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Broad, long, graceful leaves and rapid growth-commonly reaching full size in just a few weeks-make banana a favorite plant for providing a tropical look to pool and patio areas. The development of bananas following a frost-free winter is a source of both pride and amazement to those unfamiliar with banana culture.
Banana is a tropical herbaceous plant consisting of an underground corm and a trunk (pseudostem) comprised of concentric layers of leaf sheaths. At 10 to 15 months after the emergence of a new plant, its true stem rapidly grows up through the center and emerges as a terminal inflorescence which bears fruit.
The flowers appear in groups (hands) along the stem and are covered by purplish bracts which roll back and shed as the fruit stem develops. The first hands to appear contain female flowers which will develop into bananas (usually seedless in edible types). The number of hands of female flowers varies from a few to more than 10, after which numerous hands of sterile flowers appear and shed in succession, followed by numerous hands of male flowers which also shed. Generally, a bract rolls up and sheds to expose a new hand of flowers almost daily. Be careful when buying field grown banana tree offshoots or offsets. Many have virus and diseases. Some growers sell banana tree water shoots which have big leaves when small, these banana plants are no good for landscaping or bananas and should be cut off as the main banana plant grows. Good field grown banana tree offshoots (corms) have sword like thin leaves until 3' tall.
Banana is a tropical plant which grows best under warm conditions. In colder areas where banana is used mostly as an ornamental, new plants are obtained and planted each spring.
The leaves are tattered badly by strong winds, rendering the plant less attractive. Strong winds, in conjunction with saturated soil and the weight of a stem of fruit, can result in significant blow down unless guying or other protection is provided.
Soil and Site Selection
Banana grows in a wide variety of soils, as long as the soil is deep and has good internal and surface drainage. The effect of poorly drained soils can be partly overcome by planting in raised beds, as the plant does not tolerate poor drainage or flooding.
The planting site should be chosen for protection from wind and cold weather, if possible. The warmest location in the home landscape is near the south or southeast side of the house.
How to Grow Banana Plants and Trees.
The first priority to consider when growing banana is to use the proper soil. It is very important to use a well draining soil MIXTURE and 20% PERLITE should be added to it to assure that you have good draining soil. Do not use heavy soils when growing banana such as potting soil, or soil from a yard. Plant the banana rhizome upright and be sure the roots are well covered and the rhizome has about 1/2" of the base covered with soil.
We advise that you water and fertilize banana at the same time using any type of balanced fertilizer to help grow banana. Bananas are heavy feeders so we suggest that you fertilize very lightly each time that you water with the exception being that you do not fertilize if you are not seeing active growth.( Balanced fertilizer means - a fertilizer that has three numbers on the label ). After your initial watering we would not water again until your soil is dry to a 1/2" depth. ( Use your finger to test it ). Please do not expect this to be a plant that you "water once a week". If you water once a week it is unlikely that you will have success growing this rhizome.
Grow bananas in bright light. Approx. 12 hours of bright light are ideal for most varieties.
Grow bananas in Constant warmth is very important - the ideal night temperature would be 67 F. The day temperatures would be in the 80s. Ideally you would have fresh circulating air.
Grow banana with high humidity of 50% and higher is desirable.
Grow bananas in THE CONTAINER that is not too large. It should be a standard 6" or 8" pot with a drain hole. Never plant it in a container without a drain hole. Transplant to a larger container when your plant is quite crowded .
Propagation and Planting
For ornamental purposes, bananas may be planted as close as 2 to 3 feet apart, but those planted for fruit production should be spaced about 8 to 10 feet apart.
Growth Habit: Bananas are fast-growing herbaceous perennials arising from underground rhizomes. The fleshy stalks or pseudostems formed by upright concentric layers of leaf sheaths constitute the functional trunks. The true stem begins as an underground corm which grows upwards, pushing its way out through the center of the stalk 10-15 months after planting, eventually producing the terminal inflorescence which will later bear the fruit. Each stalk produces one huge flower cluster and then dies. New stalks then grow from the rhizome. Banana plants are extremely decorative, ranking next to palm trees for the tropical feeling they lend to the landscape.
Foliage: The large oblong or elliptic leaf blades are extensions of the sheaths of the pseudostem and are joined to them by fleshy, deeply grooved, short petioles. The leaves unfurl, as the plant grows, at the rate of one per week in warm weather, and extend upward and outward , becoming as much as 9 feet long and 2 feet wide. They may be entirely green, green with maroon splotches, or green on the upper side and red-purple beneath. The leaf veins run from the mid-rib straight to the outer edge of the leaf. Even when the wind shreds the leaf, the veins are still able to function. Approximately 44 leaves will appear before the inflorescence.
