Photo by Melody

Go Bananas! Growing Tropical Banana Trees in Maryland

By Jill M. Nicolaus (critterologistJanuary 22, 2012
bookmark

As the weather turns chilly, tropical gardeners keep posting photos of beautiful blooms and arching greenery. Zone envy rears its head. If only I could grow gingers, and plumerias, and citrus trees, and… and bananas! Living in temperate zone 6, I saw no way for that to happen without a major move. Then I read a Midwestern DGer’s account of growing dozens of banana plants in his yard, digging them each fall and storing them beneath his house [1]. Visions of tropical splendor started dancing in my head!

Gardening picture

(Editor's Note:  This article was originally published on January 31, 2008.  Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that writers may not be able to respond to your questions or comments.)

You don’t need a greenhouse or a conservatory to grow bananas and other tropicals north of zone 8. You do need a strong back and a willing shovel! I’ve been growing bananas in my Maryland garden for the past two years. It’s an adventure that’s worth a try.

Growing Banana Plants

Bananas are technically plants, not trees, despite their size. Two years ago, I ordered cute 6 inch plants and grew them inside over the winter [2]. After that, the much larger plants were overwintered in the basement. They get planted out when the soil warms up, after Memorial Day.
Image
The first banana I planted out this spring promptly blew over. So we devised a system of stakes and ropes for support. My neighbor referred to the result as “bananas in bondage,” but there were no more toppled plants, and they soon outgrew this tattered look.
Image
The bananas made a wonderful tropical canopy for a bed that has also included cannas, amaryllis, tropical milkweed, red castor beans, and heliotrope, with spearmint as a ground cover. My “tropicals” bed by the deck draws more exclamations than any other plantings in our yard: “Oh! I didn’t know you could grow bananas here!” When I explain about dragging them to the basement every winter, the usual reaction is that I am bananas.

In terms of landscaping, I think it’s important to choose a location for your bananas that is visually separate from the less tropical looking areas of your garden. A banana tree poking up from a bed of daisies looks odd. Pick an architectural focal point such as a patio, deck, bench, or bird bath, and create your own little tropical oasis. Add other tropical or tropical-looking plants with big, interesting foliage and “hot” colors. The collective impact will knock your socks off!

ImageOverwintering Banana Plants

Bananas must be dug before the first fall frost and overwintered inside, either fully dormant or semi dormant. For full dormancy, cut the stem to remove all but the smallest leaves, and allow the plant to dry for a week before wrapping in burlap and storing at 40 to 50 degrees F [3]. For semi-dormancy, give the plant a little light and very limited water, enough to keep it green but not enough for growth. Last winter, my semi-dormant bananas were potted upright. This winter, they are lying along a basement wall. Some leaves have yellowed, but the plants still look mostly green.

With an uninterrupted growth cycle, bananas should fruit after about 18 months of active growth. I’ve never heard reports of fruit from winter dormant plants, although the plants put up luxurious growth year after year when planted out. I had a notion that perhaps semi-dormant winter storage would put the fruiting cycle on “pause” rather than resetting it. My faint hope is that if the plant keeps its leaves over the winter, even if it doesn’t continue to grow, it might produce fruit after several years. Time will tell.
Image
Accordingly, last fall I dug up the bananas, and we dragged them down to the basement. I set them upright in giant tubs of potting mix, near a bright window. They were watered every couple of weeks, stayed green, and did not grow for several months. But in late winter, they got delusional. They put up new leaves. I cut back their water. They grew up between the rafters and wrapped their long leaves around the ductwork. Halfway through extricating the first plant in spring, I decided we would not ever do this again.

This winter, there will be no leaves trying to grow up through the rafters. The roots and corms have been loosely bagged in plastic, and the plants are lying on their sides in a bright corner of the basement. I did this with one banana last year, misting the roots with a tiny bit of water occasionally to keep them from drying out completely, and that seemed to work fine.

Image
Image
Image



Dividing Banana Plants


As banana plants mature, they
produce small offshoots, known as “pups,” around the base of the stem. Digging the plant for winter storage gives you a good opportunity to separate the pups. Brush away or hose off as much dirt as possible so you can see what you’re doing. A pup must have several roots attached to survive, so plan the division carefully. The directions I’ve read say to use a sharp knife to separate the pup by cutting into the main corm at an angle. I’ve found it easier to get a good grip on the base of the pup and bend it away from the mother plant until I can break it away. This takes a little nerve, as you want to be sure you are snapping the corm to make the separation and not the tender stem of the pup.
 

