Last Updated on July 13, 2021 by Grow with Bovees
The banana (Musa) is an interesting, valuable plant, differing from the other fruits in that it is an herbaceous perennial. The true stem is a tuberous rhizome which grows underground. The ‘trunk’ or portion above ground which carries the large ornamental leaves is a pseudostem.
The inflorescence develops at the base of the pseudostem and forces its way up until it shows at the top. As the flower stalk grows it gradually hangs down in an upside-down position.
At first the flowers are covered by attractive, large purple-red bracts which expand and eventually drop off as the fruit develops. The first flowers to open at the top (bottom) of the upside-down bunch are female and do not need fertilization to develop into bananas.
Some way below the female flowers there are bisexual flowers and the fruits developing from these are small and of no value and, finally right at the bottom (top) of the upside-down stalk there are male flowers which often fail to open.
After fruiting the pseudostem, leaves and fruit stalk die down and suckers produced from the rhizome grow up to take the old fruiting stem’s place and bear fruit.
The fruit is popular all over the world. In the tropics it is used more as a cooked vegetable than a fruit (plantains always being cooked.) In the temperate regions it is greatly valued as a fruit. One of the hardships people in Britain had to endure during the last war was ‘no bananas’!
The fruit is highly nutritious and banana flour and dried bananas are often included in emergency rations flown to disaster areas for consumption by the sick, children and elderly people. Musa ensete from Abyssinia with red mid-ribs is grown as an ornamental plant in gardens and it is also used as a fibre plant as are other species in tropical countries.
Will Banana Plants Grow And Produce Fruit Outside Sub-tropical Areas?
Bananas are a tropical plant, and they all therefore come from the tropics and need heat, moisture and the resulting humidity. Although banana plants will endure slight frost without damage the ideal temperature is between 20° and 30 °C with a high rainfall distributed evenly throughout the year.
Besides injuring the leaves, cold reduces the yield and quality of the fruit but, as the home gardener can often choose a sheltered position in which to grow banana trees, fairly good results can still be obtained in less than optimum ideal conditions. There are many successful amateur growers of banana plants in a multitude of places in the world.
They will, however, grow much more slowly in cooler regions and the edible fruit tends to develop more slowly and does not get as big.
But if you have a warm, sheltered spot, growing bananas makes an interesting addition to your garden plants, Musa basjoo does quite well indoors or outdoors, is resistant to fairly strong winds, and if it’s happy, can produce edible fruits.
Soil Requirements For Your Banana Plants
Although you can grow bananas on a wide range of soils the ideal is a good loam, not too sandy and not too heavy which is well aerated and also well drained and at least 100 cm deep. The pH should be between 5,5 and 6,5.
Although they do enjoy fertile soil, the plants are not as sensitive to brackish soils as some other tropical fruits.
If the pH of the soil is below 5,5 it should be limed, using either agricultural lime or dolomitic lime. Dig the planting site, that is a 4-meter square, over deeply, incorporating 1 kg of the fertilizer mixture 2:3:2, doing this some weeks before the plants are to be put in.
Eelworm or nematodes are especially harmful to bananas and if ground in which vegetables, especially tomatoes, potatoes and beans, granadillas, tobacco, sugarcane and wattles have been grown is to be planted with bananas, it must be fumigated first.
Spacing Of Banana Plants
The recommended area for one plant or ‘mat’ is 4,5 to 5,5 m2. If planted too close together the plants do not get enough direct sunlight for good fruiting.
Planting Your Banana Plant
The home gardener will most likely buy plants established in containers and these can be planted at any time of the year. When starting a new row from suckers, the planting time will depend on when the suckers are removed.
Which Banana Varieties to Grow
Is More Than One Variety of Edible Banana Plant Available?
Yes — but you may have to go to a nursery specializing in sub-tropical fruit to find them.
Edible bananas are all hybrids from Musa paradisiaca and a number of named varieties are available.
‘Williams’ is the most widely grown hybrid and both it and ‘Cavendish’ are resistant to Panama disease which is a soil-borne fungus disease.
Other hybrids include ‘Lady Finger’and ‘Sugar’.
When Is the Best Time To Plant Bananas?
The best time of the year to plant banana trees depends on where you live, and your climate.
While the plants need all year round warmth, they do need specific conditions to grow properly. In places like South Africa where the climate is warm all year round, then there is no real best time.
However, if you live in a place where the weather is cooler, then the best time to plant banana trees is when the climate is mild, and the soil is moist.
