How to Grow Banana Plants in Cool Climates
Banana plants have become an amusing pass-around friendship gift that adds a surprising tropical touch to temperate gardens. Once seen only in the South, these plants have begun to pop up as glorified annual plantings at restaurants and bars, especially in resort settings.
Now we spot banana plants on the front lawns of row houses, as patio plants, and privacy screens in all parts of the country.
The huge, bright green leaves add drama to a front yard or back garden and are great for filling in blank areas. Since they cannot overwinter outdoors, they can appear in a different spot every year!
Plant singly as a specimen plant or in a group for a lush tropical look.
Often referred to as a banana tree, it is not actually a tree as it has no woody trunk. Although it may eventually produce flowers and fruit, the bananas are not the typical ones that you see in the grocery store.
A friend gave me a single 3-foot-tall shoot one spring. The scraggly shoot sent up a beautiful green leaf that slowly unfurled until I had myself a 6-foot-tall banana plant. That original plant sent up more shoots until I was able to pass along the love, giving new baby plants to several friends.
Banana Tree and me
How to Overwinter a Banana Plant
If you live in the South, you can plant a banana plant and forget about it. But in areas with cool winters, regions where the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night, it will not live through the winter.
Of course, you can pot the plant and bring it indoors.However, after a few years the leaves will grow so long and have such a huge spread that keeping in a room may be impractical if not impossible.
You would need a pretty big room to overwinter the plant shown above. So here is what you can do:
- Dig up the plant. It is quite shallow rooted and easy to unearth
- Chop off all the leaves. (This may be hard to do as they are so pretty. If it pains you to cut off the leaves, it's okay to leave them on the plant. They will dry up.)
- Drop the root ball into a large trash bag. Do not tighten the top of the bag.
- Lug the banana plant into the basement in an unheated area and plunk it in a corner.
- Forget about it.
You can see from the photo below that the plant will look terrible in early spring. Despite the pathetic look, your banana plant is not dead but only sleeping. The dormant plant will come to life after a week or two of watering.
I planted two small ones in the container in order to spruce up my patio.
Once in full leaf, it adds interest set in front of a blank wall. Containers are best for smaller plants.
Banana Plant in Early Spring
Banana Tree on the Move
How to Plant and Care for a Banana Plant
It might seem time to plant the banana plant on one of those warm days in March or April. After all, you may see a hint of green peeking up from the tip of the dormant plant. But hold off planting it outdoors until the nights are warm. Tropical plants do not like temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. It's best to plant after the frost date in your area - that is the day when you can be sure that it will no longer go below 32 degrees F at night. In my area, that day has traditionally been Mother's Day.
- Choose a planting site with plenty of room. Remember those big leaves and how they spread out.
- Plant in full sun. A bit of afternoon shade is okay
- Dig a hole twice as deep and twice as wide as the root ball of the banana plant.
- Toss some compost or some enriched soil into the hole
- Set the root ball in the hole and fill with loose, rich soil
- Tamp the soil down gently
- Add a bit of liquid fertilizer
- Water every few days. Do not let the soil become soggy.
- When the first leaf begins to sprout, you know the tree has taken root. Water less often.
Planting in a Container
If you plant your banana plant in a large container, make sure to plant it deep. The large leaves make the plant quite top heavy and you don't want it to topple over.
When grown in a container, your banana plant (as all potted plants) needs more frequent watering than if it is planted in the ground.
Container plants usually need more fertilizer than plants growing in the ground. Fertilize your potted banana tree every other weak. Use a bit less of the actual fertilizer than the product label recommends.
Pass Along That Banana Plant
If you look at the picture at the top of the page, you will notice the side shoots growing out from the root ball. Gently break them off and pass it along to a friend!
Do not give away all your shoots, especially when the banana has become large and heavy. Once the plant flowers and bears fruit, it dies.