How to Grow Banana
Banana is one of the most popular fruits in the world. One of the best qualities of a banana plant is that it offers lots and lots of fruits that are extremely tasty and nutritious.
Plus banana plants offer shade and shelter from harsh sun and winds, utilize water and nutrients in waste drains, their leaves are a great food for livestock and their dried trunks can be made into mats and baskets. Having banana plants in one’s yard makes the atmosphere look cool and pleasant, and creates a tropical look. All in all, adding banana plants to one’s garden is a great idea.
Varieties of Bananas
As such, there are numerous varieties of bananas. The following are the most popular ones.
Cavendish is the most common variety, preferred especially in the banana-growing regions. The characteristics of this variety are stout plants and large and heavy bunches.
On the other hand, the Lady Finger variety has tall and slim plants and produce smaller yet sweeter fruit. They are actually grown as an ornamental plant rather than for fruit production.
The variety of banana that is cooked is named as Plantains. They are preferred in cooking because of their higher starch content. The largest part of banana production i.e. 80% in the world is of plantain variety. In many tropical countries, it’s actually a staple food.
Banana plants are actually herbs rather than trees. Their trunks are made from leaf stalks wrapped around each other. New leaves grow inside the soil and push up through the middle of the stalk and come out at the center. The flowers too grow in the same way and ultimately become a bunch of bananas.
Banana plants are monoecious i.e. they contain both male and female reproductive organs in the same plant. There may be some neutered flowers too. Fruit actually comes from female flowers and, though it’s a strange phenomenon, develop without pollination.
The process of the growth of a banana plant and then fruits is around 9- to 12-month long. Once the fruits are produced, the main plant dies. However, at its base there is a large rhizome under the ground. It’s called the corn. It has many points from where several small baby plants known as pups or suckers continue growing around the base of the main dead plant. One can transplant some of these suckers elsewhere while leaving back one or two of them on the same corn to replace the main plant.
Most banana cultivars grow best in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones 9 and above. Hardy varieties can usually survive in Zones 7 and above. One variety, named Musa basjoo, however, may survive outside these zones as low as Zone 5 if mulched well. In other zones, smaller cultivars make perfect houseplants.
Ideal Growing Conditions
If one is planning to grow bananas, they have to remember that bananas have certain requirements of soil, climate, etc. Thus one has to check if they have got ideal conditions to grow bananas and if they don’t have them, they should think about whether they can produce those ideal conditions. Here they are.
Bananas grow the best when they receive around 10-12 hours of direct sunlight every day. Therefore growers should find the sunniest spot in their yard to plant bananas. They still grow with less sunlight, but slowly.
Bananas are happy with a tropical or subtropical climate. Ideal temperature range to grow them is 26-30°C (78-86°F) during the daytime, while not lower than 20°C (67°F) during nighttime. As such they can bear extreme heat when they are given sufficient water or cool climate (for a short time), but they don’t particularly like both these.
Bananas may take from 9 months to one year to produce fruit; hence it’s important that users know what range of temperature the plant will experience all through this period.
They just don’t grow if the temperature is below 14° C (57° F). Low temperatures also affect fruits and leaves, turning skin of fruits grayish and leaves yellow. The plant above the ground may be killed by frost, although the corn below the ground can survive and produce new plants again.
Humidity is also important and should be minimum 50% and as constant as possible.
Banana plants need rich soil. If one doesn’t have it, they should make it so, by putting a lot of compost and chicken manure in the soil before planting bananas. Adding wood ash for a dash of potassium is also recommended.
Soil should also have good drainage. If it has no drainage, the plants will rot soon. Growers can test the drainage by digging a 1-foot deep hole in the soil, fill it with water, and let it drain. Once empty, it should be refilled and after an hour, the remaining water should be measured. Around 7-15 cm of water drainage per hour is perfect for banana plants.
Adding 20% perlite to the soil or creating a raised garden bed helps drainage.
