Musa Basjoo (Hardy Banana): The Winter Japanese Banana Plant 

The Musa Basjoo, also known as the hardy banana or Japanese fiber banana, is a popular cold-tolerant banana plant that can be grown in many temperate climates. This attractive herbaceous perennial adds a tropical flair to gardens and produces inedible but ornamental banana fruits.

Overview of Musa Basjoo banana plants

The Musa basjoo is part of the “Musaceae” family along with other banana varieties, but it is the only hardy banana that can survive freezing winter temperatures down to -15°C. This makes it a unique banana plant that can be cultivated outside of tropical environments.

Native to the Japanese island of Honshu, the hardy banana grows in USDA hardiness zones 6-11. It has broad, paddle-shaped green leaves that can grow up to 6 feet long by 3 feet wide. The leaves emerge directly from the underground rhizome in a compact clump, creating a very bold and sculptural appearance.

Overview of Musa Basjoo banana plants

During the summer months, a cone-shaped terminal bud will appear and gradually unfurl into large creamy-white banana blossoms. These blossoms later develop into dangling clusters of glossy inedible fruits. The mature fruits have a soft yellow peel and white starchy interior flesh.

While the Musa basjoo is mainly valued for its attractive foliage, architectural form, and tropical appeal, the flowers and unusual fruits are also prized in floral arrangements. It adds exotic structure to gardens and makes a stellar specimen planting.

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Ideal growing conditions

The Musa basjoo banana thrives in moist, well-drained soils and prefers sun to partial shade exposure. It needs consistently warm temperatures during the active growing season and appreciates humidity as well as summer rainfall or irrigation.

This Japanese banana does best in organically rich loams. Soil pH between 5.5 to 7.5 is ideal, though Hardy Banana bananas are adaptable to acidic or alkaline conditions. Sheltered locations offer protection from winds and extreme weather fluctuations.

While hardy down to zone 5, the Hardy Banana grows most vigorously in zones 7-10. It can reach up to 15-20 feet tall in peak conditions, though 10 feet is more typical. Planting in full sun is recommended for maximum growth and the heaviest fruit production.

Benefits of adding Musa Basjoo to your home garden

There are many excellent reasons to consider incorporating Musa basjoo bananas into your landscape or fruit garden:

  • Provides exotic tropical flair suitable for temperate climates
  • Striking architectural shape and large dramatic foliage
  • Fast-growing and low maintenance once established
  • Winter hardy and resilient in cold climates
  • Produces showy banana flowers and unusual fruits
  • Makes an excellent specimen or accent plant
  • Can be raised in containers for portability

With its jungle-like appeal and adaptability to cooler zones, the Musa basjoo opens up new possibilities for creating tropical garden paradises far beyond the bounds of traditionally warm environments. It’s a novel and versatile banana plant for northern gardeners.

Musa Basjoo to your home garden

How to Grow Musa Basjoo Banana Plants

Now that you’re familiar with the Musa basjoo and its ideal growing conditions, let’s look at how to successfully cultivate this hardy banana in your garden. From choosing the right location to planting and caring for the bananas, following some key tips will help ensure your Hardy Banana thrives.

Selecting the right location

Choosing an appropriate site is the first critical step for growing Hardy Banana bananas. Select a sunny spot sheltered from strong winds. Full sun to light afternoon shade is ideal, especially in cooler zones.

Make sure the area has well-draining fertile soil. Amend clay soils with compost or peat to improve moisture retention and drainage. Avoid soggy or poorly drained sites.

Pick a location that will comfortably accommodate the Musa basjoo’s large mature size. Leave ample space between plants if mass planting. For optimal growth and fruiting, plant against a warm south or west facing wall if possible.

Prepare new garden beds by removing all weeds and working organic matter into the top 12 inches of soil. Pre-warm outdoor sites by laying down black plastic sheeting for several weeks before planting.

Preparing the soil for Musa Basjoo banana plants

Musa basjoo bananas thrive in organically rich, moderately acidic soil with a pH between 5.5-7.0. Test soil and adjust pH if needed.

