Hardy Banana (Musa basjoo)

Basjoo Banana Tree, Hardy Banana, Hardy Fiber Banana, Japanese Banana, Japanese Fiber Banana, Sichuan Hardy Banana

Are you looking for a cold-hardy banana tree that is fast-growing and provides a tremendous ornamental display? Then the Musa bashoo banana tree is what you need. The only problem is it produces inedible green fruit because it is bitter and dry. Keep reading to know more about this outdoor plant.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Musa basjoo, known variously as Japanese banana, Japanese fibre banana or hardy banana, is a species of flowering plant belonging to the banana family Musaceae. It was previously thought to have originated in the Ryukyu islands of southern Japan, from where it was first described in cultivation, but is now known to have originated in subtropical southern China, where it is also widely cultivated, with wild populations found in Sichuan province. Its specific name is derived from its Japanese common name, bashō (芭蕉).

Musa basjoo is a herbaceous perennial with trunk-like pseudostems growing to around 2–2.5 m (6.6–8.2 ft), with a crown of mid-green leaves growing up to 2 m (6.6 ft) long and 70 cm (28 in) wide when mature. The species produces male and female flowers on the same inflorescence which may extend for over 1 m (3.3 ft). The banana fruits formed are yellow-green, around 5–10 cm (2.0–3.9 in) long and 2–3 cm (0.79–1.18 in) broad; they are inedible, with sparse white pulp and many black seeds.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

The cold hardy banana tree needs full sun with slight shade to grow. It is best to place it in the landscaping center, away from your other plants creating too much shade when planted outside. You can leave it standing on an uncovered patio or place it close to a large window when grown in a pot. Still, the plant needs protection from high winds that can shred and dry out the leaves.

Temperature and Humidity 

When it comes to temperature and humidity, the most care is taken in winter. Your banana tree proliferates in one season. Yet, when the first frost hits, the plant dies back to the ground. So before the first frost hits, you can cut back the stems and leaves.

Leave about up to ten inches of it above the ground. Next, apply a heavy mulch over the top of the crown. For ease of removing when spring arrives, you can use a chicken wire cage placed over the plant before adding the mulch. Then, when growing your plant in a container, you can move it indoors.

For keeping your plant indoors, your banana trees need a humidity of 50% but can tolerate lower levels.

Watering

Your Musa basjoo needs a lot of water as the whole structure of the plant is water-rich. So you need to water your plant regularly to keep the soil moist. While the mature plants can tolerate some levels of lime found in the water, they prefer rain or stale water. Growing your banana plants inside helps to provide them with a misting on the leaves and the pseudostem.

Soil

A loam soil is essential whether you plant your cold hardy banana trees in a bucket to place indoors or outside by the pool. The best substrate to use needs to be porous, allowing the water to drain freely. You can use a potting mix filled with coconut fibers to retain moisture and prevent the roots from rotting.

Doing this provides a well-drained potting mix for your plant to thrive. Still, the ground needs to be acidic with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. When grown as an outdoor plant, you need to provide it with a hole three times wider and deeper than the container it is in. You can work in organic mixed with inorganic substances to improve drainage.

For organic soil, you can use biosolids, sphagnum peat moss, and a well-draining composted manure. When you want to add inorganic materials, the best is to use perlite and vermiculite.

Fertilizing

Compared to many other plants, this tree is a heavy feeder. You can add a 1/2 teaspoon of fertilizer to a gallon of water. Apply the feed every week under full sun conditions to help with growth. When placed in lower light or cool temperatures, you can reduce the frequency of the feeding. When your plant becomes dormant in winter, you need not feed your banana trees. A great product to use is 15-15-15 or 7-9-5.

Potting and Pruning

With the rapid growth of the banana tree, it can grow high and may need relocation to a bigger pot.

  • Remove the offshoots from the mother plant to prevent negative growth.
  • Place a quart of clay shards and sand at the bottom.
  • Cut the rhizomes shorter to encourage growth.
  • Place the tree in the pot and fill it with a potting mix.
  • Press on the ground to provide the plant with a hold.
  • Use lime-free lukewarm water and remove the excess water.
  • At this time, do not feed your plant and wait for about six weeks before providing the plant with fertilizer.