Do Bananas Need Regular Feeding?
Yes. Banana plants are heavy feeders, and must be well-fed from the time they are first planted.
Bananas require constantly moist soil throughout the year, however, the ground must not remain saturated, or they can suffer from root rot.
The maxim should be to water well regularly at fairly short intervals, the weather and type of soil dictating the length of these intervals.
About two months after the suckers have been planted start giving them small applications of 3:1:5, say about 60 g per plant once a month for five months. Scatter this over the soil about 30 cm away from the stem, gradually increasing this distance to 40 cm as the plants grow and the root area increases.
The fertilizing program after that is: Give each plant 30 g of 3:1:5 balanced fertilizer at the beginning of February, April, July and September plus 25 g of magnesium sulphate in February.
Mulching plays an important part in growing bananas successfully. The plants should be kept mulched with compost at all times and when the old fruiting ‘stem’ is cut down, after the ripe bananas have been harvested, it should be left on the ground so the organic matter can return the nutrients to the soil.
Never cultivate round the plants as they have shallow root systems and any digging near them would damage the roots. Pull weeds up before they go to seed and leave them lying on the ground to decay.
Pollination Of Bananas
The plants are self fertile and it is not necessary to plant more than one to ensure fertilization.
When Should Banana Fruit Be Picked off the Tree?
The home gardener can cut ‘hands’ of fruit when it is fully developed, that is when at least two areas between the ridges (angles) on the fruit are fully rounded.
Do not leave the fruit lying in the sun but take it under cover as quickly as possible; when exposed to sun for any length of time it gets sunburned.
Handle with care and avoid bruising as much as possible. If whole banana bunches have been cut, hang them in a cool airy place where an individual banana can be cut as required. A fully ripe banana should be golden yellow with some brown flecks on it.
Although they can be left on the banana plant until they start to turn yellow, they are likely to be damaged by fruit-eating bats.
Although you can put bananas in your compost, it’s better if you can rather eat them!
Consequently, it is better to allow them to ripen indoors.
Ideally, the temperature of the picked fruit should be 20° C — if it is lower the fruit will take longer to ripen and the flavor will be impaired.
The bunches can be wrapped in newspaper to help them ripen, or they can be put into sealed, polythene bags, together with a couple of ripe tomatoes or apples.
These fruits give off ethylene which stimulates the ripening process.
Commercially grown bananas are often ripened by being exposed to ethylene, propylene or acetylene.
After the bunches have been picked, the stems of the fruiting plants should be cut back to about 3-feet from the ground in order to stimulate the growth of the banana sucker which is going to be retained for the follow-on crop.
After about 4-6 weeks, the old stems should be cut to about 6-inches above the ground. In this way, and by regular feeding and watering, you should have a steady supply of fruit for many years.
Remember that if they are not properly maintained, banana plants quickly lose their vigor and fruiting capabilities.
Pruning Of Banana Trees
When the ‘stem’ has borne a bunch it should be cut down to ground level to allow the next sucker to grow up and take its place. Dead or diseased leaves which hang down the pseudostem should be cut off regularly.
Do not pull them off. Never cut off any green leaves that hang down.
Banana Plant Pests
- Mites: Minute red mites are found on the under sides of the leaves and on the inner surfaces of the fingers and sometimes between them where their webs are most noticeable. On the leaves they cause silvering of the tissues which later become rusty colored, and on the fruits the only indication of their presence is light yellow to gray spots where they have been feeding.
Control: Dust with sulfur.
- Thrips: Minute insects about i mm in length. They rasp the surface of the plant in order to feed and cause small silverish to brown blotches.
Control: Spray with malathion.
Safety period: 10 days.
- Scale: Californian red scale. The females are circular and the males elongated. At first the covers are cottony white but soon become brownish to pale red. This scale is also found on citrus.
Circular purple scale: It is more abundant than red scale which it resembles except in color which is purplish-black.
White scale: This is not abundant and is found on fruits and lower surfaces of leaves.
Control: These insects are encouraged by ants and it is recommended that efforts be made to eradicate the ants rather than spray the plants.
- Banana slug is about 3,5 cm long, slimy and yellow in color. The eggs are laid in batches under old leaves on the ground where they hatch after the first summer rains. They cause damage to the peel of the fruit where they rasp it with their ‘teeth’. These marks later become gray and corky.
Control: Put bait out at night especially when the ground is damp, starting as early in the season as possible.
