Cold Hardiness! It is the thing I am asked most often. I consider cold hardiness the point where the pstem can live and continue growing next spring. Of course the leaves die with frost. And the corm can survive down until the ground freezes most of the time. As long as its not too wet. Some sites consider cold hardiness the point where the corm survives and sends replacement pups next year.
Cold hardiness is very tricky. There are varieties that do well at surviving cold. Like Orinoco or Namwa. There are varieties that do well at growing in cooler temps where others will go dormant. Like Monthan or Ney Poovan. And there are varieties that come out of dormancy early in spring like FHIA3 Sweetheart, d. Chamaluco or Blue Java. So it is hard to rate them based on total cold hardiness in general. The list below will be based on overall cold hardiness growing in my zone 8b over the years. My experience
Unless you are very lucky, you have a winter here in the US. But growing Musa outside of the tropics has it benefits! We have little to no pests or diseases. That is a big deal! Here in Texas we usually have a fairly mild winter. However even a zone 8-9 winter can totally wipe out your Musa collection. I was hit very hard winter of ’20. We lost alot of plants. I will outline below what I have learned over the years about growing Musa while dealing with winter! I have helped and coached hundreds of people from all around the US. So I will describe a few areas around the country and what ended up working best in those areas. Of course you will learn how to perfect growing Musa in your zone, but maybe this info can give you a small jump start and help you know what to expect!
What is that picture? Well In the beginning I would wrap the pstem with non-led Christmas lights (for heat). Then cover 3 poles with a trash bag. Wrap the poles with cheap shrink/pallet wrap (creates multiple layers). It leaves a perfect 2” gap at the bottom that I would pile hay or straw around and it could still breathe. It takes work but I had amazing success. You can use a 60w incandescent bulb in colder areas and it produces lots of heat! Try it! It works! Even just the trash bag on top with pallet wrap around the pstem helps somewhat.
SOUTHERN AND SOUTHEAST US.
Here in the south we are lucky to have a very warm/hot and humid summer. Bananas grow FAST here! And in winter we have fast moving cold fronts. It can get cold but usually for short time frames until the sun warms everything back up. Any frost covers or blankets can help extend your season. Of course a greenhouse is best. Or even a temporary “greenhouse” like the picture above. Leave cold hardy varieties in ground and keep more sensitive or short cycle varieties growing in pots all winter. Either as a house plant, in a small greenhouse, or even a garage or basement. When mid March or after the last frost, plant them. Be careful not to disturb the rootball! If grown correctly they will produce before first frost! You can plan ahead to either bag/insulate or cover the bunch if there is an early frost. If temps are going to be below 32f harvest ASAP! Try to grow along southern walls of your home or fence. This adds even more protection!
Not counting warm/sunny Southern CA, most of the west coast is still very good for growing bananas. However they grow slow! Cooler temps mean slow growth. This is not bad! You have mild temps. Just be patient and you will be eating fruit while us fast Southern growers have frozen nanners! Winter isn’t very bad in most areas along the coast. Anything you can do to increase temps and humidity will speed your growth. This means Greenhouse! If you any way to grow in a greenhouse do it! It will speed your growth and production 10x. I’ve seen it many many times. There are a few bananas that do better in cooler temps. Like namwa, mysore, Brazilian, Pisang raja, Raja puri, Saba, Praying Hands, and other ABB or AAB types. Stay away from AAA or AA. Stay away from short cycle.
NORTHERN AND NORTHEASTERN US.
I won’t lie or give you false hope! If you want more than just vegetation or ornamental growth you have some work to do! You need dwarf, easy to handle cold hardy plants. Other than basjoo and maybe dwarf Orinoco, you shouldn’t leave any banana plant outside over winter. Any outside corms need to but cut down close to grown level and mulched very deep! Then cover with some water blocking material. You can grow varieties like raja puri or SDC in large pots and move them outside in summer months. Or you can “dry store” some varieties like dwarf Orinoco in winter months. Keep them in a basement, garage, or even crawl space under the house during winter. Replant them in the spring. It takes time and work but you will get fruit eventually. I really respect you northern growers. It is really something to be proud of when you get a bloom and especially when you get ripe fruit.
The Cold Hardy List!
- Dwarf Orinoco – can’t be beat! Nothing comes close. There are several sports. My favorite is Cali Gold and a new rare one I’m still trialing from the USDA called Dwarf Chamaloco.
- Pitu – a type of bluggoe. It makes a short but fat fruit. Fruit taste has been better in recent years. It is very cold hardy. Seems even more cold hardy than tall Orinoco!
- Blue Java – the real one! 90% out there are fakes. Comes up early in spring!
- Dwarf Namwa – very good producer and grows in lower temps.
- Dwarf Brazilian – one of my favorites. Love the taste! Also grows great in lower temps. I’ve been testing a superior clone that has shown amazing results.
- Musa Praying Hands – PH and Saba have both really Impressed me these past colder years. Both have a great taste and are able to live through average winters.
- Saba – loves coastal areas. Has a long cycle so has to be timed just right. I prefer Praying Hands and to me they taste just a little better.
- Monthan – this will be the only variety on both the cold hardy and short cycle list! Wow. Very productive! Fast grower and flower to yellow fruit in 50-60 days. Amazing. I really enjoy both cooking and eating these ripe. It is becoming one of my favorite all around bananas.
- Raja Puri – they flower fairly fast but have a 3-4 month fill time.
- Virupakshi – “Hill Banana” and a clone of Tall Brazilian. Both are tall but tolerate cold well. I have been cutting them back before winter just to shorten them. If not they will weaken and break/bend over. A top 5 favorite tasting banana. Taste makes it worth the extra effort.
- Mysore – does better in the west cost or areas where the temp doesn’t drop below freezing much. It is also very tall. Fruit have a “berry-like” flavor and are very good. Must have for west cost or FL growers.
- SH-3640 – I’ve had several survive but die back to continue growing and fruit by first frost. Top notch zone 9/10 musa. Doesn’t fruit every year here in 8b but when it does it’s worth it. Taste is amazing. Better in taste and close in cold hardiness to Goldfinger. However seems to flower and fruit faster.
I’m sure I will be editing this list as time goes by. For me and most growers that deal with a winter it’s all about timing! If I allow a pup to grow in early June. It will be large enough to survive winter and flower in early summer. Counting winter in my zone 8b it takes about 300-350 days to flower a plant. Then another 40-120 days to fill/ripen it. So get your timing down and you will see success. Don’t be disappointed by early failures. It takes time and a few years to get the plants established and timing down.