Tropical and Cold Hardy Banana Plants
Banana plants are one of the most versatile plants to use in the landscape or in containers. The banana plant can be fruiting or ornamental in nature, and both will produce an inflorescence (flower), but only the fruiting varieties produce edible bananas. Banana plants enhance a tropical allure to your landscape with their lush green foliage with leaves measuring 2 feet wide x 6 feet long. Bananas have a fast growth rate and some varieties will produce fruit within 9 months after planting.
Can you imagine harvesting bananas growing in your yard or container? Impossible you think. It is possible to plant, grow, and harvest bananas from your backyard or container with the newer cultivars that are extremely cold-hardy and have high wind resistance. Some of the cultivars are hardy to USDA zone 7. For the gardener that resides outside of USDA zone 7 one can grow the banana plant in a container; and bring the plant in just before first frost in your area. For winter protection in the garden, heavily mulch the area where the banana is planted.
Let’s talk about the wonderful benefits of growing fruit in the garden or in containers. Home-grown bananas have a richer, fuller, and better taste than store bought since you pick them yourself. Home-grown bananas are easy and inexpensive to grow as well. Growing bananas has a lot of appeal: it can involve the entire family from the little ones to the teens. As well as being an educational tool, the time the family spends in the garden is quality time spent together, and can give one a sense of pride. For gardener’s who live in a condo, apartment, or townhome bananas can be grown in a container. There are a few key elements to consider before growing or planting your bananas: Location or container(s), soil amendments or potting soil, planting, fertilizer, and insecticide.
Choosing a Location: Choose an area that gets 5 - 6 hours of full sun; and if, you have an area that receives more than 6 hours of sunlight that’s all right, too.
Choosing a Container(s): Pick a container that is 14 inches or larger, and I would like to suggest when growing bananas to put one plant per container. All Hand-Crafted Cedar Planters are 35% Off. Click Here To Purchase Cedar Planters.
Choosing a Soil Amendment or Potting Soil: When choosing a soil amendment or potting soil there are several commercial soils available, and choosing one is a matter of your gardening preferences, some of the choices are inorganic verses organic, with moisture control or without moisture control, with timed-release fertilizer or without fertilizer. Some soils are especially formulated for fruit and vegetables and can be used as a potting soil in containers or a soil amendment to the planting area. Bananas especially like lots of compost either applied on top of the soil or mixed in with soil amendments and soil from the original planting hole when planting in the garden.
Planting: All bananas are slightly acid-loving plants and require an acid-loving soil. When planting use a soil recommended for azaleas and camellias, or fruit and vegetables. Dig the hole twice as wide as the root ball and deep. Use a 50 – 50 mix of original soil from the planting hole and the azalea/camellia soil, or fruit and vegetable soil. Add this mixture to the planting hole. The root ball of the banana needs to be one (1) inch above the soil line. Fill the planting hole with the soil mixture. Water in well. After watering add a root stimulator or Super Thrive. These are products that you mix with water and help reduce transplant shock and also help stimulate the roots. Use once a week for the first month and then after, once a month for six months. Did you know that leftover coffee or tea grounds help increase the acidity level of your soil? Instead of throwing away your leftover coffee or tea grounds away your bananas will benefit from sprinkling the grounds around your bananas. Let the grounds dry in a container and one can add the grounds daily or weekly. Cover with a layer of mulch one to three inches thick. Spacing: 8 to 10 apart.
Choosing a Fertilizer: Fertilizers are the vitamins or the essential elements that a plant needs to grow and stay healthy. The soil, atmosphere, and water usually provide the plant with these essential nutrients, but there are times when the soil is generally nutrient deficient and in this case a fertilizer is essential. There are sixteen essential elements to plant nutrition. These elements are separated into two categories, macronutrients and micronutrients. The macronutrients are: oxygen [O], carbon [C], hydrogen [H], nitrogen [N], phosphorus [P], potassium [K], Calcium [Ca], magnesium [Mg], sulfur [S] and are required by the plant in large amounts. Oxygen, carbon and hydrogen are provided to the plant by the atmosphere and water. Required by the plant in small amounts are the micronutrients, which are: iron [Fe], manganese [Mn], zinc [Zn], baron [B], copper [Cu], molybdenum [Mo], and chlorine [Cl]. These elements are the building blocks to plant nutrition and health. Bananas are heavy feeders and require sufficient amounts of water. Keep the planted area free from grass 2 – 5 feet away from the trunk. Fertilize every month with a fertilizer recommended for Citrus, Avocado, and Mango, a 10-6-4, a 6-4-4, an 8-10-8, or a 6-2-12. Apply at a rate of 1 ½ pounds per month up to 5 pounds per plant. Young plants apply ½ pound per month. Apply the fertilizer 4 feet away from the trunk. These recommendation are bananas planted in the ground. For containers or newly potted containers apply the recommended rate directly on top of the soil and water in well.
Choosing an Insecticide: When choosing an insecticide there are several available at your local garden center and choosing one is a matter of your gardening preferences, and while I was growing bananas I had an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) approach method. I would only use Safer Soaps or Horticultural Oils on all the bananas that I grew, and realistically I hardly had to spray the bananas at all. I was constantly watching for any insect or worm that would start eating my prize bananas, and when I did see one I would simply dispose of the insect. Realistically, banana plants are usually pest-free. When growing the plants in a container or inside is when one should keep a lookout for insects, especially spider mites.