- Leaf speckle is caused by a fungus. It is worse when the weather is wet and humid. The first symptoms, which appear mainly near the midrib of the leaves, are numerous dots which are dark and these coalesce. These dark brown to black blotches gradually spread from the midrib towards the margins of the leaves causing large areas of the leaf to die.
When the weather is wet and humid leaves die and many of the lower ones are left hanging down the pseudostem.
Control: Spray with copper oxychloride.
Safety period: 14 days.
- Cigar-end rot is another fungus disease. The fungus attacks the perianth (petals) of the flowers and as the fruits develop the infection spreads along the finger or banana causing the skin to become black and shrunken. This is later covered with a powdery mass of spores which resemble ash at the end of a cigar, hence the common name.
Control:The best way of controlling the disease is to remove the pistil and perianth of die flower 8 to 11 days after the bunch emerges.
Do not leave removing these until later.
How Do You Propagate Bananas?
Do Bananas Actually Produce Banana Seeds?
Edible bananas do not produce seeds, but are reproduced mainly from the suckers which develop from near the base of the plant.
Suckers for planting should be about 2-feet high.
Remove the sucker carefully from the parent plant so as not to disturb the roots and then replant it in a hole about 16 inches (40.64 cm) wide by 12 inches (30.48 cm) deep.
Each plant should be about 8-10 feet (3.05 m) away from each other as banana trees need plenty of growing room.
Another method of propagation is by means of small pieces which are cut from the corm or swollen base of the plants. These pieces — known as ‘bits’ — must each contain a bud which, when placed in the soil, will shoot out, thus creating a new plant.
This is a fairly slow propagation method, so if you have healthy disease-free plants, suckers are the easiest way of making new ones.
Removing Suckers From the Base of a Banana Tree
Not all the suckers should be removed or you will not get any more fruit the following year.
Leave one or two of the healthiest ones and then cut all the others off just above ground level.
Rooted suckers can be used to produce new plants.
The reason for cutting off suckers is to allow the maximum amount of light, water and nourishment to be absorbed by the mature plant so that it can produce top-quality fruit.
Growing Ornamental Banana Trees
Where is the best place to plant ornamental bananas and are they easy to grow?
There are several kinds of ornamental bananas. Musa rosacea has pink flowers and makes an attractive plant in warm, moist places.
The wild banana, Ensete ventricosum, is a large, popular plant that is quick and easy to grow in a warm position.
The large, soft leaves are easily damaged by the wind and it should therefore be planted where they receive as little wind as possible.
In areas which experience mild frosts, the plants will often die off during the cold weather and then shoot out again in spring.
The plants need a fairly deep, rich soil that has had plenty of nutritious compost added.
Since they need warm, humid conditions for maximum growth, they should be given a regular supply of water.
Plants which are in an exposed or cool situation never have leaves as large and as luxurious as those in warm situations.
Because of their love of warmth and humidity, they make ideal plants to have next to a sheltered swimming pool area.
They flower after 10 years and then die back.
You can achieve a tropical effect to your landscaping by buying palm trees and planting them along with the banana trees.
What Are Sometimes Described as ‘Wild Bananas’?
These plants are probably giant strelitzias (Strelitzia nicolai).
They are frequently called wild bananas (although related to bananas, botanically they fall under a different family).
Since they are much more hardy to wind and dry conditions, they make an excellent alternative to the edible and ornamental bananas.
They produce blue and white flowers of the same type as the brightly colored, orange crane flower (Strelitzia reginae).
What Could Be the Cause of My Banana Plants Withering?
There are two possibilities: The first is the banana weevil borer — a small grub which tunnels through the corm until it decays completely.
Dig up withered plants and carefully examine them. If these grubs are the problem, destroy all the infected plants and retain only vigorous, pest-free ones.
Plant these in a new position and allow the old site to rest for a season or two.
The other possible cause of your problem may be Panama disease — an extremely serious fungus growth.
Panama disease is a soil-borne fungus that has been taking the banana industry by storm, causing millions of dollars in destruction and has all but destroyed the commercial banana industry in many parts of the world.
The fungus, Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense, also known as Foc, is a parasite that infects the roots of the banana plant, often aided by soil nematodes.
It can live and grow in the soil for as long as ten years.
At present there is no satisfactory cure, so in areas where this disease is a problem it is vital to plant resistant varieties.
Because of this and a number of other serious banana diseases, banana plants are not allowed by law to he transplanted indiscriminately in some regions for fear of spreading diseases to otherwise disease-free regions.
In order to avoid diseased plants, new ones should always be purchased from a registered nursery.