Once considered an exotic delicacy today the banana is one of the world’s most popular fruits. This popularity is largely due to the fruit’s delicious flavor and creamy texture. They are also packed with nutrients such as potassium and vitamin C.
A popular choice at the grocery store, but did you know you can also learn how to grow bananas? You may be mistaken for thinking that these plants can only be grown in warm or tropical environments. In fact, almost anyone can learn how to grow bananas.
If you want to learn how to grow bananas, this guide is designed to take you through every step of the process from selecting the right variety for your garden to planting and harvesting. This is your complete guide to how to grow bananas.
These are ornamentally attractive and productive plants.
What are Banana Plants?
A perennial herb, the banana plant actually belongs to the ginger plant family.
Similar to potatoes, banana plants grow from rhizomes. Herbaceous perennials, a banana plant can, with the right care, grow from a young plant to a tree-like specimen in just a single season.
Surprisingly, the trunk of the banana plant is not woody. It is actually a hollow tube that is made up of a series of overlapping stalks, these grow up and around each other to form the tube. As the plant grows, new leaves form at the center of the trunk, these push the older leaves up and out.
The trunk is made from overlapping stalks.
As the plants mature, flowering stalks protrude from the center of the trunk. Depending on the variety, it can take up to 9 months for flowering stalks to produce hands of bananas.
Banana plants have long been domesticated. During this period, regular crossing of varieties and selective breeding has produced 2 main types of banana:
- Musa acuminata,
- Musa balbisiana.
Musa acuminata is the sweet, dessert banana. The more common variety, the fruits of Musa acuminata are typically yellow in color and 7 to 9 inches long.
Musa balbisiana is the starchier cooking banana. Larger than the sweet bananas and with a thick, yellow skin these fruits have to be cooked before they are edible. Once prepared they have a mildly sweet flavor which is similar to winter squash.
Both varieties can be grown by home gardeners. Commonly grown outside, you can also grow bananas as a houseplant in a large container. Whichever type you choose to cultivate, these are surprisingly easy plants to cultivate, as long as you can provide the right conditions.
If you are able to provide lots of natural light and protection from colder temperatures you can learn how to grow bananas.
The plants do well in warm, light positions.
If you decide to grow bananas as a houseplant, be warned it is unlikely to produce edible fruit.
What Varieties of Banana Can I Grow?
There are over a thousand different types of banana plant. A number of these are suitable for growing at home or in the garden. Some of the most popular for growing at home include:
- Cavendish, often sold in shops, are productive plants which tend to produce large, heavy bunches. A more compact option is Dwarf Cavendish. This achieves a height of 4 to 7 ft and is resistant to Panama Wilt disease.
- Musa Basjoo, the Cold Hardy or Japanese banana, this variety tolerates temperatures as low as 6 ℉.
- Plantains, also known as cooking bananas, have a dry, starchy flesh meaning that you can use them like potatoes.
- Gros Michel is a variety that is popular for its flavor. Gros Michel types require more heat than other types.
- Lady Fingers is a tall, slender variety that is commonly grown as an ornamental plant. It produces sweet fruit.
- Cuban Red is a cooking banana with distinctive red skin and orange-cream flesh.
- Ice Cream, also known as Blue Java, produces flavorful bluish fruit.
- Orinoco is a cooking banana with a good flavor.
- Williams is a reliable dessert banana choice.
- Popoulu is a cooking banana which produces plump fruit with salmon-pink flesh. This variety is best planted in a humid area.
If you don’t have the outdoor space, you can also grow fruit trees indoors. Varieties of banana suitable for indoor cultivation include Dwarf Lady Finger and Super Dwarf Cavendish.
Small and dwarf varieties grow well in pots.
Where to Grow Bananas
Finding a favorable growing or planting position makes learning how to grow bananas a pleasingly straightforward task. In good conditions, the plant’s fleshy stalks, which are sheathed with large broad leaves, can grow 5 to 25 ft tall within 6 months. How quickly and how large the plant grows depends on the variety that you have chosen.
Banana plants grow best in humid, tropical climates. Growers in North America can cultivate the plants outside in USDA Planting Zones 9 to 11. Some cold hardy varieties can be grown in USDA Zones as low as 5 with some protection. However, most growers in cooler climates will enjoy more success learning how to grow bananas indoors or in a heated greenhouse.
The best temperature for a growing banana plant is 78 to 86 ℉. When in fruit, the plants require temperatures to average around 80 ℉ during the day and 70 ℉ at night.
Banana plants require exposure to 10 to 15 months of frost-free weather before they can produce a flower stalk. Most types stop growing when temperatures fall below 57 ℉. Exposure to frost or freezing temperatures can kill the foliage.
