Dwarf Banana Tree: Growing Banana Plants as Ornamentals
We all love our tropical houseplants! Growing stuff like Boston ferns, crotons, bromeliads, or even a dwarf banana tree livens up the house or yard. It adds just a bit of that lush greenery to your personal space.
And no, that wasn’t a typo. The banana plant can be a stunning ornamental houseplant if maintained properly. Technically not a tree at all, the thick “trunk” of the dwarf banana tree is actually made up of tightly-clumped leaf stalks,
While they’re not true fruit trees like apples or others, dwarf banana trees can grow to be incredibly large. Thankfully, we have dwarf cultivars, which only grow to be 4′ to 12′ tall, making them viable for home gardens.
You don’t need to be in the tropics to grow them, although they definitely love the warm weather. With the right care, you too can enjoy this leathery-leaved plant and even eat dwarf cavendish bananas. And if you let it flower, you might even get some bananas, too!
Good Products At Amazon For Growing Dwarf Banana Trees:
- Monterey Garden Insect Spray (Spinosad)
- NaturesGoodGuys Live Beneficial Nematodes
- Harris Food-Grade Diatomaceous Earth With Duster
- Neem Bliss 100% Cold Pressed Neem Oil
- Yellow Sticky Traps
- Bonide Copper Fungicide
- All-Seasons Horticultural and Dormant Spray Oil
Dwarf Banana Tree Overview
|Common Name(s)||Dwarf banana tree, Dwarf Cuban red, Dwarf Cavendish, dwarf Cavendish banana tree, Giant Cavendish, Williams Hybrid, Gran Nain, Chiquita, Lady finger, Sugar banana, Latundan banana, apple banana, silk banana, Pisang Raja, Brazilian, Raja Puri, Rajapuri, Red Tiger, Darjeeling banana, Flowering banana|
|Scientific Name||Musa acuminata, Musa balbisiana, Musa x paradisiaca, Musa sikkimensis, Musa ornata|
|Origin||Warm tropical and subtropical regions, varies by cultivar|
|Height||Dwarf species are 4-12 feet in height.|
|Light||Full sun to partial shade|
|Water||Likes moist but not wet soil. About 1” per plant per week, estimated.|
|Temperature||75-90 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Humidity||Loves humidity, 50% or higher preferred|
|Soil||Well-draining soil, about 20% perlite|
|Fertilizer||High potassium fertilizer preferred.|
|Propagation||By corm, pups/offshoots, and tissue culture. Very rarely by seed in the wild.|
|Pests||Nematodes, thrips, black weevils, banana stalk borers, mealybugs, spider mites, aphids, banana fruit scarring beetle. Also at risk for these diseases: Sigatoka leaf spot, black leaf streak, Panama disease/banana wilt, Banana bunchy-top disease, Banana mosaic disease, black end, cigar tip rot, Moko disease.|
Types of Dwarf Banana Tree
At one point, it was believed that all plantains or cooking bananas came from the species Musa paradisiaca, and all dessert bananas came from the species Musa sapientum.
However, later study revealed that all edible bananas came from hybridization of two wild species, Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana, regardless of whether they were cooking or dessert bananas. Thus, virtually every edible banana available today is a hybrid cultivar of one or both of those two wild banana species.
These are now classified into groups where it’s detailed what the hybridization levels are, with “A” referring to acuminata, and “B” referring to balbisiana.
Since there are hundreds, even thousands of cultivars of edible bananas today, it’s confusing to pick a plant. For today, we’re going to focus primarily on dwarf varieties. I’ll also include a couple of the most popular ornamental (inedible) varieties, as they also make great show plants too!
Musa acuminata (AAA Group), ‘Dwarf Cuban Red’
This is a triploid hybrid of Musa acuminata cultivars, popular as a small and firm dessert banana. Its name comes from its red-skinned fruit, very notably different from the modern supermarket bananas. The leaves also occasionally are tinged with red. This cultivar tends to reach 7-8′ heights.
Musa acuminata (AAA Group), ‘Dwarf Cavendish’
The dwarf Cavendish banana tree is likely the most popular dwarf dessert variety amongst most gardeners. However, it and all other Cavendish varieties are susceptible to a fungal disease that’s being called Tropical Race 4, a strain of the Panama Disease which wiped out commercial cultivation of the Gros Michel banana variety in the mid-1960s.
