by Jesse Khong
Bananas are herbaceous plants (plants that die down to the soil level at the end of the growing season). They are one of the oldest plants in cultivation and native to South and Southeast Asia, but are now wildly cultivated throughout the tropics. Bananas are grown mainly for their fruits, which are one of the most widely consumed foods in the world.
In North America, Europe and other non-tropical regions, bananas are very popular ornamental plants because of their fast growing habits that quickly provide any garden with an exotic tropical touch. If provided with a proper growing climate and condition, banana plants will reach their mature heights of 15 to 30 feet (4.5 to 9 meters) in just nine months. I have five species of banana in my garden in Menlo Park, California. They are doing extremely well in 20 gallon pots as some of them are over 15 feet (4.5 meters) tall. My Saba banana plant even bore fruit this year (please see my post “Banana Fruiting” for more information).
Banana plants prefer well-drained, fertile, and very rich soil. Add a lot of organic composts and chicken manure to enrich the soil. A flat surface is ideal, and drainage is the most important soil factor that ensures growing success.
For containers, use commercial potting soils that drain well and retain moisture. Do not use garden soils, which will cause root damage because of poor drainage.
Banana plants need a lot of water during the growing season. They love moisture, but do not want to sit in water. Poor drainage will lead to root rot.
Cut down on water when the temperature drops to about 55°F (13°C) during the warmest part of the day (keep soil slightly moist but not wet).
High humidity is also beneficial in high temperatures, so sprinkle with water to keep plants healthy.
For container growing: I water my pots very well two or three times per week during spring and summer, cut down to one time per week in late fall, and stop watering completely in the winter as we receive rains from time to time during the winter months here in Northern California. If you are living in a region with a very hot climate and little rain, water daily and mulch ground surface to retain moisture.
For in ground growing: You might need to water daily if your plants are in full sun.
A layer of 2” to 6” (10cm to 15cm) of top mulch: wood chips, barks or similar material will help retain moisture, protect the plants from severe cold, provide extra nutrients to the soil and reduce weed growth. In a cold climate, mulch heavily in the winter to protect the root base.
Bananas prefer full sun (at least six hours of sun per day). More light means faster growth. They will tolerate some light shade, but this will delay plant and fruit growth.
Continuous wind will shred and dry out leaves. Mild leaf shredding is not harmful to the plants, but home growers might want to shelter your banana plants around walls to avoid the unsightly view of leaf shred. Strong wind above 25 mph (40km per hour) might topple tall plants.
Banana plants are heavy feeders. During the growing season, the plants can receive an unlimited amount of fertilizer. I usually sprinkle all-purpose Miracle Gro fertilizer around the plant base and water very well once every other week during spring and summer. Make sure the fertilizer powder does not touch the stem. If you accidentally get some fertilizer on the stem, just give it a good shower. I also add a few drops of Super Thrive growing hormone to a hand-held watering can and water the plants once a month during this time to stimulate great growth. My banana plants usually grow into mature size in just one season.
The ideal temperature range for banana growing is 75 to 87° F (24 to 31°C. degrees).
At 98°F (37°C) and above, leaf scorch will happen and plants will produce very narrow leaves.
At 50° F (10°C), plants stop growing.
At 32°F (0°C) and below, freeze damage occurs to all aboveground parts of the plant with browning and death of leaves and fruits.
At 28°F (-2°C), most plants will die to the ground, but new growths will start to appear when warm weather returns.
For cooler climates, banana plants situated right next to a south facing concrete wall could benefit from the extra heat that the wall absorbs during the day and gradually releases at night.
Banana plants do not like to stand alone, so surround your plants with other plants to create a more natural growing environment (think rain forest). I like to pack a lot of plants around my banana plants. This not only provides a healthy environment for my plants, but also camouflages and hides the pots. Most people do not realize that I have a container garden. Can you tell that every single plant in the photo below is in a container?