Absolutes of Gardening: Tender Plants

This plant doesn’t look good at all.

I think I should have moved these Red Banana plants, Ensete maurelii, into the garage before morning temperatures dipped below freezing.

But I didn’t and now they look like a big mess of “cell collapse”.

That’s what happens when tropical plants are left out in the cold. In very basic terms, when temperatures go below freezing, ice crystals form in the tiny air spaces between the cells, which draws the water out of the cells. This causes the cell walls to collapse, which is why the plants go all limp like they do.

Or something like that. Don’t quote me! It’s been quite a while since I studied such stuff in another life time.

Fortunately, plants that are hardy here have mechanisms to deal with the cold, by reducing water in the cells, developing their own anti-freeze type chemicals, and who knows what. (Well, plant physiologists know ‘what’ and did you know they have their own website? )

Seeing these banana plants, I am reminded again of an absolute of gardening. You would think by now I would have figured out most of these absolutes of gardening, but I have to be reminded of them sometimes.

This absolute of gardening is that tropical plants left out in the cold will turn to mush if temperatures drop below freezing.

I hope another “absolute of gardening” is that if these plants are placed in a cool location that stays above freezing all winter, and they are kept relatively dry, they will come back from the roots in the spring once they get a little water and temperatures stay above freezing.

Because that’s what I intend to do with these Red Bananas. And it isn’t going to be easy. The two banana plants are in big clay pots that on their own weigh a lot. When you add the dirt and the plant, it is on the brink of what I can lift and move.

I will also put the rain lilies, Zephyranthes sp., in the garage, leaving them in their containers.

Here they are blooming in warmer days.

I’ve overwintered these for years, for as long as I’ve had rain lilies, and they always start sprouting again in the spring once I bring them out and add water. Every once in a while, I’ll pull the bulbs out of the containers when they are good and dormant and give some away.

(Just watch, one of more of my sisters is going to leave a comment now saying they want some rain lilies.)

That’s all I plan to try to overwinter in my garage this year.
What plants are you planning to try to overwinter?


  1. I'm planning to overwinter everything I can. Even to the point that I'm going to be building an enclosure around my little pond and use it like a heatsink.. I can do that here because our days of "freezes" are few and far between.. but they HURT when they come.

  2. Well, you know this but for other commenters I am overwintering 2 gardenias, 1 jasmine, 1 banana, about 8 colocasias, 1 alocasia, 1 croton, 1 pelargonium, and maybe some dahlias if I don't decide to let them go. Which I very well may.

    I will be very interested in your success with that banana, because i keep mine inside where it keeps growing all winter and early spring. Thank god it is in a lightweight pot. There is one banana, the basjoo, which supposedly can be overwintered outside in our zone.

  3. The man behind me has a fairly tropical garden and has a 12 or more foot tall banana plant. It usually dies back but always come back from the roots...you might come out alright!

  4. I have a garden window I put several rosemary plants, chives, garlic chives, thyme and a 2 foot bay tree in. We also have some cactus and succulents in the house, an assortment of angel wing begonias, and a couple scented geraniums. My husband is going for a second winter overwintering a rabbit foot fern, which he has to put in the tub or shower to water. I dug my Vancouver Dahlia today, and need to find out what to do with it.

    We will be putting lavenders, and some other herbs in our egress window, and I may put my pots of mints in the garage, or just leave them out, hoping they will make it. Some years they will left out, and others not, here in zone 5b, Nebraska.

  5. Wow, I don't think I've ever seen those rain lilies before -- they're spectacular. (Always on the lookout for anything that will be happy in a container!) Sorry about your banana plant...

  6. I have a couple of century plants in the basement, my wife dug dahlia bulbs that are now stored there as well, and lemon balm, and some scented geraniums. I keep the usual houseplants over the winter, but don't consider that overwintering. Upstairs getting mostly full window sun are two gooseberry saplings, and one young brug. Of the above, the gooseberries and century plants are a first for me. But I'm treating the gooseberries as houseplants over the winter.

    Musa basjoo is supposedly cold hardy to "zone 5 if protected; 7 unprotected," according to Stokes Tropicals. Too bad about yours, I hope it comes back.

    Thanks for the link to the plant physiologists Web site, I think I'll come in handy in the future.

    Funny "WORD VERIFICATION" word: "peedito."

  7. Ihave several tropicals I bring in. Ponytail palm, parlor palm, corn plant, staghorn fern, rabbits foot fern, kangaroom foot fern, 3 begonias, some succulents. If I had room I would buy and bring in more.

  8. Ohhhh..... crap. We've had our first solid snow here this week and while I remembered to bring in my hibiscus, I just remembered I forgot a houseplant that got moved outside for the summer. It's just a purple oxalis so it's not something extremely precious, but I've had it for about 20 years. I hope it'll come back!

  9. Carol, my banana looks just like yours! It isn't a very hardy one, my mother gave it to me so I would like to keep it. This weekend it will go into the garage but will not get any TLC (sorry banana). I find I can overwinter quite a lot in my little plastic greenhouse against the house wall but tubers (dahlia and begonia) will go into the garage. Fortunately our frosts haven't gone below -5 degrees (23F)recently so most things will survive in the garden. For example Dahlias will survive in the ground but ones in pots need to go into the garage. If anything dies - goody, goody new plants!

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  10. Good luck with your banana Carol. Love the rain lilies - such a beautiful shade of pink.

    Hmmm. . . my list of overwintering tender plants is long. . . a few brugmansias, begonias, a couple of elephant ears, a hibiscus, jasmine, gardenia, sweet potato vines, flowering maples, coleus, iresine, diamond frost euphorbias, fuchsias, some tender ivies and vincas, double impatiens, heliotropes, a bunch of Annabelle and Endless Summer hydrangeas started from cuttings (started them late, wasn't sure these babies would survive winter outside,) and some other stuff I can't recall at the moment.

  11. I have a few plants that look like that one! I am overwintering some begonias, scented geraniums, a fusion impatien (maybe as it is not looking too good), and I took some coleus cuttings so we shall see. Happy Halloween!

  12. I'd like to try a banana like yours next year! I live in Connecticut (5a) and overwinter a new zealand flax, 2 camellias, a melianthus(honey bush), a few flowering maples and a lot of big elephant ears. A couple of years ago I bought a hand truck and it really helps getting all those big pots in!

  13. I have had my banana trees freeze to the ground when we have had the rare hard freeze, and they always come back. I would think that if you trimmed them back now and protected them, they will come back in the spring since they only had one freezing night.

    Always Growing


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