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. The trunk is composed of the main fruiting stem enrobed by leaves.
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.
- Botanical Name: Musa spp. and is part of the Musaceae family
- Common Names: Banana or plantain
- Mature Size: 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.
- Sun Exposure: Full sun for best results. In hotter areas, afternoon shade is welcome.
- Soil: Rich, well-drained soil. Salt is not tolerated.
- Soil pH: Acidic
- Flower Color: White flowers emerge from a purple bud.
- 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.
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.
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.
The eating banana commonly seen in stores is the 'Cavendish' variety.
How to Grow Banana Plants
Grow in a location where it will be sheltered from the wind as they are very susceptible to damaged leaves. 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.
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."
Propagating Banana Trees
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.
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.
Banana trees instantly bring a tropical feel to your garden.