A grove of banana trees.
Banana trees are really cool plants – not just because of their huge, exotic leaves or the tasty fruit they produce – but because of the many different colors or sizes of the fruit and the leaves. We are not talking about the same old yellow bananas you find on grocery store shelves either. No ma’am – bananas comes in pink, red and even purple! As for the leaves, there are banana trees with red leaves, ones that are red and green variegated as well as white and green variegated. In fact, the AE AE Banana, as the white and green variegated one is known, is highly sought after by banana plant collectors world-wide.
Of course, not all bananas are suitable for eating because of the massive amounts of seed the fruit contains, although some prefer to simply remove the seeds and eat the bananas anyway – and this is fine.
If you’ve not grown a banana tree in the past, they are easy to grow – and in the event you do not live in a tropical climate, you can find varieties that are a mere 3 to 4 feet tall at maturity. These are ideal for growing in containers and they do produce fruit within two to three years as long as they are well cared for. While you are not likely to end up with a banana tree grove – such as the one in the picture above, unless you have lots of containers filled with banana trees – you can still enjoy growing them year-round in your home or office. Here is what you need to know to get started growing your own banana trees.
The botanical name of the banana tree is Musa and there are many varieties that are easy to obtain. Florists, grocery stores and discount stores often carry banana plants in addition to many mail order and Internet vendors.
Bananas require lots of water and light to thrive. Brown leaves usually indicate that the plant is in low humidity or not receiving enough water. It is a good idea if you are growing this plant indoors is to provide frequent misting. If this is difficult for you to do, keep a humidifier close to the plant. A natural method for humidity is to cluster plants together although this can lead to other problems, such as powdery mildew, if you are not careful.
Growing Bananas inside presents a special challenge to the grower because supplemental light must be provided. Bananas require two years of being in the exact same spot, grown under the exact same conditions before they begin to flower.
Once you decide to try your hand at any of the Musa family purchase a very large pot. Bananas grow quickly. I have found that using a large pot to start with eliminates the constant need for repotting. The longer the time between moves the better chance you have of getting fruit. Set the plant in a warm spot with plenty of room overhead so it can reach its mature height unhindered.
I prefer to use a combination of compost, peat moss, vermiculite and perlite as the growing medium for my banana trees. I feel that this combination is a better growing medium than most commercial potting soils. I do add a handful of compost or kelp from time to time so the plants have access to the nutrients they need to thrive.
Never prune a banana tree. Allow the dead leaves to fall off naturally. Separating the banana pups from the mother plant is the best method of propagating of this plant, although you can grow banana trees from seeds. When you separate the pups be sure to break the soil away from the roots and trim about an inch off the roots. Root trimming removes the dead roots and encourages the plants roots to grow. When you repot the plants water the soil with vitamin B-1 or a starter solution fertilizer. This will help to minimize transplant shock.
Frequent fertilization is recommended and you should increase your fertilizer during the summer months since this is the period of active growth for banana trees.
If you have access to horse manure, add some composted manure to the bottom of your pot. Your banana tree will reward you with faster growth once the roots begin to take up the nutrients in the compost. Make sure the manure is composted, because fresh manure can kill your plant.
Bananas dislike drafts and cold weather, however there are varieties that can withstand temperatures of 30 degrees F. with wind – but not frost – and still survive. One such variety that can withstand these extreme temperatures is the Orinoco that grows wild in the lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Other varieties, such as Rajapuri, might experience leaf damage or some other type of physical damage but still survive. Musa basjoo is winter hardy in United States Department of Agricultural hardiness zone 5, but must be mulched over the winter months.
The best way to know what your particular variety of Musa can withstand is to research it. You can always separate a “pup” from the mother plant to test the hardiness of your plant. After all, you never really know what will happen until you try it for yourself. Different areas of your yard receive different degrees of wind, rain and cold temperatures depending on your sheltering conditions – these areas are known as microclimates. The only drawback of this is that most likely these varieties will never produce fruit under these conditions.
In the event that you cannot grow your Banana in your house over winter you can dig it up in the fall and store it once frost blackens the leaves. Keep the banana tree bulbs in a cool, dark place over the winter the same as your other bulbs.
When spring arrives replant your Banana in the ground outside once the ground temperature is at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit and all chance of frost is over. Allow only one plant per hole. The ideal banana grove consists of one plant that is fruiting, one that is half-grown, one that is a quarter grown with the final plant just emerging. Make sure the banana trees are at least a foot away from the main plant once they are old enough to remove from the mother plant so they do not drain energy and prevent her from flowering. The “pups,” as the young banana trees are called, can be divided to produce more plants or cut-off and tossed into the compost pile.