Drainage is especially important if the growers’ banana plants don’t have leaves or leaves have been removed for shipping. Leaves evaporate excess water.
Growers should also make sure that the pH of the soil is between 5.5 and 7. Higher acidity than pH 7.5 can kill the plant.
Bananas need a lot of water. Their leaves keep perspiring and so, the plant should continuously be supplied with water. The air around the plants should also be highly humid. Commercial banana growers water their plantations 2-3 times a day with sprinklers to maintain the water content and humidity.
Since some varieties of banana plants and even individual plants can grow as tall as 25 feet (7.6m), they are often mistaken to be trees, although they are actually herbs. Therefore one should check their source of banana plants or local banana growers to estimate what height their plants will reach, depending on their variety and the locale, so as to decide the amount of space they should keep between their plants.
The hole in which the banana will be planted should be at least 1 foot (30 cm) wide and 1 foot (30 cm) deep. All other plants and weeds there should be removed. If one’s area receives high winds, they should dig a larger hole. But then it will require more soil.
Then the hole should be filled with loose, rich soil. By leaving a space of a few inches or several centimeters at the top, drainage can be facilitated.
Now the plant should be placed upright into the hole. The leaves should be directed upward, and roots and 0.5-1 inch (1.5-2.5 cm) of the base should be covered with soil. The soil should be tamped down to keep it in place, but shouldn’t be packed too firmly.
The plantation spot should be at least 15 feet (4.5m) away from other trees and shrubs (but not other banana plants) with a large root system, so they won’t compete for water and nutrients with the bananas.
The space to be maintained between banana plants varies between cultivars and methods of growing them. Per se, bananas should be planted keeping a distance of 2 to 5 meters between plants and rows.
Which Place to Choose
For planting bananas, one should choose a spot in their garden that receives a lot of direct sunlight and has dark and fertile soil to which a lot of organic matter should be added and mulch should be piled there. Also one should add chicken manure so as to make the soil rich with potassium and nitrogen. The moisture of the soil should be steady.
The temperature of this corner should neither be high nor low; it should be just warm.
The spot should be protected from extreme heat or cold, and strong winds, and should be continuously provided with water and fertilizers.
The common bananas cannot be produced from seeds because they don’t have visible seeds like that of wild bananas. Ideally they should be produced from the pups or suckers mentioned above. If one knows a banana-grower, they can ask for these suckers because every banana plant’s corn produces numerous suckers; so, growers are happy to give away many of them. Or one can buy suckers online or at their local nursery or garden store.
Starting with Suckers
Growers should choose suckers carefully, from vigorously growing plants. They should be at least 3 feet tall, as smaller suckers will take longer to produce fruits, and fruits will be smaller. Growers should also make sure the suckers have small spear-shaped leaves. Such suckers are known as ‘sword suckers’.
How to Take Suckers from the Main Plant?
Growers should cut the suckers from the mother plant’s corn with a sharp shovel. Suckers should be cut downwards between the main plant and the sucker, and through the corn. This may be a bit challenging.
Growers should first make sure that the corn has a lot of roots with it. Then the top of the suckers to be taken away should be cut off to minimize evaporation.
It should be kept in mind that the growing point of a banana plant is not at the tip, but is at its bottom. So, the head can always be cut off. Growth will still continue.
On the other hand, the growers can also grub up a piece of the corn and make small pieces of it. Every piece will have an eye (proto-sucker) that can be planted and it will turn into a banana plant. But this method is more time-consuming than growing from suckers.
In the initial days of planting, one should keep the banana plants moist but not too wet because keeping them too wet may make them rot, because at this stage, they don’t have leaves to evaporate extra water.
If the weather is warm with no rain, the plant may require daily watering, but only if the top layer of soil of 0.5-1 inch (1.5-3 cm) is dry. This can be tested with one’s fingers.
If the weather is cool where bananas barely grow, watering once in a week or two is enough. Here it should be checked if the soil is moist.
