Bananas are one of the most common fruits in the world. They’re loved and enjoyed by a lot of people.
If the conditions are right, you can grow this amazing plant in your own garden. And enjoy some varieties you’ll never find in a grocery store.
What Are Bananas?
Bananas are the fruits that are harvested from high perennial herb bushes in the Musa genus. Bananas start as rhizomes. Rhizomes are horizontal root systems.
These systems develop above-ground bulges called corms. As they grow, banana corms become the foundation for towering stalks and clusters of large green leaves.
The above-ground portions of most banana plants are many feet high. Some varieties are over 20 feet tall and resemble trees. Many people believe that bananas grow on palm trees.
While banana leaves do resemble palm leaves, they are attached to a large stem rather than a tree trunk. Technically, they are great flowering herbs.
There are also many dwarf varieties of banana plants. For example, Dwarf Cavendish Banana plants are only between 5 and 9 feet tall. The smallest banana variety is called the Truly Tiny.
The name is very fitting, as these plants only grow to be 2 to 3 feet tall. Due to their small stature, they are often planted in containers.
Bananas bunches originate from big purple flowers. Clusters of bananas are called hands. Banana hands contain anywhere from 10 to 20 bananas.
It takes about nine months for a banana plant to produce hands. After the hands ripen, the banana plant dies.
Which Varieties Should You Plant?
There are over 1,000 varieties of bananas. Cavendish bananas are the sweet, mushy ones that are found in most grocery stores. Plantains are the starchy, bitter plants that are sometimes referred to as cooking bananas.
Choose a banana plant that will thrive in your growing space. While you’re at it, ensure that your pick agrees with your taste buds.
These plants are excellent alternatives for farmers with limited space. Many people enjoy the apple-like flavor of Manzano bananas.
Another common dwarf variety is Cuban red. These bananas have rusty red peels and a sweet, tangy flavor. Both apple and Cuban red bananas are considered dessert varieties. They’re both hearty varieties that thrive in small spaces.
Another small but tasty dessert banana variety is the Lady Finger. These bananas are only a few inches long. Their flavor is very similar to that of mainstream Cavendish bananas.
There is also a long list of full-sized banana plants for you to consider. Blue Java is a hearty variety that tastes similar to vanilla ice cream.
Check out blue bananas in this news clip. This unparalleled variety is derived from Central America.
According to researchers, Cavendish bananas make up 47% of the global banana market. Agricultural experts have developed several Cavendish banana hybrids. Many of the hybrid bananas are resistant to pests and diseases.
Plantains are starchy bananas that are almost always cooked before they are eaten.
They are used in many ethnic foods, including ones that originate from South America and the West Indies. Plantains are often called cooking bananas.
When to Plant Bananas?
According to the USDA, you must be in Gardening Zone 9 to successfully cultivate bananas. Zone 9 contains 15 U.S. states, including Hawaii, California, and Florida. Zone 9 offers year-round growing conditions.
Since bananas grow year-round, there’s no ideal planting season for banana plants. However, cultivators should keep track of the temperature during and after planting.
Banana plants will not grow when temperatures dip below 57 degrees or rise above 100 degrees. Since bananas also require a lot of water, it’s not wise to plant them during a dry spell.
Before you determine your ideal planting window, you will have to decide what type of planting material you will be using. You may use banana suckers, rhizomes, or tissue cultures.
Suckers and rhizomes can be harvested from mature banana plants. You may be able to source them from a friend’s garden or a local nursery.
Banana tissue cultures are typically produced in scientific laboratories. You can watch banana cultures being made here. These disease-resistant banana starters are usually only used by large plantains.
Banana suckers are small plants that sprout up alongside the bases of mature banana corms. You can use a sharp digging tool to remove large suckers from the ground. A healthy sucker should have a small root system and a thick stalk.
Target suckers that are at least 3 feet long. Large suckers are referred to as sword suckers. It may take anywhere from 15 to 24 months for a sucker to reach maturity.
There may also be water suckers alongside the mother plant. You can distinguish water suckers by their broad leaves. Water suckers should be discarded, as they rob water from corms. Check out this video to see the difference between sword and water suckers.
You can also plant a piece of a mature banana rhizome. As we mentioned before, rhizomes are the horizontal root systems of banana plants. A rhizome with buds can be bust into several small pieces.
Each of these pieces has the potential to grow into a mature banana plant. It is important to note that rhizomes mature much slower than sword suckers.
How to Choose a Planting Site for Banana Plants?
Banana plants should be planted in groups. Target an area that can accommodate several mature banana plants. Depending on the variety of bananas you are planting, your holes should be placed 10 to 12 feet apart.
