My family in Florida has some banana plants and they’re wondering what companion plants they should plant around them. They asked me if I had any ideas, so I did some research to find out more. Here’s what I found.
The best companion plants for banana plants are palm trees, yuca, comfrey, and sweet potatoes. Ideally, banana plants serve as a midstory and should have an overstory plant, as well as understory and ground covers. Aim to grow plants that match the banana plant’s climate as well as soil type.
So, while these are some of the companion plants for banana plants, what are some others, and what makes them good choices? Let’s take a closer look, starting from overstory plants and working our way down to ground cover and swales.
1. Palm Trees
As an overstory plant, palm trees can help provide partial shade for banana plants, especially in hot and dry weather. Ideally, this is in the afternoon as the sun is much hotter than it is in the morning. Palm trees also grow up to 30-50 feet tall and provide fruit such as coconut and dates.
If you aren’t yet familiar with planting in stories and the different types of companion plants, feel free to reference my graphic below.
Food forests are all the rage now as many gardeners are realizing the positive effects of permaculture and biodiversity. If you’re also striving for a food forest, then planting in this density brings much better results than planting plants alone.
So, banana plants do best if you plant them alongside other stories of plants. This way they capture the most sunlight, moisture, and nutrients.
While it may be hard to believe, palm trees are actually closer related to grass than they are trees. If you’d like to learn more, check out my recent post: What Are Palm Trees Considered? Trees or Grass? (Answered).
While palm trees are a great start, what are some other stories of plants you can use for banana plants?
Yucas are another edible plant that grows in both subtropical regions, as well as deserts. This makes them a great drought-tolerant plant to use alongside banana plants.
Yuca roots are used in a variety of cultures and dishes. As a result, they have a couple of other names such as:
So, if you’ve come across either of these two ingredients, know that they’re also names for the yuca root! As you can see, yuca’s are highly versatile and are calorie-dense, making them a great homesteading staple.
Since yuca plants can grow to a height of 4 to 30 feet (depending on the variety), they’re a good plant to use as a midstory alongside banana plants.
3. Hibiscus (Roselle)
Hibiscus are flowering plants that are native to warm-temperate, subtropical, and tropical regions, making them easy to grow as companion plants for banana plants. Most varieties of hibiscus grow best in USDA hardiness zones 9-12.
There are many varieties of hibiscus, ranging from small plants to woody shrubs and small trees. However, the most popular is Hibiscus sabdariffa, also called roselle. This plant is best known for a red and tart herbal tea made from its flowers. Another common name for hibiscus tea is carcade (source).
Hibiscus also has other benefits for banana plants such as attracting a large number of pollinators.
So, along with providing a companion plant for your banana plant, if you’re looking to have a great tasting, non-caffeinated tea on your homestead, roselle is a great plant to grow.
If cared for well, a hibiscus plant can grow up to 8 feet, serving as a good mid to understory plant for banana plants (source).
4. Birds of Paradise
Birds of paradise are another great understory plant for banana plants. This flowering plant can grow to a large width, providing a boost to pollination and ground cover—making it a good companion plant. In fact, birds of paradise are one of the companion plants my family already uses for their banana plants.
Like many of the other plants on this list, birds of paradise are fairly flexible with their soil pH, requiring a range between 5.5-7.5.
Birds of paradise commonly have root balls that are about 1-2 feet wide, so make sure to allow enough space from other plants. Good spacing is about 4-6 feet from other plants, but a well-managed garden or forest can allow for more density (source).
However, when planting in the understory of your banana plants, make sure to allow for enough sunlight to reach them, as they require full sun (6+ hours a day).
5. Ginger and Turmeric
Ginger is actually a distant relative to banana plants and makes a fantastic understory (source). The same goes for turmeric. Because they’re all somewhat related, they share a similar climate and soil needs.
Like ginger and turmeric, banana plants are more of an herb as they fruit in about 9 months—unlike other fruit trees such as apples and cherries.
