Container gardens, like vertical gardens, are a great solution if you have little space or poor soil. They’re also a brilliant way of growing heat loving or tropical plants in colder climates. One of the most successful selections for container growing is the banana tree. If you want to give your home a tropical feel, follow the steps in this guide and learn how to grow a banana tree.
Bananas technically aren’t trees, but herbaceous perennials. They come in a number of different forms, including dwarf and ornamental varieties. Both are suitable for container growing. However, you’ll get the best results with a dwarf variety.
Dwarf banana tree varieties can grow anywhere between 2 to 4 meters high. In comparison, a standard banana tree can reach up to 15 meters high.
The dwarf varieties suitable for containers include:
- Lady Finger
- Gran Nain
- Williams Hybrid
If you’re more interested in the plant’s leaves than the fruit, the Bloodleaf variety—a red-leaved plant—is ideal for container growing. As it grows, Bloodleaf fills the space with gorgeous, variegated red and green leaves.
Other attractive ornamental varieties include:
- Musa ornata
- Musa sikkimensis ‘Red Tiger’
- Ensete ventricosum
Planting a Banana Tree
If you live in a warm or tropical climate, you’ll be able to place your banana tree outside during the summer months. Gardeners in USDA zones 9-11 will need to shade the trees on the hottest summer afternoons, particularly when the plant is young. In cooler climates, you’ll enjoy more success by growing your banana tree inside.
Growing banana trees from seed is possible, but can be difficult and time consuming. It’s also unsuitable for container gardening, as these plants will often become overly large. Their fruit can also be difficult to get to, and unlike the varieties you buy in the shops, will contain seeds.
When considering how to grow a banana tree, most people will avoid starting from seed. Instead they’ll purchase either a young tree or a banana corm.
Growing Banana Trees from corm
A corm is the base, or underground stem, of the banana tree. The corm also contains the root system, and is the plant’s food storage area. Before you plant one, thoroughly rinse it with lukewarm water. This removes any pests and fungal or bacterial growth.
Plant the corm in a clean, 6- to 8-inch pot. The pot should be clean and have drainage holes in the bottom. This prevents the soil from becoming waterlogged, which can rot the tree’s roots.
Fill the pot with a cactus or palm tree soil mix. These are well-draining and ideal for banana trees. Alternatively, mix some fresh, well-draining soil with perlite, peat, and vermiculite. Again, this will create a nice, light soil. Banana trees struggle and fail in heavier soils. The soil should also be mildly acidic: a pH of 5.6-6.5 is ideal.
Dig a hole in the center of the pot, deep enough to hold most of the corm. A central position gives the roots room to grow and establish. When placed in the hole, the top 20% of the corm should stick out of the hole. When you’re happy with the position, fill the hole, trying not to overly compact the soil.
Water the plant thoroughly, saturating the soil. As the plant grows, keep the soil moist but not overly wet. After a few weeks, shoots (or suckers) will start to emerge. At this stage, you can cover the rest of the corm with fresh compost.
Repotting and Propagation
Every plant will eventually outgrow its pot, and the most obvious indications are growth slowing or ceasing. Roots may also start to protrude from the pots drainage holes.
Each time you repot, increase the size of the pot by 4-6 inches. This gives the roots space to grow.Before repotting the plant, remove all the suckers that have emerged.
Larger suckers, or pups, can be planted into smaller pots where they will grow into new banana plants. These suckers should ideally be at least 12 inches tall, and at least 2 inches in diameter. Larger suckers are more likely to survive and thrive. Those with narrow leaves, sword suckers, have a better chance of surviving the process than the wider leafed water suckers. This is because water suckers are more likely to depend on the mother plant for survival.
To remove the suckers, cut them away from the plant with a sterile, sharp knife. Then dig out the corm. This will enable you to life the pup and corm as one, carefully separating the roots as you do so. Don’t worry if some of the roots are damaged during this process. As long as you get a decent sized corm and some healthy roots the transplant will survive.
Once the suckers have been removed, carefully remove the main trunk of the banana tree from the old pot. Plant the trunk in a clean pot, filled with fresh compost.
Regularly repotting banana plants helps to prolong their life. Just note that the plant won’t last forever. Most will last for a few years and then die after flowering.
How to Grow a Banana Tree Indoors
The most important part of learning how to grow a banana tree is making sure that you provide it with the right levels of care.