One should be careful to avoid soaking a young plant that has not yet developed leaves, because only leaves can help the plant evaporate excess moisture.
The ring of fertilizer should be watered so that the fertilizer will be soaked in the soil.
Banana plants don’t need a lot of maintenance. Lack of water, lack of nutrients and strong winds are detrimental for banana plants, so growers should only protect their plants from these things.
Other than this, dead leaves and dead plants should be removed regularly.
Some fertilizers should be sprinkled every month to replenish what is taken away from the plant’s system in the form of bananas. Bananas contain a lot of potassium; therefore the fertilizer should ideally contain potassium. Fertilizer should be sprinkled close to the trunk, as the plants don’t have a large root system.
Fertilizers are typically labeled with three letters N-P-K indicating the amount of Nitrogen, Potash (Phosphorus), and Potassium respectively. One can use the fertilizer of equal values of all these three though banana needs a high amount of potassium as other nutrients are also important. Or they can use the one that can correct the deficiencies in their soil.
Store-bought fertilizer, manure, compost, or a mixture of these is just fine. Fertilizer should be added right after planting forming an even ring around the plant, and should be repeated every month. But newly produced manure should not be used because the heat it releases while decomposing can be harmful for the plant.
When plants are young, they require around 0.25-0.5 pounds (0.1-0.2 kg) of fertilizer every month which should be increased gradually up to 1.5-2 lbs. (0.7-0.9 kg) as the plant grows into an adult plant.
Banana plants are quite self-mulching. Their yellowed and dried plants fall at the bottom. Or growers can even grow other plants below them to create more mulch. Other garden waste and wood ash can also be used as mulch to return nutrients to the soil. Mulch should be regularly checked and any weeds that are growing should be removed, as they can compete with a banana plant.
As mentioned earlier, the dead, yellow or discolored, rotting or insect-infested parts of the plant should be regularly cut off. If most parts of a plant are affected, that plant should be totally cut off and disposed of far away from other plants and replaced by another sucker.
If suckers are used for planting, only a few centimeters (an inch or two) of the roots should be kept and all other parts should be removed.
This will minimize the likeliness of diseases. Any leaves in excess of five and/or the top of the plant should be removed with a slanting cut. This will increase the amount of sunlight to reach the soil and warm it, in turn to prevent root rot and promote their growth.
If growers are keen about getting bigger fruit, they should remove all ordinary suckers and leave only the best ones. After planting, two on healthy plants should be left. Apart from that, it’s ideal to keep only around one sucker on each plant. Else, the patch will be too crowded.
To identify the best suckers, one should look for small, spear-shaped leaves (sword suckers), but not big, round, pretty-looking leaves, that are known as ‘water suckers’. The reason for this is that, the sucker with small leaves is getting nutrition from the mother plant and so, doesn’t need to do its own photosynthesis and therefore has only small leaves. Such a sucker is being taken care of well by the mother plant and therefore will be stronger and produce better fruit than the ones that have to struggle on their own.
The surviving best sucker is known as the follower and it replaces the mother plant after the mother plant dies. Extremely healthy plants can support even two followers.
Can Bananas Be Grown from Seeds?
The commercially grown bananas sold in the market have very tiny seeds that are immature and don’t germinate. They have been modified to have three sets of genes (triploid) instead of two and have only immature seeds. However, many naturally occurring varieties do have bigger and mature seeds, and some of those seeds are so large that they make it difficult to get to the pulp.
As mentioned above, bananas are grown from suckers or pups, and these are the Cavendish bananas. However, in the wild, bananas can be propagated via seeds.
But one should remember that bananas grown from seeds won’t taste like bananas one can buy at the grocers. Seed-grown bananas will contain seeds, and depending on the variety, seeds can be quite large. Nevertheless, most people are of the opinion that the seed-grown or wild bananas taste far superior to the grocery-bought versions.
How to Grow Banana from Seeds?
Firstly the seeds should be soaked in warm water for 24 to 48 hours so that they would come out of dormancy, and their seed coat will be softened allowing the embryo to sprout sooner and more easily.
