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Plant Answer Line Question
I have a small, red-leaved banana plant. I am going to give it to my daughter in Iowa. What is the best care she can give besides full sun and moisture? What kind of dirt is best for replanting it and what kind of fertilizer should I feed it?
You are correct that Ensete ventricosum (Red banana) needs moisture and sun to thrive. The information I found about this plant indicates that it is not too particular about type of soil, but it is definitely frost-tender. Does your daughter plan to overwinter the banana in a greenhouse or other sheltered spot? The Missouri Botanical Garden site linked below suggests applying fertilizer during the growing season, but does not mention a particular type of fertilizer. (See last link below for more anecdotal information on fertilizer.)
Missouri Botanical Garden has useful information on growing Ensete. Below is an excerpt.
Winter hardy to USDA Zones 10-11. In St. Louis, plants may be grown outdoors during the growing season (either directly in the ground or in containers), but must be brought indoors for overwintering or they will not survive. Plants are best grown in organically rich, medium moisture, well-drained soil in full sun. Plants tolerate and often appreciate some part shade or light filtered sun in the heat of the day. Plants need consistently moist soils that do not dry out. Fertilize plants regularly during growing season. Site plants in areas protected from strong winds which can severely damage the large leaves. For containers, use a well-drained potting soil mix. Keep container soils consistently moist but not wet. In St. Louis, outdoor plants must be overwintered indoors, either in a sunroom/greenhouse or by forcing plants into dormancy. Options for overwintering include:
- Bring container plant indoors in fall before first frost and place container in a large sunny room for overwintering as a houseplant, with reduced water and fertilization;
- If container plant is too large to bring inside as a houseplant, cut foliage back to 6-8" in fall after first frost, and store container in a cool, dark, frost-free corner of the basement until spring, with periodic addition of a touch of moisture as needed in winter to prevent the soils from totally drying out;
- If container plant is too heavy or too large to bring inside, remove plant from container in fall before first frost, wrap roots in plastic and store in a cool, dark, frost-free corner of the basement until spring (foliage may be trimmed back or left on the plant and allowed to brown up in the normal course);
- If growing plants directly in the ground, dig, wrap roots, trim back the leaves and store as in option #3 above. After flowering and fruiting, the pseudostem dies. Propagate by seed or tissue culture.
The Plants for a Future database also has information on growing this plant.
There is information on fertilizing on the site of the Northwest Palms forum. Excerpt:
I promised in a thread a while back that I would post the fertilizer I use for feeding my Ensete ventricosum maurelii. Here's what I typically do:
The plants get set out in mid May. They have been dormant in the unheated basement since November. When they were dug up they had all their leaves cut off except the central growing one. The root ball gets covered with plastic to help keep moisture in. Over the winter they have lost a lot of their water but are still succulent and ready to put on new growth (usually they are already growing before being set out). Their root ball was kept small to make storage easier and they were watered sparingly and kept just barely moist for their period of dormancy. Last year the biggest plant was over 300 pounds (without leaves!) when dug up, but it will have lost about a third of that weight by the time it is planted out.
We plant them into areas of the yard where the soil is 100% compost. They get put in planting holes that have about 6 cups of pelleted shake/feed fertilizer (24-8-16 or similar) mixed into the bottom of the planting hole as well as a good sprinkling of pelleted micronutrients, iron and magnesium. But that's just the start...
After planting, they are generously watered in with transplant fertilizer and top dressed with manure or SeaSoil or both. Then, I wait for full-on new growth to start. As soon as it does, the bananas get fertilized weekly. I use urea (46-0-0), super phosphate (0-45-0) and potassium (0-0-50) and make my own mix using a ratio of 2:1:1. I dissolve 1/2 cup urea with 1/4 cup phosphate and potassium in a small amount of hot water. This super concentrate gets diluted into 10 litres of water and each Ensete plant gets this shot of fertilizer, watered in, every week from early June to October. (As they get dug up for winter, I'm not too worried about late season applications of fertilizer.) Every few weeks they also get some magnesium and some fish fertilizer. There doesn't seem to be any way to burn them with fertilizer when planted in the ground. (I wouldn't use an aggressive fertilizer schedule like this for plants in pots.) Use caution as nearby plants can suffer from such high levels of fertilizer--good reason to surround your bananas with cannas and Colocasias etc.
The other bananas we have (basjoo, sikkimensis, Orinoco, zebrina, Musella, itinerans) get a similar schedule but smaller quantities of fertilizer as they just can't match the maurelii for the "volume" of the plant (the biggest basjoos get about half the amount).
As other people have also pointed out, the amount of water they get is also critical. They all love water but must still have good drainage (we plant ours in raised mounds).
So there's obviously no magic to anything I do--I just experimented with how much fertilizer they can take and haven't hit the limit yet.
My only caution is beware of the monster you are creating. Digging up several 300+ pound plants, moving them (in our case, down a flight of stairs into the basement), storing them and then reversing the procedure in the Spring is back-breaking work. Perhaps ours will get too big this year (this will be their 3rd summer) to do this. Last year they were 17 feet tall..."
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Plant Answer Line Question
I recently purchased an Ensete ventricosum, which I will plant in a large container. I live in Bellevue. Should I consider this plant an annual only? Or is there a way I can overwinter the plant, so that I can enjoy it next year? I don't have a green house. Would it work to bring it into the garage? If I bring a potted plant into the garage, doesn't it need water and light? Or could I put hay over the container and leave it outside?
I could not find any information that suggested overwintering this particular plant outside would be successful. In Bellevue, some other species can be overwintered outdoors, like Musa basjoo, but E. ventricosum is more tender.
Fortunately, I did find several resources about overwintering your plant indoors, so you may be able to enjoy your plant over several seasons. The Missouri Botanical Garden information suggests several methods for overwintering E. ventricosum. Here is an excerpt:
Bring container plant indoors in fall before first frost and place container in a large sunny room for overwintering as a houseplant, with reduced water and fertilization;
If container plant is too large to bring inside as a houseplant, cut foliage back to 6-8" in fall after first frost, and store container in a cool, dark, frost-free corner of the basement until spring, with periodic addition of a touch of moisture as needed in winter to prevent the soils from totally drying out;
If container plant is too heavy or too large to bring inside, remove plant from container in fall before first frost, wrap roots in plastic and store in a cool, dark, frost-free corner of the basement until spring (foliage may be trimmed back or left on the plant and allowed to brown up in the normal course)
If you don't want your E. ventricosum as a houseplant, overwintering in the garage seems possible. Given that the Missouri Botanical Garden recommends a basement and the plant will be basically dormant, meaning it will not want much water or light, your garage will probably be fine as long as it is warm enough.
The Royal Horticultural Society has some recommendations about temperature:
To overwinter Ensete, our glasshouse is kept at 16 C (61F) by day and 12C (53 F) at night - at lower temperatures, lifted plants are prone to rotting. The lower the overwintering temperature, the earlier Ensete should be lifted and established in their winter containers, and the drier they should be kept subsequently.
The site of Cool Tropical Plants includes an illustrated tutorial of lifting Ensete for the winter, however, simply notes that the minimum temperature should be 3 C (about 37 F).
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April 11 2017 13:50:16