Carl Garner, 82 of Great Bend, has been growing banana trees in his garden for 10 years. He and wife Rosetta have even harvested the fruits from the towering row lining the north edge of their property at 2017 Jackson St. each summer.
“I first got them from a friend of mine in Kansas City,” he said.
He planted them in the garden, then dug them up in the fall, storing them in his crawl space for the first two years. Then they grew too tall for the crawl space, so he gave to a friend to overwinter them in his home. One year there was an exceptionally hard freeze. The plants died, but then another friend from Emporia who knew a person growing banana trees there resupplied him with four more. All of the banana trees Garner grows today came from those four trees.
Around this time of year, he begins lifting them from their summer home in his yard in order to bring them into his enclosed back porch to overwinter. Some of the smaller shoots, he pots up. Others, he stores bareroot. After the danger of frost passes the following spring, he drops them back in the ground where they come out of dormancy. They quickly grow new roots, and before long new leaves rise from the center, unfurling into the familiar paddle shaped fronds.
“If I put them in a pot, they kind of stay in. But if I put them in the ground, they’ll grow,” he said.
Those that grow in the ground grow tall—some towering nearly 15 feet. Larger plants produce smaller shoots at the base, and several of these more mature trees showed signs of fruiting in various stages. Now and then, he even harvests some fruit. In its native environment, each flower spike would produce small bunches. On one plant, Garner revealed a banana heart, the final tip of the spike.
“They don’t grow like they do in the tropics,” Garner said. “We don’t have a long enough growing season.”
Even in Kansas, thousands of miles from their native tropics, the plants are prolific. Garner is running out of space to store them. This year, he’s planning to leave one outside to see if it makes it through the winter, this at the urging of his wife.
“I told him he has so many, he can at least experiment with one,” she said.
Garner enjoys telling people about them when asked. Often, people are surprised to learn they are banana trees. A few years ago, he brought a bunch to Kansas City for a family member who had a hard time believing he could grow them here. According to Rosetta, they taste like plantains.