Bananas are tropical plants, but have you ever noticed someone in your neighborhood growing them? When we see tropical plants in an area they don’t usually belong, we have to wonder… how?
Like growing anything, success comes down knowing about the plant you want to grow and then figuring out what is required to overwinter the plant. Is the plant meant to overwinter? Can it be done in the ground, or does it have to come inside? How cold does it get in your area? If it can overwinter in the ground, are there other precautions we need to take in order to ensure its success?
Today, we’re talking growing banana trees in Southern Indiana. That’s zone 6b on the USDA plant hardiness scale. and it basically means it gets darn cold in the winter where I am. So how are we growing banana trees here? Well, I’ve been growing banana trees for the last 10 years. It started when a friend gave me a “sucker” or two. Bananas propagate quickly underground. Around the main tree, it can shoot up 5-6 suckers around it. Once a banana tree blooms (i.e. produces a hand of banana) that main truck will die. But by that time, the 4-6 suckers around it are ready to go for the next season. If your tree really loves its location, it will eventually bloom. I like to see how big I can grow them. Sometimes, they will
I let the suckers grow and gain some girth over a season to make it more easy to separate and give away. Banana trees have a lot of water inside and so they can keep pretty good after being pulled out of the ground. However, the skinnier the main stalk, the sooner it can dry out so I like to get them big so they can handle the process (and time) of pulling them out of the ground, getting them to others, and letting them have time to plant them. The banana trees I started with were not winter-hardy. I didn’t know they existed, and maybe they didn’t early on. I was required to dig them out of the ground around the first frost, bring them inside over the winter, and then replant them in the spring.
Then, my brother-in-law acquired some winter hardy ones from someone he knew. Of course, I had to get some. Today, all of my trees have been replaced with the winter-hardy variety and I cut them and leave them in the ground all winter. The way I cut and winterize them takes a little more work, but in return, I get monster-sized trees, and plenty to give away.
My brother-in-law would whack them just under the surface and mulch over them. Simple as that and it worked. However, come spring, we’d wait to see them poke out of the mulch and it would take time to gain
I use a machete, and I chop up the stalk and leaves and lay in my compost pile. The pile is HUGE by the time I’m done. I have tons of leaves in the yard each fall. I also keep my chicken feed bags which work very well because they are not like a plastic bag that would hold moisture in. Note, I have tried a kitchen trash bag, and it turned the trunks to mush. By the time I uncovered them, they looked decomposed and dead. They actually poked out new shoots around May or June however. So, they were not killed off, but they did have to start over. The chicken feed bags are like a woven synthetic material that can breathe and allow the moisture to escape. This is key since we want to keep them dry over the winter. I stuff the chicken feed bags with leaves and then force one down over each stump. Then, I cover all with whatever I have… I have used oversized planting pots, a kids plastic swimming pool, and for the large groves, a tarp, and one patch just an upside down kids plastic pool for a larger patch. The idea is to keep them dry. They can get cold… but they can’t be cold and wet. By spring, you see the new growth that is literally pushing my coverings off the top. You can see below the shoots that were
Here’s a few shots of the trees at various states during the season. I’ve added captions to each for a little more perspective.
I enjoyed reading your blog. I live in Zone 6 as well.
What banana tree is this? Is the season long enough to produce fruit? Do you sell them?
This is packed with so much valuable information! Thank you!
I do not know the actual variety but it’s considered winter-hardy. It still has to be cut down and covered over the winter, but they do great. It does bloom and the bananas get pretty big, but still green and not edible. When a tree blooms, it dies, but it leaves a number of new “suckers” around it. I don’t like when they bloom because by that time, it’s a pretty large tree that I’d like to come back and get bigger the following year. I can get them pretty large before they decide to bloom. I do not sell them, but I do give them away each fall with I cut and cover them. I am always digging some out to give away. If you’re not far from me, I’d be happy to give you some.
Hi Jason, What is the name of the banana tree you grow. We had them at our previous house and we should have dug them up. Now in the new house we would like them but I never knew the name. They never produced banana’s but that was ok.
Hi Tracy, Alas, I do not know specifically what variety I have. The original I have been propagating from was given to me by someone else. Not sure how far you are from me, but I’m always happy to share a sucker so that you can propagate yourself.
I live about a hour north of Indianapolis. I would love to get one or two of your suckers if you have any available. I did my first banana trees last year. I followed how you winterize them. I also took 2 in the house in large pots. My fingers are still crossed about the survival rate, lol! I do not know what kind I have. I picked them up from a local greenhouse. Thanks!!
Hi Dori, I’m surely willing to give you some if you wanted to make the drive. I usually pull suckers in the fall when I am winterizing them. They become available and I have people come pick them up. If you hit me up as we approach the first frost, I will keep you in mind.
Kirsten McLaughlin says
Is the fruit edible if you allow it to ripen off the tree or is it just not an edible variety in general? I’m also in SE Indy so this caught my attention.