Home gardeners shouldn’t avoid growing dwarf Cavendish bananas, but should be watchful for signs of fusarium-type wilting and be prepared to take action. Take good care of this tree, and eat dwarf cavendish bananas!
One of the standard dwarf Cavendish bananas reaches about 9′ in height, and a super-dwarf cultivar gets to about 4′.
Musa acuminata (AAA Group), ‘Giant Cavendish’, ‘Williams Hybrid’
When you’re at the local supermarket buying bananas, this is quite likely what you’re getting. Giant Cavendish are not a dwarf banana cultivar, but they can be trained to grow rather small if you aren’t growing them for fruiting purposes. This is currently the most popular dessert banana in the world, and the one most commonly imported.
Like the dwarf Cavendish, it’s susceptible to Tropical Race 4 and is at risk commercially.
The Williams Hybrid reaches heights of about 8′ tall.
Musa acuminata (AAA Group), ‘Gran Nain’, ‘Chiquita’
Triploid hybrid of Musa acuminata. Gran Nain dessert bananas were once at major risk due to the fusarium-related fungal disease called Panama Disease. At the same time that these were under fungal attack, the Gros Michel variety (unrelated to Gran Nain) was commercially destroyed.
Current Gran Nain cultivars have a similar flavor to the classic Gros Michel banana, but are a dwarf plant. They are very slightly resistant to older strains of Panama Disease, but can still be overwhelmed. These grow to 8′ in height.
Musa acuminata (AA Group), ‘Lady Finger’, ‘Sugar Banana’
Duploid hybrid of Musa acuminata. The Lady Finger banana tends to produce very small and slender finger-shaped dessert fruit, and also tends to have a much smaller dwarf profile than many other banana species. It’s slowly gaining popularity because of its miniature fruit. The plant itself grows between 4-9′ tall.
Musa x paradisiaca (AAB Group), ‘Latundan Banana’, ‘Apple Banana’, ‘Silk Banana’, ‘Pisang Raja’, ‘Brazilian’
This is a true hybrid of both Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. It produces a plantain-style cooking banana which is popular throughout South America and in other parts of the world. They’re described to have a slightly-acidic, apple-reminiscent flavor. There are many different cultivars that share some of these names, but most are 7-9′ tall.
Musa x paradisiaca (AAB Group), ‘Raja Puri’, ‘Rajapuri’
Rajapuri bananas are a dessert banana in sweetness, even though by hybridization they fall into the plantain group. Its fruit has a very dense texture with a rich and sweet flavor but is used mostly for cooking purposes. The plant itself is most definitely a dwarf cultivar, growing at most 8-10 feet in height. It tends to be hardy even in non-optimal conditions.
Musa sikkimensis, ‘Red Tiger’, ‘Darjeeling Banana’
An ornamental variety that likes higher altitudes. Musa sikkimensis is popular in the mountainous regions of India. While one could eat the fruits of this banana, it has poor flavor. It can be grown as an ornamental in other areas, although it does still prefer higher altitude growing conditions. Red Tiger grows to about 7 feet.
Musa ornata, ‘Flowering Banana’
This ornamental variety is popular in lowland environments where heat and humidity are high. While it produces stunningly beautiful flowers and fruits, the fruit tends to be inedible. Originating in southeastern Asia, it’s now widely cultivated as an ornamental or a source of ingredients for ayurvedic medicine.
Dwarf Banana Tree Care
There are some really important environmental conditions for your dwarf banana tree to thrive. While many cultivars can still grow in hostile conditions, they slow down significantly in speed.
Dwarf banana trees are full-sun plants. A minimum of eight hours of sunlight is required to give them the best growth, and up to 12 hours if you’re trying to promote fruiting.
If you are trying to keep them in a dwarf ornamental status, keep them in partial shade. The shadier conditions will promote deeper and richer green foliage. Full sun conditions will lighten the leaf coloration to a yellow-green tone, but will aid in flowering.
It is essential to be sure your plant will have enough warmth, as well. These tropical species prefer locations that rarely get below 57 degrees Fahrenheit, and prefer it to be well above 60. Optimal temperatures are between 75-90 degrees.
If you get frost in the winter, you may need to bring your dwarf banana tree indoors. Provide a grow light so it has the light it needs, and keep it in a location where it’s comfortable.
Lots of access to water is necessary, but with bananas, there is a risk of too much. Bananas are susceptible to root rot conditions with over-watering. Under-watering will cause wilting or slow growth.
