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Bananas species to grow in Houston


Chester B

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I seem to find little information in relation to gardening in the Houston area aside from vegetable gardening. I’ve watched Central Texas Gardener for years and there is always good information but it relates more to Austin and San Antonio.  So far the best information I have been getting is here (no surprise), so I am wondering what Bananas do well in my he Houston areas aside from basjoo and sikkamensis?  I would guess Mekong giant and Orinoco are probably fine, but are there any good edible varieties?

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Man I don't have experience with any but basjoo and sikkimensis.  However I've heard blue java ( ice cream banana) is delicious and surprisingly cold tolerant. I've seen it's rated for zone 8. Ensete maurelii doesn't really make naners but it qualifies as cold tolerant and it's beautiful as well :greenthumb:

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I grew several successfully when I lived in Natchez, Mississippi, which is a bit colder than Houston. The best for reliably producing fruit, even after hard freezes, were 'Orinoco,' 'Belle' and 'Dwarf Namwah.' 'Belle' was really a champion producer. There has been discussion that 'Belle' is in fact a taller 'Namwah' as the fruit is similar in appearance in taste. It's important not to cut the plant to the ground after a freeze even if all the leaves have collapsed, just cut the top at an angle (so water flows off rather than settling in the center where rot can ensue). Usually leaves will start pushing again in early spring (sometimes on and off through the winter if mild) and, if you can get a bloom by July 4th, you should have a nice bunch of fruit developing (usually not yet ready to harvest) by about Labor Day. It can usually be harvested sometime between then and the end of November. They should be taken down the day before the first frost is expected, where they will continue to ripen on top of your refrigerator or any other warm place inside. But in Houston there are years of no to little freezing weather so you may not even have to go through that process. You should go over to bananas.org, join up, and read there, there is a LOT of information on other hybrids/cultivars that people have successfully grown in the Deep South.

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Michael Norell

Rancho Mirage, California | 33°44' N 116°25' W | 287 ft | z10a | avg Jan 43/70F | Jul 78/108F avg | Weather Station KCARANCH310

previously Big Pine Key, Florida | 24°40' N 81°21' W | 4.5 ft. | z12a | Calcareous substrate | avg annual min. approx 52F | avg Jan 65/75F | Jul 83/90 | extreme min approx 41F

previously Natchez, Mississippi | 31°33' N 91°24' W | 220 ft.| z9a | Downtown/river-adjacent | Loess substrate | avg annual min. 23F | Jan 43/61F | Jul 73/93F | extreme min 2.5F (1899); previously Los Angeles, California (multiple locations)

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Thanks for all the info, those are some good starting points.  I guess I'll have to do a little more digging on the banana forum.

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Don't waste time with basjoo (why anyone would bother growing that here is beyond me)! 'Orinoco' (grows everywhere here like a weed) and 'Namwa' (widely sold as "Ice Cream") are the most common and tried and true. IMO, 'Orinoco' makes excellent dessert quality fruit when allowed to fully ripen (peel will be black but fruit is firm, sweet and fragrant). Banana fruits 50-70% of the time in Houston, only skipping after a well below average winter (<24F-ish). Less success the further away you get from about I-10 and/or BW8. 

Ensete does not grow here, croaks in the warm nights of our very long summer. 

As an aside, I know you're leaning on N Houston...but you just know your planting options increase dramatically just a 20 minute drive south. If you want trees, I'd look around Memorial, Jersey Village, or parts of the West Loop around Washington Ave, Montrose, Bellaire, Meyerland etc. Urbanization makes a HUGE difference and you will definitely have tropical envy living in the tundra of Woodlands or whatever else is up north 😜

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Jonathan

Katy, TX (Zone 9a)

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20 minutes ago, Xenon said:

 'Orinoco' (grows everywhere here like a weed) and 'Namwa' (widely sold as "Ice Cream") are the most common and tried and true. IMO, 'Orinoco' makes excellent dessert quality fruit when allowed to fully ripen (peel will be black but fruit is firm, sweet and fragrant).

