Growing Banana Trees

Banana trees are easy to grow fast to a fruiting size from field grown banana bulbs. Gardeners find it fascinating that a tropical look can be grown in Northern states by starting out by planting large field grown, banana bulbs or either mature giant banana trees. Field grown banana trees are decapitated before shipment and boxed for shipment to be planted directly into landscapes near pools, gardens or patios. The banana tree is so vigorous, when removed from the field, that it often begins growing from the middle of the central banana tree stalk during shipment. Vigorous growth on newly planted banana trees usually begins a week or two after replanting, and during the summer months a field grown banana tree can grow a foot in height every week, especially in July and August, when the temperatures exceed 90 degrees F. and the daylight period is extended. Watering of newly planted banana trees can damage the plant, if the watering is done before the second new leaf appears; Two or three weeks after the initial planting.

After the banana plant leafs out, daily watering can accelerate the maturity of the plant, and at TyTy when temperatures exceed 95 degrees F, we water the banana trees two or three times every day, resulting in a surge of growth, 17 ft. in some banana cultivars in only four months time. The rapid fast grown of banana trees goes unmatched by any other plant or tree in the U.S., even bamboo plants. In a matter of four months a banana tree can increase in total weight to one thousand pounds, including the weight of the offsets.

In addition to the benefit of flooding the banana trees with water, fertilizer and decaying organic material, such as rotting leaves, magazines and newspapers, and the nutrients are absorbed by the roots of the banana plant, like water is absorbed by a sponge – Newspapers and Magazines spread out above the roots of the banana trees benefit the tree growth by preventing weed competition and providing a favorable growth environment for congregations of insects, fungi, bacteria and worms, all of which degrade the organic material, and many complex minerals and inorganic chemicals that are recycled into manageable nutritional growth supplements by these earth dwelling creatures. The chemical compounds of the element potassium seem especially favorable to the growth of banana trees- 40% potash applied directly to the soil. At TyTy Nursery we fertilize with concentrated ammonium nitrate fertilizer that contains about 30% nitrogen in the elemental stage. Ammonium Phosphate will supply the element phosphorous that anchors the plant roots well into the grounds that prevents the banana tree from breaking over from the weight of the newly formed banana bunches during the Fall. The application of nitrogen to banana trees often will cause extreme acceleration of stem and leaf growth, and the intensification of a deep green leaf color can be easily seen on the day following fertilization, if the banana trees were chlorotic. Magnesium sulfate (Epsom Salts) and chelated iron are also dramatic stimulators to banana trees on sandy southern soils, where those chemical elements are often deficient. Slag which is a residual inexpensive biproduct in the manufacture of iron and will recover most mineral deficient soils to an acceptable fertility level for banana tree vigor.

Cold hardiness quality has been monitored at TyTy, Georgia since the zero degree F freeze in January of 1983, when some banana trees that were growing before the freeze they were found to be cold hardy temperature to zero degrees F. Other cultivars of banana trees that survived temperatures much below freezing were collected at TyTy Nursery from freezes in Wichita Falls, Texas, and named “Texas Star” banana trees, and still another cultivar collected from snow capped Kilimanjaro Mountain in Africa. TyTy Nursery was the first American nursery to name and offer cold hardy banana trees for sale, both fruiting banana tree plants and ornamental banana tree selections. The introduction and advertising of cold hardy banana trees through National magazines in the early 1980s was an instant success, and for many years, there was a demand for all types of banana trees that could not be filled. That initial introduction of cold hardy banana trees has now stimulated the planting of this choice tropical tree to many states and overseas markets. Some major wholesale banana growers now grow containerized banana trees from tissue culture germ plasm. Many clones of these tissue culture, banana tree cultivars have “run out”, just like strawberry plants, Canna lily cultivars, and many others. These “run out” clones of banana tree plants are weakly growing, stunted plants and usually form offsets that have pointed, sword shaped leaves that etiolate and shrivel in size after separation from the mother banana plant. Field grown banana trees normally produce offsets that have rounded leaves that can be safely separated from the mother banana plant after the appearance of the third leaf. Tissue culture banana production-line plants offered an endless supply of mailorder small plants, but they rarely grew into acceptable fruit producers. Even the potted banana plants grown from tissue culture in greenhouses produced octopus-like clumps of banana offsets surrounding the mother banana plant, that parasitically drained the energy from the mother plant and they rarely fruited. Field grown banana plants will outgrow tissue culture grown banana plants 10 to 1, and larger bulbs of field grown banana plants will fruit more frequently.

In rating cold hardy banana plants, the Chinese banana tree is number one, followed by ensete banana cultivars, however, the ensete banana trees will not produce offsets unless decapitated, in situ, which forces the mother plant to multiply vegetatively. This phenomenon is often observed in many crinum lily cultivars that do not produce offsets or seed, since they are hybrids. Most commonly, ensete banana tree cultivars are seed forming, and commercially are produced by planting ensete banana seed.

By Pat Rick