Banana trees love hot, full sun locations. They also respond well to humidity: levels should be over 50%. Misting the plant or placing the container on some pebbles in a tray of water can artificially increase humidity levels. Just don’t place the plants directly in the water.
Watering and Feeding
Don’t let your banana plant dry out. Water it regularly, keeping the soil uniformly moist. In the summer months you’ll need to water at least once a day. Reduce watering in the winter months.
Banana plants are vigorous and fast growing. During the growing season regularly applying a nitrogen rich fertilizer. This will encourage and sustain healthy growth. A water soluble fertilizer is easily incorporated into your watering routine.
When the plant begins to flower switch to a high potassium or phosphorus fertilizer. This will encourage fruit formation.
Placing a layer of organic mulch around the plant will provide extra nutrients and help the soil to retain moisture.
Suckers are leafy shoots that emerge from the corm. After 8 weeks of sustained growth, these suckers will start to emerge from the plant. At this point your banana tree will need to be pruned, so remove all but the largest and healthiest of these.
Prune it again when the tree starts to produce fruit. Following harvest, cut the tree down to just above the main sucker. This encourages more fruit to emerge.
Banana trees cease growing when the temperature falls below 50𝇈F. While banana trees growing indoors will rarely encounter these temperatures the plants growth habit may slow. Should this happen, reduce the amount you water and feed the plant. Gradually increase again in the spring.
Winter is also the ideal time to prune the plant and heavily mulch the base. This is especially important if your banana plant is in a colder location, such as a greenhouse. A thick layer of straw or mulch will keep the soil temperature above 22F, helping the plant’s rhizomes survive the winter. You can also cover the plant with a protective covering such as a horticultural fleece.
Common Banana Tree Problems
Another important aspect of learning how to grow a banana tree is quickly recognizing and preventing problems. Luckily, a healthy banana is surprisingly disease resistant.
The most common problem is leaf browning. This is usually an indication of over watering, as is the edge of the leaf becoming dry to the touch. Leaves turning yellow indicates that the plant is lacking in nutrients.
Coconut scale, banana weevil, and banana aphid can all attack the banana plant. Infestations are easily dealt with by applying a treatment of organic pesticide.
Companion planting is a great way of encouraging healthy plant growth. It can also attract beneficial insects while repelling harmful pests. If you’re growing plants in containers, companion planting can be tricky, but is possible.
Banana plants do well when grown alongside legumes, because they’re heavy nitrogen feeders. Legumes also have insecticidal properties that protect banana trees from pests such as banana weevils.
In larger pots, underplanting with castor or coffee beans can enrich the soil and repel harmful pests. In return, the banana tree provides shade for the smaller plants and its bark acts as a mulch and fertilizer. An added bonus of growing coffee plants is that, after enjoying your homegrown coffee, you can use the grounds to improve your soil.
Finally planting pollinator attracting flowers near your banana plant will encourage pollinators to visit and more fruit to form. Interestingly tropical fruit such as banana trees can also be pollinated at night by bats.
There aren’t any plants that you should definitely avoid planting near your banana tree. However, you shouldn’t plant root crops, such as carrots, in the same container. They can potentially damage the banana plant’s roots, rendering it unable to take on sufficient moisture or nutrients.
Harvesting from Your Banana Trees
Most people learn how to grow a banana tree primarily as a decorative plant. However, if you’re lucky, they’ll bear fruit in time.
Before fruiting banana trees produce a spike, known as the inflorescence. This emerges from the heart at the tip of the stem. The spike then opens to reveal clusters of, usually white, flowers. The upper flowers are male, while the lower ones are female.
The young fruit will develop from these flowers. The size of the fruit depend on the variety of tree. Initially appearing as slender green fingers, they’ll grow into a hand of bananas. The hands will droop due to the weight, turning the bunch upside down.
Allow to Ripen, or Pick Early and Cook the Fruit
Ripe fruit will appear plump. Fruit also changes from a dark green color to a light green or yellow as it ripens. Depending on the variety, it can take 75-80 days from flowering for fruit to mature. If you can’t wait, harvest the green bananas and cook them like the perennial herb plantain.
The easiest way to harvest the hand is to remove it with a sharp knife. This method allows you to enjoy the ripe fruit while the green fruit matures. Store harvested bananas in a cool, shaded spot. Don’t place them in a refrigerator, this can damage fruit.
With just a little care and the correct positioning banana trees are a surprisingly easy plant to grow. By following the steps in this guide you will know how to grow a banana tree. Meaning that your home will soon be decorated with the plants lush, green foliage.