Banana plants (Musa spp.) produce large, deep-green leaves on tall stalks, giving them the appearance of large trees. Bananas are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 11, depending on the specific variety. Use banana plants to add a tropical touch indoors or outside.
Banana varieties that have edible fruits are the species Musa acuminata, which is hardy in USDA zones 10 through 11, and Musa balbisiana, hardy in USDA zones 9b through 11. They grow shoots best when temperatures remain 78 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit and fruit best at 84 to 86 F, but they can suffer chill damage at temperatures below 60 F. Grow edible bananas in full-sun locations where the soil is rich in organic matter but well-drained yet moist. Standard-size edible banana plants can grow more than 30 feet tall, and they require 12-foot spacing between themselves and other large plants. Dwarf cultivars can tolerate an 8-foot distance from other dwarf varieties or 20 feet from large plants. Banana plants suffer few pest or disease problems. After planted, bananas take 10 to 24 months to produce ripe fruits.
Dwarf Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana banana plants also work well as a tropical screen or living fence where they are hardy. In colder climates, the hardy or Japanese banana (Musa basjoo), which is perennial in USDA zones 5 through 10 but produces inedible fruits, can serve the same purpose during the spring and summer months. Each of these three kinds of bananas produces dense foliage and large leaves. The hardy banana plant requires similar planting and care as the other banana plants, except it dies to the ground when the temperature drops to 32 F. Cut a hardy banana plant to 2 to 3 feet above the ground after it dies back naturally, and it will regrow in spring. The plant can grow 12 feet in a single season.
A single banana tree is a large centerpiece in a garden, making it the focal point. Edible banana plants provide year-round interest while the hardy banana is useful only as a showpiece in summer, except in USDA zones 9 through 10, where it remains evergreen. Planting a banana plant in a raised mound draws the eye to the plant while providing better drainage for its roots. When planting a banana plant as a centerpiece, place it in a location protected from high winds but far enough from neighboring plants and buildings so its foliage can reach its full spread to showcase the plant's natural, lush form.
Hardy bananas grow well as potted plants and remain green all year in USDA zones 5 through 8 when taken indoors to protect them from cold weather. Dwarf edible banana plant varieties, such as "Cavendish" (Musa acuminata "Dwarf Cavendish"), hardy in USDA zones 9 through 11, also can survive as winter houseplants. Besides winter greenery, a potted banana plant gives a home a tropical touch. Any kind of banana plant's pot must have bottom drainage holes so excess moisture can drain. Setting each banana plant's pot on a wheeled cart makes the large, heavy plant easier to move. Take the plants indoors before the first frost, and provide them with full, all-day sunlight. They grow especially well in an indoor sun-room. Banana plants become semi-dormant in winter. So water their soil enough so it doesn't dry out completely, but overwatering can lead to rot. Both hardy and edible potted banana plants grow best when they spend summer outdoors in a sunny spot.