Ensete ventricosum is a stunning fleshy plant that makes a jaw-dropping houseplant but also an impressive herbaceous garden plant in warmer weather. Also known by the common names of the Abysinnian and Ethiopian banana plant, it is considered one of the hardiest banana-like plants that can be grown.
But how do you care for Ensete ventricosum? Having grown dozens of specimens over the years here’s the lowdown on what you need to know…
Rich, Fertile Soil
Ensete ventricosum does best in rich soil packed full of nutrients. Personally I use peat-free multipurpose compost for my potted plants and they seem to do well on it.
Each spring as the weather warms up and my Ensete ventricosum start to grow rapidly after their winter dormancy I remove them from their containers, remove as much compost as I can without disturbing the roots and replace it with fresh new compost.
If you’re aiming to plant your Ensete ventricosum out in the garden, either as a summer treat, or year-round, then be sure to mix lots of well-rotted manure or compost into the ground to provide the necessary nutrients.
A liquid fertilizer is also appreciated every few weeks throughout the warmer months to support the healthiest and most vigorous growth possible.
Ensete ventricosum doesn’t like to sit in stagnant, overly-wet soil so ensure the water you give your plants can easily drain away. This is particularly important in plants planted in the ground, where they can struggle with heavy clay soils.
If planting outside it is worth adding extra drainage where possible to reduce the chances of rotting in the wet winter months. This can involve adding sharp sand, coir or good quality compost around and under the plant.
Water Heavily in Season
Ensete ventricosum is a thirsty plant, and may struggle to thrive if not given sufficient water in warmer weather. In extremely hot weather you may even notice the leaves starting to droop and close up.
My Ensete ventricosum in containers are given a thorough soaking early in the morning during the growing season. The compost is then allowed to dry out during the day. In the hottest weather they may require watering more than once a day.
The specimens I am trying to grow in the ground receive a regular hosing down to prevent them becoming dehydrated.
Full Sunlight to Partial Shade
Ensete ventricosum appreciates bright, direct sunlight wherever possible. It’s noticeable that the various plants scattered around my home in winter can vary significantly in their growth rate and general health depending on which windowsill they sit on.
Plants on my south-facing windowsills invariably thrive even during the winter, while those receiving less sunlight on other window sills of the house don’t tend to be as vigorous.
If you opt to place your Ensete ventricosum outside in warmer weather then a south-facing position with full sun tends to work best, though some partial shade will hardly be a deal-breaker. Avoid very shady areas or your plants will struggle.
Provide Sufficient Room for Root Growth
As Ensete ventricosum grows so rapidly and can quickly reach monumental proportions it’s crucial they have enough room for their roots to grow. The rootball of a healthy Ensete ventricosum can be surprisingly large, particularly when compared to many other similarly-sized plants.
I would therefore suggest that you’re reasonably generous when it comes to container size. It is better to give a little too much room than not enough.
An oversized pot has other benefits in the summer months too. Firstly, Ensete ventricosum is notable for it’s huge, flag-like leaves. Sadly, this can make them prone to wind damage.
Ensete ventricosum kept in particularly small containers may find themselves getting blown over in even modest summer breezes. A larger pot helps to weigh them down and avoid this potential damage.
A second benefit of a generous pot is that it can hold slightly more moisture than a smaller pot, reducing the chances of your Ensete ventricosum getting dehydrated in hot weather.
Put Outside in the Summer
Ensete ventricosum can be safely acclimated to outdoor temperatures in warmer weather.
My houseplant specimens are gently placed outside on warm sunny days in spring, then brought back indoors overnight.
After seven to ten days like this, and assuming that the temperatures are reasonable, they are then left outside 24/7 until the temperatures start to drop in September or even October. This gives them some 6 months or so of growing outside where they need the minimum of attention from me.
Some gardeners even opt to transfer their Ensete ventricosum from their restricted pots and actually plant them in the ground over the summer. If you do this, prepare for monstrous tropical-looking growth that will impress even the most jaded neighbour.
Leave Outside in the Winter?
Ensete ventricosum is considered one of the hardiest “banana” plants of all. I put “banana” in speech marks because of course it is not actually a member of the Musa genus in which all banana plants may be found. All the same there is no denying that Ensete ventricosum looks very much like a banana – so much so that some authorities refer to it as a “pseudo-banana”.
The point is that some gardeners, even in temperate areas such as the UK and North America, manage to successfully leave their Ensete ventricosum plants outside all year round.
In truth, they will normally need some level of protection in the winter months. It is typical to cut off the leaves, leaving just the fleshy stem. Then wrap it in chicken wire and pack firmly with straw to help insulate the plant. Lastly many people add some kind of semi-permeable waterproof covering to keep the worst of the rain off and prevent rotting.
If all goes well (and accept there is a degree of luck involved) the following spring you can remove the protection and your Ensete ventricosum will spring back into life like nothing ever happened.
Keep a Machete to Hand!
By following these basic care instructions your Ensete ventricosum should grow to impressive proportions in a very short space of time. Even a single season will see it rival most house plants in size. By the end of its third year it could be taller than you!
There is no doubting Ensete ventricosum is a show-stopper in almost any situation. Just accept that sooner or later you’re probably going to have to cut it down to the ground, pop it in the compost bin and start again with a new, smaller specimen.
Caring for Ensete ventricosum in Greenhouses
Ensete ventricosum can thrive in the warmth of a greenhouse. Indeed, the Ensete ventricosum specimens that I keep as houseplants are placed in my unheated greenhouse in early spring where they can benefit from the warmth and sunlight.
By around May they’re hardened off and spend all summer outdoors.
While Ensete ventricosum can grow well in greenhouses there are a few things you should consider…
Ensete ventricosum may be reasonably cold-hardy but they can struggle in an unheated greenhouse during winter. High humidities, cold temperatures and a lack of ventilation can play havoc, causing your Ensete ventricosum to slowly die off and rot away.
While greenhouses are perfect for growing Ensete ventricosum when the weather is warmer in spring, in winter they tend to do best with some supplementary heat. If you have a heated greenhouse then all the better.
If your greenhouse is unheated then you may want to consider bringing the plants indoors over winter, or wrapping them up warm to keep the frost at bay.
Ensete ventricosum is a big plant. While it may take a few years to really reach giant proportions this is an important consideration within the confines of a greenhouse.
Accept that it won’t be too many years before your Ensete ventricosum starts to swamp the greenhouse, severely limiting the space available for other plants. At this point some difficult decisions may be necessary.
Greenhouses tend to get warmer than the outdoor temperature, so water can evaporate more rapidly. This can lead to Ensete ventricosum becoming dehydrated. If you opt to grow Ensete ventricosum in a greenhouse pay particular attention to their watering.
If possible, open roof vents and/or doors in warmer weather to moderate the temperature or consider bringing your Ensete ventricosum outside to spend the summer unprotected in your garden.
Greenhouses can offer ideal conditions for pests to thrive. I’ve personally experienced issues in the past with greenfly attacking my Ensete ventricosum when kept indoors. While larger plants seem to fight off an infestation well, an untreated case of greenfly on a smaller plant can often lead to its death.
If growing Ensete ventricosum in a greenhouse then pay particular attention to the signs of any pest damage, and be sure to take remedial action as required.
Caring for Ensete ventricosum Outdoors
The care of Ensete ventricosum outside is very simple indeed. They tend not to be attacked by birds or by caterpillars in my experience so need minimal protection from pests.
A regular watering, and some liquid fertilizer every few weeks are all that are required for your plant to thrive. Of course, this assumes your Ensete ventricosum is only kept outdoors in the summer months.