When we dream of the tropics or rainforests, lots of banana trees pop to mind. But did you know that bananas don’t actually grow on trees? Some people may refer to them as palm trees, but in actual fact, banana plants are large perennial herbs.
If you want to create a tropical look in your garden, and you live in a cold climate, you can still grow a banana plant – as long as you choose the cold hardy variety. Most species of bananas grow best in warm climates, but they also make great houseplants with adequate water and light.
In this article, we’ve covered all the facts about banana trees, with some great tips on how to grow and care for these beautiful plants.
Banana Tree Overview
|Scientific Name||Genus Musa|
|Fertilizer||Organic feed once a month|
|Max growth||25 feet|
|Water||Deeply every week|
|Temperature||Warm, humid temperatures (up to 85 degrees F)|
|Soil||Loose an well-drained|
|Pests||Thrips, scarring beetle, weevils|
Common Varieties of Bananas
Cavendish: These are the most commonly found varieties that are easily available in supermarkets. The bananas start as unripe green before they become fully ripe by turning dark yellow.
Gros Michel: Similar to Cavendish in terms of size and taste, this banana variety isn’t as widely available and has a creamier texture.
Burro: These are shorter and chunkier than Cavendish bananas. They only grow to about 6 inches in length and have a square shape with a stunted appearance. The dark green skin eventually turns yellow as the fruit ripens. These bananas have a tangy taste to start with and become much sweeter once they are fully ripe.
Lady Finger: These varieties are 5 inches long and resemble lady’s fingers, hence the name. Their thin peel is bright yellow with dark freckles when fully ripened.
Apple Bananas: These plump bananas have a thick and firm peel with creamy flesh. They are called apple bananas because of their tangy and sweet taste that has a hint of apple.
Red Bananas: The red-purple skin of these bananas can hardly go unnoticed. Their sweet flesh has a hint of orange and once they are fully ripe, their creamy flesh turns to light pink.
Banana Tree Care Guide
Temperature and Humidity
Banana plants thrive in humid and warm climates. They should be protected against extreme temperatures wherever possible. Even the cold tolerant varieties prefer consistent temperatures for best growth. Once the temperatures drop, so does the growth rate of the plant. To protect your banana plant from extreme temperatures, plant it in sheltered areas or bring it indoors just before winter arrives.
Banana plants are tropical and originate in rainforests. This means they require a lot of water and plenty of moisture. These plants do well when planted in groups and as close to each other as possible to retain moisture in their leaves. As a rule of thumb, give 2 inches of water per week and check the soil moisture frequently to ensure it stays moist. Overwatering will cause the roots to rot so the soil should always be moist not soggy.
Almost all banana plant species prefer full sun throughout the day. In fact, most varieties need 12 hours of sunshine per day to grow. However, you must be careful as too much direct sun can scorch the plant.
Banana plants will grow in most soil types, but to help them thrive, provide them with a rich and well-draining soil. These plants prefer an acidic soil with pH levels of between 5.5 and 6.5. The best location for planting your banana tree is above a compost heap.
Apply a balanced fertilizer once per month. Banana plants are heavy feeders and need plenty of organic matter as well as potassium, which is a necessary nutrient for healthy plant growth.
Pruning is best done before the banana plant produces fruits. You will only need to prune one stem after it has been growing for 6 months. When pruning the stem, leave one sucker as this will replace the main stem in the following growing season. Another pruning time is after harvesting. Cut the main stem down to 2 feet but make sure you leave the sucker intact.
Bananas are ready for picking when they look well rounded and the flowers at the end of the bunch are dry. Having said that, you can pick the bananas at any time when they are still green. Just leave the bunch of bananas at room temperature to quicken the ripening process. Once they are picked, they will ripen very quickly. You may also cut the whole bunch and hang it in a mesh to protect it from thieving birds. Just beware that bananas tend to ripen all at once so be prepared to use them within a short time. You can always freeze the leftover bananas for smoothies or desserts!
Since banana plants have both male and female organs in the same stem, they are more classified as berries because the fruit actually comes from female flowers. You won’t be able to propagate bananas from their seeds as they’re not fertile.
The best propagation method is through division. You must divide banana plants and separate their pups (or suckers) from the rhizome. This can be done using a sharp spade. Before you go ahead and divide the pups, wait until they are at least 3 feet tall and have developed their own roots.
Be sure to leave several suckers intack so as not to unbalance the plant. After separating the sucker from the parent plant, plant it in any desired location in a pot or in the ground.
Common Diseases and Pests
This common banana plant pest causes rotting and acts as a fungus. Most gardeners apply fungicide to protect the crop. However, if the problem isn’t treated on time, you will have to clear the soil and expose it to direct sunlight before replanting.