Work compost, rotted manure, or peat moss into beds to enrich the soil. Well-rotted bagged steer manure provides an excellent slow-release fertilizer.

Just before planting, dig 1-2 feet deep and at least 3 feet wide mounds enriched with compost and manure. Mound height improves drainage. Leave 3-6 feet between mounds for dwarf varieties and 8-15 feet for full size Hardy Banana.

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Planting Musa Basjoo

Musa basjoo bananas are grown from small rhizome pieces or divisions, not seeds. Select healthy divisions with at least one bud or growing point.

Plant the rhizome pieces 3-6 inches deep in the prepared mounds. Place the growing points upright and cover with soil. Water the mounds thoroughly after planting.

Add 2-4 inches of mulch around planted rhizomes to conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Organic mulches like bark chips, leaves, or straw work well.

New shoots will emerge within a few weeks. As they grow, remove any weaker shoots to leave just the strongest central stem.

Planting Musa Basjoo

Caring for Musa Basjoo banana plants

Caring for established Musa basjoo plants involves maintaining optimal moisture, fertility, and protection from cold winters. Ongoing care is easy but important.

Watering needs

Hardy Banana bananas require consistently moist soil during the growing season. Established plantings need about 1-2 inches of water per week from rainfall or irrigation.

Less water is needed in cooler weather and once plants go dormant. Avoid overwatering or allowing soil to dry out completely. Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses to maintain ideal moisture.

Fertilizing Musa Basjoo plants

Apply a balanced organic fertilizer or compost tea monthly during the growing season. High nitrogen formulas are optimal while plants are actively leafing out and flowering.

Work fertlizer into the soil around drip lines and avoid direct contact with rhizomes. Reduce feeding frequency after fruiting. Fertilize only sparingly or not at all once dormant in winter.

Pruning and maintenance

Remove dead leaves or broken stalks regularly Keep leaf bases cleared of debris. Cut stalks back to 6 inches after fruiting finishes.

Trim or prune plants as needed to control size and shape. Remove excess shoots or suckers around the base. Support heavily fruiting stems with stakes if needed.

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The hardy banana requires special winter care in cooler zones. Once frost kills the aboveground plant, cut the stalks down to 2 feet.

Mound a deep layer of mulch over the rhizome and base to insulate it from freezing temperatures. A 6-12 inch layer of leaves, straw, or pine needles works well.

In very cold regions, construct an enclosed cage filled with leaves or straw over the plant for added protection. Remove mulch gradually in spring once danger of frost has passed.

Troubleshooting common problems

While quite robust when grown under the right conditions, Hardy Bananas may encounter some problems. Being aware of potential issues can help troubleshoot and treat them promptly.

Insufficient heat, light, or water often leads to slow growth and smaller stunted plants. Overly wet soil causes root rot. Hot arid climates can result in leaf scorch.

Nutrient deficiencies show up as yellowing leaves or poor flowering/fruiting. Cold winters with inadequate mulching will damage or kill the rhizomes. High winds may shred or topple plants.

Pests like borers, nematodes, or mites can sometimes infest Musa basjoo bananas. Diseases may include fusarium wilt, black sigatoka, and banana bunchy top virus. Seek diagnosis and management advice from local agricultural extensions if serious issues develop.

Using Hardy Bananas

While technically edible when cooked, Musa basjoo fruits have minimal flavor and are not eaten fresh. However, the ornamental fruits and flowers have some culinary uses.

Using Hardy Bananas

Do Musa Basjoo produce edible fruit?

The starchy banana fruits produced by the Hardy Banana variety have very little sugar or flavor. They are a seeded wild type not bred for palatability.

However, the fruits can be grated into stews or curries for texture, or boiled and mashed into a bland starchy paste similar to plantain. The peel and flowers can also be fried into chips or fritters.

So while technically edible, the primary value of Musa basjoo lies in its dramatic ornamental appeal rather than its fruit. But the unusual banana clusters certainly add tropical flair to the garden.

