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The Japanese Banana Tree

If you’re looking to bring a touch of the tropical to your suburban garden, you’re in luck.

Banana tree foliage.

The Japanese banana tree is one of the only plants native to tropical climates that can survive in four-season weather. It’s a surprisingly easy tree to cultivate, growing fast and acclimating to its surroundings well. It can add flavor to your backyard pool and make you believe that you’re at a lush tropical resort.

That is, until the kids start screaming for you.

Read on to learn all about how to grow Japanese banana trees.

Japanese Banana Trees history

Prepare to have your mind blown, Part I: the Japanese banana tree is originally from China.

The tree has been cultivated for centuries in southern Japan, but scientists were able to trace its origins back to China. It’s believed to have been brought over to Japan in the eighteenth century, where it flourished.

They are known for their thick, long leaves and the tight clusters of banana fruit that sprout.

Yellow flower and ornamental bananas on a Japanese banana tree.

Growing Japanese Banana Trees

Japanese banana trees grow best in a tropical or sub-tropical climate. In the US, Florida and Texas are the ideal climates for planting evergreen Japanese banana trees. However, they can survive and thrive in USDA zones 5-8 as perennials. Generally, if you live anywhere south of Michigan, then you should be able to grow Japanese banana trees. They’ll die off in the winter, but can be regrown year after year.

Even if you live way up north, all hope isn’t lost. Japanese banana trees can be grown indoors.

Gardeners in the north may start them indoors during late winter and spring, and then move them outside once the weather warms up. They’re very durable in this regard and generally can survive the shift to the outdoors.

Japanese banana trees are fast growers, too. They can reach their full height in one to two years. If you plant them now, you could have lovely Japanese banana tree landscapes in a year’s time.

Musa basjoo bananas in a garden along a fence.

Their mature height ranges from six feet up to eighteen feet. The signature feature of a Japanese banana tree are their wide, paddle-like leaves, which can provide lush greenery and needed shade. Their leaves can get up to six feet long and two feet wide. They hang on until the weather drops. Leaves fall off usually by the forty-degree mark.

Japanese banana trees can either be evergreen or perennial, with the evergreen variety most common in their native tropical climate. Perennials come up in spring and die in winter. This is the only banana tree species that has hardiness against the winter cold.

The evergreen varieties will produce banana fruit. However, it is very unlikely the perennials will be able to bear fruit as the winter climate will likely kill those blooms. If you live in a more temperate climate with milder winters, there’s a chance the banana blooms could survive.

When they bloom, Japanese banana trees produce beautiful creamy yellow flowers. Those, along with the lush green leaves will give your garden a little exotic feel, really adding personality to your land.

Yellow flower of a Japanese banana tree.

Harvesting Japanese Banana Trees

There are two main parts of a banana tree that can be harvested, the fruit and the leaves.

The titular banana

Prepare to have your mind blown, Part II: The titular bananas that the Japanese banana trees produce aren’t edible. They may look like the bananas we regularly eat, but they are not the same. Think of them as for decorative purposes only.

Closeup of ornamental bananas.

Under the familiar banana peel, the fruit has white flesh and is filled with black seeds. It’s not poisonous, but it’s not edible, and trying to outwit nature may result in stomach pains.

Japanese Banana Tree Leaves

While the bananas can’t be eaten, the leaves do serve a culinary purpose. Different cultures have used the leaves of a Japanese banana tree during cooking to keep food warm and release flavors. They wrap delicacies inside the leaves, using it like a Mexican tamale or a South American pasteles.

Khao Tom Mad  - sticky rice in banana leaves.

Japanese Banana leaves help to keep the flavor of food intact during cooking, incubating it in the heat. You can use them to steam fish with vegetables. Learn more about cooking with banana leaves.

If you’re looking to get your feet wet using Japanese banana tree leaves in cooking, an easy idea is to line your serving dish with leaves. You can experience how the leaves keep the food warm and tasty, and the foliage will provide a lovely design element to your meal.

The starch in the Japanese banana tree trunk has been extracted and used to create a flour substitute, while the nectar has been drunk for a sweet refreshment. Outside of food, the hardy leaves of the Japanese banana tree have been processed into textiles. In Japan they’re used to make carpet fibers, rope, and clothes.

Closeup of a new banana leaf.

How to Grow a Japanese Banana Tree

The Japanese banana tree is different from other banana tree variants because of the relative ease of growing.

Banna tree pup.

It needs full sun in order to thrive. Its soil should be about a 6 on the pH scale. Rich in nutrients and most importantly, consistently moist so as to mimic a humid tropical climate.

Fortunately, our Banana Tree Planting Guide proves that it only takes a couple of easy steps to successfully plant a banana tree. Make sure the soil around the tree is well-drained. If you are growing a Japanese banana tree in a four-seasons climate, then you’ll want to invest in winter mulch to keep the plant nourished during the fallow months. With proper care, Japanese banana trees can survive up to minus ten-degree weather in the winter.

Young Japanese banana trees.

If you’re worried about winter weather killing off your tree, then one solution is digging out the roots and storing them in a plastic bag in a cool, dark place over the winter. Then in the spring, you can replant. If you have a smaller tree, you can also move it indoors and replant in a pot. When it’s planted outside, make sure to use fertilizer twice a month. Check out our article for other ideas on winterizing your banana trees.

Growing Indoors

Growing a Japanese banana tree indoors isn’t daunting. Your pot should be about twelve to twenty-four inches in diameter. Keep your pot by a window that gets the most sun exposure, minimum six hours per day. For growing Japanese banana trees indoors, use fertilizer once a month.

An indoor banana tree.

Another type of weather to consider is wind. You’ll want to plant it in a location that provides some shelter from winds. If you live in an area that has harsh winds, perhaps somewhere that is prone to hurricanes, then you’ll want to protect the leaves. Their size and weight cause them to easily get ripped off by forceful gusts.

Where Can I Buy a Japanese Banana Tree?

Have we convinced you that you need a Japanese banana tree in your garden or home? Then visit Nature Hills Nursery to purchase one (or more). They sell the musa basjoo banana tree, which is one of the aliases for the Japanese banana.

Musa basjoo banana trees.

Falling in Love With Japanese Banana Trees

Japanese bananas will give you a hint of the exotic and tropical in your backyard. They’re easy to grow, and in a year or two, you’ll have thick, lush leaves providing shade and peace. Even though these aren’t edible fruit-bearing bananas (sorry, no Japanese banana splits!), we think you’ll love Japanese banana trees for their good looks and fast growth.

A Japanese banana tree flower.

To learn more about bananas, visit our Banana Trees page. We’ve got lots of resources where you can learn about different varieties of bananas (edible as well as ornamental) and get up to speed on best practices for growing and caring for banana trees.