So often during the cold months
people get tired of growing the same old “house plants” and want to try something more tropical, exotic, or unusual.
If you’re one of those people, a great plant to try is a dwarf banana plant because it’s fairly exotic, very tropical, and yet so simple to grow indoors.
Bananas truly bring a tropical feel to your home, because their foliage gets lush and full, they supply fresh fruit, and they really look like something straight out of Hawaii.
In addition to bringing a fresh look to your house, they do well with minimum maintenance, are self-fruitful, so they don’t need a pollinator, and all banana varieties do well indoors. Basically, there is no reason not to try a banana if you really want a fun project this winter.
I think after reading this you’ll be able to forget about the cold temperatures outdoors for a little while, because once you see how easy it is to grow bananas indoors, you’ll be excited to bring something very summer-like into your home right now.
Bananas An Overview
Bananas (Musa spp.), are herbaceous perennials, almost like a giant herb, and must be treated as such. Their “trunks” are not made of wood, but of leaf bases wrapped tightly around each other to form a tube.
The true stem begins as an underground corm which grows upwards, pushing its way out through the center of the stalk which will later bear the fruit. Each stalk produces one huge flower cluster and then dies. New stalks then grow from the rhizome.
Since bananas multiply by underground rhizomes, each new stalk will produce one large flower cluster and fruit. The stalk on the new dwarf and super dwarf varieties that are mentioned below, grow and produce fruit within 1 year.
The larger banana varieties can take 9 months to grow and another four to eight months for the fruit to mature. Fertilizers rich in potassium, however, do help speed up the fruiting process.
The suckers, called “pups” that regularly come up from the base of the mother plant can be removed to start a new banana plant.
But make sure that after a stalk has fruited, allow one replacement sucker to grow in its place, because the main stalk will die after its fruit has matured.
Bananas , like any tropical plant, need a combination of warmth, bright light, and high humidity; conditions that most homes already can provide. They will however, need these basic requirements year-round, not just when it’s warm and sunny outside.
How To Grow Bananas Indoors
Most nurseries don’t carry bananas but most will special order them for you, or you can order them via direct mail catalog or on the internet.
There are several online tropical growers and even Amazon.com carries many vendors that sell bananas.
Mail order bananas usually come in the form of a corm. After receiving the corm, wash it in lukewarm water to remove any fungal or bacterial growth, which may have developed during shipping.
The first priority to consider when growing a banana is to use the proper soil. It is very important to use a light, well draining soil mixture that has lots of peat, perlite and vermiculite in the mix, and then to make sure you have really good drainage, add 20 percent more perlite to the mix.
Don’t use heavy soils when growing bananas such as heavy potting soil, or soil from a yard. Bananas like an acidic growing mix with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5.
Grow bananas in a container that is not too large. It should be a standard 6 inch (15 cm) or 8 inch (20 cm) pot with a drainage hole. Never plant it in a container without a drainage hole. You can always transplant to a larger container when your plant is quite crowded.
The container you choose should be fairly deep and broad to allow a minimum of 3 inches (7.5 cm) on both sides between the corm and the inside of the container.
Plant the banana corm (rhizome) upright and be sure the roots are well covered, but don’t cover the corm entirely. The top 20 percent of the corm should remain exposeduntil the new plant has produced several new leaves.
Remember this when potting, and leave enough room to later cover the corm completely. Burying the corm after a few leaves have been produced, promotes additional roots and better stability.
Bananas will stop growing even if fed, when they become even marginally pot bound, so you may need to transplant to a larger container in time.
Growing & Maintenance Requirements:
Bananas like lots of water because of their enormous leaves, but it is just as important not to overwater as to underwater.
As with any houseplant, water when needed and keep the soil evenly moist. To help with this, you can cover the soil with a layer of decorative bark or other organic material to act as a mulch.
Allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings, about when the soil is dry to a 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) in depth. Use your fingers to feel the soil. You’ll be able to tell quite easily.
NOTE: Please do not expect this to be a plant that you “water once a week.” If you water once a week without allowing the plant to dry out a bit in between waterings, it is unlikely that you will have success growing this plant!
Fertilize at least once month, especially when the plant approaches maturity and starts to produce fruit. If there are fewer than 10-12 leaves when the plant gets ready to flower, the fruit will take longer to reach full size and ripen. Insufficient leaves are usually a sign that the plant needs more nitrogen and water.
If your plant is producing one flower after another, it’s doing really well, but it will need a consistent supply of nutrients in the form of fertilizer to keep up with its nutritional needs at this time.
TIP: You can water and fertilize bananas at the same time using any type of good balanced fertilizer, like a 5-5-5, or 10-10-10. It is possible to over feed however, which causes the leaves to deform; therefore, if you are going to feed with your water, use the fertilizer at half strength.
Light and Humidity
Bananas, being tropical plants, like lots of bright, indirect light, so a good southern exposure would be ideal. Provide maximum sunlight and warmth, with 12 hours of bright light being ideal for most varieties.
If the area where you want to place your banana is a bit on the dark side, using a high-intensity light of 100 watts or higher or a Gro Light will be very helpful.
Remember to turn your plant periodically to make sure all sides of the tree receive light, and keep it out of drafts.
Growing bananas in constant warmth is very important – the ideal night temperature would be 67° F (19° C). The day temperatures would be in the 80s°F (27° C).
Grow bananas with high humidity by placing bowls of water around the plants to evaporate and create a higher humidity level around them. You want 50 percent higher humidity around the plants than normal household humidity levels which can be on the dry side.
Try to tolerate spent leaves (versus cutting them off) as they turn from green to yellow to brown then shrivel (normal cycle). This allows your plant to re-absorb the leaf nutrients.
When the suckers or “pups” start to form, allow at least 4 leaves to develop before attempting to remove it from the mother plant. Once cut, remove the pup with as much root as possible and pot up in a new container.
You will want to wash your stem and leaves from time to time to keep them dust free, and this also gives you the benefit of keeping any bugs away (like mites). Use mild dish soap with lots of water and a sponge. Be sure to clean the bottom sides of the leaves as well.
Since there are relatively few insect problems with indoor bananas, they can be organically grown, a point that a lot of people like when dealing with edible plants.
When selecting banana cultivars, you need only be limited by the height of your ceiling and available space. The most important thing to take into consideration when growing bananas indoors is taste.
All indoor bananas have a much more unique taste than the bland supermarket varieties so read the descriptive information for each cultivar carefully before you buy one.
Super Dwarf Cavendish and the Dwarf Red are very suitable for indoor growing. The Super Dwarf grow only 3 to 4 feet tall (1 to 1.2 m), if you are really cramped on space.
Super Dwarf Cavendish
These are real fruiting bananas, a scaled down version of the dwarf Cavendish grown commercially in the Canary Islands. Given correct care they can produce edible bananas in 12 months of growth. The really amazing thing is that they flower and fruit when just 4 feet (1.2 m) tall.
Some of the most popular choices are:
- ‘Dwarf Cavendish': gets to 9 feet (2.7 m)
- ‘Super Dwarf Cavendish': gets to 4 feet (1.2 m)
- ‘Dwarf Brazilian': gets to 15 feet (4.6 m)
- ‘Dwarf Jamaican': gets to 8 feet (2.4 m)
- ‘Rajapuri': gets to 10 feet (3 m)
- ‘Williams Hybrid': gets to 8 feet (2.4 m)
- ‘Gran Nain': gets to 8 feet (2.4 m)
- Dwarf ‘Lady Finger’: gets to 9 feet (2.7 m)