It is important to place your banana plants in a well-protected area. Fences, walls, and other structures will protect your banana plants for the elements. You still need to ensure that nearby structures do not obscure your plants’ access to sunlight and water.
How to Plant Bananas in the Garden?
If you are planting banana suckers, you will need to dig several large holes. Depending on the size of the sucker, you will need to dig a hole that is between 2 and 3 feet deep. If you are using rhizomes to cultivate your banana plants, make sure your hole is big enough to accommodate your planting material.
Add 2 to 3 inches of organic compost or chicken manure. Combine a large heap of 8-10-8 NPK fertilizer. Place your sucker or rhizome in the hole. Then, pack the hole with fresh soil. Banana plants have remarkably fast growth rates. In most cases, they will seep up every dose of plant food that you offer them.
If you are planting a sucker, only the root system should be covered with soil. If you are planting a rhizome, place at the same depth that it was when you removed it from its mother.
How to Take Care of the Banana Plant
Banana plants don’t require constant attention. However, there are a few things you can do to improve their chances of maturing.
Bananas need 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. Too much sunlight has the potential to burn the fruit and leaves of these hearty plants.
When temperatures soar above 100 degrees, banana plants cease to grow all together. It is essential to keep mature leaves on banana plants, as these natural elements serve to protect developing flowers and fruits.
Bananas require a generous quantity of water. In most cases, tropical rain is an adequate source of water.
During periods of reduced rainfall, you may wish to water your banana patch. You may use a garden hose or sprinkler to spray the bases of your banana plants.
It’s almost impossible to over-water a banana plant. Water requirements vary depending on the variety and size of the plants. Most banana varieties require 2 to 4 inches of water every month.
Banana plants also demand adequate drainage. If you find that your banana plants are sitting in water, you should amend your soil. Perlite and other coarse soil additives will help to loosen up dense soil.
Thirsty banana plants will even drink up gray wastewater. As such, you may opt to plant your banana patch near an outdoor shower, french drain, or gutter. You are helping the environment when you reuse wastewater.
According to the California Rare Fruit Growers, banana plants prefer soil with a pH level between 5.5 and 6.5.
They also recommend incorporating a large amount of organic compost into your soil before adding young banana plants.
Experts recommend using an 8-10-8 NPK fertilizer. NPK fertilizer with an 8-10-8 ration contains eight parts nitrogen, 10 parts phosphorus, and eight parts potassium.
You should apply a generous amount of fertilizer during planting. Reapply fertilizer each month, using ¼ to ½ pound of fertilizer.
Banana plants also respond well to chicken manure. This is good news for gardeners with backyard hens.
Chicken manure is also sold at most agricultural supply stores. Chicken manure contains several beneficial nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium.
Remove sword suckers from the base of the mother plants. You can replant these “pups” in another area of your yard or gift them to your fellow gardeners.
You can also place plant-based food scraps and animal manures around your banana corms. As these amendments break down, they will release essential nutrients into the soil.
Make an effort to remove dead leaves from your banana plants. Place them at the base of your banana patches. In doing so, you will help protect shallow roots and growing suckers.
Take the time to regularly inspect your banana plants. You may need to deal with pests or diseases. When chaos breaks out, well-timed preventative measures may be the only way to save your banana plants.
Never allow your bananas to decay on your plants. Fermenting fruit can spark the interest of nearby animals and insects.
How to Harvest and Store Bananas?
It takes over 75 days for most banana varieties to reach maturity. Observe the shape of your bananas to determine when it is time to harvest them.
Mature bananas are rounder than developing bananas. The flowers, which are located at the bottom of the banana hands, can be easily plucked from fully matured banana hands.
You can use a sharp knife or machete to remove mature banana hands from stalks. Do not attempt to break apart the clusters.
Place the hands in a cool water bath. The bath will remove dirt and other contaminants. Then, allow the hand to dry thoroughly.
If you want your bananas to ripen slowly, place your banana hands in a cool, dry area.
If you wish to speed up the ripening time of your bananas, place individual clusters in sealed paper bags. Keep in mind that your bananas will spoil a few days after they ripen.
If you have more bananas than you can eat, freeze the leftovers. It’s best to remove the skins from bananas before placing them in the freezer. Frozen bananas can be used in baked goods, smoothies, fruit purees, and other recipes.
You can also dehydrate your surplus bananas. Banana chips are a healthy and delicious snack. Dehydrated bananas have a much longer shelf life than fresh ones.
What are Pests and Diseases that Affect Bananas?
Like most plants, bananas have their fair share of predators. These aggressors include animals, insects, viruses, and fungi.
Burrowing Nematodes, or Radopholus similis, are some of the most common predators of banana plants. These earth-dwelling insects are known to spread infections through the roots of banana plants. Without their precious network of shoots, banana plants have no chance of survival.
