Cold-Hardy Banana Trees, Bamboo and Orchids: Do They Exist?

When you garden in a cold-winter area, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking certain plants are just off limits.
With some careful research, however, you may find there are exceptions to every rule….

Winter bananas, anyone?

Nothing gives the look of the tropics like a banana tree. If you’d like to have a banana tree in your yard, but you don’t have a greenhouse to move it to in winter, there are a couple of types you might want to try.

The Japanese fiber banana, Musa basjoo, is an interesting possibility for cold-winter gardeners. But don’t bother to harvest it; the fruit is not edible. This banana tree gets 10 feet tall and is a reliable grower in Zone 8. For colder zones it requires heavy mulch. There are reports of Musa basjoo surviving -20 degrees F.

For a slightly warmer winter climate, consider the Chinese wax banana, Musella lasciocarpa. This banana is cold hardy in Zone 7. It has a pretty yellow bloom.

The Orinoco Banana, Musa Orinoco, is one of the most cold hardy of the bananas that produce edible fruit. It can reach 10 feet in Zone 7, or twice as tall in warmer climates.

How about bamboo?

Many people think of bamboo as a tropical plant. Actually, there are many varieties of bamboo that are cold hardy to well below 0 degrees F. Many are large in size, ranging from Ruscus Bamboo, Shibataea kumasaca, at 6-7 feet, to Greenstripe Vivax, Phillostachys vivax, topping out at 70 feet. These are often used as screens or for decorative groves.

A word of caution on selecting bamboos: Many of them spread rapidly and are considered quite invasive. Be sure to do your homework so you don’t create a monster in your yard. “Clumping” versus “running” is only the first thing to look for. Check out the second website below for a great explanation on how to choose the right bamboo for your yard.

Orchids in winter?

I was so pleased to learn about cold-hardy orchids. There are several types of Bletilla that are hardy in Zones 5-9. These hardy orchids prefer moist soil and a little shade. They get 15-18 inches tall and bloom in early spring. The flowers are white or pink.

Another delightful choice for cold-winter gardens is the native orchid called Nodding Ladies’ Tresses, Spiranthes cernua var. odorata. This hardy plant produces loads of white flowers August through November. It likes moist soil or bogs and is hardy in Zones 3-9.

Another popular cultivar is Spiranthes cernua ‘Chadds Ford.’ This hardy orchid is known for being a vigorous grower with large flowers that are extremely fragrant.

Northern gardeners not out in the cold

So even far northern gardeners can have some “exotic” plants in the garden. Do a little research and see which of these plants would bring an unusual element to your garden.

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