Growing Banana Plants
Growing banana plants outdoors does not have to be limited to frost-free areas of the world. Bananas are fun to grow, instantly gratifying, and can be grown even in colder climates! I love growing banana plants because they provide a tropical flair to my Ohio garden and make me feel like I’m on a Caribbean island. I’ve experimented with two varieties in my garden. One of them is tender and needs to be overwintered, and the other is a cold hardy banana. Yes, you read correctly. A hardy banana. It is reportedly hardy in all 50 U.S. states! If you’d like to give your own garden some tropical flair, bananas will give you the best bang for your buck. Keep reading and I’ll tell you what I do with my plants.
Ensete ventricosum “Maurelii”
Wait!!! Don’t let the fancy Latin name scare you. The common name is the Abyssinian Banana, but in the nurseries, they’ll most likely have the Latin name. This is the tender banana plant that I was telling you about in the intro. This member of the banana family has gorgeous green and maroon leaves. I first started growing these a few years ago after purchasing a couple small plants at a local nursery, and they are the stars of my outdoor garden. On April 16, 20017, I took one of the two banana plants out of the garage and put it outside in a sheltered area to start growing. Of course, if the temperatures dip much below 45 or so at night, I will move it to shelter for the night.
Here’s what it looked like in the garage after being in the heated garage all winter.
Pretty pathetic right? Last fall, when I brought the plant in the garage for the winter, I simply sawed the trunk off and left maybe a foot or so of the trunk. This determined botanical beauty actually started growing in the dark, cool garage all winter despite zero water. All this growth during the winter is very tender and those leaves could continue to grow but will be ugly as hell, so I simply took a saw to it again!
Very soon after sawing the trunk, the plant will start to grow again from the middle of the trunk. In fact, a few hours after I sawed it off, I noticed the middle part was starting to grow already! They really have an amazing growth rate. I also scraped some soil off the surface (as much as I could without harming the roots), and replaced with fresh potting soil. After it warms up a bit and the plant goes in its permanent spot, I will add some Osmocote fertilizer and situate the plant in an area with plenty of sun.
One of the gratifying aspects of this plant is that fact that it grows like a weed. Take a look at the picture below that was taken on June 15th of 2016. This is another plant that I have in a different pot, but is the exact same variety.
And two months later, by mid-August, look how big it is! At this point, it was taller than me.
And by September, it continued to go crazy. You can see it pictured in the right side of the following photograph. I had moved the pot from the patio into my main garden.
These plants like plenty of sun, plenty of water, and plenty of fertilizer since they grow quickly. I normally mix in some Osmocote into the soil, and I also fertilize with Miracle-Gro once a week. Once the growing season is over and frost threatens, I literally take a saw to the plant, leaving about 1 foot of the trunk, and then I store the pot in our heated garage where it stays dark and cool all winter. I don’t give the plant a drop of water during the winter. I also have a second banana plant that I actually planted in the ground one year, and I simply dug it up and plopped it in a black garbage bag (just the root ball) and threw it in the garage! Please note that all banana plants will die after they flower, but they will grow babies from the base. My growing season is not long enough for flowering, so I can keep overwintering the same plant year after year. If you don’t have a heated garage, a cool and dark basement will also be perfect.
Musa Basjoo – The Hardy Banana
Yes, you’ve read that correctly! This is a hardy banana plant that is supposed to be hardy in all 50 U.S. states! I should find out in a few days whether my 2 Musa basjoo plants have survived the winter. I planted 2 small plants in mid-April of 2016. Here is one of them:
I ordered one from Plant Delights Nursery, and the other from Logee’s. They were both about 1 foot tall or less when I received them in April 2016 and I planted them immediately into the garden. By August, look how big and beautiful they are!
Even into November, they continued to grow and were still beautiful, while the rest of the garden had fizzled out by then. In fact they stayed green and beautiful until the frost came and the plants eventually collapsed.
Musa basjoo growth rates are amazing. It was hard to believe that the tiny plants that I received in April grew several feet tall by the end of the summer. I’m excited to find out if they have survived the winter. There are different methods that people use to overwinter these in the ground. Some people cut the trunks off and others leave them as is. I chose to leave them as-is and I mulched the base of both of the plants with plenty of leaves. We had a fairly mild winter, so I’m expecting to see new growth soon!
One thing that these plants do NOT like is to be in poorly drained, wet soil over the winter. When you plant these, choose a sunny area with well drained soil. Give these plants plenty of sun, plenty of water, and plenty of fertilizer. It would be hard to overwater banana plants as long as the soil is well drained. Hopefully my plants will have survived the winter, and I will apply an all purpose organic fertilizer into the soil and also start fertilizing with fish emulsion fertilizer. I like to also supplement with Miracle-Gro every once in a while as well.
Don’t be afraid to try new plants in the garden. Growing the red abyssinian banana and Musa basjoo is easy. I got tired of growing the same old plants every year, so I slowly started experimenting with different tropical plants to create my own tropical oasis. There is nothing that makes me happier than walking through my own tropical jungle in my backyard on a hot summer day.