Want to hear something bananas? Banana “trees” aren’t trees at all but rather very large herbs! This classification is due to the fact that their stems don’t possess the type of woody tissue that makes a tree a tree and that they’re propagated from corms instead of seeds or cuttings. This plant can reach heights of 25′, and most varieties will produce large green leaves that unfurl in a spiral pattern from the top of the tree in warm weather. The banana fruit itself grows from the beautiful female flowers of this plant, and fruits are harvested when still green and allowed to ripen off the vine. A tropical plant, it’s not recommended that those living in USDA Zones 7 or lower attempt to grow this plant outdoors; however, the dwarf varieties will do quite well indoors if planted in deep pots with drainage holes.
The yellow, seedless varieties of banana with tender white flesh that are found in grocery stores across the US are considered members of the Cavendish subgroup. This group of bananas includes varieties such as the Dwarf and Giant Cavendish as well as the Grand Nain or Chiquita banana. While these aren’t the only types of edible bananas out there, they’re favored by commercial producers as the flesh tends to have a sweeter flavor than other types of banana and they’re totally seedless.
Seed: Banana plants do not grow from seed.
Vegetative: Commonly propagated via corms or suckers.
Corm/Sucker Depth: 1–1.5′
Space Between Plants: 8–10′
Space Between Rows: 8–10′
Sow Indoors: Plant indoors at any time as long as temperatures are kept between 65–80°F.
Sow Outdoors: Plant when temperatures are around 80°F during the day and in the high 60s to low 70s in the evenings.
Prefers tropical to subtropical climates of approximately 80°F but does not care for prolonged periods of extreme heat (i.e., 90°F and above). While temperature is important for banana plants, humidity and rainfall are perhaps even more crucial to their growth. Plants will not do well in areas that have a dry season which lasts more than 3–4 months, so consider planting in a greenhouse if you live in a region with little rainfall. This is also a good suggestion for those who live in regions with extremely high winds that may topple the entire plant.
Natural: Prefers full sun but will tolerate partial shade in extreme heat.
Artificial: Requires long days of sunlight for proper growth, so aim for 12 hours a day. HID lamps will provide adequate lighting for your banana plant. Be sure to keep tops of plants at least 6″ away from the bulbs to prevent burning.
Soil: Prefers rich, loamy soils with good drainage but will tolerate moderate levels of clay and/or sand if you mix in lots of organic compost prior to planting.
Soilless: Will grow well in most soilless mixes but prefers ones that contain perlite and peatmoss. Add potassium nitrate to your mix to encourage fruit growth.
Hydroponics: Dwarf Cavendish varieties in particular will thrive in hydroponic systems such as an NFT system.
Water: Requires high levels of water. If you live in an area with lots of precipitation, this may be adequate for keeping your plants healthy; however, check regularly to make sure that the soil around your plant does not dry more than 1/2″ below soil level.
Nutrients: This plant is a heavy feeder and will benefit from fertilization and nourishment both prior to planting and after. If planting outdoors, add a rich organic compost to the soil prior to planting and mix in with your regular soil. Add a compost, chicken manure, or a balanced fertilizer of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium around the plant immediately after planting and every month thereafter.
Foliar: Some research has shown that banana plants respond well to the occasional application of urea-based foliars.
Pruning: While this plant does not require extensive pruning, you should remove old or sickly looking leaves to promote new growth. Remove excess young suckers and especially those with larger leaves to encourage growth in established foliage and flowers. Also remove suckers from the main stem after they have produced fruit.
Mulching: Apply a natural mulch such as sawdust or even old (but not diseased!) banana leaves 1–2′ away from the base of the plant to help with water retention and keeping soil levels cool in hotter climates.
Deficiency(s): A split corm may indicate too much sodium in your water. If experiencing small fruit development, your soil may be deficient in potassium, a vital nutrient for healthy banana production. Applying potassium pellets, or prill, can help remedy this issue.
Rotation: Rotation of banana plants with sugar cane and sweet potato has been shown to improve soil quality on commercial operations.
Companions: Grows well with sweet potatoes, pole beans, cardamom, lemon grass, castor beans, and coffee trees.
Harvest: Harvest bananas when the flowers on the ends have dried and fall off easily. The bananas themselves will be firm but give a little when pressed and sport a yellow tint, although they don’t need to be fully yellow before being picked. Bananas also have a ridge on their skin that will disappear when they are ready to be harvested. Pick bananas one at a time or cut off the whole bunch, but be prepared for them to all ripen at once if you decide to cut the bunch down!
Storage: Can be refrigerated to delay the ripening process (will keep for up to two weeks). On the counter, bananas will keep for about a week.
Fun Fact: Not only do banana plants produce tasty and nutritious fruits, the stalks can be used for a wide variety of purposes as well. Fibers taken from the stalks are both durable and flexible and are used in different parts of the world for making clothing, household goods such as rugs, and even paper.
Preserve: Can be peeled and frozen whole or pureed and frozen.
Prepare: Although most commonly eaten raw, bananas may also be mashed and incorporated into breads, muffins, and ice creams. If you have access to a dehydrator, banana chips are also a great (and delicious!) way to preserve this fruit.
Nutritional: This plant produces fruit that is low in calories, sodium, and cholesterol and high in potassium, manganese, and fiber as well as vitamin(s) B6 and C.
Medicinal: Some studies have suggested that bananas can help contribute to overall heart health, reduce the risk of certain cancers (e.g., colorectal), and potentially help prevent asthma in young children. Due to its high levels of potassium, it can also help prevent muscle cramping and the formation of kidney stones.
Warnings: If you use beta-blocker medications or have kidney problems speak to your doctor before consuming foods high in potassium, including bananas.
Who says a healthy diet and delicious foods don’t go together? Check out these tasty, vegan, Banana and Chocolate Breakfast Bars for a snack that’s good for your body as well as your taste buds.