One of the rare tropical plants Hoosiers can grow in their landscape is a hardy banana called Musa basjoo (pronounced moo-sa bass-sue)
The roots of this fast-growing, large-leaf plant survive when protected in winter in USDA Zone 5, which includes central and northern Indiana.
“You do not have to be a tropical geek, but you must put in some effort,” says Irvin Etienne, horticultural display coordinator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Etienne has tended hardy bananas at the IMA and in his own Fountain Square garden for several years.
Plant hardy banana in a sunny spot where it has lots of room.
All bananas get torn up a bit by wind, Etienne says, so placing it where winds will be blocked may help. It grows about 6 feet a year.
If the banana is planted in well-drained soil rich, in organic matter, fertilizer may not be necessary. Water is important if there’s no rain. “They have big fleshy leaves, so they won’t be happy dry,” he said.
There are a couple of options for wintering the plant over outdoors. Once the leaves have been killed by frost, Etienne recommends erecting a 3-foot tall cage or fence a foot or two away from the trunk. He fills the cage with oak leaves because they don’t mat down. November is a good time for this.
Cut the tree back to the top of the cage or allow the leaves to collapse against the trunk. Either way, cut it back to new growth in spring. Unearth in mid to late April. The plant probably will not bloom or bear fruit in Indiana.
Native plant tour
Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society annual garden tour will be next July 9, 2011 in the Indianapolis and Lafayette area. The tour is a great way to see what native plants look like in a residential landscape. The tour is free, but registration is required to get the locations.