How to harvest bananas

Allow banana fruits to fully ripen on the plant until the clusters droop downward and individual fruits become yellow with some brown spotting.

Carefully cut off entire clusters using pruners, leaving about 8 inches of stem attached. Transport clusters with care to avoid damaging the soft fruits.

Twist individual bananas off their stems for use. Refrigerate ripe fruits for 2-3 days maximum, or peel and freeze for longer storage.

Storing and preserving Musa Basjoo bananas

Ripe Musa basjoo banana fruits are highly perishable and difficult to store long term. Refrigeration works for a few days but flavor and quality decline quickly.

Freezing peeled, ripe fruits for use in cooked recipes preserves them for 4-6 months. Boiling and mashing into a puree also allows for freezing.

Drying slices of firm underripe fruits, then grinding into flour, produces a starchy banana flour with some culinary uses.

Pickling the firm fruits in vinegar can make an interesting condiment. Stewing and jarring the fruit in syrup may also extend shelf life modestly when kept refrigerated.

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Other Uses for Musa Basjoo Banana Plants

Beyond producing ornamental banana fruits, the Hardy Banana offers a few other uses. The leaves, stems and rhizomes can all be utilized.

Landscaping with Musa Basjoo plants

The large tropical leaves, upright stems, and sculptural rhizome clumps of Hardy Banana provide striking architectural elements in garden beds and borders.

Use as specimen plants, property dividers, or directional markers. The upright stalks and huge foliage make excellent screens, backdrops, and focal points.

Propagating new plants

Established Musa basjoo plants will naturally produce new shoots, allowing easy propagation and division for planting elsewhere.

Dig up and divide congested rhizomes. Replant divisions with at least one vigorous shoot or sucker. This should occur every 3-5 years to maintain vigor.

Crafting projects using banana leaves/stems

Crafting projects using banana leaves/stems

The fibers extracted from Hardy Banana stems and leaves can be used for weaving and other natural fiber crafts. Leaf fiber is also suitable for papermaking.

The large durable leaves may be used fresh or preserved for creative decorations, platters, disposable serving ware, or wrapping. They are quite versatile.

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In summary, the hardy Musa basjoo offers northern gardeners a novel way to incorporate tropical banana plants. By providing rich soil, ample moisture, protection from wind, and winter mulching, this resilient Japanese fiber banana can thrive surprisingly far outside its native tropical climate.

With its exotic architectural form and enormous foliage, the Musa basjoo creates a bold jungle-like statement in the garden. The inedible but ornamental bananas and flowers add whimsical flair. For hardy banana growing made simple, the Musa basjoo is a superb choice.

If you seek a dramatic tropical look adapted to colder zones, try growing Musa basjoo bananas. This unique banana relative will thrive across a range of climates where other banana varieties struggle. With minimal care needed beyond winter protection, the Musa basjoo offers an exciting way to cultivate bananas at home.

Are the bananas on Musa Basjoo edible?

The bananas produced by the Musa Basjoo plant are technically edible but have very little flavor or sweetness. The starchy, seeded fruits can be cooked and mashed but are not palatable fresh. Musa Basjoo is grown mainly for ornamental purposes rather than edible fruits.

Is Basjoo banana fruit edible?

The banana-like fruit of the Basjoo banana plant are not considered edible in the traditional sense. They have minimal sugar content and flavor. However, the starchy interior flesh can be boiled, mashed, or used in some cooked dishes for texture.

How cold hardy is musa basjoo?

Musa Basjoo is known as the cold hardy banana plant. It can tolerate temperatures down to around -15°C (5°F) when properly mulched. This makes it remarkably resilient for a banana variety, allowing it to grow in USDA zones 5-11.

How big does a Musa Basjoo banana tree get?

Under ideal growing conditions, the Musa Basjoo banana plant can reach heights of 15-20 feet tall. However, more typically it will grow to around 8-12 feet tall at maturity. Proper spacing is needed to accommodate its substantial size.

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