In this series of monthly articles Bob explores the incredible range of plants you can grow in a greenhouse, conservatory or plastic tunnel. Not just the purely decorative but the scented and edible also, and maybe those plants that are just downright interesting. This month Bob nominates ~Bananas.
I admit bananas are not for the more modest structure. Even the dwarf Chinese or Cavendish still reaches eight or nine feet- although the leaves will bend over at the ends. Rather tender these also need warmth year round if you want good fruits. There are no other bananas worth considering except for purely foliage purposes. Musa bajoo is nearly hardy, but as with seed grown plants, does not give desirable fruits. The Dwarf Chinese does though, and very good ones. Common in Madeira and the Canaries these bananas are small but delicious, eminently eatable and produced in profusion. Plants are often offered but strangely are usually not named as such; though easily identified by purplish shading in the centre of the immature leaves. Sensibly, because of their height, bananas are best planted in a central bed, to be under the highest part of the roof.
You can grow them in a huge tub such as a glass fibre cold water tank, it will just suffice, but cramp the root ball and make follow on ‘trees’ difficult. I have cropped one in a plastic dustbin. It was unhappy, needed watering thrice daily and actually split the bin- but did throw a light crop. Care is straightforward, any good compost will do, just feed and water liberally. As the ‘tree’ grows eventually after a year or so a huge ‘corn cob’ pops out the middle, hangs over and opens revealing purple calyces alternating with miniature double hands of bananas.
The tiny fruits have flowers on their ends –which do not need pollinating, indeed once blooming is over these are best trimmed off on a drying day to prevent mould starting there. The fruits slowly swell and once the first start to yellow then the whole bunch of bunches can be cut and ripened on their stalk in a warm place. That ‘tree’ or shoot will now wither and die and can be cut down leaving space for the next biggest shoot as replacement. To prevent congestion it does help to remove almost all basal shoots that appear throughout the plants life. Ideally at any time have but three shoots; one approaching cropping, one immediate replacement getting big ready for next year and a small future replacement for the year after. If the spare shoots are carefully detached with some roots then they are easily grown on with a little bottom heat.