Learn how to care for a banana plant, including how to help it winter over!
How to grow gorgeous banana plants!
I’m excited to be writing about caring for banana plants today because it is one of the plants that first piqued my interest in gardening. My parents have always grown banana plants in their yard.
And although they live in Maryland and it gets very cold in the winter, they come back year after year. It amazed me that there was a plant that looks so gorgeously tropical that you could plant in the ground in our climate!
- Banana plant care overview
- What is a banana plant?
- How does it grow?
- Where should I plant my banana plant?
- Planting it in the ground & soil amendments
- How much should I water my plant?
- How fast does a banana plant grow?
- What fertilizer should I use?
- Should I prune my plants?
- Can banana plants survive winter in the ground?
- Do I need to mulch around the trunks in the winter?
- When do banana plants resprout in the spring?
- How to plant a banana plant in a pot
- Can banana plants survive winter in a pot?
- How to propagate a banana plant
- Can you grow banana plants indoors?
Banana plant care overview
- Banana plants (musa genus) are gorgeous tropical plants that can be cold hardy in non-tropical areas.
- They grow from rhizomes, can reach up to 30 feet tall, and produce “baby” plants that can become new, separate plants.
- Banana plants thrive in sunny locations; the more sun, the better.
- When planting in the ground, amend native soil with a loose leaf compost or similar.
- Water frequently, at least every other day when it doesn’t rain.
- You can use a balanced fertilizer, especially during the first growing season, but is not necessary for vigorous growth.
- Prune off older tattered foliage as the plant grows.
- At the end of the season, cut the plant to the ground and mulch around the trunk; in the spring, the plant will resprout.
What is a banana plant?
So let’s talk about banana plants. Banana plants come from the musa genus, family Musaceae. The genus includes bananas and plantains. Yes—banana isn’t just a strange name given to the plant because of its shape or color. These are the plants that actually grow bananas!
But unless you live in a climate with year round growing conditions, you probably won’t ever yield bananas. That’s fine with me—I don’t love these plants because they grow bananas. I love these plants because they are easy, hardy, and absolutely gorgeous.
How does it grow?
Banana plants are often referred to as “banana trees” because they get so large. In fact, they can grow up to 30 feet tall. But they aren’t trees. They are actually herbs that grow from a rhizome structure, much like snake plants.
What’s a rhizome structure? Well, think of it this way. When you plant one banana plant, the root system will begin to develop underground. It will shoot out rhizomes, which are essentially root runners that form new plants.
These rhizomes grow horizontally and then up through the surface of the soil, creating “baby” plants from the main mother plant. When these baby plants are brand new, they can’t live on their own.
But as they grow larger and become more established, they turn into plants that can be severed from the mother plant and replanted somewhere else. Or you could just leave them for a lovely full look.
The baby plants serve another purpose, too: when they grow so closely together, they create a bit of a fortress against harsher natural elements like wind and rough rain. It also helps them keep humidity levels higher.
Where should I plant my banana plant?
When thinking about where to plant your banana plant outdoors, remember one thing: SUN. Choose the location that gets the most sun. We have a tiny yard, but it gets great light. We chose a spot that gets bright light from pretty much late morning until the sun sets.
As a bonus, this is also at the edge of our patio. We knew that the banana plants would grow very large, creating some much needed shade and privacy for the space. Keep in mind that the plant will grow and spread over the years, so choose a space with room to expand.
Planting it in the ground & soil amendments
Once you’ve chosen the sunniest spot in your yard, dig a hole that is about 1.5 times larger and deeper than your banana plant’s root ball. If you are planting something that’s in a pot, take it out of the pot and brush off the loose soil to examine the root ball for size.
We dug our hole and then dumped a few inches of leaf compost in the bottom of it. You can buy this in bags at the garden center. We have awful rocky clay-like dirt here, so we wanted to add something a bit more well-draining with some additional nutrients. You can backfill with some of your native dirt and mix it in, too.
Once we’d added a layer of new compost and dirt that was thick enough to raise the root ball and plant to the appropriate level, we set the banana plant in and began filling in leaf compost and native soil around it. I made sure to pack the new dirt in just a bit. The plants can be quite top heavy with the large leaves, so I wanted to make sure it was stable.
The first banana plant we put in the ground was actually a baby we dug up from my mom and dad’s backyard—see the pic of it in a garbage bag below. They easily have 40+ banana plants around their yard now. So many babies that they will just dig them up and give them away or toss them if they are trying to contain the spread.
How much should I water my plant?
Banana plants are thirsty. But when they are planted in the ground, they are much more forgiving than when they are planted in pots. That’s because the ground retains moisture much better than a pot does. When we first planted our banana plant in the ground, I gave it a deep soaking watering every day we didn’t get rain for about 2-3 weeks.
It immediately began shooting out new growth just days after planting! Once the plant becomes more established, you can get by without watering it every day. Unless it’s very very hot and you’re in a dry spell, then I’d give it some water.
How fast does a banana plant grow?
When they are in the ground, they grow quite prolifically. I’m including a series a photos below that document the grow of the banana we planted in our yard. The first picture shows the plant right after we put it in the ground.
The second picture shows the growth progress after about one month in the ground. It was taken in June. I could not believe how well it was growing in such a short amount of time! It put out new leaves regularly roughly weekly. The third picture shows the plant in the end of August.
What fertilizer should I use?
Any balanced plant and garden fertilizer will work fine (look for 10-10-10). The first year I had these in the ground, I fertilized them with some Miracle-Gro once a month.
