Preparing the tropicals

We've got some cold air arriving in St. Louis in a couple of days -- it's probably what the northwest portion of the country is getting right now -- so I've got to get moving and get my tropicals stored. I've already setup my greenhouse that will protect my smaller bamboos, but it's unheated and won't do anything to protect the bananas, Elephant Ears, and other tropical or non-hardy plants I'm growing.


My timing isn't the best, since I should have done this a couple of days ago when the pots were all bone-dry, but yesterday a line of storms came through and dumped rain. It was quite a storm with strong, gusty winds, but it was pretty brief. I'm glad to say that the greenhouse came through unscathed, so I'm not going to have to worry about it at all this year.

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So, tropicals. I'll start with my bananas. They've gotten some cold weather so should be going dormant now. They certainly look like they're finished for the year:





So I'll cut off all of the leaves and store the plants in the garage:




I left the "pups" alone, as I've read that it's best to leave them connected to the parent plant for winter storage. I can remove them after the plants start growing again next year.


I was going to pull these out of their pots and remove most of the soil, but the first one was so rootbound and the rootball was so solid I decided to just leave it in the pot, at least for now:




The plant with the reddish stems is not a true banana, and I'm not sure how well it will do over the winter. One thing I do know is that it has a very interesting structure to the stems:



I may end up digging all of these out of the pots in a week or so -- I'm not sure how much room I'll have in the garage for storing pots and plants so reducing the size of each stored plant might be important.

(I can store these plants in the garage because they'll be dormant. They won't need water or light, I'll protect them from freezing, then revive them in the spring.)


Next up are the Elephant Ears: my huge, extremely potbound Colocasia esculenta. I had removed many of the leaves a few weeks ago, but now it's time to get them ready for storage.


I'm not sure what the recommended method of preparation is, but last year's plants didn't seem to care what I did with them and all came back strong, so I'm not worried about doing anything wrong. So I'll just cut the stems down to about 6" or so:


I'll just put the pots in the garage today and, like the bananas, probably dig them up over the next week or two to reduce the amount of space they'll be taking up in the garage. I can put a big, bagged rootball on a shelf, but these heavy pots need to stay on the floor, and there's just not that much floorspace in there.

These cut stems are just as interesting as the banana stems were:



I've got a couple of these same Colocasia in the ground too, like this one:


This was planted just a month or so ago, so I expect it will be easy to dig up. First, a chopping:


Then it lifted right out of the soil, just as I thought:


I want to see what the corm (or "bulb") looks like on this one, so I removed as much of the soil as I could with my hands:


Then I hosed off the rest:


I didn't expect it to be so colorful! It looks very much like some sort of undersea creature to me, not something that I just pulled from my soil.




I wonder why they're so pink?


Whatever the reason, I like it! I'm not sure if I should remove all of these roots before bagging or not. I should probably let it dry out a bit first... but I have enough of these plants that I think I'll experiment again. I'll leave one with roots on, remove the roots from another, and do something different with a third plant.

I have a feeling every single one of these is going to survive the winter just fine no matter what I do, and since the plants in the big pots are so crowded and will need to be divided, I'm going to have two dozen of these Colocasia next year! Where am I going to put them?

I know some of my neighbors were admiring these plants this year, so maybe I'll pass them out next year and have everybody growing them!

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Gerhard Bock  – (November 24, 2010 at 11:27 AM)  

I agree with you about bananas and colocasias; they're very eager to live so as long as you keep them from freezing, it doesn't seem to matter much how you store them.

Alan  – (November 24, 2010 at 1:14 PM)  

Glad to hear that bananas are tough too! Gotta love the hard-to-kill plants. =)

Steve  – (November 24, 2010 at 9:40 PM)  

I tried over-wintering some musa basjoos 2 weeks ago, but after the recent warm up, both of them have punctured the plastic bags filled with leaves in putting out new leaves. They keep growing until pretty late in the season, and I hop they are as tough as you say because I've never over-wintered them before.

Alan  – (November 26, 2010 at 4:07 PM)  

You're leaving them in the ground, right? I don't have musa basjoo (which are pretty cold-hardy) so mine have to go somewhere where they won't freeze. I've thought about planting basjoo and overwintering it, but I'm not sure that I have a spot in my yard where I want a banana growing every year. There is one house near me that always has 10-12' bananas growing in the backyard (I can see it from the road) -- I'm going to have to get in touch with them and see what the species is and how they overwinter.

Steve  – (November 26, 2010 at 10:46 PM)  

I planted them at least 1ft deeper than the soil so I'm leaving them in the ground, and they have leaf bags all over them that adds about another 2ft. Hopefully the snow adds further insulation, but I've never over-wintered them before so I covered it up before it was done growing for the year.

I'm only hoping for them to survive next year.

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