ImageI separated several pups again this fall and potted them up to continue growing over the winter in my dining room window. I think of this as “insurance” in case my semi-dormant storage methods don’t work out. If they all survive, I’ll have extra banana plants to give away in spring.

When they fruit, I’ll feel my efforts have been repaid a thousand times over.

Until then, I’d better con
tinue enjoying them just as fun foliage plants.

Go, Bananas!


Image[1] Many thanks to Tropicman for sharing his expertise. He has inspired me and others to grow bananas where no bananas have grown before! Check out the Tropical Fruits Forum (subscribers only) for more information on growing bananas in all parts of the country.

[2] I ordered my plants from Wellspring and got excellent advice from them, too. You'll find more information in the Garden Watchdog entry for Wellspring Gardens.

[3] You'll find specific advice from Tropicman on the thread that first inspired me, "Banana tree harvest."
More good tips on overwintering bananas and more can be found at bananas.org


  About Jill M. Nicolaus  
Jill M. NicolausBetter known as "Critter" on DG, Jill lives in Frederick, MD, where she tries to fit as many plants as possible into a suburban back yard. The birds are mobbing our feeders lately, so Sunshine Girl and I have a job keeping the Flyby Cafe' open for business! This year, we put out a special feeder just for the squirrels, filled with a seed & corn blend. We still see them acrobatically snatching food from the other feeders, but at least now they let the birds get a beak in edgewise! (Images in my articles are from my photos, unless otherwise credited.)

  Helpful links  
Share on Facebook Share on Stumbleupon

[ Mail this article | Print this article ]

» Read articles about: Tropicals, Banana Trees, Dividing Perennials, Overwintering Plants

» Read more articles written by Jill M. Nicolaus

« Check out our past articles!



Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Wintering Bananas-Ohio LewisLaw 1 12 Jan 29, 2012 9:24 PM
Growing Bananas during Water Restriction AGCcutter 1 7 Jan 26, 2012 5:17 PM
Ice Cream Banana Plants gershwin 15 61 Jan 26, 2012 1:25 PM
Getting Bananas to Fruit AGCcutter 1 13 Jan 23, 2012 8:00 PM
banana botany cobotanist 1 13 Jan 23, 2012 1:54 PM
Musa Basjoo Biker1 1 13 Jan 23, 2012 1:13 PM
bananas byfield 1 9 Jan 23, 2012 8:36 AM
Fun Article. but No Bananas! gardenpom 5 55 Jul 15, 2011 4:25 AM
BANANA TREE NEEDS TO BE (RE)MOVED... Gymgirl 1 21 Oct 14, 2010 11:18 AM
unattended & snow damaged bananas mejaboxers 5 20 Sep 4, 2010 7:40 AM
BANANAS STILLDIGGING 2 19 Sep 4, 2010 7:31 AM
Banana Leaves hareen 3 16 Jul 20, 2010 1:18 PM
Growing Palms in Maryland kudrick 5 74 Apr 6, 2010 2:15 PM
Banana overwintering hockey123 1 28 Jan 10, 2010 11:20 PM
I Want Them All..! SobeGardener 1 24 Sep 21, 2009 5:47 PM
Confused about Winter onefrosty 5 57 Sep 17, 2009 8:36 PM
have bananas and a confused humming bird buckminster 1 52 Sep 23, 2008 10:02 PM
Fruit on my banana tree ramnathan 1 82 Jul 21, 2008 6:37 PM
Missed those bananas rsantiago 1 24 May 2, 2008 2:46 AM
BANANA PLANTS billybob42402 1 49 Feb 13, 2008 5:57 PM
from your mouth to my ears... mainegrdner 11 42 Feb 13, 2008 3:15 PM
I am in zone 8b or 9 recently hellnzn11 8 62 Feb 9, 2008 3:53 AM
Honorable mentions Tropicman 12 84 Feb 1, 2008 4:00 AM
hats off Dutchlady1 1 19 Jan 31, 2008 8:52 PM
I am so in love! doccat5 2 42 Jan 31, 2008 7:10 PM
Love those bananas grampapa 7 58 Jan 31, 2008 6:45 PM
Musa sikkimensis pic kudrick 0 55 Jan 31, 2008 5:24 PM
Growing Palms in Maryland Pics kudrick 0 62 Jan 31, 2008 3:17 PM
You cannot post until you login.


We recommend Firefox
Overwhelmed? There's a lot to see here. Try starting at our homepage.

[ Home | About | Advertise | Media Kit | Mission | Featured Companies | Submit an Article | Terms of Use | Tour | Rules | Privacy Policy | Contact Us ]

Back to the top

Copyright © 2000-2014 Dave's Garden, an Internet Brands company. All Rights Reserved.
 

Hope for America