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Go Bananas With Tropical Stalks
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Next to the leaf of the palm, the leaves of the banana tree are perhaps the most decorative for lending a touch of the tropics to our backyard.
Gardeners in northern states think we have a tropical climate. Coastal areas along the Gulf of Mexico have a long summer lasting from mid-May to October with more than 250 frost free days. During our summer, tropical plants like the banana grow with an almost reckless abandon. Late summer is when many of these banana stalks are the most showy.
Large stalks can produce edible bananas after a mild winter like this past one. Such is the case with Mrs. Ann Lee of Terry. She cuts her bananas back in early winter, builds a wire cage around the clump and fills in with leaves which add good insulation. Mulch heavily year-round to hold summer moisture and protect from winter freeze. If the bananas come out and produce their flowers and fruit early enough, they can reach the edible stage before the first freeze in the fall.
A friend of mine in Tulsa annually cut his back to about three feet. He then digs them up and places them in a protected area of the garage. He always has bananas. In Texas, I dug mine but only cut back the portion with leaves. Instead of a stack of logs, I had a stack of banana trees.
One other cultivation practice that will help your plants produce flowers and fruit is to keep sucker plants from developing or growing until the mother plant produces the bloom and fruit. Then select about two pups and let them grow for the next year.
If you are eager to have larger fruit as well as to encourage ripening, it is best to cut the flower stalk off after the last hand of bananas has been formed. The rest of the flower, which is pretty, is strictly the male or pollen producing portion of the flower. No use letting the banana use its energy for these flowers.
Let me remind you that this flower is pretty and unique, so if you do not care about the fruit then let it be and get your bananas at the grocery.
We really have a lot of choices of bananas for the landscape from the giant sized, to the rose banana or ornamental banana. This banana almost always flowers and forms large clumps reaching about 10 feet in height.
One banana, known as Musa velutina, produces gorgeous flowers followed by hot-pink velvety bananas. It is striking in the tropical garden. This one is not too hard to find in garden centers in the spring. If you want to check these out before next year, look at the pretty ones at Mynelle Gardens in Jackson.
Some bananas are grown strictly for foliage, such as the blood banana. Mynelle also has the prettiest clump of these that I have seen outside of French Martinique. They have leaves painted with dark blotches of red on the top-side while the bottom side of the leaf is all red.
If you give them lots water and fertilize monthly, bananas will put on an astounding rate of growth. Those at Terry are about 20 feet tall.
Bananas with their huge leaves and massive stalks symbolize the tropical garden and it's one you can have for your special backyard retreat around the porch, patio, deck or pool.