If growing in a container, it’s important to water slightly more often than if they are in the ground, as containers will dry out faster. Water only when the soil has dried out in the top half inch to inch, and try to maintain a moist but not soggy soil state. Air Pots, which we stock in our online store, are great for retaining moisture and building healthy roots.
If planted in the ground, ensure that the soil maintains a nice level of moisture but isn’t wet, and water when the soil is dry in the top half-inch to inch.
Most outdoor dwarf bananas require about an inch of water per week per plant. This will change depending on your weather conditions. Cooler climates typically require less water. Mulching also prevents water loss in the soil.
Dwarf banana trees are humidity-loving plants. 50% or higher humidity is best.
A midrange pH condition is ideal for bananas. They enjoy soils that are 5.5 to 7 pH.
The dwarf banana tree prefers well-draining soil. It can develop root rot in overly-moist soil. You don’t want to plant it in soil that has previously shown signs of any fusarium fungal infection. Use a high-quality, sterile potting soil for containers, and well-amended clean soil in planters or other outdoor planting sites.
Before planting your banana, mix some fertilizer thoroughly into your potting soil or planting site to give it a boost. Adding some vermiculite or peat moss is also good for moisture retention. Increase the level of your mix to about 20% perlite to ensure good drainage.
If adding composted material in your soil mix, don’t use freshly-produced compost. The warmth of freshly-composted material can retard plant growth or cause damage to the banana corm. Be sure it’s well-aged composted material.
Once your plant is in the soil, mulch around your plant to a depth of at least 4″ to help keep the soil moist and prevent weed growth.
Dwarf bananas are big eaters. You’ll need to fertilize your dwarf banana tree on a monthly schedule for best growth. Using a high-phosphorous fertilizer like an 8-10-8 is ideal. If you can’t find that, a balanced 10-10-10 will work. For young plants, use 65-75% strength fertilizer, as they don’t need quite as much. Older plants should have full strength.
If you’re trying to promote fruiting, you are going to want a high-potassium fertilizer for your mature plants. The fruit requires extra potassium to grow. Opt for something like a 10-10-15 or 10-10-20.
If you are growing your plant indoors, you don’t need to fertilize as heavily. Indoor bananas grow much more slowly. Use 50% of the fertilizer you would use on an outdoor banana tree. Overwintering plants require no fertilizer at all.
Since so many varieties of this dwarf banana tree are hybridized, it’s best to buy live plants from suppliers. Most hybrid plants don’t produce seed, and if they do, it’s not viable.
The most reliable way to propagate most cultivars of bananas is by tissue culture. That’s how the majority of banana plants are produced for commercial sale. Tissue culture enables growers to produce perfect clones of the original parent plant.
You can also produce bananas from suckers or “pups”, the offshoots of an adult plant. Banana pups grow in a cluster around the base of the parent plant. These can be carefully shorn from the corm, or base of the plant.
Once these have grown 3-4 leaves, they’re ready to separate. Use a sharp-edged spade to carefully slice these away from the banana corm. Be sure to keep some of the corm and its root mass attached to the pup. Once you’ve separated your pups, you can then plant them along with their attached corm segment elsewhere.
If you plan to keep your dwarf banana tree in the same location, it’s good to remove all but one of the pups from the plant. Select the strongest-looking pup and allow it to remain in place.
When the parent plant dies back, the pup will take over the corm base and will continue to grow. You can then remove the parent plant’s foliage and let the pup develop into an adult.
Most people growing banana plants in pots pick the wrong size pot. You want a deep pot with a good-sized drainage hole that allows about 3″ space on all sides around the corm or base of your banana plant.
Once you’ve selected your pot, fill the lower portion with new sterile potting soil that’s been blended with some fertilizer. Then, carefully remove your dwarf banana tree from its old pot. Dust off any loose soil, then set it into its new pot. Fill around the plant with new sterile potting soil that’s been fertilizer-amended. Finally, place a 4″ or thicker layer of mulch on top of the soil.
Mature plants will stop growing when they begin to become rootbound. At that time, you’ll need to re-pot them again to maintain their current size and encourage growth. Alternately, cut off part of the corm to keep it in the same pot.
It can take 6-9 months before a banana flower forms, longer in cooler climates. Some varieties which prefer hotter climates may never bloom in cooler ones. Pick a variety that is suited to your area.
When it flowers, do not remove the leaves that shade the flower from the sun. Those leaves help protect the flower and any subsequent fruit.
