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Although it’s commonly considered that bananas grow on trees, the plant is technically a herbaceous perennial herb. The banana plant shares the same order with the bird of paradise and some types of ginger plants. Assuming you provide it with the right conditions, it’s not actually that difficult to grow your own banana plants. The growth requirements are quite straightforward whereas the care needs are more difficult to meet.
Banana trees don’t have a woody stem but fleshy stalks that grow quickly and require generous amounts of space. If you live in 9 to 11 USDA hardiness zones, it’s safe to say that you can plant banana trees in your yard and enjoy fruit production. Otherwise, the plant is more suitable as an indoor tree grown primarily for its foliage.
Types of Banana Trees
When it comes to banana tree species, there’s a great variety to choose from. Here are some of the best plant options to consider for your yard or home:
1. Japanese Banana (Musa Basjoo)
Thanks to its reliable hardiness, the Japanese banana is considered one solid beginner-friendly option. It can survive lower temperatures compared to other banana species giving it an advantage for growing in certain climate conditions. This is an ornamental plant grown for its huge leaves.
2. Cavendish Banana (Musa Cavendish)
The Cavendish banana is what usually comes to mind when people think of a common banana. There are many different varieties of Cavendish banana plants including dwarf ones that work nicely as houseplants.
3. Blue Java Banana (Musa ‘Blue Java’)
Famous for producing delicious fruits with a distinctive flavor and texture, the Blue Java banana is truly an extravagant plant to consider. This hybrid plant offers great tolerance to cold environments and the peel features a bluish tinge.
All species of banana plants thrive in warm climates even if some of them have superior cold tolerance than others. If you intend to grow a banana tree in your backyard, it’s essential to consider the right location for it. The leaves are vulnerable to powerful winds. That’s why it’s important to provide adequate shelter.
Another aspect to take into account when choosing the plant site is the size of the banana tree. Most types of banana plants will require an area large enough to properly spread their leaves as well as grow in height. If you plan to grow multiple banana trees, you will need to plant them around 12-13 feet apart.
Banana plants require full sunlight exposure to maximize fruit production. However, the foliage can get scorched during very hot periods in the summer. Certain varieties of banana plants may perform better in partial shade.
3. Temperature and Humidity
Ideal temperatures should be around 78 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. Higher temperatures can cause problems but you typically need to be more careful about night temperatures which shouldn’t drop below 67 degrees. Depending on the level of cold tolerance, your banana tree might stop growing or struggle to survive when temperatures get lower than 60 degrees.
Humid conditions are essential for the optimal growth of this plant. If you want to grow banana trees in areas with dry air, you should mist the leaves quite often to simulate their natural environment. Stable conditions are critical for banana trees because they can’t handle large temperature fluctuations or sudden humidity changes.
When it comes to soil needs, banana plants prefer very rich soils. That’s why it’s recommended to prepare the planting site with compost that allows the plant to flourish. Another notable aspect is the drainage. Moisture-retentive soils can be harmful to banana trees.
The ideal type of soil preferred by a banana plant should have a slightly acidic pH but there are no strict requirements. With the exception of sandy soil that’s typically nutrient-deficient, banana trees grow successfully in any type of rich soil.
Keeping your banana plants properly hydrated isn’t particularly difficult. A good level of moisture is important for the soil but excess water is a big problem to avoid. Always check the top layer of the soil if it’s dry to prevent overwatering.
Considering the tropical adaptation of banana trees, the plants need plenty of water. Expect to water them regularly during very hot summer periods. Just be careful to avoid the issue of soggy soil that leads to root rot.
If you’re growing banana trees for their fruits, it’s safe to say that fertilization is pretty much mandatory. Banana plants are heavy feeders that need rich soils to thrive. Consider supplementing with a balanced fertilizer enriched with potassium around the root area. It’s recommended to feed your banana trees regularly from spring to early fall.
Banana plants left to grow without careful pruning will most likely produce an excess of suckers that feed on resources better spent on fruit production. If you want a bountiful banana harvest, you should prune the plant until only a single main stem remains before fruiting. The removed suckers can be replanted in other areas of the garden if desired. Pruning is also recommended for general plant health maintenance through the removal of dead or unhealthy foliage that can lead to diseases.
It can take almost a year for a banana plant to produce fruit. Bananas grow in clusters called “hands”. Hands of bananas grow in bunches on the stem and they can become quite heavy as the growing season progresses. Propping the plant is recommended in some cases.
Banana hands can be harvested individually in different stages of ripeness. You can remove green bananas from the tree and let them ripen indoors just as you would with unripe bananas from the supermarket. This is a good solution to avoid the problem of ending up with a lot of ripe bananas in a single batch.
Banana trees are easily propagated by division. Maturing plants will have plenty of suckers that can be gently removed and replanted. Proper timing is important for this process. It’s recommended to allow the suckers to grow a few feet tall so they can develop their own roots. Before cutting one sucker for propagation, wait until there are a few of them growing at the base of the mother plant.
10. Pests and Diseases
Dying leaves or discolorations are typically signs of diseases or the presence of pests. Similar to other plants in your yard, banana trees can also be susceptible to various problems. Nematodes commonly attack the banana plant. It’s considered a very destructive pest due to bringing fungal diseases as well.
Weevils and thrips are other pests that can be quite damaging to banana trees. A black weevil infection can be recognized by inspecting the base of the plant’s pseudostem where the insect infiltrates and leaves behind a jelly-like sap. Fruit peel stains are often caused by thrips. Bananas will start rotting if the pest is left unchecked. Different specialized pesticides are recommended to control banana tree pests.
When it comes to diseases, the most common one is leaf spot. The name is pretty self-explanatory considering how the infected plant shows pale leaf spots that will become larger in time. Eventually, in the late stages of the disease, the banana plant appears as if it has been burned. Fungal diseases such as banana wilt or black leaf streak are also fairly common because they can be transmitted in multiple ways. Preventing fungicides are recommended.