A banana tree is a great way to bring a tropical feel to your home or garden. These attractive specimens are also a good way to introduce structure and shade to an open space.
Gardeners in cooler climates will enjoy more success with hardy banana tree varieties. While, these are unlikely to bear fruit the ornamental attraction of the banana tree more than makes up for this. Hardy, large cultivars are a great way to introduce shade and privacy to an outdoor space.
Smaller and dwarf cultivars are ideally suited for container garden collections. These can also be overwintered indoors, as part of a large houseplant collection, and moved outside in late spring to enjoy the summer.
While they may not produce fruit, these plants are still attractive specimens that can bring height and interest to a space.
Pleasingly easy to grow, if you want to add a banana tree to your collection, here is everything that you need to know.
Different Varieties of Banana Tree
Technically a herbaceous perennial, gardeners in USDA Zones 4 and higher can grow cold hardy banana tree plants outside. Forming the Musa genus these surprisingly robust plants can, with a little preparation withstand temperatures as low as -10 ℉. However they are unlikely to produce any fruit.
The tallest cultivar in the Musa genus is Musa Basjoo. This specimen can reach heights of between 10 and 14 ft. If you are planting a cold hardy specimen make sure that you give it lots of space.
If you don’t have that much space to give to a banana tree, you will be pleased to find there are a number of reliable ornamental and dwarf varieties available. Less cold hardy than the musa genus of plants, in cooler climates most of these varieties are best grown in pots. This enables you to move them to a sheltered location as the winter temperatures arrive.
Coming in a range of sizes, the banana tree is a great way to add ornamental interest to a garden.
Dwarf cultivars in particular thrive in containers. Most dwarf varieties reach a final height of between 6 and 14 ft, however this may be constrained slightly by growing in a container.
Reliable dwarf varieties include:
- Gran nain
- Lady finger
- Williams Hybrid
For ornamental interest Bloodleaf is also ideal for containers. It produces eye catching red-green variegated foliage. Red Tiger (Musa Sikkimensis) and Musa ornata are also attractive ornamental varieties.
Whether you decide to plant a dwarf cultivar or a larger specimen, banana tree care is largely the same.
Can I Grow a Banana Tree from Seed?
While you can grow these plants from seed it is a long, difficult process. Specimens grown from seed are typically large trees. This makes them unsuitable for container growing. They also rarely form fruit. When fruit does form it usually contains lots of seeds.
Instead purchase young banana tree specimens from a garden store or nursery. You can also purchase banana tree corms.
Where to Position Your Plant
If you are growing a hardy variety, select a site that enjoys 6 to 8 hours of sunlight every day. Ideally the temperature will consistently range between 78 and 86 ℉.
Humidity levels around the plant should be consistently over 50%. Mist the plants regularly to help maintain humidity levels. Alternatively, plants growing in pots can be placed on trays filled with water and pebbles. Known as humidity trays these are an easy way to maintain humidity levels. Just make sure that the pot is elevated above the water level. Allowing a pot to sit in water, even a small amount, for a prolonged period can cause roots to become soggy and rot.
While these are sun loving plants, young specimens in particular will appreciate some shade during the warmest days of the year.
Avoid planting or positioning in overly windy positions.
Pick a site that enjoys lots of sunlight. The soil should be well draining and there should be lots of room for the plants to grow into.
The soil should be rich and well draining. Improve heavy soils before planting by working in organic matter such as well-rotted compost or chicken manure. The banana tree prefers a slightly acidic soil, a pH level of 5.5 to 6.5 is ideal. If your soil is too alkaline, there are a number of ways to make it more acidic before planting.
If you are not growing a cold hardy variety, the plants are best grown indoors or in a greenhouse. In the warmest or tropical climates, typically USDA Zones 9 to 11 you can place the plants outside during the summer months. Just remember to return them to their indoor position before winter comes. A plant caddy, such as the Amagabeli Heavy Duty Plant Caddy, makes moving large plants a simple task.
How to Plant a Corm
The corm is the base or underground stem of the plant. It contains the root system as well as the place where the plant stores food and nutrients.
