Banana leaf plants (Musaceae) are a surefire way to bring a touch of the tropics into your home. Given their size and visual impact, banana leaf plants are what you might call a “statement plant.” Yes, they are better referred to as a “plant” rather than a tree — even the ones that produce fruit are herbs! And if you’re tight on space dwarf varieties are available.
Though used to the warm temperatures of Southeast Asia, Australia, and Africa, they can be grown outdoors in other locations. Even indoors, they grow rapidly and reach their full height in under a year (3 to 6 feet indoors). They make for a hardy indoor garden option if you know the right tips and have the right tools to help them thrive.
What You’ll Need
Most materials you need to grow your banana leaf plant are standard gardening tools. Don’t go bananas!
- Bulb or starter plant
- Porous, well-draining soil
- Pot with a drainage hole
- Wide, deep dish
- Mulch or fertilizer
- Watering can
- Spray bottle
- Dish soap
- Gravel or small stones (optional)
- Humidifier (optional)
How to Plant
Once you’ve decided to grow a banana leaf plant, there are few different options for how to begin.
A banana rhizome, similar to a bulb, is an underground stem with root-like growing points that will turn into stalks. To plant indoors, start with a pot that is 10 to 12 inches and expect to increase in pot size each year as your plant grows. Insert the rhizome upright deep into the soil, covering the roots but leaving the top 20 percent exposed for the leaves to grow. Once leaves have started to appear, you can bury it deeper to help the roots grow.
A sucker is one of the shoots that has grown from the rhizome. The plants can produce many suckers and they can be removed from an adult plant once well developed. There are three types of suckers to look for including: maidenhead, sword, and water suckers. It is recommended not to take the maidenhead suckers as they will not bear fruit.
Look for a sucker that has formed at least four smaller spear shaped leaves. Remove the sucker by the roots and follow the same planting instructions as above.
If you buy a young plant from your local garden store, ensure it’s in the right sized pot with ample drainage. Give the plant a good watering and ensure it drains properly from the pot’s hole into. Place it in a bright spot in your home and voila!
If you want to plant outside in the ground, it’s best to do so in the late spring after the risk of frost has passed. Planting holes should be around 3 feet wide by 2 feet deep, and the native soil should be mixed with some sand and peat moss, with a heavy layer of mulch around the base.
Now that you know what supplies you need, discover the basics for how to grow and care for a banana leaf plant indoors or outside.
Since they come from the tropics, banana leaf plants do best when the temperature is hot and humid. You’ll want a consistent temperature that falls between 75 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s good to keep them in a room in your home that you like to keep on the warmer side.
Based on their native climate, you can probably guess that banana leaf plants love sunlight. Some other large-leaf plants can suffer from overexposure to sunlight, but not the banana leaf! Put them in the brightest part of your home or garden — preferably with six to eight hours of direct sunlight — and watch them flourish.
Many places where banana leaf plants grow are known to have rainy seasons. To mimic this inside your home, you’ll want to water your plant once daily, ensuring it soaks into the soil and allows for drainage.
Rich, deep soil with a low salt content will ensure the best results for your plant. They prefer slight acidity, so look for soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. Banana leaf plants will retain more leaves when the soil is kept moist and fertilized.
It’s helpful to mulch your banana leaf during its growing season, which falls between spring and autumn. During this time, it’s good to use a well-balanced slow-release fertilizer regularly; follow the instructions on the package.
Tips for Extra Care
Beyond the basics, a few helpful tips can allow your plant to thrive.
- It doesn’t hurt to have a humidifier near your plant. Doing so can help mimic its native climate and improve leaf growth and quality. Banana leaf plants prefer humidity to be at least 60 percent.
- Placing a tray with pebbles and water under the plant can also help to create a humid atmosphere.
- It’s a good idea to also mist the leaves with water once a day to improve humidity.
- The large leaves can collect dust. Use a soft rag soaked in water and a bit of dish soap to gently and easily remove it.
- Don’t forget to remove any dead leaves from the stalk. This not only looks prettier but helps to stimulate new growth.
- When you see new buds forming on your plant, they can be removed and potted for propagation.
Common Issues and What They Mean
There are some common issues that banana leaf plants face. Learn what causes them and how to fix them.
Root rot is yet another symptom of too much water. It spreads when the root system is too moist for too long and can cause your plant to die. If you notice your roots are soft, have turned dark in color, and are giving off an unpleasant smell, root rot is probably the culprit. Remove the plant from the soil, run the roots under water, remove all affected roots, discard the soil, wash the container, and repot.
Holes and Shriveled Leaves
Holes and shriveled leaves could mean you’ve got an infestation. Many insects, such as aphids, nematodes, and black weevils, feed on the sap and leaves of various houseplants. If you suspect pests are at play, try some natural extermination techniques, or call a professional if the infestation is severe.
Sticky leaves can be a more specific infestation of scales, which suck sap from plants. You can help to suffocate the scales, which breathe through their shells, by wiping the leaves regularly with water and dish soap.
Now you know the most important factors for growing this ornamental, tropical plant indoors all year round. If you’ve got a sunny spot, keep a warm home, and have a few minutes a day to spare for watering, you, too, can feel like you’re living in the tropics.
It’s also worth noting that banana leaf plants aren’t toxic to animals or humans, yet another reason they make for a perfect addition to indoor gardens.
Have you had success using these or other tips? Share in the comments below!