Musa or the Banana is one of the most well known fruits in the world, as well as being delicious and nutritious some varieties can be grown easily and effectively as houseplants.
It might therefore seem an unlikely houseplant but actually it's been grown indoors since the Victorian times, where they were proudly displayed in their humid, warm and sunny conservatories.
Of course the Victorian conservatories were a little different (and significantly bigger) than the ones we have today, however the basic principle is similar.
Often Dwarf Banana plants are found growing in parts of Asia for mass cultivation and they are sometimes grown as tall specimen plants in gardens at the back of borders to add a touch of the tropics. However as they need significant Winter protection it's relatively uncommon for them to be grown like this by the average gardener.
It might seem an unlikely houseplant but actually it's been grown indoors since the Victorian times
Although you might call it a conservatory, sunroom, solarium, or garden room it's essentially the same but on a smaller scale to the Victorian constructions. If you own a Dwarf Cavendish or have a curiously about buying one then you will already know they are a delight, especially if you treat them right.
Although true Banana plants are far too large for any house, the Dwarf Musa Banana, or Dwarf Cavendish, fits right in. They can of course be grown in other rooms of the house, but a conservatory is an ideal situation, often giving humid, bright and spacious living accommodation which this plant craves and ultimately needs in order to do well.
These "Dwarfs" can still easily reach 6ft / 2m, so with this in mind a young new plant will live happily on a window ledge for a few years at most but that's it, afterwards the space will have run out and you will need somewhere bigger.
They're somewhat fussy when it comes to care and the leaves although massive and quick growing are incredibly weak and susceptible to damage. Feeding, copious watering and large containers are necessary and don't even think about keeping them in a cold room over Winter or your Banana Plant will be a mushy mess by Spring.
They grow quickly when it's warm, rewarding you with one new leaf every week or so, they look truly stunning and unique all the time, adding a tropical interest to any area.
If allowed to reach its statuesque proportions, it will dominate in a graceful balanced way that very few houseplants can ever match.
Will you get Banana fruit to eat?
It's a possibility, but conditions will have to be exceptional so probably best not to hold your breath.
When buying a Banana plant for use as a houseplant you want to look for the common Musa × paradisiaca 'Dwarf Cavendish', in fact it will probably be the only one you'll be able to find anyway. It will give you the large size aspect, quick growth along with the potential of edible fruit. It will also tolerate being kept indoors all year round.
M. basjoo is great for the garden because it's the most hardy, however its banana's are inedible and the truck becomes fibrous and messy over time which doesn't lend itself well to indoor decor.
M. acuminata 'Dwarf Cavendish' is similar to M. basjoo as it lends itself well as a garden plant In temperate regions. Its size is more compact but again no familiar fruit will be produced in the short term and it doesn't do particularly well if kept indoors all year long.
Finally a Variegated Banana (Musa x paradisiaca 'Ae Ae') is slowly starting to become more popular. Looks so unusual! Check out the photo gallery for a look at it and let me know in the common if you come across it!
The Common Banana must have good light, but will actually accept a range of light conditions from part shade to full sun. Young plants and new leaves may scorch in full Summer sun especially if your watering routine is stingy.
A well established Banana plant will need copious watering during the warmest months of the year and a good deal more than most house plants during Spring and Autumn / Fall. This is down to its large leaf surface area which allows a lot of transpiration to take place - a good thing in the dry atmosphere of a centrally heated home.
Water when the top 4cm / 2 inches of compost is dry. In a very bright, warm spot you could be doing this as much as every other day in Summer. Significantly cut back in Winter though otherwise you will be inviting rot to take over.
An established plant will need copious watering during the warmest months
The leaves might look tough but are actually very delicate and will rip easily if certain conditions are poor. Low humidity is often a contributing factor to leaf damage so moisture retentive pellets in the drip tray would be helpful, along with a regular misting.
This plant has large leaves which form very rapidly during the growing season, so much so a brand new leaf every 10 days isn't uncommon, therefore feeding on a frequent basis is a must to fuel that level of growth.
Feed well every 2 or 3 weeks using either a general liquid garden fertiliser such as Miracle Grow or if you make your own, that should be fine to use also.
You can of course use a feed designed for house plants too. Do not fertilise when the plant isn't growing or if you don't want to support any new growth, for example if it's already overgrown and further height is undesired.
There isn't really a upper temperature limit found in the home that is damaging. Although heat pockets, or sun traps such as in between windows and curtains should be avoided as they often heat up too rapidly for the plant to adapt.