I agree on 'Orinoco' being an excellent dessert banana if it is left until it starts looking a little past its prime. Folks in New Orleans swear that there is no better variety for Bananas Foster. It is a very adaptable cultivar and I think unjustly ignored by banana enthusiasts because it is easy, hardy and can give excellent green, early yellow or supersweet dark yellow fruit. The criticism that it has a somewhat detectable core is I think quite overblown. The fact that it has been around for so long attests to its worthiness in cultivation.

Has 'Namwa' been lumped with 'Ice Cream' now? I thought that 'Ice Cream' was the 'Java Blue' cultivar...which seems different when I've seen it in other areas. I planted one under the 'Ice Cream' name in Natchez but in a terrible place with far too much shade. I had no idea it wanted to be a huge skyscraper of a plant, with massive stems. It never fruited for me and I removed it. Don Chafin at Going Bananas in Homestead was the one who told me (about 15 years ago) he thought 'Belle' might actually be the larger 'Namwa' cultivar, though he was unsure of it himself and hadn't done any formal comparisons. I planted 'Belle' in a very open area and it was also a very large plant, but oh so productive, and pretty hard freezes didn't affect its ability to keep on trucking and produce bunch after bunch of very delicious fruit. I think I only remember one year bad enough to cut the clump to the ground. But I did fall down on fertilization and eventually I think due to lack of Potassium it declined around the time we sold that house.

Does 'Dwarf Brasilian' grow well in Houston? I think that's an excellent one and I used to buy it at the grocery when I lived in Honolulu, as 'Hawaiian Apple.' I grew it in the Florida Keys and it did quite well, even on the alkaline rock that pretends to be soil.

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Michael Norell

Rancho Mirage, California | 33°44' N 116°25' W | 287 ft | z10a | avg Jan 43/70F | Jul 78/108F avg | Weather Station KCARANCH310

previously Big Pine Key, Florida | 24°40' N 81°21' W | 4.5 ft. | z12a | Calcareous substrate | avg annual min. approx 52F | avg Jan 65/75F | Jul 83/90 | extreme min approx 41F

previously Natchez, Mississippi | 31°33' N 91°24' W | 220 ft.| z9a | Downtown/river-adjacent | Loess substrate | avg annual min. 23F | Jan 43/61F | Jul 73/93F | extreme min 2.5F (1899); previously Los Angeles, California (multiple locations)

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6 minutes ago, mnorell said:

I agree on 'Orinoco' being an excellent dessert banana if it is left until it starts looking a little past its prime. Folks in New Orleans swear that there is no better variety for Bananas Foster. It is a very adaptable cultivar and I think unjustly ignored by banana enthusiasts because it is easy, hardy and can give excellent green, early yellow or supersweet dark yellow fruit. The criticism that it has a somewhat detectable core is I think quite overblown. The fact that it has been around for so long attests to its worthiness in cultivation.

Has 'Namwa' been lumped with 'Ice Cream' now? I thought that 'Ice Cream' was the 'Java Blue' cultivar...which seems different when I've seen it in other areas. I planted one under the 'Ice Cream' name in Natchez but in a terrible place with far too much shade. I had no idea it wanted to be a huge skyscraper of a plant, with massive stems. It never fruited for me and I removed it. Don Chafin at Going Bananas in Homestead was the one who told me (about 15 years ago) he thought 'Belle' might actually be the larger 'Namwa' cultivar, though he was unsure of it himself and hadn't done any formal comparisons. I planted 'Belle' in a very open area and it was also a very large plant, but oh so productive, and pretty hard freezes didn't affect its ability to keep on trucking and produce bunch after bunch of very delicious fruit. I think I only remember one year bad enough to cut the clump to the ground. But I did fall down on fertilization and eventually I think due to lack of Potassium it declined around the time we sold that house.

Does 'Dwarf Brasilian' grow well in Houston? I think that's an excellent one and I used to buy it at the grocery when I lived in Honolulu, as 'Hawaiian Apple.' I grew it in the Florida Keys and it did quite well, even on the alkaline rock that pretends to be soil.

Yes, Orinoco has everything going for it...great as a green banana for cooking (popular in the Caribbean) and very good ripe as well. Super vigorous and cold hardy. 

Very few people have the true 'Blue Java' (which is supposed to be "Ice Cream"), probably 98% of people claiming to have Ice Cream have Namwa instead. 'Blue Java' is even more rare now that every box store and nursery here has been selling Namwa as 'Ice Cream' for over a decade. Seems to be a widespread issue and there are threads about it on bananas.org 

I'm not a banana fanatic other than having a clump of 'Orinoco' that never gets fed or watered yet still makes good fruit every other year or so. 