Then an outer bed should be prepared in a sunny area. A seed tray or other container can also be used. It should be filled with potting soil enriched with a lot of organic compost. Proportion should be 60% sand or airy loam and 40% organic matter.
Now the seeds should be sown in the soil 6 cm (2 inches) deep and should be backfilled with compost. Now the seeds should be watered until the soil is moist, but not drenched. Damp conditions should be maintained while plants grow from seeds.
Response to the temperature fluxes differ between varieties. Some respond well to 5 hours of warm and 19 hours of cool temperatures. A heated propagator can be used.
The time when banana seeds germinate also depends on the variety. Some varieties germinate within 2-3 weeks, whereas some others may take 2-3 months. One should be patient while propagating banana plants via seeds.
Can Bananas be Grown in Containers and Greenhouses?
The good news for those who wish to grow bananas but don’t have a yard is that they can grow bananas in containers with correct plants and materials, and by giving proper care to the plant. Bananas can also be grown in greenhouses for which they should be planted in pots and therefore dwarf varieties should be chosen.
Choosing the Right Plant and Other Materials
The grower should choose a dwarf variety. A regular banana plant can reach the height of even up to 25 feet (7.6m) and so, neither a pot nor a greenhouse of a home grower which too has a limited space, is suitable to plant it. Therefore the grower should make sure that the plant they are choosing to plant in a container and maybe further in a greenhouse is of a dwarf cultivar. These grow up to around 5 feet (1.5 meters) to 13 feet (4 meters), thus can be grown indoors and won’t outgrow the pot they are planted in.
Dwarf banana varieties include: Dwarf Cavendish, Super-dwarf Cavendish, Dwarf Brazilian, Dwarf Red, Dwarf Lady Finger, Williams Hybrid, Rajapuri, Dwarf Jamaican, Grain Nain, etc.
If the grower wants the potted banana plant just for ornamentation, one of the following varieties can be chosen: Musa ornata, Ensete ventricosum, Musa sikkimensis ‘Red Tiger’, etc.
Once a variety is chosen, the grower should purchase its corn or baby plant online or at a store or local nursery. If they don’t want to wait for long, they can even buy a young banana tree or a sucker. This way they can skip the step of growing new suckers from the corn, and may also find it easy to plant the tree.
The soil should be mildly acidic and well-drained. Therefore one should consider a good mix of perlite, peat, and vermiculite. The soil mixture of a palm or cactus tree is a great choice for even banana trees. Soil pH should be between 5.5 and 7.
The pot should be deep with sufficient drainage. It should be several inches wider and deeper than the sucker’s root ball with a drainage hole. Depending on the grower’s budget, pot material can be wood, plastic, metal, or ceramic. But if it doesn’t have good drainage, it should be rejected. Also it should be deep enough to have room for the plant’s roots to expand.
Planting Banana in a Container
Rinsing the Corn
The corn should be rinsed thoroughly with lukewarm water before planting it in the container to remove any pests, or fungal or bacterial growth.
Digging a Hole
The pot should be filled with the soil. Then a small hole should be dug in the middle which should be wide and deep enough to accommodate the corn. Enough space should be left around the corn to plant it deep into the pot. Now the corn should be placed in the hole, but 20% part of the corn should be left out of the hole. This part should remain exposed until new leaves begin sprouting. Now the gaps on the side of the pot should be filled with soil. Once suckers start to grow from the corn, its exposed part can be covered with compost.
The corn should now be thoroughly watered with a hose saturating the soil on all its sides. The pot should be brought outside to allow the water to drain through the drainage holes. After this first watering, the corn can be watered with a can to keep the soil moist, but not excessively wet.
Growers should make sure the soil under their tree remains moist every day. Soil should be tested for moisture by pushing fingers down in the soil. ½ inch layer of the soil should be moist. The plant should be watered every day to keep the soil moist and roots hydrated.
