Banana Tree Guide
If you are not yet growing banana trees, get ready to fall in love with this rewarding, fast-growing plant. Banana plants grow naturally in tropical or subtropical climates, so endeavoring to simulate this environment with high temperatures, and high humidity can give you much success when growing banana plants.
How to grow banana plants
They thrive in temperatures between 80°F and 95°F (27°F and 35°F) and these are the temperatures required for most bananas to bear fruit. They will essentially stop growing at temperatures below 57°F (14°C). Bananas are not surprisingly very frost tender. Plants will die back to the ground at temperatures below 32°F (0°C) and temperatures below 22°F (-5°C) will kill the underground rhizome.
Interestingly, it is said that if you see bananas growing, you have everything you need to survive. The whole plant is edible. The fruit, obviously, but the leaves and stems can be used as cooking implements, food wrap, and serving plates. The central core of the stem, although quite fibrous, is edible and is often juiced or stewed.
The plant also makes fiber and material for shelter.
Banana plants are actually not really trees but the largest herbaceous plant on earth. The stems are called pseudostems as they are a false stem made up of the rolled leaf bases, and the stems will come apart like a giant leek.
There are over 1000 varieties of banana to choose from when you consider growing bananas. Some are incredibly beautiful, making a wonderful addition to the indoor or outdoor garden, adding a lush, tropical flare. Others, in addition to adding a tropical feel, can provide the delicious bounty of bananas. There are a wide range of banana fruit colors and types to choose from as well.
Bananas range in size from dwarf bananas, reaching only 3 to 4 feet tall, which can be grown in pots indoors. Or there are large outdoor varieties which can grow up to 25 feet tall. Depending on what climate you live in and how much room you have will determine the type of banana you can grow.
Which Banana Plant is Right for You?
Best Banana Plants for Indoors
If you live in a cooler climate that does not reach 75 degrees F, then bananas will do best indoors if you are happy to keep the temperature in the higher ranges. Some indoor banana plants are purely ornamental but some, such as the Dwarf Cavendish may even bear fruit. The most popular bananas for indoor growing are:
- Dwarf Cavendish
- Dwarf Musa Banana
Best Banana Plants for Outdoor Seasonal Growing
If you have hot, humid summers but low winter temperatures you may be able to grow banana plants outdoors in a container so it can be moved indoors during the cold winter months. The best banana plants for growing in pots are:
- Musa basjoo
- Dwarf Red
- Dwarf Cavendish
- Dwarf Brazilian
- Dwarf Jamaican
Musa basjoo is by far the hardiest of bananas and perfect for gardens in the UK, however it is still important it is protected in the winter.
Best Banana Plants for Outdoor Year-Round Growing
If you are fortunate enough to live in a climate that has hot, humid seasons without seasons reaching cold or freezing temperatures, you may be able to grow large outdoor banana plants.
They can be grown in the back of borders, around ponds, in the understory of a forested area, or used to create a tropical center piece in the landscape. The possibilities here are nearly endless but growing outdoor bananas for their fruit seems inevitable and here are some of the best tasting garden bananas, although depending on your region, there is probably much room for argument on the best tasting banana variety.
- Musa basjoo
- Red Banana
- Lady Finger or Baby Banana
- Blue Java or Ice Cream Banana
Musa bananas are most common in the UK, they love moist well drained soil and plenty of sun. Try to plant in a sheltered spot to protect the leaves from the wind, and also wrap up or move indoors in the winter to protect from the frost.
Caring for Banana Trees
Bananas love the sun. If placed indoors, they need more than 6 hours of bright full sun or indirect daylight so in or close to a south-facing window is best.
Outdoors, banana plants can tolerate full sun if there is humidity over 50% and they are well watered. Dry, windy conditions in full sun may damage leaves so protection may be required.
A moisture retaining, soil that is rich in humus and compost.
Soil should be on the acidic side with a pH of 5.5 to 7. Adding peat moss can help to lower soil pH.
Soil must be well draining. Including perlite, sand, or other well-draining soil component into your soil mixture is a great help to your banana plants.
