When gardeners think of which plants to grow in Wilson County, banana trees rarely top that list, but this has not stopped at least a few area residents.
“It’s really not been difficult,” said Bruce Ledford, who has been growing banana trees at his Lebanon home since last year. “Just make sure they’ve got plenty of water.”
According to Justin Stefanski, horticulturalist for the Wilson County Extension Service, the practice is not unheard of completely.
“It’s not something I see a whole lot of, but usually people have one or two here throughout the summer,” said Stefanski. “During the summer here, our climate mimics tropical climates. They are really well-suited to very vigorous growing here.”
Ledford’s trees grew nearly 12 feet just this year.
The primary challenge to growing bananas in Tennessee is the winter temperatures.
“They’re going to grow, but the big problem is going to be frost,” said Warren Anderson, professor of soil science at Middle Tennessee State University.
Ledford kept the original banana trees that he planted last year alive through the winter by digging them up and storing them inside.
Anderson recommends bringing inside the banana trees before the first frost, which normally happens in late October in this region; the trees can be returned outside after the last frost, which normally happens near the end of March.
“You can also mulch over them really heavily,” said Stefanski.
This involves cutting off all parts of the plant that are above the soil line and covering the root system with a deep layer of mulch.
Banana trees are sturdy enough to not only survive the “over-wintering” process, but they do so while quickly propagating.
Ledford began with just three shoots – given to him by a neighbor also growing banana trees - and he now has about 15 and is expecting to have nearly 35-40 separate banana trees by next year.
“They’re kind of like hostas,” said Stefanski. “You can divide them and divide them, and you can keep dividing them until you just don’t want to divide anymore.”
While banana trees will grow and propagate quickly in this climate, local growers should not expect to skip the bananas at the grocery store.
“Our growing season is not long enough to produce what you would usually see as a Chiquita banana in the grocery store,” said Stefanski.
The abbreviated growing season for banana trees in middle Tennessee does not allow the fruit time to fully mature into what one sees on grocery store shelves.
According to Ledford, the bananas that his trees produce can be used in cooking.
Staff writer Sara McManamy-Johnson can be reached at 615-444-3952, ext. 16 or firstname.lastname@example.org.