When it comes to the lowest acceptable temperature this will depend on the variety you are growing. Some Banana's will survive down to freezing, but in our experience of growing the Dwarf Cavendish, it will start to take damage if you put in in an area lower than 10°C (50°F).
One year our entire plant above the soil was lost, luckily the rhizome lived on and regrew the following Spring, still, it wasn't ideal as it had to regrow everything it had lost!
Young plants, also known as "pups", will fill small pots quickly so you need to repot them into bigger ones quite frequently, this may be as much as two or three times in the first year. Normal potting compost at this stage is all you need.
Young plants are known as "pups"
As they get older you can reduce the repotting to once a year. As Banana's are gross feeders it makes sense to enrich the new soil too, so you're welcome to use home made compost or even mix in some horse manure like you would for many garden plants.
However if you use home made compost or animal manure it must be well rotted. You will risk serious damage to the roots and rhizome if you don't use fully decomposed material. Finished compost is dark brown or black with a crumbly-textured that has a rich earthy smell, if you aren't sure, play it safe and stick to normal potting soil.
The Dwarf Cavendish has a suckering tendency, so young "pups" called Offsets, will be produced as the parent ages.
They can be carefully cut away from the main plant, trying to keep some of the roots attached, and then potted up immediately. More details can be found on our offsets section in the propagation article.
When treated well, Banana plants are very fast growers - as much as one huge new leaf every week or so during the growing seasons. If you give it a fair bit of space then it really doesn't take a great deal of time before you'll have a huge and full looking plant.
The variety you have and the growing environment you provide will determine the eventual height. Keeping the plant in a container that is too small, not feeding or generally being "cruel" will mean the maximum height will never be achieved (which might be your intention if space is sparse).
Realistically an indoor Banana won't ever exceed 3m / 10ft in height, in fact, half this size would still be considered generous.
There are flowers and as you might expect they precede the rare banana fruit. Quite beautiful and unusual in appearance, but at the end of the day they're uncommon indoors.
This is because the plants needs good light and a warm home for a long continuous period, unless you're based in a country near the equator you will get four distinctive seasons every year, one of which is always cold and this can scupper the long continuous period of heat (unless you can provide artificial heat of course).
If growing your own bananas is your aim, outside of a warm zone you must provide artificial heat and lighting in Winter. Should you be fortunate enough to "grow your own" the fruits will need around 3 months to ripen, so leave them on the plant until then.
The banana plant has a lot of great qualities and one of them is that it's non-toxic to common pets such as cats and dogs and does not harm people if eaten. However the leaves are easily ripped and damaged so try to discourage playful pets or children from interacting with them.
The leaves are delicate so if you wash them be careful and avoid leafshine products. All bananas will enjoy being outside in the warmest months of the year, so if you can Summer them outdoors in a sheltered corner from harsh winds they will thank you for it.
Pot bound, unfertilised and low temperatures will slow or completely stop growth. These plants need root space, food and warmth to grow.
Overwatering is actually quite difficult to achieve, but if you are watering too much and the temperature is cold you will increase the probability of rot drastically. Unprotected plants will also succumb in near frost like conditions, unheated greenhouses or conservatories will be a gamble if you have a harsh cold Winter.
Leaves have yellow or brown edges / tips
It's almost like the Banana plant expects its leaves to be damaged, so it spends its days churning out new ones so quickly the plant doesn't spend any time making them tougher. It's normal for leaves to become blemished and ripped from general knocking or even low humidity levels.
Immaculate leaves are rare, however you can reduce the blemishes by keeping the plant in a protected spot away from children, pets and strong draughts. Keep the humidity high and water well.
Plant has purple blotches on the leaves
This is the tell tale sign you have a true Dwarf Cavendish. Young plants will have these blotches although as they mature they will disappear.
No banana fruits
Getting them is a challenge, have a read of the "flower" section to find out more.
Fluid on the leaves
Guttation is the most likely reason - after the plant has been watered well, in the morning you may find water droplets have collected at the leaf tips. Perfectly normal and harmless, the drops will either drip on to the floor or evaporate during the day.
A more sinister cause might be down to pests, in particular those which secrete honeydew such as aphids. Guttation results in simple water droplets, honeydew is sticky so you can tell the difference easily by touching the fluid.
Red Spider Mite
Keeping the humidity high will deter Red Spider Mite however if they strike they can be treated with an insecticide.
(Gallery) Credit for the Variegated Banana photo - Mokkie