Bananas are thirsty! Water regularly, watering when the top 1 to 2 inches of soil begins to dry out. A general rule is to water thoroughly at least second-daily, more in hot, dry environments.
Create additional humidity for your banana plants by placing pots in trays with pebbles and water underneath to induce a humid microclimate around the plant.
Do not let your banana roots sit in water for prolonged periods of time as the need well-draining soil so their roots do not begin to rot.
Bananas are hungry, heavy feeding plants. A regular feeding schedule with a high-quality fertilizer with an 8-10-8 ratio of NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium) is recommended. Using organically sourced fertilizers may be important, especially if you are growing bananas to eat.
Providing your banana plants with a lot of protection around the root zone by adding compost and mulch can also provide an opportunity to give your banana plants extra nutrition.
How to Plant Banana Trees
Choose a large container, twice the size of the current roots. Using the above mentioned high-quality, well-drained, compost-rich, acidic soil, fill the bottom of the large pot 4 to 5 inches. Place the root ball into the container and fill in around the root ball with the soil mixture. Tamp the soil down well. As bananas grow quickly, you may need to re-pot often. Always choose a pot larger than you need to avoid the banana getting root bound.
Allow enough room for your banana plants to grow, as they can spread up to 6 to 9 feet (2 to 3 m). Ensure an area that is well-draining, dig a large hole and fill with high-quality soil. Plant your banana plants level with the ground and press into place making sure the root ball has adequate contact with the surrounding soil. Water in well.
How to Maintain Banana Plants
Keeping your banana plants well-watered, in a warm, humid environment that is protected from wind and dry, scorching sun will go a long way to maintaining your fast-growing banana plants. In the right conditions, they are an easy, rewarding plant.
Mulching around the root zone with compost, grass clippings, hay, and removed banana plant parts will help provide protection, moisture retention, and extra nutrition for your bananas.
Removing brown or damaged leaves will keep it looking healthy.
How to Propagate Banana Trees
Banana plants are normally reproduced this way. You can create an identical plant from your banana plant. Once the main stem has flowered and if conditions permit, bear fruit, it will die. It leaves behind a legacy of new, baby plants, called pups. You can use these to propagate new plants or you can cut down the original main stem (which you will want to do anyway) and allow the pups to take its place.
When cutting down the main stem and digging out new young pups, be careful not to damage the plants’ root system, known as the crown, corm, or rhizome. After a couple of years, you will want to divide the crown or rhizome to allow it more room for the parent plant to grow. The divisions of the rhizome can become new plants too.
Growing from Seed
You may be able to obtain seed from a nursery or seed supplier for some varieties of banana. You would follow their germination instructions to grow your own banana plants.
Why are the leaves turning brown?
This can happen for a couple of reasons. It will happen naturally, as the leaves age, they would dry up and turn brown, allowing the plant to focus on new foliage. These are best removed as the plant will shed them anyway. If new growth is turning brown, it may be lack of water, too much sun in too low of humidity, or lack of nitrogen. Assess your plant’s situation and remedy if possible.
Can I Grow Banana Plants in Colder Places?
Yes, you can grow banana plants in colder places. There are even hardy varieties available for cold places such as northern USA and Canada. You may need to contain your expectations in that the plant may not be as fast-growing and probably will not produce edible fruit.
In colder areas, providing extra protection such as wrapping the plants in burlap, or wrapping the plant in a sack full of mulch or leaves may help it survive through bouts of cold weather. Remember, unless a very hardy variety, bananas are not frost hardy and the whole plant can die in temperatures of 22°F (-5°C).
How to protect banana plants in winter?
If they are potted then store them inside, either your garage, shed or home. If your banana plant is planted or cannot be moved then you can buy a plant coat to wrap it in, or create a straw and mesh wrapping for it. Add stacks around the plant, wrap wire mesh around this and then add straw into this mess cage around the plant to keep it warm.
A banana plant can be an impressive, rewarding plant to grow, giving a tropical flare to your landscape or ornamental indoor garden. The options are nearly limitless when deciding what banana is right for you. Providing your banana plants with lots of warmth and water, simulating the tropical climate where they thrive as much as possible will give you happy, healthy banana plants successfully.