Banana Palms: Trendy & Tropical

Plant these beauties to give your landscape a new, lush look

Writer: Carol Harvat | Spring-Summer 2022
Tropical islands are known for palm trees, but here in Southern Maryland banana palms are becoming trendy and surviving the mild winters.
Most of the region is considered Zone 7 with small patches near the water listed as Zone 8a in the plant hardiness zones established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The banana tree variety Ensete can survive outside during the winter in Zone 7. However, “if we get a really bad winter they may not survive,” says Jess Ritter, manager at Wentworth Nursery in Prince Frederick.
The purple Ensete is less hardy and should be brought inside during the winter, she says, adding, “but plants are always happier in the ground.”
The palms thrive in full or half sun, and Jess suggests the fertilizer Bio-tone or Plant-tone for spring and summer months. Typically, she has seen banana trees used as an “entrance plant” by front doors, especially around homes near beaches. “It gives off a tropical feeling.”
Sneade’s Ace Home Center in Lusby ordered banana palms this season, and sells soils specifically for palms, says Tiffany Lewis, the store’s general manager. Sneade’s also stocks Miracle-Gro’s palm fertilizer spray.
“It’s a new product; it just came out this year,” she says.
In Loveville, Zimmerman’s Greenhouse & Produce has carried banana trees the past several years and has a batch of them ready for customers. Von Zimmerman says May is the best time to plant palms “after the soil warms up.” The greenhouse has a lineup of planting soils and fertilizer options.

Banana trees have flourished in the backyard of the Harvat home in Lusby for a dozen years. (Pictured along with this article, some trees grew upward of 20 feet last summer.)
For the first time, a tree produced small bananas, which turned brown before they were large enough to pick and eat. Bob Harvat credits an early spring and near record-breaking rain last summer for the size and number of baby palms.
“They love water,” he says. Babies sprouted all summer, and in early fall he counted 24 plants, far surpassing the past few seasons.
Bob started off with three palms and planted them in large, raised beds with loose soil.
“They’re like carrots, they need soft soil so they can have babies,” he says. If the soil is not loosened the babies will stay close to the mother plant and stay small.
Each year Bob has transplanted a few baby sprouts if they are at least a foot away from the mother plant and have two leaves on them. He will dig a hole, much larger than the root ball he is planting, and then separate and dig up the root ball with the tree, planting it back in the ground as soon as possible.
Once planted, he soaks it, and then gives it a few gallons of water every day for a week.
He sprinkles 10-10-10 fertilizer around the base of each palm in the spring — a fertilizer blend contains 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphate and 10% potash.
In late fall, the trees stop producing palms, and Bob prunes the withered palms as they die.
“When it looks like a cornstalk, cut the stalk down to a foot off the ground,” he says. He places leaves, grass clippings and mulch around the base of the whole area. “The mulch on top of them will help keep them warm during the winter.”
The palms usually start sprouting in May and continue having babies throughout the summer. Bob says he is pleased with the success he has had with the palms, and happy that deer have not eaten them. •