Musa Basjoo is a species of banana commonly grown through the world for it’s exceptional cold hardiness and lush foliage. When established Basjoo regularly survives zone 7+ winters (10° F) without protection. Basjoo will survive down to zone 5 or 4 (-20°F+) with proper winter protection techniques described later in the article.
History And Uses: Basjoo originates from the Sichuan province of Southern China. It goes by the names “Fiber banana”, “Hardy banana”, and “Japanese banana”. It has been cultivated for centuries for it’s fibers which are used to make “bashōfu” (banana cloth). The rhizomes, stem juice, leaves, flowers, and fruits are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Propagation: Bananas produce both pups (developed baby rhizomes that sprout from the main root, also refereed to as suckers or buttons) and seed.
- Pups should only be removed when at least 24 inches tall to insure sufficient root development. To divide a banana pup from it’s mother plant dig around the baby rhizome to reveal the point where it is attached to the larger plant. Using a clean sharp knife cut through the attaching root material tangentially to the arc of the main stalk and set in a shady dry place for 2-3 days. After drying choose a location with fertile well drained soil and preferably some type of wind protection (such as the side of a house or a wall). Dig a hole 6-12 inches deep and bury the pup to it’s original depth ensuring none of the roots are left exposed. Keep the soil damp but not soaking wet until established. This should be done in spring/early summer for an optimum chance of survival.
- Seeds should be soaked in tepid water for 24 hours prior to planting to bring the embryo out of dormancy. While soaking the water should be changed 2-3 times. Sow the seeds in a tray of well drained potting mix at a depth of ¼ inch. Cover the tray and place in a warm location. Germination is usually slow and erratic, occurring between 1 and 6 months. As each seed sprouts, carefully remove it from the tray being careful not to disrupt the delicate root system, and plant it in the ground or in a pot depending on weather conditions or the current season.
- Potted nursery plants should be planted the same way as pups. Prepare the planting location by digging a hole 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep. Fill the hole about three quarters deep with a rich organic compost and perlite mixture. The ratio should be about 80% compost and 20% perlite to allow good drainage. Carefully remove the plant from the pot by tapping on the bottom, rather than pulling on the actual plant. Bury the plant up to it’s original depth and water thoroughly. Keep the soil damp but not soaked until established.
Planting Location: Choose a spot that is both warm and sunny. An optimum location should receive about 12 hours of sunlight daily and offer some protection from wind (basjoo leaves are tender and tend to shred in windy locations). Banana roots will rot in standing water so drainage should be provided for the plants before planting. They prefer soil with a PH between 5.6 and 7.5. When planting more than one, try and keep the trees spaced about 10 feet apart to minimize competition for nutrients and sunlight.
Fertilization: Bananas are very heavy feeders when it comes to fertilizer. They will reward you with large leaves and thick strong trunks with regular applications of either water soluble plant food or organic fertilizer. These should be applied about once every week or two during times of active growing. Banana trees should not be fertilized during cold weather and should be kept fairly dry until temperatures begin to warm and growth begins to emerge.
- Organic fertilizers such as rotted manure or kelp solution should be added to the soil surrounding the plant.
- Water soluble fertilizers (such as miracle grow) should be mixed in a watering can at a dilution of 1 tablespoon per gallon of water. Apply a balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10 or 20-20-20).
Here are links to a few recommended fertilizers:
Care: Aside from watering and applying fertilizer when required bananas don’t need frequent attention. When bottom leaves die they can be trimmed off and placed around the plant as mulch.
Overwintering: In zones 4-6 it is a good idea to protect Basjoo trees during the winter to ensure they survive frigid temperatures.
Another technique used in colder climates is to bury your banana plant below the frost line of the soil. To do this you must keep your banana plant potted until it grows 2-3 feet tall. Dig a hole about a foot deep and twice as wide as the root ball. Place the banana plant in the hole and bury the plant, leaving about a foot of stem above the soil line. This in addition to applying a good layer of mulch will give your banana tree a good chance of surviving the winter and sprouting to life in the spring.
Final Thoughts:Musa Basjoo is an exceptional addition to the home landscape or a business. It is the most cold hardy banana you can buy and, with proper care, will come back year after year forming a large clump of beautiful foliage and thick trunks. The leaves grow to an astonishing 6-8 feet long and sometimes have stripes of light red. In warmer zones the Basjoo will flower and possibly form fruit (the fruit is inedible and seedy).