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Mr. Smarty Plants - Non-native banana trees

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Friday - June 06, 2008

From: Gladstone, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Non-native banana trees
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I recently planted two types of Banana trees, a Darjeeling and a Giant Nepal. I know that both are hardy to my zone 7 but that the Nepal needed heavy mulching. My first question is how long will it take my seeds to sprout, what is their growth rate and what do I do in the winter? I want to keep them in the ground year round. Also, I have clay soil; is that good or do I need to increase the drainage?

ANSWER:

The banana tree, Genus Musa, is native to tropical regions of southeast Asia and Australia. They are not actually trees, but fast-growing, herbaceous perennials arising from underground rhizomes. They are now cultivated throughout the tropics. We don't know how to tell you this, but Gladstone, Virginia is not tropical. Not even sub-tropical. Also, this plant is WAY non-native to North America. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's work and research all has to do with plants native to North America. We encourage the use of native plants because they are already adapted to where they are growing, and thus will require less water, fertilizer and maintenance to do well. Obviously, we have no information on this in our Native Plant Database, and certainly no personal experience with growing this plant. But, we will try to find some websites that might answer the questions you have. Note: All banana leaves, even of the most cold hardy species, will be damaged by frost and killed outright by a hard freeze. But many underground rhizomes are much cold hardier than people realize. This means that that the underground root will sprout new growth in the Spring.

The Banana Tree Banana Tree Tropical Forum

From Greenearth, Inc. Banana Plant Growing Information

In our search for answers for you, we learned that the cultivar Darjeeling Banana tree is Musa sikkimensis, and the Giant Nepal is not really considered a true banana, the Latin name being Ensete glaucum.

Frost Protection: Bananas flourish best under uniformly warm conditions but can survive 28 deg. for short periods. If the temperature does not fall below 22 deg and the cold period is short, the underground rhizome will usually survive. To keep the plants that are above ground producing, protection against low temperatures is very important. Wrap trunk or cover with blanket if the plants are small and low temperatures are predicted. We checked on the weather conditions in Nelson County, Virginia, learned that it was in the central part of Virginia, midway between Charlottesville and Lynchburg. The climate in summer has temperatures averaging about 77 deg in July. The temperature in January averages 38 deg. It appears to be in Zone 6b (average minimum temperature 0 to -5 deg) to 7a (5 to 0 deg). It will have to be your decision whether to risk the expense and trouble of preserving a tropical under those conditions. We also understood that you are planting or have planted seeds for these plants. One of the posts on the forum we directed you to says that the seeds are very difficult to propagate. We also saw a suggestion that if you really wanted these plants in your garden that you buy a fresh young shoot every Spring and trash it when it freezes in the Fall. Since they grow so fast, you shouldn't have to wait long for results from that.

 

 

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