Otherwise known as banana stalk borer, this pest is extremely destructive. It attacks the base of the plant and creates a tunnel with jelly-like sap that oozes out of the pseudostem. A commercial pesticide will help eradicate these pests.
These pests stain the peel of the banana and cause it to split open and expose the flesh. The fruit begins rotting soon after it is exposed. By spraying insecticides in the soil, thrips can be effectively controlled.
This pest invades the banana bunches before they have a chance to ripen. The moth-like beetle infests the stalk and can be treated with pesticides.
Aphids are the pests that transmit this disease to the banana plant. Effective control measures include the quarantine of the plant in another area.
These are just some of the many diseases and pests that can harm a banana plant. To prevent your bananas from damage, pay vigilant attention to any unusual changes that occur on the stalk, leaves and the peel of the fruit. By keeping your banana plants healthy and pest free, they will yield fruit for years to come.
How to Plant Banana Tree
Growing bananas in Container
Banana plants will happily grow in large pots, but their container needs to be a minimum of 15 gallons deep. The advantage of growing bananas in a container is that you have complete control over their environment and can protect them better against cold weather. Keep in mind that banana plants are very thirsty and hungry plants so you’ll have to be prepared to water and feed them regularly when growing them in containers.
Repotting these plants should be done at least once every 2 years using a high-quality potting mix and fertilizer.
Most varieties of banana plants take around 6-9 months to grow and produce fruit. The rhizome of the plant will remain intact while the mother plant dies. The rhizome has several growing points that produce new pups for transplanting.
Planting in the Ground
When planting in the ground, dig a hole that’s twice the size of the plant’s root system. The hole must be at a depth of 1.5 feet. Put organic compost in the bottom of the hole before adding soil to the base. When placing the plant in the hole, add more soil and gently compact it around the plant’s roots. Make sure the plant is securely planted in the soil. Finally, make sure you give the planted tree enough water. During warmer weather, water the banana plant every day whenever the top soil is dry.
Best Time to Plant Banana Trees
The best time to plant is in spring and summer when temperatures are higher. You must prepare the soil prior to planting by adding plenty of manure or compost. Irrigate the soil thoroughly a couple of days prior to planting your tree. If you are growing several banana plants, place them a few meters apart.
Other Tips on Growing Bananas Successfully
- When planting your new banana trees, make sure you wait until frost has completely passed in spring. It’s safest to wait until warmer weather comes in early summer before planting new banana trees outside. Young plants are vulnerable to temperatures lower than 50 degrees fahrenheit as this can stunt their growth process.
- Make sure you provide plenty of room for your banana plants to grow by digging deep holes. For best results, prepare the soil in advance prior to planting. The soil needs to contain plenty of organic matter and acidity. If you’re unsure of your soil’s pH levels, test it using a simple soil testing kit that will reveal the result within minutes.
- As we previously mentioned, banana plants are tropical trees that thrive in rainforests. They need lots and lots of water and humidity. This is why they grow best in groups not as individual plants. By following a routine watering schedule, you can keep your banana plant happy and healthy.
- Banana plants don’t like strong winds as they have large leaves that can easily get damaged. When planting them in the ground, keep them close to walls and away from wind exposure. Otherwise their pseudostem can break. While this won’t kill the plant, it will stunt its growth and prevent it from yielding fruit in the next growing season.
Can I grow banana trees in a cool climate?
If the temperatures don’t drop to lower than 20s fahrenheit, then yes. Below freezing temperatures will kill the leaves of bananas, especially if they are planted in the ground. But there are several species that can withstand cold weather, such as Musa basjoo and pink bananas. If you want to grow other varieties of bananas that don’t tolerate cold weather, either bring the plant indoors before winter or keep it in a sheltered area away from extreme weather conditions.
How many times can banana plants produce crops?
Each banana plant produces only one cluster before dying. However, the plant will continuously produce new stalks, which means you can enjoy more bananas from the same plant for a few more years.
Why have my banana plant leaves turned brown?
This could be due to under or over-watering. When the banana plant’s roots are waterlogged, the leaves have a tendency to turn brown as they can no longer circulate moisture. Insufficient watering can also prevent the roots from circulating nutrients and moisture.
Should I cut off the brown leaves of my banana tree?
Yes. To help stimulate growth, trim any dead or brown leaves, especially the ones that rub against the banana bunch. All in all, banana plants don’t require much pruning but the yellow or brown leaves should be removed to help keep the plant healthy.
Whether you live in a cool or warm climate, you’re sure to find suitable banana plant species to grow in containers or in the ground.