How to Trim Banana Trees for the Winter

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Prune banana trees before winter sets in.
Prune banana trees before winter sets in. (Image: Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Banana trees aren't actually trees, they're herbaceous plants, with a fascinating mat of roots and pseudostems that resemble trunks. In the right growing conditions, banana plants can reach a height of 15 feet or more. Shoots and suckers emerge from the mat of roots, and these must be clipped or allowed to grow, depending on whether they are peepers (small shoots that won't produce) or swords (which eventually bear).

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears
  • Sharp knife
  • Boiling water
  • Rubbing alcohol and cloth (optional)
  • Bulb digger

Plan to prune banana trees after harvesting the fruit. Think of it as 1-2-3. You'll want to wind up with one large pseudostem for bearing the next crop; one sword sucker, which is smaller and will bear the year after; and one peeper, a small water shoot that will eventually become a sword and then pseudostem. Everything else must go.

Sterilize the blades of pruning tools by dipping them in boiling water for 30 seconds or wiping them with a cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol. This will prevent insect eggs, bacteria and fungus from entering pruning wounds.

Chop down the pseudostem that bore the current year's crop with pruning shears or a sharp knife. Cut the pseudostem into bits for use as mulch.

Clip off all the sword suckers that emerged during the growing season at the surface of the mat, leaving only the healthiest one. Sword suckers are smaller than pseudostems and are made of tightly rolled leaves that resemble a sword blade sticking straight up.

Prune off all the small, water-filled suckers, called peepers, at the surface of the banana mat, leaving the healthiest one. These small shoots suck the nutrients away from the swords and pseudostems, and there are likely to be a lot of them. To prevent them from resprouting, dig the sharp point of a bulb digger into the rhizome, just beneath the mat, to kill each one.

Watch the banana plant over the winter. Cold snaps with temperatures below 28 degrees Fahrenheit will kill a banana plant to the ground. If this happens, cut the plant down to the mat, and it will likely resprout when warm weather returns.

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