Growing your own bananas is only one of many reasons to plant a banana tree (Musa spp.) and that's lucky because (with the exception of a few cold-hardy varieties) only tropical regions have much luck with fruit production. But this herbacious plant grows a mile-a-minute, and its broad, long, graceful leaves lend a tropical air to backyards and patios. It's neither difficult nor expensive to plant a banana tree if you already have one in the backyard because the primary means of propagation is through suckers.
Life and Times of Banana Trees
Banana trees won't resemble most other trees you have planted. The tree consists of a thick underground root called a corm, from which layers of leaf sheathes emerge to form a pseudostem or trunk. The flowering stalk doesn't appear until 10 to 15 months afterward, but when it does it makes up for lost time, shooting up to its full height quickly and producing flowers and fruit.
Banana trees grow 30 feet tall with a 15-foot spread. They grow and produce fruit in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9B through 11. According to the Forest Service, the tree will produce fruit in USDA zones 8 and 9 as long as winter temperatures do not dip below freezing.
These plants, once established, produce suckers. The suckers are the means of propagating the banana tree, and planting can take place at any season of the year. When small, suckers are called peepers. They develop into one of two different types of suckers on the plant:
- Sword suckers that grow to 4 feet tall with narrow leaves. These suckers develop into fruitful psuedostems at maturity and so are a good choice for planting.
- Water suckers that grow to 4 feet but have broad leaves. These are generally poorly attached to the root and can produce weak, less fruitful plants.
Things You'll Need
- Sharp spade
- Organic compost
- 6-2-12 granular fertilizer
Cut the underground base of a sucker once the diameter of its stem is between 2 and 6 inches. Use a sharp spade and carefully slice it from its mother rhizome. Remove the largest leaves and be sure the sucker has many, healthy-looking roots. If the sucker is very large, remove its head at ground level with pruners. Sterilize pruners before use by soaking in a solution of 1 part water to 1 part denatured alcohol.
Remove weeds and shovel out the soil from a planting location. Pick a spot that is sunny and wind-protected. Select a spot with very fertile soil and a pH of 5.5 to 7.0. Planting atop an old compost pile creates fine banana soil, but any moist, well-draining, fertile soil will work. If you need to work in organic compost to make the soil more fertile, first dig out a planting area, then mix 1 part compost with 1 part native soil.
Plant the sucker at the same depth in the new location as it was in the old one. Dig a hole at least three times larger than the sucker roots. Once the sucker is in place, fill in the hole with soil and tamp it down. Immediately water the plant well. Apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch, keeping it several inches from the foliage.
Space banana plants between 2 and 3 feet apart if you are growing them for ornamental purposes. Leave at least 8 to 10 feet between them if you hope for fruit production. Plant in a space free of electric wires so the trees can achieve their mature height.
Fertilize young plants by broadcasting 1/2 pound of 6-2-12 fertilizer on the soil every two months. Increase this amount to 5 pounds at flowering and fruiting time. Give the tree 1 to 2 inches of water every week, depending on rainfall, but never irrigate enough to allow standing water by the plant.
If you buy a banana plant from the garden store instead of removing your own sucker, the planting instructions are largely the same. Like with suckers, you can generally plant a container banana tree at any time in the year if the temperature is not extremely hot and the ground is not very wet.
Dig the planting hole up to three times as deep and wide as the container the plant comes in. Remove the plant from the container with as much of the soil intact as possible, loosen the roots and plant it at the same depth as it was in the container.