During the early stages of a nematode infestation, plant damage can only be seen below the soil line. However, wilted, unyielding, or malnourished banana plants may offer clues about ongoing underground devastation.
If you suspect that your soil is infested with nematodes, take care to quarantine and sanitize contaminated patches. If you wish to rid your garden of nematodes, you may need to replace your banana plants with a pest-resistant crop.
You can also use a tarp to solarize your garden soil. Unfortunately, there is no quick way to rid a space of nematodes.
The Banana Weevil, or Cosmopolites sordidus, is another type of insect that infiltrates the roots of growing banana plants. These pesky bugs prefer sweet varieties of bananas.
Always source your banana plants from a weevil-free grower. Like nematodes, these insects are incredibly difficult to eradicate. If you see weevils in your banana patch, neglect it for several months.
Banana Skipper, or eriponta thrax, is a white caterpillar that makes quick work of banana leaves. It easy to identify a skipper infestation, as these bugs create unique rolls out of once-healthy banana leaves.
You may use organic or chemical methods to remove skippers. These bugs can even be handpicked from small banana patches. Neem and derris are two popular plant-based insecticides that are used to eradicate skippers.
Banana Rust Thrips
Rust thrips enjoy munching on bananas. Thrips are winged insects. They leave brown patches on bananas. These blemishes are often confused with regular bruises.
There are several steps you can take to rid your property of rust thrips. You may wish to fend off these insects by releasing one of their natural predators, such as lacewings or ladybird beetles.
Banana aphids are winged bugs that spread diseases to banana plants. These pesky bugs are known to spread a disease called banana bunch top virus. The virus creates small dots on the veins of banana leaves. In doing so, it stunts the growth of banana plants.
One way to combat banana aphids is to remove the immature suckers from the bottom of your banana plants. These young sprouts are typically the main targets of these tiny insects.
Coconut scale is a microscopic insect that preys on banana leaves. The coconut scale is typically observed on the bottom side of the banana leaves. If left alone, this insect can kill banana leaves.
It is best to combat this pest with its natural predators. Banana farms typically release coccinellid beetles and wasp parasitoids to fend off this tiny pest.
Banana wilt is a bacterial disease that causes the premature decay of bananas and the untimely death of banana plants. Infected leaves will turn from green to yellow. Meanwhile, infected fruits ooze a creamy bacterial substance.
You can avoid banana wilt by removing the male buds of your banana plants after your banana hands develop. Since wilt can be spread through infected tools and plants, you must sterilize all your gardening equipment and source your planting materials from a reputable source.
Black Sigatoka (Also known as Black Leaf Streak)
Black Leaf Streak is a disease that, you guessed it, causes banana leaves to develop black streaks. It is caused by a fungus.
While Black Leaf Streak does not kill banana plants, it can reduce banana hand yields. Most cultivators remove as many infected leaves as possible. You may also use a fungicide to help preserve the quality of your banana harvest.
Anthracnose is a fungal disease that damages the leaves, stalks, fruits, and flowers of banana plants. Anthracnose causes ugly blemishes to develop on the surfaces of banana peels. The damage is usually only detectable until bananas have been placed in storage.
Cigar End Rot
Cigar End Rot is a plant disease that is spread by yet another fungus. Flowering bananas are the most vulnerable. This disease causes bananas to develop a wrinkly brown end. You can avoid Cigar End Rot by choosing uninfected planting materials.
Cordana Leaf Spot
Cordana Leaf Spot is another disease that causes unsightly blemishes on banana leaves. Fortunately, infected plants are capable of producing healthy fruits. Still, it can leave banana plants looking ugly and unhealthy.
Rhizome Rot (Top Over)
Sometimes banana corms and rhizomes become infected with bacteria. When this happens, the entire banana plant dies. Since infected trees are severed near their bases, this disease is sometimes referred to as Tip Over.
You must stop the spread of rhizome rot before it can spread across your banana patch. Prevent this disease’s presence by selecting healthy suckers and rhizomes for planting.
You can also opt for tissue cultured plant varieties, as these are more resistant to bacteria and fungus. When all else fails, you must destroy the infected plants and quarantine infected soil.
Bananas are a relatively low-maintenance plant that grows abundantly in tropical areas. These hardy perennials are a great source of plant-based nourishment.
If you’re looking to cultivate bananas, it is important to plan. Always source your suckers and rhizomes from responsible growers. Remember to check your plants for potential pests and diseases.
A single banana plant can produce 25 to 40 pounds of fruit each year. And a healthy plant will thrive for around six years.
If you’re lucky, your plant also produces several offshoots, enabling you to collect a lifetime of bananas.