Before planting rinse the corm in lukewarm water. This removes any hidden pests as well as any potentially damaging fungal or bacterial growth.
Dig a hole in the soil twice as large as the corm. Gently loosen the roots, this helps the corm to establish itself more easily.
If you are planting in a pot, start the corm off in a pot that is 6 to 8 inches in size. Make sure there are lots of drainage holes in the bottom. You can also place a layer of gravel on the bottom of the pot to further improve drainage.
Fill the pot with well draining soil such as a cactus soil mix or a palm tree soil mix. You can also create your own soil mix by combining well draining fresh potting soil with vermiculite, perlite and peat. This combination creates a light, rich soil.
Make a hole in the center of the pot and position the corm. Centering the corm allows the roots plenty of space to evenly form and establish themselves.
Position the corm so that the top 20% of the corm sits above the soil level. Backfill the hole, being careful not to overly compact the soil and water well, After saturating the soil you can cover the area around the plant with a layer of organic mulch. This helps the soil to retain moisture. Just make sure that the mulch isn’t touching the corm.
For the next few weeks try to keep the soil moist but not overly wet. Within a few weeks suckers or shoots should emerge from the corm. As soon as these emerge you can cover the exposed top section of corm with fresh potting soil or compost.
If you are planting more than one banana tree outside, space them out in double rows 6 to 9 ft apart. Rows should be spread around 15 ft apart.
Repotting and Propagating
If you are growing in containers, you will occasionally need to repot the plant. Growth slowing or ceasing is a sign the plant needs to be repotted.
Every time you repot increase the size of the pot by 4 to 6 inches, this gives the roots space to grow into. Repotting helps to keep container plants healthy and prolongs their lifespan.
Before repotting remove any suckers that have emerged before repotting. These suckers can be planted on in smaller pots where they can grow into new plants. You can also remove suckers from plants growing in the ground.
Your chosen suckers should be 2 inches in diameter and about 12 inches tall before you remove them. The larger the sucker, the more likely it is to survive. The best suckers are those with narrow leaves, known as sword suckers. Wide leafed water suckers are more likely to fail because they often depend on the mother plant for survival.
To remove the suckers cut them away with a sharp, sterile knife. A whetstone is a great investment if you want to keep your garden tools as sharp as possible.
After making the cut, dig down beneath the severed sucker or pup. Dig as deeply as possible to lift as much of the plant and root system as possible. Be careful when separating the roots, suckers with damaged roots are likely to fail. Each pup should be a decent size and have at least some healthy roots attached. Plant the healthy pups on in a clean pot filled with light, potting mix as described above,
Whether you are repotting an established plant or potting freshly harvested suckers, plant as described above.
You can also lift the plant and divide the rhizome into even sections. Each section should have at least one eye or growing tip. After dividing the rhizome replant each section as described above. Growing from rhizomes is easy but takes longer than growing from suckers.
How to Care for a Banana Tree
Once planted care is fairly straightforward. Remember to maintain humidity levels around the plant. The banana tree prefers humidity to be at least 50%. Regularly spraying the foliage helps to maintain these levels. A spray bottle such as the MAYEV Plastic Bottle provides a nice, fine spray which evenly coats the foliage.
The plant’s large leaves appreciate regular misting.
When to Water Your Plant
Water your specimen regularly. Aim to keep the soil evenly moist. Don’t allow the soil to dry out.
Depending on the location and the growing conditions during the summer months the plants may require watering as frequently as once a day. During the winter months this can be reduced to a couple of times a week.
The Gouevn Soil Moisture Meter provides an easy, reliable way to monitor the moisture content in the soil. It also monitors pH levels. The information this provides enables you to make adjustments to your fertilizing routine before your plants begin to display signs of a nutrient deficiency.
Fertilizing Your Plants
Apply a nitrogen rich fertilizer regularly during the growing season. This supports the plants vigorous growth habit. Liquid fertilizers can be incorporated into your regular watering routine.
How frequently you fertilize depends on the product you are using and the growing conditions. Plants growing in good soil usually require fertilizing once a month. If you are growing in poorer soil you may need to fertilize your plants more frequently.
