Banana Tree Growing Profile

The banana tree is considered to be the world's largest herb
Image by RDPixelShop under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Banana trees are one of the common trees that come to mind when dreaming of the tropics, but did you know that it's not really a tree? It is actually the world's largest herb. Still, due to its size, it is commonly thought of as a banana tree.

No matter what size your yard, there is a banana tree to fit it. While most species grow best in the warmer climates, there are cold-hardy banana trees. They make good houseplants with enough light and water.

While the fruit of many species is full of seeds and possibly inedible, cultivars have been created over time that eliminated the large seeds and made the fruit palatable.

Latin Name

This is Musa spp. and is part of the Musaceae family.

Common Names

This tree is known as the banana or plantain.

Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones

Many cultivars grow best in Zones 9-10. One species, Musa basjoo, may survive outside as low as Zone 5 if mulched well. Other zones will find that the smaller cultivars make great houseplants.

Size & Shape

The tree size varies based on the cultivar chosen. 'Truly Tiny' is only 1' to 1.5' tall, while 'Cuban Red' can be up to 25' tall. Banana trees have a generally irregular shape.

Exposure

Grow in full sun for best results. In hotter areas, afternoon shade is welcome.

Foliage/Flowers/Fruit

Banana tree leaves are huge - depending on the variety, they can be up to 2' wide and 9' long.

These trees are monoecious. There also may be neuter flowers. White flowers emerge from a purple bud.

Bananas are classified as a berry. The fruit actually comes from the female flowers, which, strangely enough, develop without pollination. The fruit grows in a cluster, called a hand, and not all are edible for human consumption.

Others may be tasty but have large seeds. Sizes range from 2.5" to 12" long. The color is yellow, pink, green or red. 

Additional Facts

  • The eating banana commonly seen in stores is the 'Cavendish' variety.
  • Bananas form in late summer. They start finally ripening in the following March. When they are green but plumped up, cut off the stalk and place in a cool, dry space.
  • As stated before, bananas aren't trees since they have no woody parts. The trunk is composed of the main fruiting stem enrobed by leaves.

Design Tips

Banana trees instantly bring a tropical feel to your garden.

Grow in a location where it will be sheltered from the wind as they are very susceptible to damaged leaves.

Growing Tips

Banana trees grow best in a rich, well-drained soil. Salt is not tolerated. Banana trees prefer acidic soil.

These trees need lots of water, but you have to make sure they are not over-watered so you don't get root rot. The soil should be moist but not soggy at all times if possible.

Banana trees should also be fertilized very well. Use a balanced fertilizer once a month. Per the California Rare Fruit Growers organization: "Spread the fertilizer evenly around the plant in a circle extending 4 to 8 feet from the trunk.

Do not allow the fertilizer to come in contact with the trunk. Feed container plants on the same monthly schedule using about half the rate for outside plants."

Propagation is mostly through pups. Wait until they are at least 3' tall and have their own roots. Make sure there are several before you take any suckers off, so it doesn't unbalance the original tree. The seeds are not fertile.

Maintenance/Pruning

Before the banana tree fruits, prune so there is only one main stem. After it has been growing for 6 to 8 months, leave one sucker. This will replace the main stem in the next growing season. After the fruit is removed, cut the main stem down to 2.5'. Remove the rest of the stem in a few weeks, leaving the replacement sucker intact.

Pests & Diseases

One problem may be Panama wilt. There also is the possibility of root rots.

Otherwise, there are not many diseases or pests that affect the banana tree when grown outside of the tropics.