Watering: Of all the ingredients that have been mentioned for banana growing or banana container gardening success, water, is the most important to a successful banana grower, whether in the garden or in containers. The soil for your bananas will need to be consistently moist at all times, but not soggy wet. Banana plants will not tolerate flooding. The water needs to drain within 24-48 hours after flooding has occurred. The water source should be city water or treated water. This is one of the reasons of previous years Salmonella outbreaks on produce; the produce that were recalled received Salmonella during either the growing process or the production process. To date, I have not heard of any bananas being recalled. Due to all the current recalls of produce, more gardeners are starting to grow their own fruits this year versus previous years due to the recent outbreaks in store-bought produce. Just another reason to start growing your own fruits, you supply the water, you supply the insecticide, and you know exactly what ingredients went into your fruits. For states that are currently under water restrictions, you can water your food crops, personal food garden, or personal container garden without penalty. Wash all fruits before eating or cooking, whether Home Grown or Store Bought.
Bananas are clumping and send out underground rhizomes; in no time at all you will have a whole grove of bananas. When growing bananas it is recommended to keep 3 to 6 suckers (plants) at various heights. Any more than 6 banana suckers should be removed by cutting the sucker down to the soil line. When a banana blooms, it is the flower that forms the fruit. Once the banana produces a flower and fruits that stalk will die. When harvesting bananas, cut the banana bunch off the tree, and then cut the entire banana stalk to the ground. Then, let a new sucker replace the one that was just cut down. One can tell when the bananas are ready to be harvested when the fruits start to turn yellow in color. If, the bananas start to split before harvesting has occurred increase the water times or the amount of water received by the plant. Listed below are a few cultivars that are excellent choices for home gardeners.
Brazilian Dwarf Banana – Height 6 – 9 feet. Large leaves, good provider of shade, and good wind resistance. Bananas can be eaten fresh or served in other delicious treats. Zones: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.
Carolina King Banana – Height 5 – 6 feet. Green-yellow color, delicious fruit. Can be grown in a container. Easy to grow to the fruiting stage, extremely cold-hardy. Zones: 7, 8, 9, 10.
Cavendish Banana – Height 15 – 17 feet. Primary variety sold in U.S. grocery stores. Full sized, high quality fruit. Zones: 7, 8, 9, 10.
Dwarf Cavendish Banana – Height 6 – 7 feet. Delicious fruit, this is one of the varieties you buy at the grocery store. Medium size fruit, sweet and tasty. Height 7 feet. Zones: 8, 9, 10, 11.
Golden Rhino Horn Banana – Height 17 to 20 feet. Most cold-hardy, green-yellow fruit. The fruit is equal or sweeter than most grocery store bananas. Zones: 7, 8, 9, 10.
Grand Nain Banana – Height 6 to 8 feet. Good wind resistance. Fruits at 6 feet, popular variety for desserts and other banana dishes. Fruit measures 11 to 12 inches long and very popular and used by world class chefs. This is the variety typically associated with the Chiquita brand. Zones: 8, 9, 10.
Ice Cream Banana – Height to 15 feet. The skin of the fruit is silvery-blue sheen. Considered the best tasting fruit with a hint of vanilla ice cream. Zones: 8, 9, 10.
Jamaican Red Dwarf Banana – Height 6 to 8 feet. High wind resistance. Fruit superior quality, moist, sweet, with custard-like texture. Zones: 8, 9, 10, 11.
Lady Finger Banana – Height 12-16 feet. Excellent producer of sweet tasting and fruit is shaped like that of a cigar. Zones: 8, 9, 10.
Misi Luki Banana – Height 10 to 12 feet. Misi Luki is an improvement over Lady Finger. This variety is recommended to the home gardener for best tasting fruit, very disease resistant and fruit that is 4 inches long. Zones: 8, 9, 10.
Mysore Banana – Height 15 to 16 feet. Slightly acid flavor offsets the sweetness. High wind resistance. Commercially grown in Asia. Zones: 8, 9, 10, 11.
Nam Wah Banana – Salt tolerant and wind resistant. Fast grower which can reach a height of 20 feet in 6 months. Zones: 8, 9, 10, 11.
Pineapple Banana – Height 6-7 feet. Derivative of RajaPuri, but slightly shorter. Tangier fruit that is reminiscent of pineapple. Zones: 8, 9, 10.
Pisang Ceylon Banana – Height 10-15 feet. Foliage maroon with black markings. Very cold-hardy, high quality sweet fruit. This variety is an improvement of the Mysore. Zones: 7, 8, 9, 10.
Rajapuri Banana – Height 10-12 feet. Very cold-hardy, salt tolerant, and high wind resistance. Very sweet fruit that compares to grocery store bananas. Excellent choice for landscaping. Zones: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.
Texas Star Banana – Height 6-8 feet. Superb cold hardiness. Tasty, medium size fruit, sweet in flavor. Zones: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.
©Cheryl Ann Meola 2015.