Does your family eat so many bananas that you want to try growing bananas in your garden? These fabulous fruits grow on trees anywhere that has the right environmental conditions.
If you live in a colder climate, you won’t see banana trees along your highway or in your neighbor’s backyard. Fruiting banana plants require warm weather and plenty of humidity to grow.
But if you live in a tropical climate, you can grow bananas, and those who don’t can try growing bananas in containers. Let’s take a look at what you need to know.
Bananas: The Largest Perennial Herb
When you see a banana tree, chances are you didn’t realize they’re not really a tree, despite being called (and looking like) one.
These plants are actually the world’s largest herb. In tropical regions, the plants are pruned to the ground after fruiting. If you feel the trunk, it’s not like a tree trunk; it has a main stem surrounded by leaves.
Despite being an herb, it is considered a tree by most because of its size.
The Two Types of Bananas
Did you know that bananas can be divided into two categories? The two types are dessert bananas and cooking bananas. Both are edible, so what’s the difference?
Dessert bananas are the yellow ones you grab at the store and eat for breakfast or a snack. Most measure between 7-9 inches long, and the flesh is moist, soft, and sweet.
Cooking bananas are edible as well, but they’re starchy and not used for fresh-eating. Instead, they’re exclusively used for cooking. An example of a cooking banana is plantains.
Cooking bananas look like a yellow banana, but they’re larger and have a thicker skin. Once cooked, expect a mild, sweet flavor similar to winter squash.
Planting Bananas: What You Should Know
Before you decide to add banana plants to your garden, you should know what they require. They need temperatures that average between 70-80°F with constant humidity around 50%.
They also prefer around 12 hours of sunlight.
That means people in temperate regions can’t plant banana trees in their backyards and expect them to grow. But if you meet the requirements, you can start growing your own bananas.
Select a location that’s sheltered from wind because the leaves are susceptible to damage. Some banana leaves can reach up to two feet wide and nine feet long! That means they need protection.
Banana plants prefer to grow in full sunlight, but some variegated varieties do better in partial shade because they burn easily.
Create the Ideal Soil
Ideally, the soil needs to be well-draining, deep and amended with plenty of rich, organic humus. It should be in the slightly acidic range between 5.5 and 6.5.
Before planting, amend the soil with several inches of compost. It’s important to ensure the potassium levels are high and stay consistent because bananas use a lot of potassium.
Planting Banana Plants Outside
It’s best to plant bananas in clumps of several plants together. This method is called block planting, and it helps shallow-rooted plants support each other while also increasing much-needed humidity.
Each plant should be spaced five feet apart. Bananas are grown from root divisions or cuttings. Using a root division with leafy growth is ideal.
Plant the division so that the roots are covered at the same depth as they were growing on their mother plant. If you plant a root division with no leaves, put it one to two inches below the ground.
Growing Bananas in Containers
It is possible to grow banana plants in containers, but you’ll need at least a 15-gallon pot. That’s the smallest size for one of these plants.
One of the benefits of growing bananas in containers is that it gives you the ultimate control over the plant’s environment and reduces the risk of cold weather killing it since you can move it indoors if needed.
The downsides are that these are hungry and thirsty plants, and water evaporates faster out of containers. You’ll need to water more often to keep up with the demands.
Every three years, divide and re-pot your container-grown banana plant. Always use a high-quality potting mix and fertilize regularly for optimal growth.
Growing Banana Plants Indoors
Banana plants grow well indoors so long as you fertilize and water often and give them enough sun. These plants grow extremely fast, filling up their growing location quickly.
The downside is that these plants won’t produce any fruit unless you have a large greenhouse. Year-round indoor growth gives the plants little time to flower and develop fruit.
Caring for Banana Plants
After planting, you switch focus on learning proper care of your growing bananas. Here’s what you need to know.
Watering Banana Plants
Banana trees originate in rain forests and tropical regions, so they require plenty of water and humidity. Ideally, you’ll have several banana trees together so they can be watered at the same time. Doing so creates more humidity and helps retain moisture.
Banana plants need between one to two inches of water weekly and frequent soil checks. The soil must stay evenly moist, so regular watering is required.
Avoid over-watering banana plants because it leads to root rot. The soil should be moist, not soggy, at all times.
Banana plants need to be fertilized regularly. Plan to use a balanced fertilizer once per month.
When applying fertilizer, spread it in a circle around the plant, but don’t let it touch the trunk. Create a monthly schedule to be consistent; these plants are heavy feeders.
When feeding outside banana plants, only use half of the rate, and follow the directions as indicated to avoid burning your plants.
Once the plant starts blossoming, switch from a balance fertilizer to one high in potassium.
After the tree produces fruit it won’t produce again. That means you want to have a mother plant and a second sucker from the same plant growing. That sucker will be where the fruit will grow next year.
Once the mother tree fruits, cut it back to the ground and chop the stem up to use a mulch. Then, let the second tree grow to produce fruit and keep another sucker waiting in the wings.
At all times, you’ll want one main tree and one sucker. Cut everything else to the ground.
Winterize Banana Plants
As mentioned, these plants prefer warm, humid locations. Even cold-tolerant varieties need a temperature range of 75-95°F.
So, if you live in a region that has temperatures below the accepted range, the growth will slow dramatically, and very cold temperatures can kill the plants.
The best options are either to grow the plant in a sheltered location or bring it inside during the winter if you have less-than-ideal conditions.
Common Pests & Diseases While Growing Bananas
Banana plants are vulnerable to several different pests and diseases. Here are some of the most common.
When you’re growing bananas, nematodes are a common banana pest that causes the rotting of the corms while also leaving the plants vulnerable to fungus.
Commercial banana farmers apply nematicides, which do protect crops. You can use this option, or you can try crop rotation. Leaving garden areas fallow for up to three years can kill off these pests.
Weevils, sometimes called banana stalk borers, are one of the most destructive pests that bother banana plants. They attack the base of the plant and tunnel upward.
In most cases, gardeners use pesticides to control the infestation, but you also can use biological control methods as well. Utilizing a predator called Piaesius javanus is an effective treatment.
Banana rust thrips stain the peels of the fruit, leaving it to split and expose the flesh. Over time, it causes the flesh to rot.
You can use insecticidal dust to control thrips. You can try insecticides as well when the infestations are too bad.
This disease, sometimes called leaf spot, is caused by a fungus, and it’s mostly found in areas with poorly draining soil or heavy dew. It starts with small, pale spots that grow and become purple or black with grey centers.
A fungicide can be applied to control the disease from spreading. You also can grow cultivars that are resistant to Sigatoka.
Another fungal disease that can infect your plant is banana wilt. It starts in the soil and travels throughout the root system. The leaves start to yellow, starting with the oldest leaves and moving upwards.
Unfortunately, banana wilt is a lethal disease transmitted through winter, water, and other means. Destroy the tree.
Bacteria causes moko disease, which is one of the main diseases of bananas in the western hemisphere. Insects, tools, soil, and other means transmit moko disease.
The only way to truly defend your plants against this disease is to plant resistant cultivars.
Banana plants flower typically six months after planting, with purple flowers appearing at the node of the stalks. Over time, the flower petals peel back to show a “hand” of bananas.
The process from planting to harvestable fruit is between 15-18 months. Once it’s time to harvest, cut off the fruiting stalks when the bananas are plump and green. The fruits grow plumper as they ripen.
Fruits ripened on the tree can be harvested one at a time, but don’t leave it there too long. Once harvested, hang your “hands” of bananas in a cool location.