How to care for the red Abyssinian banana

Written by alex bramwell | 13/05/2017
How to care for the red Abyssinian banana
Red Abyssinian banana leaves. (Spotted banana leaf image by Dreadman from

The red Abyssinian banana is a cultivar of the false banana or Abyssinian banana, Ensete ventricosum. The red form is called Ensete ventricosum "Maurelii" and is prized for its red-tinged leaves. It can grow up to 5.4 m (18 feet) high with leaves 3 m (10 feet) long. Upright growth and a tropical appearance make the red Abyssinian banana a popular garden plant in temperate and subtropical areas. The false banana is cultivated as a food plant in the Central Highlands of Ethiopia, where its starchy stems are the staple food for up to 10 million people.

Plant your red Abyssinian banana outdoors in rich soil after the last frost of the year. Choose a sheltered, sunny site, as the large leaves of your banana tree can be seriously damaged by the wind. Too much shade will stunt growth and result in a straggly plant.

Water thoroughly at least twice a week and fertilise every two weeks. Remove any leaves that droop or are damaged, taking care not to cut the main stem. Your banana tree's stem is made up of leaf bases and can be easy sliced through with a sharp knife.

Decide in autumn whether to risk losing your red Abyssinian banana to winter frosts or whether to dig it up and overwinter it. To overwinter, dig your banana tree up with a spade, cutting through the roots about 15 cm (6 inches) from the stem. Remove all but the smallest leaves. Repot your banana tree in your greenhouse in a large plastic pot using multipurpose compost and water sparingly. Keep your greenhouse at a minimum temperature of 3.89 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit) throughout the winter.

Overwinter your Abyssinian Red Banana in a garage or storeroom if you do not have a greenhouse. Cut off all the leaves, leaving about 1.5 m (5 feet) of stem, and clean the roots. Leave the stem to dry for a day and them wrap in breathable packing material and store upright in a cool, dark place. Your chosen site must not get below freezing or the stump will be damaged. Check your banana tree regularly and move to a colder spot if you see any root or leaf growth before spring.

Propagate your Abyssinian Red Banana from seed. After a few years, your adult banana tree will produce a large flower bud and then a bunch of small banana-like fruit full of small black seeds. Your adult tree will die after fruiting. The seeds germinate easily if planted in small pots of sterile, multipurpose compost at a depth of 2.5 cm (1 inch). Keep the compost damp and seal the pots inside a clear plastic bag somewhere warm until shoots appear. Germination can take as long as several weeks.

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