ORIGINATING FROM East Asia, the banana is one of the oldest cultivated crops and there are more than 400 species worldwide of this exotic plant – characterised by large, smooth-edged leaves and a slightly wavy edge – from the Musaceae family.
If you want a banana tree (or two) in your home, follow these tips:
1. When buying a banana tree, look at the pot size, the height of the plant and the number of plants per pot. Its leaves are fragile so must be sleeved in order to prevent leaf damage and cold damage.
2. Also look out for diseases and pests: you’ll find aphids and scale insects are the most common. Meanwhile, sticky clear honeydew is a sign that there are ‘beasties’ living on the plant. And if conditions are too dry, the plant could have red spider mite, too.
3. Banana trees like warm conditions – they cannot cope well with temperatures below 12-15°C. And give them plenty of daylight but avoid placing in direct sunlight.
4. Because it has a large leaf area, the plant evaporates quite a lot of moisture and will therefore need some extra water.
5. However, be careful when watering not to get the soil too wet because this can cause the root to rot, which ultimately disrupts the plant’s growth.
6. The banana tree has a limited range but Musa ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ and Musa ‘Tropicana’ are the most common varieties. The size of dwarf banana trees makes them suitable for living rooms.
7. Houseplant food once a fortnight will keep the banana tree strong and beautiful.
8. If it’s thriving and getting too big, remove some of the lower stems so that it produces fresh side shoots.
9. As a houseplant, the banana tree rarely bears fruit. The Cavendish is the most important species for edible bananas, but be warned, it often takes more than three years for the first flowers to appear on the plant which is needed for the fruit. To get a banana tree to flower, keep it growing with plenty of light and high temperatures, such as a conservatory. The plant may then flower and produce fruit after three to four years.
10. The banana tree can be placed in the garden in a sunny, sheltered spot as a container plant from mid-April to mid-October. Allow it to overwinter indoors, and allow it to gradually acclimatise to bright sunlight in the spring to prevent scorching.