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How to Grow and Care for a Banana Tree

Miss Chen
09-26
There are dozens of species and varieties of banana and plantain trees (Musa spp.). While these tropical fruiting plants are commonly referred to as trees, they’re technically huge herbaceous plants, meaning they don’t have a woody stem. Instead, they have fleshy, upright stalks from which large, oblong, bright green leaves grow. Showy flowers appear typically in the spring, giving way to the fleshy, elongated, green or yellow fruit.
No matter the size of your yard or home, there is a banana tree to fit. Plus, they can make good houseplants with enough light, though they typically don't bear fruit indoors. Banana trees generally have a fast growth rate and should be planted in the spring.

Common Names Banana tree, plantain tree
Botanical Name Musa spp.

Botanical Name Musa spp.
Family Musaceae
Plant Type Herbaceous, perennial
Mature Size 2–30 ft. tall, 1–15 ft. wide (varies widely by species)
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Loamy, well-drained
Soil pH Acidic
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color White, purple, orange
Hardiness Zones 9–11 (USDA)
Native Area Asia, Africa, Australia

Banana Tree Care
While most species grow best in warm climates, there also are somewhat cold-hardy banana trees. If you're planting the banana tree outdoors, choosing the right planting site is key to making care easy. Grow this plant in a location where it will be sheltered from strong winds, as it is very susceptible to damaged leaves. Prepare your planting site by mixing some compost into the soil. And make sure you have enough space for the height and spread of your particular species.

During the growing season (spring to fall), banana trees are water hogs. You might have to water daily, especially during hot weather, to maintain adequate soil moisture. The plants also will need regular fertilization throughout the growing season. Bananas form in the late summer in a cluster called a hand. Once the fruit is green but plumped up, it can be cut off the stalk and placed in a cool, dry space to finish ripening.

Light
Most types of bananas plants prefer to grow in full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. However, some varieties can scorch easily and will do better in partial shade.

Soil
These plants love organically rich, deep soil with good drainage and a slightly acidic soil pH. They typically have poor tolerance for salt in the soil.

Water
Banana trees are tropical and originate in rainforests, so they need a lot of water and plenty of moisture in the air. They do best when planted in groups fairly close together, as this helps to retain moisture in the leaves. Water regularly to make sure the soil stays evenly moist but not soggy. Avoid overwatering, which can cause root rot.

Temperature and Humidity
These plants thrive in warm, humid conditions, but they don't like temperature extremes. Even the hardy, cold-tolerant banana tree species prefer consistent temperatures ranging between 75 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold temperatures and dry conditions can cause the plants to quickly die back. To increase the level of humidity, mist the leaves daily.

Fertilizer
Banana trees are heavy feeders. Apply a balanced fertilizer regularly throughout the growing season, following label instructions. Also, mix compost into the soil annually to raise the level of organic matter.

Types of Banana Trees
There are roughly 70 species and even more varieties of banana trees, including:

Musa acuminata: This species reaches around 12 to 20 feet tall and is often grown for its ornamental foliage thanks to its paddle-shaped leaves that can reach around 6 to 10 inches long.
Musa ornata: Commonly referred to as the flowering banana, this species is mostly grown for its ornamental value; its small fruit is not typically eaten.
Musa basjoo: Known as the Japanese banana, this species has fairly good cold tolerance and reaches around 6 to 14 feet tall.
Pruning
Before the banana tree fruits, prune it so there is only one main stem. After it has been growing for six to eight months, leave one sucker (small shoot at the base of the stem). This plant will replace the main stem in the next growing season. After the fruit is removed, cut the main stem down to 2.5 feet. Remove the rest of the stem in a few weeks, leaving the replacement sucker intact.

Propagating Banana Trees
The best method of propagation is division. To divide banana plants, separate the suckers from the rhizome (horizontal underground stem) using a sharp spade. Before you do this, wait until the suckers are at least 3 feet tall and have their own roots. Once you separate a sucker from the parent plant, allow the surface of the rhizome section to dry for a day or so. At this point, it will be ready for replanting in any appropriate location.

Potting and Repotting Banana Trees
Banana trees can grow in containers, but they generally will need at least a 15-gallon pot at minimum for optimal growth. Ensure that the pot has drainage holes, and use a loose, organically rich potting mix. A benefit to potting your banana tree is you will be able to bring it indoors to shelter it from cold and inclement weather. However, potted banana trees tend to have higher watering and feeding needs, as they will use up what is in their limited soil faster than banana trees in the ground. In addition, they likely won't reach their maximum size and might not bear fruit. Still, many people prefer them for their foliage. You typically will need to divide and repot container banana trees every three years, separating any suckers from the parent plant.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Owners of banana trees need to stay vigilant of the many pests and diseases that can afflict a banana tree. Pests include the following:

Aphids: These pests cause curled and shriveled foliage and can also transmit other diseases that will affect any fruit produced.
Black weevils: If you see jelly-like sap oozing from the plant, you may have black weevils that can be eliminated with pesticides.
Nematodes: This is the banana tree's most common pest that will rot the plant and fruit.
Sap-sucking insects:Mealybugs and red spider mites are also common to banana trees.
Scarring beetle: This pest invades bunches of the plant's fruit and can be eliminated with pesticide.
Thrips: This pest will stain and split the peel of the plant's fruit.
There are many diseases common to banana trees in large orchards and are taken care of with commercial fungicides and pesticides. As for indoor potted banana trees, be on the lookout for root rot, leaf-spot disease, wilt, and powdery mildew.
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