Who has not dreamed of life on tropical islands? Of sitting under banana trees while trade winds swish the leaves?
If you’re not being able to go to the islands I have the next best option… plant bananas in your garden.
The banana family (Musaceae) is large, and while many are decorative they may not bear edible fruit.
If you have had several banana plants make a few hands or rounds of fruit that ripened, but your season is too short for fruit, the supermarket is near.
Bananas Grow From Suckers and Seeds
Bananas increase by suckers or sprouts. Several come up each year from one root.
When a banana blooms, even though the fruit does not ripen, that stalk will die, but the surrounding suckers will carry on.
I have grown banana plants from seeds. Some seeds grew into 15’ to 20’ foot high plants with seeds shaped something like hollyhock seeds.
Others grew from small round, hard seeds resulting in four-foot-high plants. These had small clusters (full of seeds) of two-inch-long rose-colored bananas in the top.
Plant the seeds in the winter in a flat in a little greenhouse, with bottom heat, using sterilized soil and peat moss. They come up in a week to sometimes three weeks.
When they have four leaves pot them into three-inch pots and keep shifting to larger pots until you know the danger of frost is over and can plant them in the garden.
A plant will live for a year or so in a five-gallon pot if fed frequently but it will not make suckers.
What Kind Of Soil Do Bananas Like?
Bananas like humusy soil. If you can get a well-rotted cow or horse manure use it, otherwise use peat, sand, and compost.
Since they are such lush green plants and grow so fast they need plenty of water. Use a complete fertilizer dug lightly in around the roots about every three weeks during the growing season.
The dwarf Chinese banana (Musa Cavandishii) had a little stalk, but large leaves, making a huge rosette some four feet high bearing small edible fruit.
Sometimes the huge leaves are splotched with dark red. This red banana variety (Musa acuminata) can withstand a few degrees of frost.
The red or plantain banana grows to 30′ feet, with leaves nine feet long and two feet wide.
The fruit is large and when peeled, split, rolled in brown sugar, fried gently in an iron skillet in butter, turned often and more sugar sprinkled until carmelized, it is delicious.
There are beautifully foliaged bananas. Musa paradisiaca has green and white variegated foliage. Musa sumatrana is variegated red and green.
The bananas bloom from the top of the stalk, coming out in a sheath or shuck, something like a large corn shuck, purple-rose with an iridescent quality.
When they fall they retain this lovely color for days, after which the stalk and blooms emerge.
Where Can You Plant Bananas?
I’ve seen huge bananas growing at the front door, where they grow higher than the house in a season, waving the leaves in fringed splendor.
They also look great:
- At the back of a small pool by the patio to give shade to the gold fish
- On the east side of a garden shelter, to shade a raised bed of alocasias so the sun will not ruin their delicate colors
- On the sunny side of the greenhouse, used all year for propagation
- On either side of walks so you can walk under a bower of lush green.
Can You Store Bananas Plants During Winter?
Every fall just before frost, dig a clump of sprouts of every variety to store in the basement.
I know some northern gardeners who stored them upright in wooden boxes, and the roots were covered with sandy soil, making sure the plants do not dry out.
If you have tubs – a large galvanized tub with drainage holes will hold two or three for a season – then tub and all can go into wooden boxes, covering the roots with sandy soil, seeing that they do not dry out.
The ones left outdoors are sawed off at the ground, covered with old magazines and newspapers and pine straw on for a neat look.
In the spring remove the magazines but leave the pine straw for summer mulch. Bananas have small roots for such large plants.
Bananas will grow in full sun but they are much nicer in half shade, where they can be sheltered from the wind that would split the leaves.