Past Articles Library | How to Grow and Care for a Banana Tree
Recently, banana trees have been popping up as a landscape staple regardless of where you live. Before you jump and run to the garden nursery or seed catalogue for your banana tree, make sure you really want this tropical plant. It is very hard to get rid of once it is established.
Also, banana trees are not without work. They do require pruning and mulching. So if you want a low maintenance type of landscape, do not choose banana trees for that tropical feel.
Now, if you dream of having a little Margaritaville in your backyard and cannot live without your own banana tree, you will need to know that there are two types of banana trees. One type produces edible bananas while the other can produce a type of fruit, it should never be eaten.
While the first type of banana may seem like a bargain in the fact that you get beautiful foliage and fruit, it can be a challenge to get to the fruiting stage. The banana tree will begin to bloom in April, May, and/or June. The purplish blooms will appear on a tall stalk. The first blooms that appear on the stalk are female and they develop into fruit without pollination. Once the fruit begins to form it will create what is referred to as “hands.” These “hands” will eventually become bananas. Several “hands” will form on the flower stalk and groups of “hands” on the stalk are referred to as a “bunch.”
Once the fruit has formed, the stalk will continue to grow and be covered with blooms. The blooms this time though are male. You can leave the flower stalk or you can cut it to the point you reach the first “hands.”
To get ripe fruit, one will need to wait between four to six months. You may wonder how to tell if a banana is ripe or close to ripe on a tree. There is a slight color change but it is so slight that you probably will not notice it. A better indicator is to look at the shape of the fruit. Fruit that is close to ripe will have a smoother appearance and will look fuller.
Do not let the fruit set on the tree until completely ripe instead harvest when full and green. Do not just cut off the bunches instead cut the flower stalk and hang in the shade to ripen.
While the fruit producing variety of banana has green leaves with purple blooms, there are ornamental types that produce different colored blooms and in one variety a non-edible colorful fruit.
The Musa coccinia red banana produces a bright red spike while the Musa velutina produces clusters of small, pink fruits. The dwarf banana or Musa ornate produces a flower spike that is covered with small, pinkish purple flowers
Now that you know your choices, the next step is to learn how to plant your banana tree. One word of caution though, while you may love your banana tree your neighbor may not. In doing so, plant your tree four to eight feet away from the property line, driveway, and/or sidewalk.
Bananas do best in a sunny location that has little slope. They also need a well-drained soil that is deep and full of organic matter. It also needs a soil pH of 5.5 to 7.0.
After you have chosen your banana tree’s location, you will need to dig the hole. This hole will need to be three feet wide and two feet deep. Once the hole has been dug, mix in well seasoned compost into the removed soil.
Next, place the rhizome in the hole making sure that it is only deep enough to hole the roots and to bury only ¼ of the rhizome. Adjust the soil level as needed and plant the rhizome.
Water in and place a two to 6 inch layer of mulch on top. This will aid in weed control and will conserve soil moisture.
Continue to water the banana tree every week. To make sure that your tree is receiving enough water, consider sitting up a rain gauge. This will allow you to administer the appropriate combination of Mother Nature’s tears and household water to meet the required monthly amount of four to six inches. If the temperatures go above the 90 degree Fahrenheit mark, make sure to water your banana tree several times during the day to prevent dehydration of the plant from heat and/or wind.
During the growing season, do not forget to fertilize. The banana tree requires four to six feedings of a fertilizer formulation of 6-2-12. Also, add the micronutrients zinc and manganese to the mix once a year. When applying either fertilizer or micronutrients, make sure to apply it four to eight feet away from the trunk.
While watering is very important, another garden chore is just as important and that is pruning. This will need to occur prior to the plant setting fruit. What you will need to do is to create only one main stem per plant. After 6 to 8 months, suckers will begin to form. You will then need to select only one sucker and remove the rest. The sucker will be the main stem for next year. Once the main stem has fruited, cut it down so that it is about 2.5 feet from the ground. When doing this process make sure that you do not cut the sucker. Later on in the growing season, you can cut the main stem level with the ground level.
The banana tree is a tropical plant but it can survive colder environments with a little care. Prior to freezing in your area, you will need to mulch the plant. While earlier in the season, you mulched for moisture retention and weed control, now you are mulching for insulation. This will need to be done regardless if your banana tree is cold tolerant or not.
To mulch a banana tree, you will need to top the plant with one foot of mulch. This will be enough to insulate the rhizome from the cold. If you do not want to do this step or if you planted one that is not cold tolerant, you will need to dig up the rhizome with its leaves. After that is done, shake off the soil from the roots and trim away the leaves. Place the banana tree in a pot filled with sand and place in a location that never drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Stop watering and fertilizing the plant once it has been dug up. This will allow the plant to go dormant.
Once the weather warms up again, replant into the ground as described previously or consider growing your banana tree in a container. If the later is something you have interest in, take a look at How to Grow Bananas Indoors.
While you probably will not see any fruit from your banana tree, it is still worth the effort to have a little piece of the tropics right outside your backdoor.