NOTE: The pot should not be placed on a saucer because the water pooled in it can cause rot and bacterial growth.
Where to Place the Pot?
Since bananas grow in tropical and subtropical climates, they love full sun, heat, and humidity. Therefore the potted plant should be placed in a spot that receives the sun most of the time. But the spot should be sheltered from the wind.
While growing in the greenhouse, it should be made sure that the plant is placed in a sunny location in the greenhouse where it can get 10-12 hours of sunlight every day. The temperature in the greenhouse should be maintained between 21°C (70°F) and 26°C (80°F). Also, the greenhouse should be significantly humid.
Caring for the Potted Banana Plant
The plant should be fertilized once a month. The fertilizer chosen should be high in potassium, magnesium, and nitrogen to allow good growth of the plant. A granular fertilizer can be sprinkled on the top of the soil or a water-soluble fertilizer can be mixed with water.
During summer and spring, the grower can fertilize the plant once a week.
If they can’t find a soluble fertilizer made particularly for tropical plants, they can consider using a balanced 20-20-20 fertilizer.
The potted banana plant should be pruned after 6 to 8 weeks of healthy growth. Just as while growing a plant from a sucker, while planting in containers too, all but one (the largest and healthiest) sucker growing from the corn should be eliminated. After this, the tree should be pruned when it starts growing fruit. Then after harvesting, it should be pruned up to 0.76 meters (2.5 feet) without causing any damage to the main sucker. More fruits will be grown when the tree is pruned.
Transplanting Banana Plant
If the grower wants to transplant a banana plant to another location, it’s not a very hard task because banana doesn’t have a woody root system. They also recover quickly from transplanting and grow fast. But transplantation should be done carefully, because if it’s done in a wrong way, the plant may die. As mentioned earlier, banana is actually a herb and never develops a woody trunk-like trees. Their trunks are actually the bases of their huge leaf stalks, and therefore known as pseudostems.
The best time to transplant banana plants is late spring or summer when it’s the most active in growth. In cooler climates, the plants become dormant in winter and if they’re transplanted during that time, they may die.
While transplanting a banana plant, a trench should be dug around the pseudostem of the plant. This trench should be 6 inches from the edge of the stem and surround it completely. Grower should dig down 12 inches.
Now the grower should grasp the pseudostem and lift the plant out from the ground. If any roots are still remaining attached to the ground, they should be cut off at the bottom of the root ball.
A hole should be dug at the new location. It should be just as deep and twice as wide as the root ball. The banana plant should be placed at the center of the hole and soil should be shoveled back around it. Then it should be tamped down with foot to remove any air pockets and more soil should be added until the plant gets buried as deep as it was earlier.
Now the plant should be watered until the soil is completely soaked. This will make any air pockets to release and roots to get the required moisture to grow again. Soil should be kept moist all the time for at least a month to facilitate sufficient root establishment.
Identifying Nutrient Deficiencies
The two most common nutritional deficiencies bananas experience are potassium deficiency and nitrogen deficiency. Growers should learn to identify them.
1. Signs of potassium (K) deficiency include broken or small leaves, yellow/orange color appearing on leaves followed by leaf death, delayed flowering, and small fruit bunches.
2. Signs of nitrogen (N) deficiency include poor growth, reddish-pink leaf sheathes, very small or pale-colored leaves, and small fruit bunches.
Banana plant diseases include:
- Banana Bunchy Top
- Bacterial Wilt/Moko Disease
- Blackhead/Root Rot/Toppling
- Panama Disease/Fusarium Wilt
Banana Plant Pests
- Banana aphid (Pentalonia nigronervosa)
- Corn weevil
- Mealy bugs
Banana aphid is responsible for causing one of the most dangerous diseases named “banana bunchy top virus”. Even if a single sucker is infected by this virus, all the plants that are connected including the mother plant and all its suckers will become infected and stunted. Banana aphid is slow and live in colonies. They can spread the disease merely in hours.
