published Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Garden: Yes, you can grown bananas in Chattanooga

Donna Horn doesn't profess to having a green thumb, but it does seem that whatever she plants thrives, including ornamental banana trees.

Yes, banana trees in Chattanooga.

"You absolutely do not need to have a green thumb to grow these," she said, noting that ornamental varieties do not produce fruit. "They don't even need fertilizer, just water. It is the foliage that I enjoy watching because it grows extremely fast. You can measure its growth on a daily basis."

Horn said the trees can grow as much as 20 feet when placed outside during warm weather.

"I started with one [very small] tree that I bought from a local nursery," Horn said. "It grew to 20 feet with a circumference of approximately 10-12 inches on the trunk. I had no experience with them, so I didn't know what I was getting into. When the frost finally hit, I cut it down."

The tree came back the next spring, and several others sprouted from the same plant. Ones she brought inside for the winter thrived.

Horn offers the following tips for growing ornamental banana trees.

FIVE TIPS

1. Start with one banana tree 12-15 inches high. By first frost, it will reach 10-15 feet. Plant in full sunlight.

2. It is not necessary to fertilize the hardy trees, but water generously, especially in hot weather.

3. Banana trees are fairly resistant to pests. However, if your tree begins to look a paler green or isn't flourishing, inspect the bottoms of leaves for spider mites. If they are present, spray the underside of leaves with a diluted solution of dish detergent and water after removing visual signs of infestation.

4. As new leaves form, older ones will begin to die. Remove the dying leaves. New shoots, visible almost overnight, unfold into beautiful foliage within a day or two. When mature, leaves are usually 15 inches long and 8-10 inches wide.

5. It is not necessary to dig up the plants for the winter. Cut the tree down to the base, and mulch the exposed trunk. In early spring, there should be multiple small shoots, which will grow rapidly, creating a grove of trees.

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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