Putting the Exotic Garden to bed has now begun in earnest. And, with spectacular timing I’ve put my back out. I constantly move heavy plants around the nursery without any problem – (no concessions at Urban Jungle for being female) but last Thursday, in a dash to tidy the kitchen before leaving for work I leant into the cupboard under the sink for a bin bag – and crack. In excruciating pain I managed to crawl to bed where I stayed for the next 4 days. Oh the agony – both physical and mental. But Monday was my first day up and about, and unable to physically get into the car, I managed to hobble on foot into work to check on progress and take some photos. The journey into work was eventful. A group of travellers have set up camp on the footpath through the piece of waste ground on my cross-country walk into work. I had no choice but to weave my way around their caravans and felt as though I was trespassing through their living room despite it being public land. A pack of dogs circled me, snapping and snarling at my heels but thankfully they were all bark and no bite and were quickly called off. Adrenalin is amazing and for a while I completely forgot I had a dodgy back.
As I arrived at the nursery, work was starting lifting the Ensete Maurellii (Abyssinian red bananas).
Craig had the honour of wielding the bread knife and cutting off all the leaves – a job he took to with somewhat disturbing relish.
He was quite brutal with the knife, removing all foliage except the newest leaf, and even this was reduced by half. There really is no need to leave any more foliage on than this – it simply takes up too much room and blocks the light to other plants in the greenhouse.
The Ensetes are dug out of the ground with very little root and most of the soil is shaken off. The lower leaves are removed and then the plant is turned upside down, to drain any excess water from between the leaves. (We used to leave our Ensetes to drain, lying on their sides on the floor of the greenhouse for a few weeks but found this to be unnecessary – and it looks messy.)
The now very much reduced Ensete is placed in a pot with just enough compost to hold it stable. Any cheap compost will do but don’t use garden soil.
It’s then placed on an upturned crate in the greenhouse. We’ll be maintaining a temperature of 8 degrees centigrade over the winter, which is ample to keep an Ensete in good health. 4 or 5 degrees would be fine but they share a greenhouse with other, even more tender plants. The greenhouse is bubble-wrapped and is heated by two thermostatically controlled fan heaters, which keep the air moving continuously – something that is very important to control Botrytis. Botrytis is a fuzzy, grey mould that thrives in cold, humid conditions with poor air circulation. That’s why it’s also important to leave the greenhouse door and vents open as much as possible during mild days in winter. We’re still leaving ours open day and night at the moment.
It’s a really god idea to keep your plants off the floor if at all possible – if you don’t have crates, upturned pots will do. We’ll keep these dry until spring when we’ll gradually begin to water and then they’ll be planted out again next May/June.
Ensetes are capable of making stupendous growth in favourable conditions. They love warm, wet weather but we had a horrible cold and dry summer - poor things and their growth was only average this year.
We’re often asked if it’s possible to keep Ensetes in the garage or shed for winter. Well if they’re wrapped well and the winter is mild, it may be possible but after the last three winters – forget it.
I’m always fascinated to hear other people’s techniques for getting tender plants through winter. I would never use bubble wrap but have customers who use it every year and swear by it. We’ve thought about using fairy lights or heated cables on a few plants this year – if you have any experience of this please let us know.
Saturday, November 12, 2011