How to grow bananas in Sonoma County

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Lori C. of Santa Rosa asks: I was given an ornamental banana plant in a 5-gallon pot. I would like to buy a couple more, but first, I could use some help as to where to plant them and how to care for them.

Bananas do not grow, nor do they come, from trees. They grow on plants that look like trees. The trunk of the banana tree is called a “pseudostem” which grows from an underground rhizome. Ornamental banana plants are grown in the garden for their big, beautiful leaves and colorful flowers. Unfortunately, they do not produce these beautiful flowers until the plant has grown at least 9 to 12 leaves from this pseudostem. The banana plant is somewhat of a slow grower, making a long growing season necessary for the ornamental bananas to flower.

Depending on your area, you might need to protect them from the winter chill and frost, just as you would citrus, since they are pretty sensitive to the colder weather.

If you have them growing in pots, you could move them under cover, in the garage or shed, or someplace out of the cold and rain.

Wrapping them up with a few layers of frost cloth will also help protect them, especially if they cannot be moved.

Before buying one, check with your favorite nursery for the best banana plant for your area. If you get winter temperatures below freezing, definitely plant yours in containers that you can move to a sheltered area during the winter months.

There are a few cold-to lerant varieties, like hardy Japanese fiber banana (Musa basjoo), that can live outdoors year-round, unprotected. If you’re wanting to plant them in the ground, choose an area that is protected by other trees or buildings.

Banana varieties are available in different sizes and produce colorful, large, broad leaves that are often used to create a tropical garden ambiance. Pick a spot where the plant will be positioned for high visibility, or as the focal point in the garden.

Also, choose a location that shelters the plant from high winds, either against a garden wall or the wall of a house.

Remember, ornamental bananas love warmth, but they can get sunburned and scorched if there’s too much reflective sun and not enough air circulation.

Ornamental banana plants need fertile, well-draining soil, or potting soil if you are growing them in a container.

Adding a little compost to the planting hole will give them some extra nutrients as they grow.

Water the banana plants regularly during the growing season.

They’re big plants and will need a lot of water. Check the plants every other day or daily, and keep the soil moist. Put an inch or so of compost on top of the soil, around the plants, to help keep moisture in the soil for a longer period of time.

Banana plants in containers need more water than those planted in the ground, so keep an extra careful watch on those.

Some varieties are deciduous, and some are semi-deciduous.

Do not prune until early spring, when you can easily see the leaves that have died back.

Cut as close to the pseudostem (trunk) as possible. When the weather starts to warm up, new leaves will emerge and the plant will be beautiful again!

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors at pdgardendoctor@gmail.com. The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at pressdemocrat.com.

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