Ensete FAQ

What are Ensetes?

They are very fast growing, evergreen, herbaceous perennials with huge paddle shaped leaves. Essential in the jungle garden. Ensete ventricosum has bright green leaves with a paler mid rib; Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurellii’ has massive red, green and black leaves. Ensetes are related to bananas, and are a massively important food crop in parts of Africa, but it is not their fruit that is eaten. Instead, the fermented roots are used to make a flour in bread making.

Are they hardy?

Definitely not. They require a minimum of 5 degrees centigrade in winter. They cannot be left in the garden, however much protection they are given.

How big and how fast will they grow?

In the UK, if over wintered successfully they can reach 3.5m with an enormous fat trunk. Growth rates are astonishing. Tiny plants can reach 1.5m in their first season.

Will they grow in pots?

Almost any plant can be grown successfully in a pot and provided it is supplied with adequate food and water and re-potted when required, they make fantastic pot plants. However, size may be restricted in a pot.

What’s the best position and soil type for Ensete?

Full sun or partial shade in a deep, rich, moist soil.

How much food and water should I give them?

Plenty. Lots of feed during the growing season and keep the soil moist. A liberal dose of well-rotted manure is advisable.

What do I do with them in the winter?

Before the first frosts dig up (usually around the time the clocks go back is good). Reduce the roots and shake off excess soil. Remove most or all of the leaves, especially if space is an issue. Lay the Ensete on the greenhouse floor and leave till after Christmas, rotating occasionally. This allows water to drain from between the leaf blades and will help to prevent rot. In January stand the Ensete upright and place in a pot that snugly fits the root ball. Backfill with compost and keep barely moist. Keep temperature at a minimum of 5 degrees centigrade. Don’t have a greenhouse? Spare bedroom, utility room will do. Sadly shed or garage usually results in failure.

Isn’t that a lot of trouble to go to?

Absolutely not. These plants give so much impact to the garden that they are definitely worth the effort. You can of course treat your Ensete as a superior form of bedding plant and leave it to perish along with the petunias. It will have given you pleasure all summer long.

Why is the middle leaf distorted and not growing properly? / Why are the new leaves getting smaller and smaller?

These disorders occasionally occur after winter, a problem often referred to as ‘strangles’. To date nobody seems to be sure of the cause. It could be a genetic mutation. Other theories suggest simple slug damage to the growing point. Keep a watch for slugs and snails. If your Ensete appears to be suffering from a case of the ‘strangles’ in spring, you will need to cut the trunk back severely. This will hopefully produce one of two results. The growing point will begin to grow normally or the main stem will perish but produce many offsets.

When can I plant my Ensete outside?

Your Ensete has made it through the winter – congratulations! Ensetes shouldn’t be planted outdoors until all risk of frost has past – usually the beginning of June in England.