When flowers start to form, switch to a phosphorus or high potassium fertilizer. This encourages fruit formation.
Pruning Your Banana Tree
Suckers emerge from the corm, these leafy shoots usually emerge about 8 weeks after sustained growth. Remove all but the largest and healthiest. Suckers can also be removed and potted on to create new, young plants.
Prune the plants if and when they start to produce fruit. After harvesting cut your banana tree down to just above the main sucker. This encourages it to produce more fruit.
Use garden scissors to prune away any damaged or worn leaves. This stimulates fresh foliage to emerge. During the growing season new foliage emerges every couple of days.
Overwintering a Banana Tree
The banana tree stops growing when temperature falls below 50 ℉. If you are growing indoors temperatures are unlikely to reach these depths, but growth may still slow during the winter months. If this happens reduce the regularity with which you water and fertilize the plant. This can be gradually increased again in the spring as growth resumes.
The onset of winter is a good time to prune the plant and heavily mulch the base. This is particularly important if your plant is in a cooler location such as a greenhouse or is growing outside. Cut the stems and foliage down to about 8 inches above the ground. Aim to do this before the first frost of the year.
A thick layer of organic mulch helps to keep soil temperature above 22 ℉, helping the rhizome to survive the winter. You can also cover the plant with a horticultural fleece. The Haxnicks Fleece Jacket is both durable and easy to install. Simply wrap it around your plant as temperatures begin to fall.
A thick layer of organic mulch, such as bark chippings, can help to protect the plant from cold temperatures and frosts.
Banana tree plants do well alongside legumes. These heavy nitrogen feeding plants also have insecticidal properties that protect the specimen from pests such as banana weevils. This combination can be difficult to plant in larger pots. Instead underplanting with castor or coffee beans can help to repel pests and enrich the soil. In return the taller plant shades the smaller ones.
Plant pollinator attracting flowers such as geraniums, daisies and alliums nearby to encourage pollinators to visit your plant. If your specimen does flower, encouraging lots of pollinators to the area helps to increase the fruit yield. Interestingly tropical fruit plants such as the banana tree can also be pollinated at night by bats.
Avoid planting near root crops such as carrots. These can damage the root system of the tree.
How to Avoid Common Problems
If planted in a favorable position and cared for correctly, these are surprisingly disease resistant plants.
Foliage browning can be an indication of over watering. The edge of the leaf feeling dry to the touch is another indication of over watering.
Yellowing foliage is a sign that the plant is lacking in nutrients. A soil test kit can tell you what amendments you need to make.
Regularly inspect the foliage for signs of disease or infestation.
Coconut scale, banana aphid and banana weevil can all attack growing plants. Regularly inspect the foliage for signs of damage or infestation. Treat any infestations with an organic pesticide or insecticidal soap.
Harvesting Your Fruit
Usually a decorative or ornamental plant, if you are lucky spikes or inflorescence can emerge from the heart at the tip of the stem. This opens to reveal clusters of usually white flowers. The lower flowers are female and the top ones male.
After pollination fruit emerges from the flowers. The size of the fruit varies depending on the cultivar that you are growing. As the slender green fingers develop into a hand of bananas they turn and start to droop down towards the ground.
As the fruit ripens it plumps up and turns to a yellow shade from dark green. It can take up to 80 days from flowering, depending on the variety, for fruit to mature. Green fruit can be harvested and cooked like plantain.
When ripe harvest by cutting the hand away with a sharp knife. Store the harvested fruit in a cool spot away from direct sunlight.
Following pollination, fruit forms on the plant. Initially upright, as the fruit develops the hand bends down towards the ground.
Easy to grow, the banana tree is a fascinating and potentially fruitful addition to the home. Like other fruit trees they provide a great way to introduce privacy or create a natural windbreak.
Hardy specimens may not bear fruit but they will still add ornamental tropical interest to your garden. Smaller cultivars are just as attractive and can also be grown as houseplants or in greenhouses. This versatility means that almost anybody can enjoy the tropical elegance of a banana tree. Why not add one to your garden today?
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.