Growing Profile for the Japanese Banana

Otherwise Known As Musa Basjoo

The Japanese banana with a flower.
Image by Torquay Palms under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

When most people think of banana trees, they envision a tropical landscape. The Japanese banana (Musa basjoo), however, is able to grow in more temperate conditions. You can even grow it in locations that get snow down to Zone 5.

Use this hardy banana species to add an exotic splash to your garden.

Latin Name

This species is known as Musa basjoo and is part of the Musaceae family. It is in the same genus as the familiar bananas that you find at the grocery store.

Common Names

In addition to Japanese banana, other names associated with these species include hardy fiber banana, Japanese fiber banana or just hardy banana. The name fiber banana is used because the "trunk" (pseudostem) can be processed to make fibers for use in making textiles.

Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones

This species may be able to survive winters in locations as low as Zones 4 or 5 if they are heavily mulched. They probably came from China originally and were introduced to a chain of islands called the Ryukyu Archipelago off the coast of Japan.

Size and Shape

This tree will be up to 18' tall at maturity.

Exposure

The Japanese banana should be planted in a location that receives full sun during the day.

Foliage/Flowers/Fruit

Each green leaf is approximately 6' long and 2' wide. The sheaths make up the stem. Cigar leaf is a special term applied to the newest leaf to appear, but only until it unrolls itself since the name refers to its appearance.

Large cream or yellow flowers are produced during the summer. They are monoecious. You should not expect to eat the fruit on this species. Each small green banana is filled with black seeds and a little white pulp.

The Japanese banana will renew itself after fruiting is complete. The pseudostem will die away, but you can keep the plant growing because it produces suckers.

Design Tips

This species can serve as a specimen plant, especially in temperate gardens since most banana trees grow in the tropics. It is suitable for use next to a swimming pool.

Find a location that is sheltered from the wind as the leaves may tear in a storm.

Growing Tips

You will need to protect the herbaceous pseudostem (what appears to be a trunk but contains no wood) each winter with mulch. The tops may die out but they will regrow in the spring once the temperatures warm up. Plants in containers should be brought inside for the winter.

Banana trees do not do well in drought conditions since they need to be watered often for proper growth. They should also be fertilized several times throughout the year.

The plant will send out rhizomes called banana pups. After the roots form on the pups, you can remove a few from time to time to produce new plants. If you remove a lot at the same time, the plant may tip over. You can also plant some of the seeds once the fruit matures, though they may be difficult to germinate.

Banana trees, in general, can be grown in containers for use outdoors and as a houseplant. There are several pests that can become especially bothersome on houseplants. These include aphids, mealybugs, scales and spider mites. You can try treating the plant with an organic method like insecticidal soap, but control can be difficult and you may ultimately need to throw the tree out if the infestation is serious enough.

Maintenance and Pruning

You can choose a strong banana pup to develop as the main tree once the fruit has been produced and cut away the mother tree.

Pests and Diseases

Pests that can attack include:

  • Aphids (houseplant)
  • Borers
  • Grasshoppers
  • Mealybugs (houseplant)
  • Root nematodes
  • Scales (houseplant)
  • Spider mites (houseplant)

Diseases that can infect include:

  • Anthracnose
  • Mosaic virus
  • Wilts

Also, check out a book called Tropical Garden Style with Hardy Plants for more plants that can survive in lower temperatures.