The banana shrub is a tropical to subtropical elegant tree to bush. The scientific designation is Michelia figo, and the plant is hardy in the warmer USDA plant hardiness zones 7 to 10. Michelia banana shrubs are more properly trees that can grow 6 to 15 feet (2-5 m.) in height. If you are a warm region gardener, you should explore how to grow banana shrubs and experience the sweet fragrant flowers with a scent reminiscent of our favorite yellow fruits.
About Michelia Banana Shrubs
Michelia banana shrubs are members of the Magnolia family, which is evident in the shape and form of their large blooms. The tree has glossy evergreen leaves and an attractive, rounded habit. The 3 inch (8 cm.) long leaves are slightly fuzzy, and buds and new leaves are covered in rusty toned fuzz. These aren’t its most spectacular attributes though. Wait until late spring when the one inch (2.5 cm.) cup-shaped, cream rose or maroon colored flowers appear. Their scent is much like that of a ripe sweet banana.
How to Grow Banana Shrubs
Sadly this plant is not at all hardy and will not survive in temperate or cooler zones. It has great drought tolerance but is not suitable for desert scenarios either. The tree is excellent used as a screen or planted near the home so you can enjoy the fragrance.
Propagation is through stem cuttings using a rooting hormone. The flowers do turn into small hard fruits with multiple tiny seeds but the seeds are generally not viable.
Banana Shrub Care
Michelia banana shrubs are low maintenance trees with no root invasiveness. Once established they are remarkably resistant to most pest and disease problems. Scale insects, however, are of particular concern and can cause severe defoliation but are easily managed with organic horticultural oil.
Some root rot conditions may arise where the soil is too rich and moist. Young plants should be trained to one leader for the best overall effect on mature specimens. New banana shrub care should start with effective pruning of extra stems and suckers at the base of the plant. Choose the strongest, straightest trunk to provide a stable and attractive base for the plant.
Pruning Banana Shrubs
The tree responds well to annual pruning. Pruning banana shrubs should be done when the plant is most dormant in winter or spring before new growth emerges. Always use sharp, clean cutting implements to prevent transferring diseases from plant to plant.
Cut just after a bud node and remove any branch back to the branch collar where it sprung from the parent wood. Remove any dead or broken plant material and continue training young plants. Use a stake and tree sling when trees are forming to help support the young growth. Remove these items when the plant is established and strong.
Michelia banana shrubs tend to grow straighter in one central leader in lower light situations but in full sun they require more pruning maintenance. You can even keep the trees trimmed in a low habit so you can grow them in a container.