Storing My Big Red Banana Plant

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So It Can Return Again Next Spring

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Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ is a return visitor at my home.  I have fallen in love with this tropical red banana plant for so many reasons, but what has impressed me more than anything else, is how large it grew this year in my monster cement planter.

Although I’ve included this type of red banana plant in my container gardens before, I’ve never seen one grow this big so fast.  It reached a height of 8 feet tall with large leaves growing to 7 feet long and 1.5 feet wide.  It was at proportions I didn’t expect, but was very happy to witness.

As each new leaf grew and unrolled from its center throughout the summer, and even into early fall, I was in awe of its massive presence – and ability to stand so tall. By the end of October, the plant had a large fleshy trunk of a 1 foot diameter.

Planted on the eastern side of my home, the morning sun would rise to greet it every day.  By noon, dappled shade cast down upon it from the forest trees nearby.  And by late afternoon, its large showy tropical leaves with red coloring were wonderfully backlit by the afternoon’s setting sun.  I am not sure which part pleased me most, but each stage was worth taking pause in my day to enjoy.

There were so many times I took photos of my big red banana plant in the planter that it became a bit obsessive.  Even though it was difficult to get a good shot because of the glares and shadows – and its sheer size, I still clicked away taking as many as possible throughout the season.

I showed my big red banana plant to my family, visitors and unexpected guests when they were here.  Heck, I even made them pose in-front of it for more photos.

Later in the season, I finally broke down and did what I pondered doing.  I hired a professional photographer to take a few good shots.  The sounds of the camera clicking furiously made me feel as though I gave the ultimate red carpet attention to my plant.

Alas, the plant got hit by our first frost of fall on the evening of October 25th.  The next morning, I knew my guest would be leaving for a long winter’s rest. It was time to take it down and store the root base so it could return to visit again next spring.

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STORAGE STEPS FOLLOWED

First, a quick and easy haircut.  All of its gorgeous long leaves, now darkened by the frost and wilted, were cut off with large pruning shears and tossed in a pile.

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Second, using a bow saw large enough for the wide stump, I placed the blade about 12” from the base and began to zig-zag across.  “Timber,” I said, as the top portion fell to the ground with a loud thump. (To see a video of the cut, visit my HOW TO VIDEOS page.)

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Next was the careful removal of the root base from the soil.  Using a shovel to go around the root mass and cut the roots in the soil, I carefully lifted the large base with a couple of firm tugs.

Hand-pruners were used to trim the long roots as a way to eliminate additional soft fleshy material that may have the potential to rot in the storage box.

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With a soft brush and my gloved hands, I cleared away the final soil residue on the root base, making sure it was fairly clean and ready for its next step.  I also re-trimmed the cut end to be level and clean.

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In a nice sunny spot, I turned the root base upside down and placed it on a milk crate to drain of excess water for one solid day.

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Then was the box selection – a new home.  Inserting a light weight plastic bag into it, filling it with bedding material of peat moss, I then carefully laid the heavy root base in the center on its side.

Finally, covering it almost completely with more peat and loosely closing the bag. I shut the box and labeled the outside with the date, plant type, and a smiley face.

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The last step was moving the box to a cool dark place in above freezing temperatures in my basement.  And then I said a little prayer. (You know, because it doesn’t hurt.)

THE STORAGE PRAYER

Oh Banana Plant – You were so sweet

So now I lay you down to sleep

Please come back or I will weep

Enjoy your restful place of keep

Until I reawaken you in twenty-six weeks

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STORAGE PRACTICAL TIPS

Be careful to not dent, cut or nick the root base.  These can create wound places, serving as an invitation for mold to set in.

Take measurements so you will have a record of how large the plant grew and can compare notes in the following years.

Use clean, disinfected tools during the process to avoid transmitting any diseases to the plant.

Try to do the breakdown job before significant rainfall if possible.  It makes it easier to move from the soil.

