage and it is also too big to dig up - and even the smaller one might leave a large hole (I don't know how big the roots are).

So covering them up sounds the best approach. How far should I cut them back? To ground level? To a few feet? They're pretty hefty: Is there a recommended way of doing this? Time to sharpen the hatchet, or learn how to use a machete? (the latter would give the proper tropical feel to the exercise!) It might seem an odd question, but is there a particular way of burlap wrapping? Multiple layers, or just string & sacks?

I'm assuming they are a hardy variety of banana, but I really don't know if they are plantains or sweet bananas. The large one would imply they've been over-wintered before but my experience in Costa Rica is that bananas can grow very fast in the right conditions.

Although it would be very cool to have fruit, I think I'm resigned to them being purely ornamental plants - I understand they require a frost-free winter before they will have any chance of producing fruit.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

It's not easy to give the right answer, as it depends on the winter hardiness of the banana varieties.

At the institute of horticulture, where I'm working, we have some banana plants outside. This is in southern Bavaria, USDA-zone 7.

These banana plants are over-wintered with an thick coverage of bubble wrap, bambus-mats and fleece inside. The leaves are cut (on a height of ~1m / 3-4'). Additionally it is possible to protect the roots with an thick mat made from coconut fibers, which is laid on the ground around the shoot.

As I said above: It depends mostly on the variety, if this is possible or not. No guarantee if this is working for you!

Frost protection: Bubble wrap around bananas Frost protection: Fleece under bubble wrap License of these photos taken by myself: creative-commons cc-by-sa-3.0

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Thanks for the reply Christoph. Unfortunately I don't know the variety - but we do have a lot of bubble wrap left from the move (enough for the large tree esp. if padded with other things). –  winwaed Nov 30 '11 at 15:41
    
@winwaed: I assume, you didn't plant the bananas yourself: do you have any contancs to the people who did it? perhaps they know abot the variety or how they overwintered them. As the plants are relative large, i would suspect, that they have been overwhitered before and have not been digged out of the ground. –  Christoph Mühlmann Dec 1 '11 at 8:17
    
No we didn't plant them and it would be difficult to find out - the previous owners did leave some labels on plants - I suspect they are ones planted in the past year, but not the bananas. It sounds like I should cut the large one this weekend, and wrap them both. –  winwaed Dec 1 '11 at 13:38
    
I'm marking this as the answer. I guess there isn't necessarily a "best way" just what works. Both the large and small trees were wrapped with burlap/hessian and had leaves piled around them. The large was cut at about 5ft but kept trying to push out new leaves (which would then die at the next frost). The small one was bundled up in a 'sack' of burlap full of leaves and screwed up newspapers: It put out its first leaves this week! So both have survived. We had a very mild winter. –  winwaed Mar 2 '12 at 13:28
    
As an addenda, with the mild winter, the larger plants at the back developed three flowers - and we now have bananas which are ripening nicely. I don't know the variety but they are not Cavendish. I'm wondering if they are Gros Michel (widely grown before I was born!). They are fatter than Cavendish and quite soft (and blacker) when ripe. –  winwaed Sep 6 '12 at 13:23
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