Jonathan

Katy, TX (Zone 9a)

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That's very interesting about the confusion with 'Blue Java,' 'Namwa' and 'Ice Cream.'  I notice that Wellspring Gardens (they sell several cultivars in TC) offer what they claim to be (and picture) as 'Ice Cream'/'Blue Java,' and at a crazy high price compared to their other cultivars. I wonder what it really is that they're peddling. I haven't been following all of this...and will have to go over to bananas.org and read up. When it comes to the Zingiberales I'm always stuck in my Heliconia rut, it seems, and don't bother to look up to see what else is transpiring. Too much to keep in the mind at one time!

Michael Norell

Rancho Mirage, California | 33°44' N 116°25' W | 287 ft | z10a | avg Jan 43/70F | Jul 78/108F avg | Weather Station KCARANCH310

previously Big Pine Key, Florida | 24°40' N 81°21' W | 4.5 ft. | z12a | Calcareous substrate | avg annual min. approx 52F | avg Jan 65/75F | Jul 83/90 | extreme min approx 41F

previously Natchez, Mississippi | 31°33' N 91°24' W | 220 ft.| z9a | Downtown/river-adjacent | Loess substrate | avg annual min. 23F | Jan 43/61F | Jul 73/93F | extreme min 2.5F (1899); previously Los Angeles, California (multiple locations)

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On 9/14/2023 at 2:24 AM, Chester B said:

I seem to find little information in relation to gardening in the Houston area aside from vegetable gardening. I’ve watched Central Texas Gardener for years and there is always good information but it relates more to Austin and San Antonio.  So far the best information I have been getting is here (no surprise), so I am wondering what Bananas do well in my he Houston areas aside from basjoo and sikkamensis?  I would guess Mekong giant and Orinoco are probably fine, but are there any good edible varieties?

We have in Australia a tall banana we call the sugar banana (lady finger) it’s very cold tolerant not sure of it’s botanical name you could try a cavendish variety both edible varieties 

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Mercer Botanical Garden has a bunch of bananas growing that you should be able to check on after the winter and see how each fared.  They have one called a lemon banana (or something to that effect) that is absolutely massive.

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On 9/13/2023 at 6:50 PM, N8ALLRIGHT said:

Man I don't have experience with any but basjoo and sikkimensis.  However I've heard blue java ( ice cream banana) is delicious and surprisingly cold tolerant. I've seen it's rated for zone 8. Ensete maurelii doesn't really make naners but it qualifies as cold tolerant and it's beautiful as well :greenthumb:

My blue javas have survived zone 7 and 6 temperatures, but fail to truly thrive in my area of South Texas. 

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On 9/14/2023 at 5:22 PM, Xenon said:

Yes, Orinoco has everything going for it...great as a green banana for cooking (popular in the Caribbean) and very good ripe as well. Super vigorous and cold hardy. 

Very few people have the true 'Blue Java' (which is supposed to be "Ice Cream"), probably 98% of people claiming to have Ice Cream have Namwa instead. 'Blue Java' is even more rare now that every box store and nursery here has been selling Namwa as 'Ice Cream' for over a decade. Seems to be a widespread issue and there are threads about it on bananas.org 

I'm not a banana fanatic other than having a clump of 'Orinoco' that never gets fed or watered yet still makes good fruit every other year or so. 

How long of a growing season does orinoco require?

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3 hours ago, amh said:

How long of a growing season does orinoco require?

You're not getting bananas in low end zone 8, it'll be root hardy though. Anything below 25Fish and you risk the danger of freezing the pseudostems and resetting the clock. About 16-20 months-ish from pup to harvest. On the faster end if from an established clump with tons of root mass. Bananas are water and fertilizer hogs too, won't do much (but won't die either) if you don't give them what they want. 

You need to be well into zone 9 to have a pretty good chance of fruit and closer to zone 10 for reliable fruit every year 

Oh and c'mon San Antonio is the northernmost tip of south Texas, Hill Country isn't south Texas 😝

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Jonathan

Katy, TX (Zone 9a)

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