On Gardening: Bananas in containers offer thrilling tropical foliage

May 23, 2016

Bananas just may be the perfect thriller plant for the warm season mixed container, with their tall stature and lush foliage.

When it comes to selecting a thriller plant for your mixed container, I would like to put forth the idea of using a banana. They have the ability to instantly capture the imagination of all who gaze upon them and there is an immediate sense of tropical islands and gentle ocean breezes. It really makes no difference if you are using an ornamental banana or one that just might set fruit, it will be the large, coarse or bold textured leaves that transport you mentally to an idyllic Caribbean paradise.

Over the years I have written about the attributes of the Chinese Yellow Wax bananas, (Musella lasciocarpa), the Red Abyssinian banana (Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurellii’) and Siam Ruby, all unique bananas that are stunning in mixed containers. They are still among my favorite choices as is the most-cold hardy, Japanese Fiber banana (Musa basjoo). This year, however, I am trying a short cycle fruiting banana called Dwarf Orinoco. It already has me humming Jimmy Buffet’s "One Particular Harbor" and firing up the grill for jerked chicken. While I might get lucky and get a few bananas I am already sold because of their picturesque appearance compliments of the luxurious foliage. This again, is just what you will have, too, regardless of banana species or varietal selections.

First, choose a container large enough to get the job done. My containers did not have drainage holes which are paramount for the health of your plants. So I quickly brought out the drill and put five quarter-sized holes in each container. Next in importance is the selection of your potting mix. Heavy weighted, budget potting soil sold by the pound is no bargain. You will be surprised by how much better your plants grow when planted in the more expensive but lightweight, named brand.

Bananas are heavy feeders, since you are growing these in containers, you will be watering every day and the extra water will leach out the nutrients. Keep them well fed by applying the needed nourishment regularly. This year I have been using a controlled released granular fertilizer and I am very pleased. I like the water soluble, 20-20-20 applied with hose on sprayers and may supplement later on in the summer.

This year, however, I have given much more importance to selection of companion plants to help me create that Carnival like atmosphere within sight of a cool, clear pool mimicking that spectacular Caribbean blue. I chose larger containers than in past years giving the bananas ample room to grow while allowing me room for plenty of fillers and spillers. This year I wanted my containers to be riotous with color.

Each container features two spiller plants, lime green sweet potatoes and Blue Wave petunias. These are my favorite garden colors playing off each other in a dazzling complementary fashion. Filler plants selected were Bandana Cherry Sunrise lantanas, Serena angelonias and Bronze-leafed Cocktail Vodka begonias. They have all quickly grown, meeting my demand for sensational color while bringing in butterflies and hummingbirds.

The summer is long and poses a wonderful opportunity for designing mixed containers. Why not make this the year you go tropical with a banana as your thriller plant. You will feel like you are on holiday in Martinique or Jamaica until cool weather returns in the fall.



Associated Press