Growing hardy bananas and sharing the plants brings satisfaction for local couple

Posted on: July 11, 2019 | Written By: Doug Oster | Comments

Damian and Gloria Ondo are dwarfed by the huge banana trees in their beautiful garden as they walk through with their dogs Simba and Caesar. Even though the original tree Damian started with was from Florida, all the subsequent trees it’s produced are hardy in his landscape in Monroeville, about 10 miles outside Pittsburgh.

“The first thing people ask is, ‘Do they put on bananas?’” he says with a chuckle.

The funny thing is, sometimes they actually do.

Damian and Gloria Ondo of Monroeville grow hardy bananas in their garden, seen here through the huge leaves of the plants.

Damian and Gloria Ondo of Monroeville grow hardy bananas in their garden, seen here through the huge leaves of the plants. Photos by Doug Oster

 

Damian and Gloria Ondo of Monroeville grow hardy bananas in their garden. The plants have large leaves with wonderful texture.

Damian and Gloria Ondo of Monroeville grow hardy bananas in their garden. The plants have large leaves with wonderful texture.

“Every now and then, you’ll get a bunch of bananas,” he says. “They’re beautiful: purple, red, yellow and orange.”

They aren’t edible though, because the season is too short for them to ripen.

Some years, he likes to have fun when visitors come to marvel at his huge tropical trees.

“I went to Michaels and bought fake bananas and stuck them up on one of the branches,” he says laughing.

The first plant was a gift 16 years ago from another gardener, and Damian has paid it forward more times than he can remember, sharing the sprouts with anyone who shows interest.

“I’ve given a lot away, and everybody I’ve given them to, they’ve had really good luck with them,” Ondo adds.

They need lots of moisture and mulch and should be well drained in rich, organic soil.

“Then you just let them grow,” he says. “They should get 16, 17, 18 feet. The trunk after three years should get eight inches across.”

To prepare for wintering over, he says gardeners can cut off the main stem at an angle anywhere from ground level to leaving the trunk three feet high.

“Just cover them with leaves or put a fence around them and fill it full of leaves and put a tarp over it,” Ondo says. “You’re going to lose a lot of the main stalks, but you’re going to get babies coming up all over.”

Ondo’s love of gardening goes back to his father’s garden in Homer City. As an adult, Damian raised turkeys, ringneck pheasant and quail; when he was done with that hobby, he started growing in exactly in the right place.

“I put my garden over top of that and it just went crazy,” he says smiling. “I really enjoyed that.”

Damian and Gloria Ondo of Monroeville grow hardy bananas in their garden, seen here with their dogs Simba and Caesar. Besides bananas the couple grows lots of flowers and vegetables too.

Damian and Gloria Ondo of Monroeville grow hardy bananas in their garden, seen here with their dogs Simba and Caesar. Besides bananas the couple grows lots of flowers and vegetables too.

His garden now is vast and wonderful, filled with a multitude of flowers in full bloom, many of them perennials. The vegetable garden is weed free due to a covering of landscape fabric, and it’s been scaled down from the 110 tomato plants grown in past years.

“I only have 47 now,” he says with a straight face. “I can, and when I finish canning, I will give lots of tomatoes to lots of people.
“I’m everyone’s best friend when tomatoes are ripe,” Ondo adds laughing.

He’s settled on Burpee’s ‘Supersauce’ tomato, which produces fruits as large as two pounds for his canning tomatoes.

“If you’re going to make sauce, you’re going to get more tomatoes than you can handle,” he says proudly. “I will just go back there, tie tomatoes, have a beer, just sit and relax.”

Damian and Gloria Ondo of Monroeville grow hardy bananas in their garden. The plants have large leaves with wonderful texture.

Damian and Gloria Ondo of Monroeville grow hardy bananas in their garden. The plants have large leaves with wonderful texture.

Besides the gift plant of the first banana for his garden, which over the years has produced lots of bananas, he’s growing many plants that were given to him from other gardeners. Those plants are always special to him and his wife Gloria. And that’s part of the reason he shares his beloved banana trees with others.

“It’s nice to remember that person,” Gloria says. “They are always going to be here.”

Her husband agrees: “You remember that person by these plants.”

“When you get older, you start appreciating all these flowers and plants,” Damian says. “You kind of hate to even prune them. I guess that’s why I give them away.”

Doug Oster is editor of Everybody Gardens, a website operated by 535Media, LLC. Reach him at 412-965-3278 or doster@535mediallc.com. See other stories, videos, blogs, tips and more at everybodygardens.com.

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Doug Oster is manager and editor of Everybody Gardens with a passion for gardening and a love of sharing is experiences with other gardeners. You will also find Doug’s gardening contributions in the Tribune-Review each week. He’s an Emmy Award winning producer, television host and writer. Oster is co-host of The Organic Gardeners Radio show every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on KDKA radio in Pittsburgh. Oster’s Outstanding Documentary Emmy was awarded for Gardens of Pennsylvania, a one hour special he conceived and produced for the PBS affiliate WQED. Doug appears every Thursday morning on KDKA-TV’s Pittsburgh Today live at 9 a.m. “Gardening is fun, he says, enjoy every day spent outside tending vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees.”