Don’t wash the root base with water to remove soil. It only makes it wetter.  You want the base to be slightly moist but not soggy because this can rot in the storage box.

Reuse the peat moss every year – it last a long time, and is an excellent material to store root bases.  It holds moisture lightly and helps maintain a balance of air too.

After removing the root base, turn it upside down to allow water to drain out before storing it, but don’t let it get too dry.

Use a cardboard box with vents or spaces to allow some air circulation to set in.  You don’t want a box to seal tightly and leave moisture inside where it will rot the root base.

Select a plastic bag that is very light weight, like those used in grocery stores.  Close the bag lightly.  Do not tie it off – allow some breathing room.

Red Banana on Left with elephant ear corms on Right

Red Banana on Left with elephant ear corms on Right

THE STORAGE LOCATION

You want to find a location where it remains cool, but not below freezing.  Some references indicate a temperature range of 35° to 45° F.  I put mine in the basement by the door where it is coolest, but I also place the box on a bench so it is not in contact with the cold cement floor where condensation can possibly cause the box to get wet and then stay too damp.  If it gets frozen, your root base is going to die.  If it gets too warm, it will start to grow again.  You want to make sure it is just right.  For me, that spot in the basement seems to be the sweet spot.

FINAL NOTE

The storage prayer is optional, but I believe this helps.  And when you open the box next spring, you will hear the angels singing when you see your banana plant made it just fine to be your return visitor in your container gardens every season.

Written by Cathy Testa

P.S. More will be shared about my big red banana plant (highlights, professional photo shoot, guest visitors, companion plants, and more).  This is to be continued…Stay Tuned.

Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Magic’ has alluring powers…

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Can a plant possess alluring powers, so insatiable, the yearning for more overwhelms your ability to resist?

“I want some more,” says Claudia, the fictional character in the movie, “Interview with the Vampire.”  She is completely seduced from her first taste of blood offered by the devious vampire, Lestat.  And although his immortal companion, Louis, witnesses the transition with regret, he does nothing to stop Claudia’s unthinkable awakening.

Maui Magic Front Ear

Yes, a plant can also possess similar powers that lure you into its plan of seduction. And…, “Of course, you want some more.” After you have experienced its offerings, your senses awaken, the desire to achieve the same feeling or response is sought out, and you ultimately thirst for more of the same, as much as a vampire thirsts for blood.

This is how I felt about Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Magic’ last season as I witnessed this plant grow long stems and big leaves as rapidly as Claudia’s hair grew right before she opened her eyes.

Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Magic’

This tropical plant, commonly referred to as an elephant ear or elephant’s ears, drew me into its clutches deceptively, then captured my desire to always want more as it grew into an impressive size while maintaining its beautiful attributes from the beginning of spring to early autumn.  If I didn’t decide to order it last minute, I may have missed out on its powers to grow quickly, create a climactic effect in a container garden, and arouse with its dark-sided hues.  It started with admiring its abundant ornamental leaves, followed by adoring its long stems.  Each held their ears up like a trophy on their tips, making it stand out in the container garden.

August photo; back of 'Maui Magic' leaf

August photo; back of ‘Maui Magic’ leaf

Dressed in a cloak

The heart-shaped leaves of ‘Maui Magic’ snuck-up out of the soil like a vampire appearing from the dark alleys of the streets.  Before I knew it, the leaves grew to two feet long and about half as wide in the center.  The leaves wavy-edged margins are soft and subtle, and provide an elusive cloaking effect as it gently moves by the wind.  The leaf stems, or more appropriately stated, the petioles, grew to three feet tall, lending to an upright exotic thriller bobbing above the container garden’s companion plants.  The mid-ribs were very visible on the backside of the leaves.  By the time August arrived, this plant, started from a small plant in mid-May, was substantial enough to draw me into a complete trance, and kept me there. I couldn’t keep my eyes or hands off it.

