How to care for a banana plant
I’m excited to be writing about how to care for a banana plant today because it is one of the plants that first piqued my interest in gardening. My parents grow 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!
What is a banana plant?
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 a shape or color. These are the plants that actually grow bananas!
It’s important to note, though, that unless you live in a climate with year round growing conditions, you probably won’t ever yield bananas. But 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 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. Isn’t that wild? 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 young and 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!
Note that if you’re growing your banana plant in a container or pot as I’ve done the past two years, your plant is unlikely to grow very large. You also might see some banana plant babies sprout up, but they probably won’t develop into plants that can live by themselves.
Where to plant it outdoors
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, so we had a banana plant in a pot in the same spot for the past two years. This year we took the plunge and planted a banana plant in the ground!
We chose the same spot—the sunniest spot in our yard. We were lucky that my parents dug up a fairly large banana plant for us from their yard. They easily have 30+ banana plants sprouting around their yard now.
How to plant a banana tree in the ground outdoors
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 current pot. That meant our hole was pretty big—the plant had a decent root system established already! We dug our hole and then dumped a few inches of potting soil and leaf compost in the bottom of it.
We have awful rocky clay-like dirt here, so we wanted to add something a bit more well-draining with some additional nutrients. Once we’d added a layer of new 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 dirt around it.
We used mostly a mix of high-quality potting soil and leaf compost to fill in around the edges of the root ball. I made sure to pack the new dirt in just a bit. The plant is quite top heavy with the large leaves, so I wanted to make sure it was stable. Then I filled in around the base of the plant with rocks from our rock landscaping.
And roughly one month later…
I’m back to update with some growth progress! I cannot believe how well the banana plant has done in the ground. It puts out new leaves regularly and seems so happy. Here is a pic! I’ll update at the end of the summer too.
And by the end of the growing season…
And here is the gorgeous banana plant at the end of the growing season before temperatures started to drop. Look how thick the trunk is!
How to plant a banana plant in a pot
As I mentioned, for the first two years in our house, we chose a large black plastic pot for our potted banana plant. I wasn’t really ready to commit to putting something in the ground, so we went the container route. Remember that planting a banana plant in a container will definitely constrain its size.
But if a container is your only option, they can still look quite lovely! Use a mix of well-draining potting soil. Anything labeled “potting soil” will do just fine. I probably wouldn’t use a cactus/succulent well-draining mix because they dry out too much, and these are thirsty plants.
How much should I water a banana plant?
A lot! Especially if it’s hot. We watered our potted banana plants every day through the summer. Even though we’re in Maryland, it can still get quite hot here and dry out the soil. Potted plants are especially vulnerable to having their soil dry out from heat, so they need some extra attention when watering.
Banana plants planted in the ground are a bit more forgiving. That’s because the ground retains moisture much better than a potted plant does. When we first planted our banana plant in the ground, I gave it a deep soaking watering every day for about 2 weeks. (I didn’t water on days we got rain.)
It immediately began shooting out new growth just days after planting! Once the plant is more established, you can get by without watering it every day. Unless it’s very very hot, then I’d give it some water. It can’t hurt.
In the winter or indoors, remember that banana plants won’t need much water. If they’re planted in the ground outside, the occasional rain shower will be fine. Indoors, water sparingly just to keep them going. Don’t let the soil dry out completely between waterings. These plants are prone to root rot, so keep that in mind and make sure the pot has a drainage hole.
Banana plant fertilizer
To help care for your banana plant and keep its foliage looking lush and green, grab some fertilizer. Any balanced plant and garden fertilizer will work fine (look for 10-10-10). I use a jug of diluted liquid fertilizer that I use on most of the plants in my garden.
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, though, and 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.
Can banana plants survive winter in the ground?
One option is to 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.
However, we don’t really have the room for that, so we’ll probably do what my parents do. My parents typically wait until the first frost “zaps” their banana plants, killing off the large beautiful leaves that remain on the plant. Then they cut the plant down to the ground, leaving about 1-2 inches of the plant’s “trunk” above ground.
Some sources say hardier versions of the banana plant can be cold hardy down to zone 4, which is pretty damn cold. We’re in zone 7 (find your zone here), and it gets cold here in the winter! So my parents haven’t insulated theirs.
If you’re in a colder spot, 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 insulated over the winter. The advantage of this method is that you can leave the plant in place!
However, the disadvantage is that the plant will start growing from scratch. My parents’ plants still get pretty large every year, so I don’t think this has too much of an impact. Their plants begin popping up as early as April and start really looking good in June.
Banana plant care indoors
All of the same tips apply when thinking about banana plant care indoors: get a well-draining soil. Make sure the plant has plenty of sunlight, 6 hours per day. A grow light will likely help you get the light you need indoors. Plant the banana plant in a pot with a drainage hole.
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 regularly misting the plant with water, adding a good humidifier to the room, or setting your banana plant’s pot on top of a tray with water and pebbles. Or all three!
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 planted in the ground was a banana plant 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. And the banana plants in my parents’ yard certainly are happy.
At the end of this summer, I’m hoping to cut the banana plant pups off and pot them in smaller pots to keep going through the winter indoors. Then I’ll cut down the larger main plant to winter it over in the ground outdoors. How will it go? Well, I’ll let you know next year 🙂 As with all of my plant posts, I’ll pop back in to update in the future!
Banana plant update! Did they overwinter in the ground?
Hey guys! It’s spring 2021 now—April 10th, in fact. And the banana plants are resprouting! I am super excited about this because the first winter in the ground is the most important. After that, they are more established. But it looks like cutting them down worked like a charm.
These are just the beginnings of the plants. Since we aren’t past our danger of frost here in Maryland yet, we will cover these little babies if the temperatures drop too low. I am looking forward to watching these sprouts grow and will update this post with how they look this year.