Tuck up hardy banana plants before the first frosts strike, to make sure they spring back as good as new next year.
Most banana plants, such as gorgeous purple-leaved Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’, are too sensitive to cold to leave outside: you’ll have to dig these up, pot them up in gritty compost and bring indoors somewhere frost-free for winter.
But equally tropical-looking Musa basjoo is hardy enough to leave outdoors with some protection, making a fantastic exotic backdrop for brightly-coloured cannas, dahlias and crocosmia late in the season. It makes a huge, imposing plant in time, but even so, its trunk can die right back in a hard frost. It should still re-shoot from the base the following year, but all the previous year’s growth will be lost. So to get it to grow really large and leafy, protect it during the winter months.
Cut back the leaves and shorten the trunks to about 1m, then drive in stakes around the plant, about 15cm from the plant all the way round. Tack some chicken wire to the stakes to make a cage, rising to about 30cm above the cut stems.
Next, pack the cage with straw or bracken to insulate the plant, and wrap the whole thing in several layers of horticultural fleece (you’ll find this in the garden centre here in Poynings). Finally, top the whole thing off with a cap of plastic sheeting to form a lid which should keep the worst of the winter rains out.
Wait till it starts warming up in spring before you take this cosy blanket off the plant, and well after the first frost. This can be as late as May; but when you finally unwrap your banana you’ll find it is already starting to put out new growth, a sure sign it has come through the winter unscathed.