Rain drops on the leaves

Rain drops on the leaves

An unnatural pale complexion 

The plant’s foliage coloring starts off as a dark plum-purple, and then fades into an olive green with purple tones.  Having less color is not a sign of ill health as with a vampire, but a transition to maturity.  This did not create a lack of appreciation; the color was still stunning. The leaf stems carried a deep purple tone all the way down to the base of the plant throughout the season.  The look was visually stimulating, but you also wanted to touch the stems.  It sounds weird, but there is a soft texture to the plant, making it smooth to the touch.  I found this irresistible, charming, and as I said, “alluring.”  Taking it down for the fall was as difficult as chopping the head off a vampire in rest, but it had to be done and with good timing.

Yard Stick with Ears

Not harmed by the sun

Unlike vampires, the exposure to sun does not harm this cultivar, so long as you keep it well-watered.  Water to this plant is like blood to vampires; it thrives as it receives more.  But for my container garden, I decided to place it in a shady location, on the north side of my house, where it received more shade than sun.  However, this did not deter it from growing large and showy.  The plant can take either exposure. The leaf stems extended as if reaching towards the edges of the steps in search for the afternoon sun, adding more drama to its presence.  This shady exposure also helped to keep the soil moist, appreciated by many types of elephant ears.  Birds perched on it occassionally, and it never failed to produce new leaves.  When the wind caused some movement, it startled me from time to time because it was as tall as a person and could be seen from inside the house.

The lure of wanting more

The lure of wanting more

Its mysterious origin

As many ponder the true origin of vampires, you may ponder the growth habit of this plant. Whatever you choose to call the base of this plant, a corm, cormel, bulb, tuber, rhizome, or root, the leaf stems arise from the base of a root-like structure.  Even its circumference amazed me, as it reached a good size and produced potential divisions or cormels from the mother plant.  This plant is treated like a tropical in Connecticut; it is not hardy to our zone and requires storage in a cool, dark place, like the coffin of a vampire.  So get out your tools of destruction, chop of its heads, clean of the base, and create its resting place for a return next season when you certainly will “vant some more.”  If handled appropriately and according to specific procedures, this plant will have immortal life in your container gardens.

Tubers at base of stems

Tubers at base of stems

Container Crazy Cathy T
http://www.cathytesta.com
860-977-9473

Pronounced:  Koal-oh-KAY-see-uh  ess-kyou-LENT-uh; sounds like some weird vampire language.

Zones:  9-11, tropical and subtropical tuberous perennial.  Used as a tropical plant and stored for winter in CT Zones.  Can be used as an aquatic plant in containers.

Size:  3-4′ tall, rounded form up to 6′ size all together under warm growing conditions. Big, tall, showy, and overpowering.

Exposure:  Full Sun, part sun, part shade – flexible.  Easy to grow, and grows quickly.

Introduction: 2008 by John Cho and the University of Hawaii breeding program.  Propagation is prohibited.

Color combinations:  Try this plant with contrasting vibrant colors since the plant’s tones are on the darkside.  Use different leaf textures, from fine to medium against this coarse and bold statement in your container or garden.  (Shown in this post are a Coleus, Astilbe, and Rodgersia for a shade combination.)  For a sun combination, try Canna with bright, golden yellow, or chartreuse leaf colors, add a blooming annual, like Zinnia or Verbena, for some pops of color.  Select a bright colored spiller, like Lysimachia nummelaria ‘Aurea’ (Creeping Jenny) or Ipomoea batatas (Sweet Potato Vine) annuals.

Container/pot size:  Be sure to use a very large container or pot for this elephant ear due to its size, and to provide adequate soil volume, helping to retain moisture, and nutrients.  And don’t overlook – this plant can make a wonderful statement in the garden too.

After Care:  To learn how to overwinter tropicals, sign up for Cathy T’s fall class, which is hands-on, and held on a dark, gloomy evening with a full moon – just kidding.