Over the last 12 years living in France, I have discovered the best way to protect my exotic plants during the winter months.
In early 2017, I had to rebuild a terrace. Due to the groundwork involved, all the existing plants had to be removed. This gave me the opportunity to experiment in creating a microclimate for my banana garden to survive the winter months.
How I Created a Microclimate to Protect My Banana Plants
Here are the steps I took to create the microclimate:
- I started with a south-facing wall that was protected on each side by terraces from either cottage.
- I built a stone wall at the front of the new garden to create a raised bed above ground level from the rest of the garden. I now had a 6 x 3 meter enclosed south-facing garden for my banana plants.
- I filled the plot with plenty of bags of quality compost and combined this with bags of horse manure compost.
- I bought five species of banana plants and planted these within the new garden.
- I then covered the whole garden with 10–12 centimeters of wood bark chips to maintain moisture in the summer and provide winter protection for the base of the bananas.
- I then planted ground covering plants all around the banana plants that I knew survived our winters and stayed in leaf to provide additional protection in the winter.
- When the cold weather did arrive, the leaves on the banana plant died back and were left on the plants to provide additional protection for the main stems at the center.
- In the past, as a means to safeguard my existing stock of plants, I would always dig up several pups of new banana shoots and repot. I refrained from doing that this year to allow the pups to grow strong and create an outer circle from the mother plant.
What Went Wrong in the Past
I moved to Northern France in 2006 and decided straight away that I wished to create an exotic garden. I knew some gardeners were successful with banana plants in the UK, the majority either taking their plants indoors for the winter months or covering them in straw and bubble wrap to survive the English winters.
There were a few, however, that talked about creating a microclimate within their gardens that allowed their plants to survive. (These gardens were always situated in the southern regions of the UK where the winters were somewhat warmer.) As Southern Brittany was over 100 miles further south, I was convinced my plants would be fine.
So in the first year, I went out and bought all kinds of exotics plants, only to lose the majority in the first winter. Although Brittany in the main is a lot warmer than the UK and rarely gets snow, I discovered to the detriment of my exotic plants that every winter we would get a week or two of temperatures down to -10°C during the night.
After my initial losses, I chose different plants, sticking with different varieties of bananas and birds of paradise. Each autumn, the birds of paradise plants would be taken inside, while I wrapped the banana plants in bubble wrap after cutting off the leaves and wrapping the stalk. This resulted in better results for the birds of paradise, where all survived and flowered, but the banana plants still had a 50% loss rate.
I would find that when a very cold spell arrived, the water lying within the bubble wrap after a wet spell would freeze and cancel out any warming properties, and the banana would die. I had planted banana plants all around the garden and noticed the worst hit were those situated in exposed positions.
What Does an Effective Microclimate Do?
The entire process of setting up a microclimate is to create barriers from the elements, either through other plants or hard landscaping and positioning the plants in the most suitable location within your garden.
The aim is to create an environment a few degrees warmer than the rest of the garden and away from wind chill. A few degrees warmer and definitely out of the wind are the biggest factors that will mean the difference between your plants surviving or not.
Why Did I Ignore the Garden Center Advice?
I bought my plants in three different garden centers, and they all gave the same advice: wrap my plants. But as is often the case with gardening, it is a matter of observing other successes—in particular, two houses in town that had banana plants surviving the winters without being wrapped.
I noted in both cases the bananas were large plants with plenty of pups growing around the main stem, and both were located in sheltered spots out of the wind.
This gave me the confidence to try creating my microclimate and put all my plants to the test.
How I Care for My Banana Plants During the Summer
From April through October, I water the plants every day and feed them twice per week with a general liquid feed.
The only other element needed is plenty of sunshine, hence why a south-facing aspect is preferable.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.