Musa Basjoo or Banana Tree
Musa Basjoo is a hardy Japanese banana plant. It lends an exotic air of the tropics to UK gardens, but this herbaceous perennial has a degree of hardiness that makes it possible to survive the winter in milder parts of the UK. It has received the RHS Award of Garden Merit.
Originally growing in Sichuan province of China before being introduced to the Ryukyu Islands south of Japan, Musa basjoo is noted for its rapid growth and large, spectacular leaves and unusual flowers. Its thick, paddle-shaped leaves, up to 60 cm across and more than 2 metres long, fan out from the stem in a fountain shape. In summer it produces spikes of cream-coloured flowers, which hang downwards. Throughout the summer it will grow in height, with new leaves unfurling almost every week. Given the right conditions and protection, the hardy Japanese banana plant can grow to 4 metres in height with a spread of 2.5 metres in 5 to 10 years. A container-grown Musa basjoo will be somewhat smaller because of the restrictions on the root system.
Musa basjoo will survive outside in very mild parts of the UK without winter cover, but wherever there are freezing temperatures, it needs protection after the first autumn frost. Build a cage out of chicken wire, or make a tube out of horticultural fleece, and stuff it with straw or leaves to insulate the plant from freezing temperatures. Mulch the ground heavily to protect the roots. Musa basjoo will grow back from the roots even if the stem is killed off in the winter, as it is root-hardy to -15C. Growing from the roots, the hardy Japanese banana plant can reach a height of 2 metres in one summer
Musa basjoo needs to be carefully sited in your garden. Find a sheltered spot with a south-facing aspect, in full sun or dappled shade. Plant in well-drained but moist sand, chalk or loam soil with a nitrogen-rich fertilize and plenty of humus. It prefers a slightly acidic ph. If it settles in happily, you will be able to remove suckers to plant elsewhere in the spring, or divide the clumps every five years. Cut the flowering spikes off after they finish blooming, as the Musa basjoo will die after setting fruit, and you will want to keep it as an ornamental plant for many years!
Plant your hardy Japanese banana plant as a specimen plant in the middle of a lawn, where its dramatic, exotic appearance will create a stunning focal point. It is also an excellent candidate for container growing on a patio or in a courtyard, and can then be easily brought in to a greenhouse or conservatory for overwintering.
Musa basjoo will bring the jungle to your garden with its dramatic leaves, and is well worth the trouble that it will take to protect through a UK winter.
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