If you’re looking to add natural interest to your home, banana leaf plants are the way to go. The beautiful houseplant is defined by its large, paddle-shaped leaves that bring major visual intrigue when displayed in the home. The greenery thrives in warmer climates, so it’s often desired by people who want to give their space a tropical feel. And though banana trees are relatively low maintenance, they require some basic care in order to stay healthy and lush.
Characteristics of banana leaf plants (aka banana trees)
Although they’re commonly referred to as trees, banana leaf plants are actually herbaceous perennials. This means that the variety doesn’t form a woody stem and has upright stalks that produce the leaves. “Several large leaves with long leaf structures grow in clusters tightly around the stem,” says gardening expert Melinda Myers.
There are many different species and varieties of banana plants. Each one has its own unique characteristics, but generally, banana leaf plants are kept inside as houseplants rather than grown in gardens due to their need to be in a warmer, humid climate.
Common Names: Banana leaf plant, Banana tree
Botanical Name: Musa spp.
Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
Hardiness Zone: 8 to 10
Mature Size: 8 to 10 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide as a houseplant (varies by species)
Sun Exposure: Full sun
Soil: Well-drained, acidic soil
Native Area: Southwest Asia and South Pacific
What to look for when buying a banana leaf plant
Banana leaf plants or banana trees are typically purchased from a nursery as a potted plants, rather than grown by seed. You’ll want to choose one that has the best chance at flourishing in your home. “Look for potted plants that have a strong, sturdy stalk,” says Adrienne R. Roethling, the director of curation and mission delivery at Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden. “A flimsy stalk may lead to rot.”
You should also examine the leaves, which are indicators of how healthy the plant is. “Look for dark green or appropriately variegated leaves—free from speckling and dry leaf edges—that show [the plant] has received proper care and is not suffering from mites or other pests,” Myers says.
How to care for a banana tree
This is a tender perennial that needs proper care in order to keep its leaves from wilting, yellowing, or browning. As a tropical plant, it’s important to ensure the conditions in your home are reflective of its natural habitat, which is warm and humid.
The greenery requires full sun in order to flourish and should be kept in a bright, sunny location. During warmer weather, it can be placed outside for about 6 to 8 hours a day. “This tropical plant thrives in full sun outdoors, with variegated varieties benefiting from a bit of afternoon shade, so near a sunny window is a good option,” says Myers.
Well-drained, acidic soil is best when trying to imitate the natural conditions of banana leaf plants. “Many houseplant owners purchase tropical soil blends, but making your own soil blend containing perlite, coco coir, and pine chunks will also work quite well,” says Sonya Harris, the founder and CEO of The Bullock Garden Project, Inc.
Although banana leaf plants don’t like dry soil, they also don’t like to be consistently wet or sitting in water; this will cause the perennial to develop root rot. “The best method of watering is to allow the water to run through the pot, then place it into an empty tray,” says Harris. Water whenever the top inch of soil is dry.
Though some varieties are cold hardy, most banana trees prefer warm, humid spaces. “Never keep your banana plant in close proximity to air conditioning, cold doorways, or even direct hot air,” says Harris. “It is sensitive to temperature and extremes can cause dieback of the corm, [a large underground stem that stores nutrients].”
To enhance the humidity surrounding your plant, mist its leaves with water regularly. “I like to place pebbles in the saucer so the excess water collects beneath the pot,” Myers says. “As this water evaporates, it increases the humidity around the plant.”
Add compost or a water soluble fertiliser during the growing season, which is from spring through fall. Use a balanced fertiliser (something with a 1:1:1 ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) like 15-15-15.
Alternatively, flowering houseplant fertilisers or slow release fertilisers are also suitable when growing this variety in a container. “The more you fertilise, the more growth, so be careful. The plants can get big, so you may want to fertilise less,” says Myers. “Many people tend to over fertilise their plants.”
Cut dried or dead leaves back to the place where the leaf stem bends away from the “trunk” of the plant. “You can cut back the stem leaving at least several inches above the soil surface,” Myers says. “New growth sprouts from the centre of this.”
How to propagate a banana tree
Fill your house with more banana plants through propagation. “Banana leaf plants grow pseudostems which can be propagated and used to grow new plants,” Harris says.
Once a pseudostem is about 1 foot tall, remove it by cutting into the corm.
Remove the sucker and a section of the corm and roots. Make sure you’re not getting more than 1/4 of the corm.
After it’s removed, strip the larger leaves off the new plant and repot.
Fill with potting soil and take care of it the same way you do for the mother plant.
How to repot a banana leaf plant
Known for their rapid growth, banana leaf plants will need to be repotted when the roots fill the container.
Slide the plant out of the pot.
Loosen any circling roots and some of the pseudostems (if you want to use this time for propagation, too).
Plant in a container about 1 to 2 inches larger than the remaining rootball.
Fill in with soil.
Common problems with banana trees
While banana leaf plants are relatively easy to maintain, there are a few common issues you’ll need to be on the lookout for when growing these perennials.
Check for aphids, spider mites, and mealybugs, which are common houseplant pests. “If you catch these early, I suggest spraying them off with insecticidal soap or wipe down the entire plant and all leaves with a small amount of neem oil on a clean white rag,” says Harris. Prevent infestations entirely by carving out time for weekly inspections.
If you notice the leaves on your plant are yellow and the stems have turned soft, you may be overwatering it. If it’s caught in time, simply scale back your watering schedule. “Don’t allow plants to sit in excess water—pour off the excess or place the pot on pebbles in a saucer above any excess water that collects,” Myers says.
Alternatively, leaves that are a crispy brown around the edges may mean the plant is drought-stressed. For this issue, you should also adjust the watering schedule. “Water thoroughly when the top inch of soil starts to dry,” Myers says.
This story first appeared on www.marthastewart.com
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