I have a problem. There are too many tropical plants that have grown much too large to fit back into the house to overwinter. I could possibly fit them all indoors if my wife and I decided to give up the den for the winter. But, it’s not only the winter, it’s half the autumn and a good part of the spring before temperatures are warm enough for bananas, elephant ears, gingers, agaves, and others to be sent back outdoors.
A part of the problem is that my wife refuses to allow elephant ears and bananas back onto the hardwood floors of the main living area. As soon as they are brought inside the leaves begin to gather moisture and drip, drip, drip onto the floors. This creates small black spots on the floor, which add character as far as I’m concerned, but evidently I’m wrong, and anyway I’ve lost my right to vote on this issue. The bananas and elephant ears will not be allowed anywhere near the hardwood floors any longer.
The basement where the tropicals are stashed for the winter is dark and dank at any time of the year with only a single sliding glass door, but in the winter the shortened sunlight is further diminished by setting further to the south and behind immense maples and tulip poplars. I have set up LED lights to provide some added light to the dozens of plants that are jammed in the back section of the room. The pots sit on the comfortably ragged indoor/ outdoor carpet that was first installed to stand up against the rough and tumble antics of our two sons many years ago. No damage too severe can be done to this carpet, and if water occasionally overflows onto it or leaves or soil are ground into it there is no bother at all.
A few of the large elephant ears that are planted in the ground (rather than pots) are allowed to die back in the early freezes, then the massive roots are dug out, dried, and stored in a cooler in the garage filled with ground leaves. Most of these survive the winter without a problem, but occasionally one that has not been dried sufficiently will rot and must be discarded. The problem, here again is space, for a large elephant ear root will consumer half of a large cooler, and there are handfuls of these and only a few coolers. And if a few inexpensive styrofoam coolers were purchased, where would they go? There are cars and tools and whatever else occupying space in the garage, and it is hopeless to think that more space could be allocated to overwintering of tropical roots.
Inevitably, one elephant ear and usually a few that have been planted in the ground are inadvertently left behind, and a few have proven to be surprisingly sturdy over the past couple winters. The most recent winter was so warm that it was hardly a challenge, but the prior winter was much colder and the elephant ears survived only because of an insulating cover of snow. In any case, I would not recommend leaving the roots of elephant ears outdoors through the winter in northwestern Virginia, and even if there is not enough room indoors you should expect they will perish if left outside.
Besides problems of space and water spotting the critical issue that I must address each year is bugs. This is a moving target from year to year with the problem being ants one year, and spiders the next. In large pots it is impossible to tell what creatures might lurk in the soil, and many times I’ve seen it recommended that the entire container be dunked under water and left to sit until critters and eggs would be drowned. How that is supposed to happen with a container twenty four inches across and slightly taller, I don’t know, but also, I try to move the heavy pots when they’re as dry and therefore light as possible. To dunk these pots to saturate the soil would make them twice the weight, and if you’re arguing that this should be done a week ahead then you have far too much respect for my organizational skills.
I moved a few of the agaves indoors a few days ago, and immediately I spotted a long legged spider down in the foliage. Of course, the foliage of this agave is equipped with hypodermic needle like spines, and I suffered several stab wounds before giving up on catching this fellow. So, five minutes indoors and already there’s a spider on the loose. I can only imagine the fun that awaits as eggs begin to hatch from these beasts in the warmth of the house. This year there will probably be ants and spiders, and maybe even centipedes and snakes. It’s going to be a long winter.
Now, I’m back to what to do with the bananas? Two large ones are sitting in pots on the front porch, and a third (even larger) is planted out back. A few nights ago the temperature dropped just below freezing, and it’s fortunate they made it through, but that good luck will turn bad soon enough if I don’t figure a spot for them. I’ve considered giving up on them and leaving them on the porch until they freeze, but that seems heartless, and I’ve been growing these for six or eight years so that it seems such a waste.
I’ll consider chopping the tall trunks off at the base, then moving the pots to the basement. There’s barely enough room for the containers, and once the trunks and foliage are cut off they will not occupy nearly as much space. They’ll grow a bit through the winter, but certainly not back to where they are now. Once they’re back outside next year they’ll quickly grow back to where they were. So, this could be the answer. I still need to figure a way to get the huge pots down the stairs, or perhaps I could drag the pots around the house to the back door, but in either case this is a difficult task and I’ll have to work up the motivation sooner than later because the time for cold weather is coming quickly.