Flowers: The banana inflorescence shooting out from the heart in the tip of the stem, is at first a large, long-oval, tapering, purple-clad bud. As it opens, the slim, nectar-rich, tubular, toothed, white flowers appear. They are clustered in whorled double rows along the the floral stalk, each cluster covered by a thick, waxy, hood like bract, purple outside and deep red within. The flowers occupying the first 5 - 15 rows are female. As the rachis of the inflorescence continues to elongate, sterile flowers with abortive male and female parts appear, followed by normal staminate ones with abortive ovaries. The two latter flower types eventually drop in most edible bananas.
Fruits: The ovaries contained in the first (female) flowers grow rapidly, developing parthenocarpically (without pollination) into clusters of fruits, called hands. The number of hands varies with the species and variety. The fruit (technically a berry) turns from deep green to yellow or red, and may range from 2-1/2 to 12 inches in length and 3/4 to 2 inches in width. The flesh, ivory-white to yellow or salmon-yellow, may be firm, astringent, even gummy with latex when unripe, turning tender and slippery, or soft and mellow or rather dry and mealy or starchy when ripe. The flavor may be mild and sweet or subacid with a distinct apple tone. The common cultivated types are generally seedless with just vestiges of ovules visible as brown specks. Occasionally, cross-pollination with wild types will result in a number of seeds in a normally seedless variety.
Location: Bananas require as much warmth as can be given them. Additional warmth can be given by planting next to a building. Planting next to cement or asphalt walks or driveways also helps. Wind protection is advisable, not for leaf protection as much as for protection of the plant after the banana stalk has appeared. During these last few months propping should be done to keep the plant from tipping or being blown over.
Soil: Bananas will grow in most soils, but to thrive, they should be planted in a rich, well-drained soil. The best possible location would be above an abandoned compost heap. They prefer an acid soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. The banana is not tolerant of salty soils.
Irrigation: The large leaves of bananas use a great deal of water. Do not let plants dry out, but do not over water. Standing water, especially in cool weather, will cause root rot. Plants grown in dry summer areas such as Southern California need periodic deep watering to help leach the soil of salts. Spread a thick layer of mulch on the soil to help conserve moisture and protect the shallow roots. Container grown plants should be closely watched to see that they do not dry out. An occasional deep watering to leach the soil is also helpful.
Fertilization: Their rapid growth rate make bananas heavy feeders. During warm weather, apply a balanced fertilizer once a month--a 8:10:8 NPK fertilizer appears to be adequate. A mature plant may require as much as 1-1/2 to 2 pounds of the above fertilizer each month. Young plants need a quarter to a third as much. Spread the fertilizer evenly around the plant in a circle extending 4 - 8 feet from the trunk. Do not allow the fertilizer to come in contact with the trunk. Feed container container plants on the same monthly schedule using about half the rate for outside plants.
Frost Protection: Bananas flourish best under uniformly warm conditions but can survive 28° F for short periods. If the temperature does not fall below 22° F and the cold period is short, the underground rhizome will usually survive. To keep the plants that are above ground producing, protection against low temperatures is very important. Wrap trunk or cover with blanket if the plants are small and low temperatures are predicted.
Pruning Only one primary stem of each rhizome should be allowed to fruit. All excess shoots should be removed as soon as they are noticed. This helps channel all of of the plant's energy into fruit production. Once the main stalk is 6 - 8 months old, permit one sucker to develop as a replacement stalk for the following season. When the fruit is harvested, cut the fruiting stalk back to 30 inches above the ground. Remove the stub several weeks later. The stalk can be cut into small pieces and used as mulch.
Pests and Diseases: Bananas have few troublesome pests or diseases outside the tropics. Root rot from cold wet soil is by far the biggest killer of banana plants in our latitudes. Gophers topple them, and snails and earwigs will crawl up to where they can get continuous water, but these pests do not bother the plant.
Fruit Harvest: Stalks of bananas are usually formed in the late summer and then winter over. In March they begin "plumping up" and may ripen in April. Occasionally, a stalk will form in early summer and ripen before cold weather appears. The fruit can be harvested by cutting the stalk when the bananas are plump but green. For tree-ripened fruit, cut one hand at a time as it ripens. If latter is done, check stalk daily as rodents can eat the insides of every banana, from above, and the stalk will look untouched. Once harvested the stalk should be hung in a cool, shady place. Since ethylene helps initiate and stimulate ripening, and mature fruit gives off this gas in small amounts, ripening can be hastened by covering the bunch with a plastic bag. Plantains are starchy types that are cooked before eating.
Cold protection of the top is possible by use of coverings and heat sources, but such is not often practical. However, in colder locations, soil can be banked around the trunk just before a projected cold spell to better protect the underground buds, which will allow the plant to regenerate in the coming spring. Unprotected but well-established bananas across the south with some exceptions, regenerated after freezes.