Both ginger and turmeric are plants with stems that grow horizontally underground (also called rhizomes). These rhizomes enlarge and serve as a storage of nutrients for the plant. The result of this is the ginger and turmeric roots that you see in grocery stores and are both used in cooking and health applications.
The best zones to grow both plants are zones 8-12, so they’re great to plant alongside banana plants. Ginger and turmeric do best in temperatures ranging from 68ºF-86ºF (source).
Since ginger and turmeric both thrive in warm, humid conditions and in soil with a neutral pH, they’re better suited to grow in subtropical climates such as Florida instead of dry climates such as southern California.
In ideal climates, ginger and turmeric grow up to 3 feet tall and are fairly wide, so they provide a good amount of shade and water retention for the soil (source).
However, keep in mind that these plants’ rhizomes are grown and spread underground, so make sure your banana plant is well established before adding ginger and turmeric.
6. Sweet Potatoes
As a living ground cover, sweet potato plants make a good companion for banana plants. Like other ground covers, they keep the soil cool and moist and protect beneficial soil life from the sun.
Unlike regular potatoes, the leaves of sweet potatoes are edible and can be a substitute for spinach and other leafy greens (regular potato plants aren’t related to sweet potatoes and are part of the nightshade family, which means their leaves are poisonous. Don’t mix these two up!).
Sweet potato plants are fairly easy to grow, spread quickly, and their tubers make a high-calorie food, making it a good choice for self-sufficiency and survival gardening.
However, keep in mind that sweet potatoes need 24-36″ of depth to fully grow their roots and tubers. So, to prevent root competition, I’d suggest keeping them outside of the drip line of your banana plant.
Agave plants are often used as a sweetener and alcohol and are fairly easy to grow. They prefer subtropical zones such as 8-10, and those that occasionally experience dry periods. Some agave varieties can tolerate temperatures as low as -20ºF, although banana plants likely won’t survive.
Ideally, use agave as an understory for your banana plants. They’re especially useful as they don’t require much water. As long as you provide them with several hours of daily sunlight, they’ll do well.
To see how to harvest agave, check out this cool video below:
Asparagus is an interesting vegetable as it’s actually a perennial, meaning that one plant can continue living and provide asparagus shoots for 20 years or more. They’re great to plant alongside your banana plant and thrive in full sun. Like most plants, asparagus prefers a slightly acidic soil ph between 6.5-6.8.
Keep in mind that asparagus plants can grow 5-6 feet in diameter and 10-15 feet deep (source). When planting asparagus, plant 18 inches apart and in rows 5 feet apart.
Kiwi is the only plant on this list that vines, meaning that it’s great to plant in-between your banana plants to fill in the gaps. You can also provide trellises, living or not (like corn and sunflowers). Like banana plants, kiwi grows great in tropical and subtropical environments.
You can also use kiwi to vine up wooden overhangs, which help provide shade in the summer and die back in the winter—when you actually want more sun and warmth. Grapes will also work (my parents have a grapevine that does this above their patio).
Kiwi normally takes about 3-5 years to fruit (source), so stay patient!
Comfrey is one of the most popular companion plants, and for good reason. Not only does this flowering plant attract pollinators, but it can also add nitrogen to the soil and make a good mulch. All things that are essential for banana plants.
It’s no secret that the three primary nutrients that plants require are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (commonly abbreviated as NPK). Fortunately, comfrey provides a great and natural source of nitrogen.
To do this, comfrey pulls nitrogen out of the air and stores it into the soil via its roots. It also has a deep taproot, so the nitrogen can be worked down pretty far into the soil.
At the end of the growing season, when comfrey starts to die off, you can simply use it as a mulch for your banana plants.
If you aren’t mulching your banana plants yet, you should definitely start! Mulching provides a steady release of nutrients in the soil, along with dramatically reducing evaporation in the soil.
In Gabe Brown’s book, Dirt to Soil, his primary message is to stop tilling dirt, cover it, and let it do its job! Using comfrey as a mulch is a great way to do this (and reduce the amount of water used!).