Protecting Bananas from Other Potential Damages
- If a newly planted banana is damaged by accident e.g. hit by a ball, or if a plant is growing weak, but is still alive, the grower should just cut it in half. It will start growing again.
- Right after taking a sucker from a banana plant, the grower should support the weakened side of the mother plant with soil to prevent leaning and should apply fertilizer to replenish lost nutrients.
- Transplanting or desuckering of the mother plant should be done very carefully. If it’s done wrong, the mother or sucker may die.
- If the grower doesn’t intend to plant a sucker immediately, they should chop off the top so as to reduce evaporation.
- Taking suckers from diseased mother plants or planting diseased plants should be avoided.
- In areas where Banana Bunchy Top is present, growers should not share suckers with friends. Banana plants should be bought only from retailers who can assure that the plants are disease-free.
- While cutting any part of the banana plant, the grower should wear old clothes because the sap of the plant causes black patches that are hard to remove.
Extremely low temperatures are harmful to bananas. Therefore if the temperature drops, the plants should be taken care of, for which there are several ways:
- Stem should be covered with soil or a blanket. This protects the plant when it is still small and there is no frost.
- The entire plant can be uprooted, leaves can be removed and the plant can be stored in moist sand in a heated indoor area. It should not be watered or fertilized, so as to make it dormant until the outside environment becomes suitable again to plant it outside.
- A plant that is mostly killed by cold or frost may have its corn and suckers still usable. These can be cut from the dead plant and salvaged to plant again later.
The first flower may emerge after around 6 months, depending on the variety and weather conditions. There would be leaves around it to protect it from the sunburn. Over time, the purple petals will curl back and drop off revealing a hand-shaped cluster of bananas known as a “hand” and each banana is known as a “finger”.
A whole stem comprising of many such hands is known as a bunch. There may be around 4 to 12 or more full hands. Another hand of small banana fingers can be seen under the next petal.
These are male fingers and are called “banana heart”. They just dry and drop off, leaving only the stalk which can reach up to the ground if left for growing. Flowers of some banana varieties are edible and are used in Southeast Asian cuisine. However, flowers of not all varieties are edible.
The bunch of purple petals at the end is called the ‘bell’. Some gardeners break it around 15cm below the last female hands, so as to let the remaining bananas become larger, whereas some others keep them for birds because birds love to eat them.
After this, the grower has to wait for around three months. But growers should make sure they support their banana bunches with a stick with some sort of hook at the upper end, if their plant is not very strong or straight because in that case the heavy bunch can snap off or pull the entire plant over. A pole or plank can also be used to support the bunch.
When Should Bananas be Picked?
When bananas look well-rounded with ribs and when the little flowers at their ends are dry enough to get rubbed off easily, they are ready to pick. They can be picked when they’re still green and once they’re picked, they start ripening regardless of their size. But they can ripen even on the bunch; actually, when they ripen in this way, they taste the best.
However, this way they ripen very fast, even before one can eat or use them. The best solution for this is to cut the top hands off a little earlier and let them ripen in the house.
The whole bunch can also be cut and hung somewhere so that it’s protected from birds or possums or other robbers. But this way, all the bananas will ripen at the same time.
As such, home growers can even protect the bunch by implementing a trick used by commercial growers of slipping a plastic bunch cover over the bunch and tying it at the top. This can protect the bananas from sunburn, insects, diseases, and thieves. However, even if the thieves in nature eat some bananas away, enough are left back for the grower, their family, pets and friends, and neighbors, and for preserving. So, it’s one’s personal choice whether to keep their bananas covered or not.
Bananas can be preserved by peeling and freezing them, or by splitting them into halves and drying them.
What to Do after Picking?
After the bunch is picked, the plant will soon die. It should be cut to the ground, and the grower should throw on some chicken manure and let the next sucker grow.
Bananas are a great gift of nature that is full of taste and nutrients. By planting it in one’s yard or home, one can enjoy this gift to the fullest.