As the flower petals begin to draw back, you will see very young bananas begin to form. Each segment of bananas is called a hand, with an individual banana called a finger. Multiple hands of bananas will form on a single flower stalk. The full stem holding multiple hands is called a bunch.
Once all of the hands are revealed and are starting to grow, remove the remaining flower at the tip of the stem. Cutting that off will encourage fruit growth. You may also need to remove the tiny “extra hand” that sits against the flower, as that will generally not fully fruit.
It’s best to cover your growing bananas with a loose nylon sack that has openings at both ends to allow for airflow and water drainage. This protects your fruit from pests. When the petals at the tip of each banana fall off or dry to a crumbling state, you can remove the bag and harvest your bananas.
As your dwarf banana tree is harvested, the adult tree will die back. At that point, remove the dying or dead adult plant’s foliage and encourage a pup to take the adult’s place.
Pruning is minimal for most of a dwarf banana tree’s life cycle. Remove most of the suckers or pups from around the plant’s corm, only allowing the most vigorous to survive. An indoor plant can handle 2-3 suckers, but shouldn’t have more than that. I recommend only leaving one, the healthiest, and encouraging that to take over from the parent later.
Try not to remove green and vigorous leaves unless they are really in the way. It’s best to only remove leaves when the leaf has become yellowed or browned and has shriveled on its own. The leaf should easily pull off at that point. If not, use a clean sharp knife to sever it from its stem.
Overwintering Dwarf Banana Trees Indoors
If you don’t have room indoors for your dwarf banana tree to take up a lot of space during the cold months, cut it back!
As it approaches wintertime, the leaves along the outside of the dwarf banana tree will begin to yellow along the edges or go yellow-brown and withered. This is a sign that it’s time to trim it and bring the corm or root base indoors.
If it’s already in a pot, simply take a sharp saw or knife and cut the plant off about 3″ above the soil level, leaving a flat top. New growth will begin to appear from the center of the corm later.
If it’s in the ground, still cut it off as mentioned above. However, carefully dig out the root ball of the plant and put it into a pot filled with potting soil, and bring that indoors for the winter.
Keep the soil moist and stored in a location that is above 60 degrees. Some light is preferred, but it will handle low-light conditions during the cold season as well. If new leaves begin to form, provide at least some light to keep it going until you can take it back out.
Overwintering Dwarf Banana Trees Outdoors
If you are growing your tree for its fruit, don’t cut it back to 3″ above the ground. In most non-tropical areas, it can take longer than a year for some varieties to produce a flower stalk, and you don’t want to slow that process.
If your average weather is going to be at or above 60 degrees, you don’t have to take any steps to overwinter your plants.
In an area where you don’t get frost, but you do get temperatures below 60 degrees, take chicken wire and make a tubular ring around your dwarf banana tree. Add shredded leaves inside the chicken wire to make a shield from the cold.
Areas that receive frost should overwinter their dwarf banana trees indoors. Carefully remove your plant from the ground and place into a pot that’s at least 3″ larger on all sides than the root mass and corm. Keep it in a warm, well-lit portion of your house until the weather is again consistently above 60 degrees.
As a plant, the dwarf banana tree is at risk from a number of diseases and pests.
Pest nematodes can be a problem for most plants, but root knot nematodes are especially problematic for bananas. The large corm and unusual root system provides ample below-ground food for this pest. These pest nematodes can spread deadly fusarium-type diseases such as Panama disease.
I highly recommend purchasing and spreading beneficial nematodes in and around your banana plants. Beneficial nematodes will hunt out and kill the other varieties of nematode. They also help control most soil-burrowing or soil-pupating larvae of other insects. These micro-insects are a wonderful aid to your soil!
There is a type of thrips called the banana rust thrip which feasts upon the leaves of banana plants as well as on the peels of their fruit. Another thrips, the Corky Scab Thrip, can destroy bananas rapidly. While you may be able to remove thrips by hand, I recommend killing them with a spinosad spray.
Black weevils, sometimes called banana stalk borers, are another problem for dwarf banana trees. You can coat the leaves and stalks of your banana plants with diatomaceous earth to repel them. Beneficial nematodes will help wipe out the larval stages. Using a pyrethrin spray can kill off what persists in plaguing your plants.
Mealybugs can pay a visit to your dwarf banana tree, as can spider mites or aphids. Aphids, in particular, can be risky as they are carriers of the bunchy-top disease. All of these sap-sucking insects can be repelled with the application of some neem oil on all plant surfaces.