You don’t really need to fertilize these plants at all, though. My parents do not fertilize theirs, and they still grow like weeds. I would probably fertilize a newly planted banana plant through its first growing season, but it’s not really necessary after that.
Should I prune my plants?
Yes, I recommend pruning off old foliage as the plants grow. You’ll notice that some of the older leaves that have been through a few summer storms can get tattered. Simply trim them off and chuck them aside.
Pruning off older foliage also helps the plant to focus on its new growth—and it gives a nice “tree-like” appearance that I really enjoy. See signs of pruning in the photo below near the bottom of the stem/trunk.
Can banana plants survive winter in the ground?
Absolutely, yes. If you have a cold hardy banana plant, it can. It depends on your grow zone, though. They can overwinter underground down to USDA grow zone 4, which is very cold! We’re right on the border of 6b and 7a, and it regularly drops down into the teens here.
The first step to take is to cut your banana plants down at the end of the season. Here’s what I recommend based on years of watching my parents cut theirs down and then cutting our own plants down:
- Wait until the foliage begins to tatter; this usually occurs as temperatures drop, growth slows way down, and winds begin tearing up foliage (see photo below).
- I recommend cutting them down right before the first frost; you can wait until after the first frost zaps the foliage completely, but the leaves and trunks become super heavy, and the job is a bit messier.
- Use a hand-held saw to cut the plant down to to the ground, leaving about 1-2 inches of the plant’s “trunk” above ground; we like to chop the top off and then work the trunk down to the ground in sections since they are so dense and heavy.
If you don’t want to do this, you could also dig up your banana plant and store it in a cool, dark location where it will be sheltered from the elements. A garage or basement cellar would be nice. The advantage of this method is that you plant a large plant the next year. If it rebounds nicely in the spring, it will pretty much pick up where it left off.
Do I need to mulch around the trunks in the winter?
If you’re in a colder spot or if it’s your banana plant’s first winter in the ground, you might want to cover what’s left of the plant above ground with mulch, leaf clippings, newspaper, or a combination of the three. This will help keep the plant’s root system insulated over the winter.
After multiple growing seasons, the plants will have matured quite a bit and have extensive root structures. So they will be less vulnerable to winter’s cold temperatures. We don’t insulate our plants at all now, and they are fine.
When do banana plants resprout in the spring?
This depends on the climate where you’re at, but we generally see our banana plants begin to poke out of the ground in early April. Sometimes they will even sprout before the last frost, get zapped by a frost, and then rebound in another week or two.
Once they sprout and your frost date passes, be prepared for banana plants to grow prolifically! And every year ours get bigger and bigger. It’s truly awesome to watch. Check out the pictures below—they show the plants first sprouting in April, growing throughout the season, and maxing out
How to plant a banana plant in a pot
For the first two years of having banana plants, we kept them as potted plants because I wasn’t ready to commit to a location. There are a few things to remember about growing a banana plant in a pot instead of the ground.
- If it absolutely possible to grow a banana plant in a pot! Just remember that planting in a container will definitely constrain its size.
- Use a mix of well-draining soil. Anything labeled “potting soil” or “container soil” will do just fine; choose a pot with drainage holes.
- You might see some banana plant babies sprout up, but they probably won’t develop into plants that can live by themselves due to space limitations.
- You must water potted banana plants more because the soil in containers dries out a lot faster than soil in the ground; I watered ours every day it didn’t rain.
- If you choose to take your banana plant indoors for the winter, remember that they won’t need much water; water sparingly just to keep them going until spring.
Can banana plants survive winter in a pot?
Where I live, we don’t really have a choice but to move potted banana plants indoors for the winter. We chose not to do this either year we had our banana plants in pots simply because we didn’t have room.
Even though they stay smaller when grown in containers, they still get pretty big for houseplants! My brother’s girlfriend brought her potted banana plant in for the winter.
They kept it going by watering sparingly and adding a grow light. It didn’t go completely dormant. She noticed a large new leaf unfurling after it had been indoors for a while!
Once temperatures rise and the danger of frost is gone, you can move your potted banana plant outdoors for the warmer months. I’d wait until night time temperatures are consistently 50 degrees Fahrenheit or above.
How to propagate a banana plant
Propagating a banana plant is a lot like propagating a snake plant. Since the plants grow from rhizomes, you can cut the plants at the rhizomes to separate them. The banana plant we currently have was a baby from my parents. They simply dug the plant up and cut it off of the mother plant.
They’ve done the same for my grandmother and my brother’s girlfriend…and probably more people! These plants can be quite prolific growers when they are happy. Spread the banana plant love!
Can you grow banana plants indoors?
Keeping banana plants indoors is possible, but it’s not the easiest plant to grow as a houseplant. All of the same tips apply when thinking about banana plant care indoors: get a well-draining soil and a pot with a drainage hole. Make sure the plant has plenty of sunlight, at least 6 hours per day. A grow light will likely help you get the light you need indoors.
One of the trickiest things about growing banana plants indoors is controlling humidity. Much like elephant ear plants, the dry air indoors can be a real killer. If your indoor banana plant has crispy, dry, brown tips on its leaves, it’s probably too dry. Try adding a good humidifier to the room.
As we wrap up this guide on banana plant care, I hope the tips and insights shared here will serve you well in your banana journey. These tropical beauties can make an absolutely stunning addition to your garden for years to come. Happy planting!