The Big Dig
06 July 2014 - by Lizzy Browne

(First posted Saturday, November 12, 2011)

Putting the Exotic Garden to bed has now begun in earnest. And, with spectacular  timing Ive 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 dont use garden soil.
Its then placed on an upturned crate in the greenhouse. Well 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. Thats why its also important to leave the greenhouse door and  vents open as much as possible during mild days in winter. Were still leaving  ours open day and night at the moment.

Its a really god idea to keep your plants off the floor if at all possible if  you dont have crates, upturned pots will do. Well keep these dry until spring  when well gradually begin to water and then theyll 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.
Were often asked if its possible to keep Ensetes in the garage or shed for  winter. Well if theyre wrapped well and the winter is mild, it may be possible  but after the last three winters forget it.
Im always fascinated to hear other peoples 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. Weve 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.

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