You can prune off the yellowed leaves, and once the central shoots flowers and carries fruit. Then, you can remove the young shoots at the base.

Propagation

The best way to propagate Japanese banana plant is through division. For this method, you need to wait for spring when the offshoots appear. Dig the shoots from the soil to remove a portion of the root system. You may need to pull the rhizomes apart from the mother plant.

Take the detached plant and place them in a container filled with moist soil. Remove the lower leaves at the top of the sand. Place the plant in a spot where it receives cooler morning sun. Keep the soil moist once it dries out.

USDA Zones

The hardy banana rarely blooms because of the shorter growing season if you live north of zone nine. You can place your tree with other tropical plants on the patio or at your pool. In zones nine and ten, your banana tree remains evergreen year-round. Your plant can take up to 24 months to bloom yellow flowers and carry fruit.

Pests and Diseases

One thing you’ll find is that there are not many pests bothering your tree. Yet, during the winter months, too much moisture in the soil can lead to root rot. Other concerns are aphids and moths that eat on the leaves. To prevent them from destroying your plant, you can use a non-toxic insecticide.

III. Uses and Benefits 

  • Ornamental uses

Musa basjoo has been cultivated both for its fibre and as an ornamental plant in gardens outside its natural range, first in Japan, and from the late 19th century, then in the warmer parts of western Europe (north of the United Kingdom), the United States, and southern Canada. In gardens, it is used as a hardy ‘tropical foliage’ plant. Although the pseudostem may only cope with a few degrees below freezing, the underground rhizome is considered frost hardy, if well insulated with thick mulch, in areas with winter temperatures down to −12 °C (10 °F). The roots are considered hardy to −10 °C (14 °F). 

If the pseudostem is killed, the banana will resprout from the ground where it rapidly grows to full size in a season under optimal conditions. Thus, it can be grown as far north as USDA zone 6a. It can also be overwintered undercover in a pot and kept growing, which is the only way it can be made to fruit in northern regions as it requires 12–24 months of warmth to bloom.

In the UK, it has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

  • Fibre

In Japan, Musa basjoo plant fibres are used to produce textiles known in Japanese as kijōka-bashōfu (bashōfu (芭蕉布, “banana cloth)). Whole pseudostems are cut into strips up to 3 metres (9.8 ft) long. These are beaten, bleached and dried to produce the raw material, which can then be made into products like hand-knotted carpets, tablecloths, kimono and paper.

  • Medicinal uses

In traditional Chinese medicine, the stem, flower, leaves and rhizome of Musa basjoo are considered useful for clearing heat-toxins, quenching thirst and disinhibiting urine.

  • Culture

The 17th-century Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō took his pen name from this plant.

IV. Musa Banana Varieties

While the hardy banana is a great plant to have, there are other banana species you might be interested in as well.

Dwarf Cavendish

You can grow this banana tree indoors and outside. This indoor plant produces huge bunches of fruit every harvesting season. When the banana gets ripe, it starts off green, and the skin turns yellow with white flesh. The texture is smooth and sweet.

Musella lasiocarpa

The banana tree is exotic and also creates a tropical vibe in the garden. The plant has golden yellow flowers ending up in a blue-green banana. But the fruit is not edible.

Musa velutina

Now, this banana tree is a sight to see with its pink banana. The plant is an early bloomer and bears a lot of fruit. But again, you cannot eat the fruit as it is too seedy.

Hardy Banana (Musa basjoo) Details

Common name Basjoo Banana Tree, Hardy Banana, Hardy Fiber Banana, Japanese Banana, Japanese Fiber Banana, Sichuan Hardy Banana
Botanical name Musa basjoo
Plant type Herbaceous Perennial
Hardiness zone 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b, 10a, 10b
Growth rate Fast
Harvest time Summer
Height 6 ft. 0 in. - 14 ft. 0 in.
Width 6 ft. 0 in. - 14 ft. 0 in.
Sunlight Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
Soil condition High Organic Matter
Flower color Cream/Tan
Leaf color Green