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How to Grow Banana Plants in Cool Climates

An avid gardener for over 40 years, Dolores has landscaped for private clients and maintained one client's small orchid collection.

Banana Plant

banana-tree-a-pass-around-friendship-plant

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

Some of the leaves are a bit ragged due to a hailstorm. You can see there is not much of a root system

Some of the leaves are a bit ragged due to a hailstorm. You can see there is not much of a root system

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-a-pass-around-friendship-plant

Banana Tree on the Move

Look at those huge beautiful leaves!

Look at those huge beautiful leaves!

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.
  • Water.
  • 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.
banana-tree-a-pass-around-friendship-plant

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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: I live in Kentucky and leave my plants in ground all winter long, they seem to survive. This year however as they popped out of the ground they are growing really slowly, half as fast as normal. Is there way to accelerate growth in a healthy way that will make sure they come back next year?

Answer: I have seen people in my area leave the plants in the ground all winter. If the plants are growing slowly, it could be due to cold nights. Tropical plants prefer temperatures above 55 degrees. Don't rush them but wait until the weather warms up then begin to fertilize. No need to rush things!

Question: My banana tree pups never get over 2 1/2 feet tall. Am I doing something wrong?

Answer: When I first separate suckers, the new plants do not grow very tall the first year. They gain height in later years. Also, growth can be slowed by temperatures of 55 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Poor nutrition and a lack of moisture will also effect the growth. Banana plants thrive in warm, humid conditions. Plants grown in containers may be dwarfed unless the container is very large.

There are many types of banana plants including dwarf varieties such as Musa ornata as well as manzana and Musa rose.

Question: What type of fertilizer is used on a banana tree?

Answer: Banana plants are said to require a heavy fertilizer. In cooler climates, the plants are usually grown for foliage and as a specimen or novelty plant without the intent of fruit production. When I plant the banana in spring, I add a healthy dose of compost to the soil. After a few weeks, watering with compost tea adds additional nutrients. Make compost tea by dumping some compost in a bucket and adding water. Allow to soak for a day or two and use the "tea" to water the plant.

You can also feed your banana plant with a balanced fertilizer once a month, or every other week with a mix that is weaker than the product package recommends. Yellowing leaves are a sign of nutrient deficiency.

Question: I’m getting my banana tree out to plant, should I soak roots first?

Answer: It is not necessary to soak the roots before planting. Simply plant in full sun in rich, well drained soil. Water often during the first few weeks and during dry spells. Over watering or keeping the plant in soggy soil can rot roots.

Comments

Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on April 16, 2014:

Sarah Wingate - well it isn't really. You have to bring them in over the winter. And the fruit is puny, not like the kind we see in the stores. Thanks!

Sarah Wingate from Tel Aviv, Israel on April 09, 2014:

That's wonderful. I did not know it was possible to grow a banana tree in cold winters.

It's a beautiful tree and the fruit is delicious.