Wild About Bananas
Hey Midwest friends! Are you ready for an island escape in your own backyard? We’ve got the plant for you. It’s a hardy banana tree (Musa basjoo) that shows off in summer, dies back in fall, withstands sub-zero winter temperatures then fabulously returns each season.
At Groovy Ranch Plants, we’re wild about this tropical rockstar and think it’s one of the most fun and rewarding plants to grow in the landscape. While they may go dormant for months, they grow leaps and bounds once they get started in June. They eventually reach 6 to 14 feet tall. In fact, the giant clump here at the ranch explodes with new paddle-shaped leaves daily in summertime, and the leaves are so giant you can hide behind them.
Jared may be the biggest fan and refers to the bananas as something like “giant vertical hostas on steroids.” Maybe, you’re thinking this fast growth means they’re invasive. Don’t sweat. Despite their summer surge, these tropical beauties don’t take over and won’t go to seed.
For best results, plant hardy bananas in full sun in the landscape. They prefer consistently moist but well-drained, organic soil. We find the richer the soil the better for the tree’s fleshy fibrous roots. To optimize growth, fertilize weekly with a ½ teaspoon of a balanced fertilizer per gallon of water. The only challenges are Japanese beetle and wind damage to the large leaves. Ideally, find a location with protection from strong winds.
Hardy bananas can also be grown in containers but won’t show quite as much growth as in the landscape. For containers, use a well-drained potting mix and keep soil consistently moist but not soggy.
Musa basjoo is native to the Ryuku Islands near Japan. In the U.S., these hardy bananas can be grown as evergreens outdoors year round in coastal regions of Florida, Texas, Louisiana and California. In northern areas as far as New England and Ontario, the plants can survive winters but die back to the crown after a frost. To overwinter hardy bananas in the landscape, use a machete or hand saw to cut back their foliage to 24 inches in late fall. Next, pile on a heavy layer of leaves, straw or mulch to protect the plant’s crown through the winter. We’ve found a heavier layer of mulch offers more insulation to the crown, minimizes dieback and increases the odds for a bigger, faster growing plant the next season. In spring, remember to remove the mulch layer once temperatures reach a consistent 40 degrees.
To overwinter container-grown banana trees, cut the tree to 24 inches and let the pot dry out a bit before storing it for the winter. You can keep the pot outdoors until late October, then move it to a frost-free garage or basement.
We hope you’ll give them a try and even build a whole collection of tropical plants like Colocasia, Alocasia, bird of paradise and Cordyline. Maybe even a little reggae music too. Who’s with us?