Finally, the coquito, also called the banana fruit scarring beetle, will attack banana fruit in its adult form. The eggs it lays turn into larvae which burrow into the soil at the base of the plant to eat the roots and pupate. Sticky traps work to capture the adult beetle, but for the larvae, beneficial nematodes are one of your best defenses. Inviting ladybugs and lacewings to help eat the eggs on your plants will also destroy this pest.
There are a couple of varieties of leaf spot that can impact dwarf banana trees. Sigatoka and black leaf streak are both fungal leaf spots that can be hard to treat. Your best bet in a home gardening scenario is to use a copper fungicide.
However, black leaf streak can be resistant to fungicides, so it may take repeated applications to have effect. A horticultural oil spray may help prevent leaf spot diseases.
Fusarium oxysporum is a fungus that causes the dreaded Panama disease, also referred to as banana wilt. This type of fusarium wilt is lethal to the dwarf banana tree. In fact, it caused the commercial banana industry to stop growing the Gros Michel cultivar of banana entirely. Gros Michel was at one point the world’s most popular banana and has since been replaced by the Cavendish. However, the Cavendish is at risk from a new variety of this fusarium wilt called Tropical Race 4.
Signs of Panama disease include yellowing leaves, drooping fronds, and eventually plant death. It can be transmitted by wind, water, movement of infected soil, or via farm equipment. It’s important to thoroughly clean tools you use on your dwarf banana tree to prevent the spread of this fusarium fungi.
Once your plant has contracted the disease, it should be destroyed to prevent further spread. not plant more bananas in the same soil or exact location.
Banana bunchy top disease is transmitted by aphids, especially the banana aphid. This disease causes upward curling or cupping of the leaves and narrowing of leaves. The leaves will eventually become stiff and brittle, and the disease retards the plant’s growth.
To avoid bunchy top, wipe out aphids before they can cause the disease’s spread. While it’s most common in Australia and some parts of New Zealand, the occurrence of bunchy top disease has slowed in recent years.
Aphids also transmit the banana mosaic disease. Mottled or striped foliage will result, and the mottling can spread to the fruit as well. Unfortunately, there is no real cure for banana mosaic disease. Destroy infected plants to prevent further spread.
While there are other diseases that impact bananas, it is unlikely that the home grower will have problems with them. Black end can cause blight-like symptoms on fruit, and cigar tip rot starts in the flower and can turn fruit black and inedible. Both of these can be wiped out by removing the fruiting stalk, but the plant may not last much after the stalk is removed.
Moko disease is a bacterial infection that is very difficult and expensive to control, but resistant cultivars are widely available.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How big do dwarf banana trees get?
A: They reach roughly 8 to 10 feet tall.
Q: Can you eat bananas from a dwarf banana tree?
A: Absolutely! It’s one of the perks of caring for one.
Q: How quickly do dwarf banana trees grow?
A: Unlike other fruit trees, dwarf banana trees take only 9 to 15 months to produce fruit.
Q: How much fruit does a dwarf banana tree produce?
A: It can produce up to 90 pounds of bananas.
Q: Do dwarf banana trees need full sun?
A: They do. Give them at least 6 to 8 hours of full sun daily.
Q: Do dwarf banana trees need a lot of water?
A: They need a medium amount of water at about 1 inch per week.
Q: Why are the edges of the leaves of my plant turning brown?
A: This is a difficult question to answer. Both too much and too little water can cause leaf browning. Further, different diseases such as bunchy top or Panama disease can cause browning.
Most home growers are less likely to have disease issues, so most of the time watering problems are the culprit. Check the top inch of soil around your plant. If it’s dry, you need to water more often. If it’s soggy, you’re overwatering. You want it to be moist but not muddy, and your soil needs to be able to drain extra water easily.
Q: Are bananas going extinct?
A: While there have been drastic problems in the commercial market with Panama disease, bunchy-top disease, and Moko disease, bananas are nowhere near extinction. However, the Gros Michel variety of banana is very susceptible to older forms of Panama disease.
The Cavendish variety of bananas that’s widely available commercially right now is susceptible to a new strain of Panama disease, the Tropical Race 4 strain.
Unless commercial banana farming is changed to avoid fungal infections such as these, the commercial viability of bananas may be at risk. Home gardeners have less concern unless they live near commercial banana farms. So don’t fear the extinction of bananas quite yet… but be watchful for fungal infections!