It probably would be if there was enough growing hours in our zone. I’ve gotten them pretty big but they’ve never turned from green to yellow and remained quite hard. While they are neat to look at, after a tree blooms, it’s done and will die.
judy kracy says
How often do you water your banana trees and do you fertilize the or just use wood mulch?
They are surprisingly drought-tolerant. You can’t over water but they can go a while without watering. If you do water them, they’ll get bigger faster. I use no fertilizer or mulch. They shed their fibrous stalks and I’ll chop that up and lay around them on the ground. That’s all I do.
Alan Morris says
I live in Oregon, zone 8b. I have a nice red banana tree about 8 to 10” at the base. How should I prepare it for winter?
I previously lived in Missouri and dug up the plants in the fall. I cut the leaves off next to the stalk and put the root ball in a bucket of sand. I covered the stalk with a black trash bag and kept them from freezing in the garage. I Planted them by the middle of April.
Hi, I cut the trunk knee-high and leave it in the ground. At least for my variety. Then I take leaves and stuff in a chicken feed bag (not a plastic garbage bag as these cannot breathe) and pt it down over the cut stump. Then, I cover over the top of the feed bag with either a tarp, or plastic bucket or another container depending on the size. Basically, the trees can get cold… but they cannot get wet and cold. If they get wet and cold, they will die.
Laura terry says
I never thought I would find information about my exact area. Thanks for sharing your experience!
For three years I have planted winter hardy banana trees in my yard. They have all been in full sun. I am wondering how much shade they would grow in here in Evansville. Do you know? I have so many that I guess I’ll just transplant a few into the heavy shade and see what happens. Mine have never bloomed. I have always cut mine off at ground level for the winter. I am definitely going to try your idea of cutting them knee-high next winter.
They will grow in the shade, just not as vigorously. I have some planted in front of the house and they just seem to stay smaller and grow slower there. As for blooming, I can’t figure out what trips them into blooming, but since the tree dies when it blooms, I never hope for them to bloom 🙂 Good luck!
I live in Carmel and would love to get a sucker when you separate them in fall .
Sure! If you are willing to pick up, I’ll have one for you. Just hit me up around end of October!
Jeff Sonnefield says
The variety is Musa Basjoo. They are winter hardy down to 20 below zero with proper mulch and can potentially survive down to 0 degrees without mulch (I always mulch mine).
Thanks Jeff! I’ve already googled it and found all the info that seems to relate to these trees. I continue to have great results in growing and propagating them.
Hi Jason thanks for all the info. I have two of the Musa Basjoo trees I planted as tiny sprouts this past spring. My husband and I love them and don’t want to lose them. I didn’t see or read if you wait until after the first frost to cut them down for winterizing? Or should I follow the directions now? I’m in Newburgh just east of Evansville.
Hi Nancy, I winterized my trees after two frosts this year. They do fine. When I cut them down, the leaves were almost black from the frost. Cut, cover and they’ll still some up in the spring.
Hi, I planted 2 last summer, I’m in toledo , when should I start seeing it resprout? Just wondering if theynsurvived the winter
Hi Trisha, my trees are usually pushing off the coverings in the spring. I took everything off last week here in SE Indiana.
I live in Southeastern Indiana and I have been thinking about growing a banana tree. There has been alot of good info on here about Bananna trees thanks for the info now just have to figure out where to buy. again thanks for the info
Marcia A. Mulcahy says
Hi Jason, So glad to find your blog-I was given a banana tree about 3 years ago from lady in Illinois where I visited from Missouri to purchase elephant ears-she gave me the banana tree. I’ve been successful as it comes up each year-I do cut down, to 12″ or so above ground, load with mulch even throw on blanket if I think it needs it-ha! From this one tree- I have transplanted three more lovely banana trees to another garden of mine. I have no idea if this is hardy or not but I’ve taken care to hover over all each year. After I saw your pictures I realized I didn’t have to transplant the additional trees it made each year to another area. Oh well, other than sharing with friends from now on I’ll let them multiply where they are. They are little devils to separate and replant for older persons. They have lots of room, light and water. I adore the elegrance and grace of the beautiful leaves and structure of the plant. I”m in Missouri right on the Mississippi river. Thank you so much for your input.
Cindy Simons says
Hi Jason I’m in se Indiana and wondering if I can get a start off yours this fall and have a variety someone gave me I put in the ground this spring with some red color in leaves I don’t know if it’s hardy and will have to decide if I’m going to leave in ground and mulch Would love to have a start on yours so let me know
It does seem like you have the hardy ones… they have had a tinge of red when young. I’m always happy to share, but I have this falls ones claimed already.
I see the most recent post is from last fall. I’m south of terra haute and love the thought of planting a banana tree. I just bought my forever property with oodles of room for planting both native and unique sections.
Please let me know if you will be doing again this fall.