Some people dig the entire plant, rhizome and all, remove the leaves and store the plant, dry, in a heated area over winter. To assure survival, it is easier to dig small suckers, severed very close to the parent rhizome, and pot them for overwintering indoors.
After fruiting, the mother plant which bore should be cut off near ground level, as it can never produce again. The old trunk will quickly decompose if cut into three or four pieces, with each piece then being split lengthwise. Use the remains in a mulch bed or compost heap.
Tattered older leaves can be removed after they break and hang down along the trunk.
Production, Maturity and Use
Most bananas will produce the flower bud within 10 to 15 months of emergence as a new sucker, depending mostly on variety and extent of cool/cold weather. Most production north of the lower Rio Grande Valley occurs in the spring and summer following a particularly mild winter.
The reddish purple bracts of the flower roll back and split to expose a hand of bananas, usually at the rate of one per day. After all hands with viable fruit are exposed, the bracts continue to roll back and split for several weeks, leaving a bare stem between the fruit and the bud.
Well-tended bananas in commerce produce fruit stems approaching 100 pounds, but such yields are rare under most conditions. The more delicately flavored, small-fruited varieties may attain stem weights of 35 to 40 pounds. Most producers readily accept production of stems having only two or three hands, although six to eight hands per stem is common for well-tended plants.
The entire stem (bunch) should be cut off when the individual bananas are plump (full) and rounded. Although green in color, the fruit is mature and will ripen to good eating quality. The stem of fruit should be hung in a cool, shaded place to ripen. Ripening will proceed naturally in a few days (if properly harvested), but can be hastened by enclosing the bunch in a plastic bag with a sliced apple for about a day. Once ripening starts on the oldest hand, the entire bunch will ripen within a couple of days.
Ripe bananas are consumed fresh out-of-hand, in salads, compotes, ice-cream dishes and pudding. Overripe fruit can be pureed in the blender for use in ice cream and baking. Both dessert and cooking bananas may be fried or baked, but the cooking bananas are generally more starchy until nearly spoiled ripe, and their fresh flavor is not so good. Green (mature but not ripe) bananas and plantains can also be sliced thinly and fried for a starchy treat.
The beautiful and stately banana "tree" grows about one hundred pounds of bananas. Bananas are cut and left in large clusters just as they grew. Cut while still green and unripe, the flesh of the banana is very dense and starchy. As the banana ripens, the flesh becomes somewhat sticky and deliciously sweet. A very popular fruit, a ripe banana offers a satisfying soothing flavor and a wonderful creamy texture.
Bananas are one of the FDA's top twenty fruits. An excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, and potassium, they provide fiber, are low in fat, cholesterol-free and low in sodium. A regular sized banana has about 95 calories. Some medications for controlling blood pressure deplete the body's storage of potassium. One banana eaten each day restores the balance of potassium. Recognized as an important part of the diet and to lower the chances of cancer, at least five servings daily of either fruits or vegetables are recommended. A recent study found that eating nine or ten daily servings of fruits and vegetables, combined with three servings of low-fat dairy products, were effective in lowering blood pressure.
Prized during the period of slavery, roasted green bananas were believed to provide "almost the sustenance of bread", according to the culinary historian, Luis de Camara Cascudo. Buddha named the banana to be the symbol of the futility of earthly possessions. The fruit from this tree is especially popular in Hawaiian cuisine. Brazilian cuisine enjoys this versatile popular fruit blended into beverages, roasted and ground into flour, boiled and mashed into purees, fried, baked or simply eaten raw out of hand.
Originally wild and native to Southeast Asia, banana "trees" are now cultivated in most humid tropical regions. Not really a tree by true definition, the banana actually grows on a herbaceous plant. Neither a tree nor a palm, the banana plant is actually a giant clumping tropical herb. Even more confusing, bananas are botanically a berry making them a fruit and an herb. An underground stem called a rhizome forms the banana plant's false "trunk" that produces large leaves. A flower spike emerges with several individual flowers which eventually produce the edible banana fruits. When Africa introduced Brazil to the banana plant, a local variety of banana called "pacova" had been growing in that part of the world. Even Ancient Egyptians enjoyed the culinary attributes of the Abyssinian banana, species Musa ensete, but more palatable bananas were discovered by early Europeans. By 1516, a small Chinese banana was taken to the Canary Islands from the East Indies and soon was cultivated for consumption. Popular for their sweet and wonderful flavor, many banana varieties flourished in tropical countries by the nineteenth century. Sadly, most of these early varieties are now extinct and just high-yielding commercial cultivars exist today. Ideal temperatures for growing bananas are between eighty degrees and ninety-six degrees Fahrenheit during the day and seventy-two degrees and eighty-four degrees Fahrenheit during the night.