If there was a first food-producing tropical plant that I’d recommend for beginners, I think it would be the ubiquitous banana. It is a very tolerant plant, grows in a variety of soil conditions excepting perhaps boggy, is the very image of tropical with it’s large, lush, richly green leaves, and with patience and care they produce super yummies that the whole family can enjoy. No, really – 150 lbs from a Williams Hybrid is gonna require the whole family and perhaps the neighbors and their friends to eat… Realistically, most nanners don’t produce that much, especially grown in temperate regions (with winter protection), but it’s immensely satisfying bringing in something that grew from your garden and bananas are no exception.
My first experience in growing bananas here is from a keiki I harvested from a large patch my Father in Law was growing. That patch has since been removed so I’m happy I got it when I did. There’s no name for it yet, this mystery variety, and it hasn’t flowered yet, since winter has claimed its first stem, but I’ve since moved it into the greenhouse planted in a container and I look forward to the bananas it will produce. For me, currently, it’s the joy of growing these things that has me most captivated. The bananas will come in time. The rest of my bananas have yet to flower as of this writing, tho I’ve been growing banana plants for some time now. However, with them in containers and now in a greenhouse, it’s just a matter of time before they’ll be pushing out their flag-leaves and finally, their flowers. Several are close to that now.
Like most of my explosively expanding collection, it really didn’t take off until we got a little bit of property a few years ago that I had free reign on. Our last house had very poor lighting and few windows and a very small yard. I had stuff growing, but I ended up with most of my tropicals growing in a large display window at my computer shop. Then we got another property – not vast acreage, but big enough to stretch out and let my tropical interests take over. And bananas are certainly a big part of those interests.
Banana plants to me are practically synonymous with tropical. They’re lush, succulent, always green, and grow rapidly. Their huge leaves are uniquely… banana. Even without fruit, they are a pleasure to grow. Just a few trees and a bit of imagination and you have yourself a little island setting. My Father in Law never got fruit from his bananas – he’d let them die back every winter and come back in the Spring. But by mid-summer, they’d be huge already and a large clump of banana plants is a sight to behold. I found it irresistible and the first chance I got I took a shovel over there and cut out a keiki (an offshoot) from the clump – a young sword. And thus began my journey into banana-world.
I had it potted for a year, living in my greenhouse. After a bit, I decided to put it in the ground. The clump lived in the ground for a time, dying back every winter and returning in the Spring, until I got my first pit-greenhouse built. It survived with very little care – just kept it watered over the dry season and that was it. When I got the pit-greenhouse built – with it’s 12.5′ ceiling that was tall enough for the bananas to mature, I determined that I was going to see this banana fruit. I dug it up as soon as a new Spring shoot showed and put it in a container. That was a little over a year ago. Naturally, potted bananas will grow slower than inground bananas – so patience is required when expecting fruit. Perhaps I’ll see fruit from it this year, or next.
But that didn’t end my banana collecting adventure tho. From trading/sharing/purchasing, I ended up with 13 varieties, minus a couple of losses that has me down to 11. I had a bunch of TC bananas that didn’t make it over the winter – just a touch too cool for them even in the greenhouse – but it’s a good thing for I’d be out of room here pretty quickly if they all survived. Still, I have a few that will get very large that I’ll need to move outside the greenhouse. For the time being, that’s enough for me. Some will go topside as I experiment with winter protection techniques – like my Saba and Brazilian. The more tender bananas and dwarfs will remain in the greenhouse in large containers for more reliable fruiting.
It’s stunning to see them in full growth during the growing season. Winters see them moping, with their lower leaves drying up and growing very little if at all. Some slowed down enough that I topped them to prevent rot – cutting down until I saw a nice green core with no central dark spot (an indicator that the latest leaf was rotting back). Next winter will see a much warmer greenhouse with the catfish tank and active solar-heating and the bananas will all be in much larger containers, so it should be a better overwintering experience.
Providing their stems survive, all of these bananas will fruit. If the stems die back to the ground, then it starts the clock all over with the new shoots that emerge. So far, I’m a little over a year in with most of these bananas, over two for a couple – so I expect to be seeing flowers popping up here really soon. I’ll be sure to cover their development as they grow and produce bananas. For someone who is so good at killing plants, I’ve found bananas to be an exceptional plant to grow and very well adapted to container gardening. So long as you provide it with heat, all the light you can give it, and moisture (without water-logging, of course), you’ll have the makings of a happy nanner, and perhaps even bananas. The plant only produces so many leaves before the flower emerges, so it’s just a matter of time.