In hot weather, temperatures constantly measuring over 80 ℉, the growth rate of banana plants slows. Growth ceases completely when temperatures exceed 100 ℉. During hot spells you need to water your plants more frequently to prevent them from drying out.
A constant humidity of around 50% and 12 hours of light each day is also optimal. While bananas can fruit in less than optimal conditions the fruit won’t be as large or as flavorsome.
One of the most important things to remember when learning how to grow bananas is that they grow best in full sun. However, too much direct light can scorch the fruit and leaves. Some varieties are best planted in partial shade.
Too much sun can burn the leaves.
Your potting medium should be rich, loamy and well draining. Working compost or aged chicken manure into your soil before planting helps your bananas to grow. A soil rich in nitrogen and potassium is ideal. The soil pH level should be between 5.5 and 6.5. The plants also tolerate salty soil well.
If you are growing outside, your chosen position should also have some protection from the wind. As they grow bananas are susceptible to wind damage. The plants can be blown over or uprooted in exposed, windy positions.
If possible, it is best to grow bananas in blocks or clumps of several plants such as 5 rows of 5 plants, spaced around 5 ft apart. Block planting a group of shallow-rooted plants enables them to support each other. It also naturally raises humidity levels around the plants. Those in the center benefit most from this style of planting. They also tend to produce the best fruit.
Don’t worry if you haven’t got the space to block plant. You can grow individual banana plants individually just as successfully.
Finally, when choosing your planting position, take into account the size and spread of the plant. As the plant grows it spreads out and may block light from reaching smaller specimens. Do not plant tall plants underneath overhead cables.
How to Plant
Planting correctly is an important part of learning how to grow bananas.
Banana plants are usually sold as semi-dormant rhizomes. They can also be sold as container-grown suckers.
If you purchase a rhizome, or rootstalk, you will notice that it has buds similar to potato eyes. From these roots form.
To plant your rhizome, dig a hole roughly 1 ft deep. It should be large enough to comfortably hold the banana plant rhizome. Do not dig too deeply. You are aiming to plant the rhizome close to the surface.
Work some perlite into the base of the hole. This helps to improve drainage around the plant. You can also work perlite into the soil as you backfill the hole.
Your soil should be well draining.
Place in the rhizome hole. The buds should all be below soil level. When you are happy with the position of the rhizome, backfill the hole. Water the rhizome well.
Once settled the rhizome starts to send out roots. It also sends up shoots
Banana Plant Suckers
Suckers are sold in pots, ready for transplanting into your garden. You can also, if you have a mature banana tree, harvest your own.
As the banana plant grows, suckers emerge around the base of the plant. These can be harvested from the main plant when they are around 3 to 4 ft tall and have developed small, spear-shaped leaves.
Use a sharp spade or shovel to cut downwards, separating the sucker from the mother plant. The sucker needs to have roots for it to be viable.
If you make a division that has no leafy growth, allow the surface of the rhizome to dry out for a few days before planting.
Dig a hole large enough to hold the sucker. Again, work in perlite and compost to help enrich the soil and improve drainage. Aim to plant the sucker at the same level it sat at when attached to the mother plant.
If you are planting more than one banana plant, space them 5 to 6 ft apart. Larger varieties may require more room. Space your banana plants 13 to 15 ft from other trees or shrubs. This helps to ensure that your banana plants aren’t competing with other plants for vital nutrients and moisture.
Growing in groups helps to protect the plants.
Planting in Pots
Growers outside of the warmest USDA Zones are best learning how to grow dwarf varieties of bananas in pots. Placing the pot on a Nefish Metal Plant Caddy with Wheels enables you to move the plant outside for the spring and summer months before returning it to a sheltered position in the fall.
Your pot should be at least 70 liters or 15 gallons in size and have plenty of drainage holes. The diameter and depth should be at least 24 inches. VIVOSUN 15 Gallon Plant Grow Bags can also be used. These are made from a durable fabric which helps to promote drainage.
Water well after planting to help the banana settle into its new home.
Plants growing in pots require more regular watering and feeding than those in the ground. You will also need to repot the plant every 2 to 3 years to keep it healthy and active.
Planting in a Greenhouse
Another option, if you live in a cooler climate, is to learn how to grow bananas in a greenhouse. Dwarf varieties are compact specimens, ideal for indoor cultivation and still fruit well.
Again, plant as described above in a rich, well draining compost, and water regularly. As long as the plants have enough space and sun they will thrive.
How to Care for A Banana Tree
Once planted the next step of learning how to grow bananas is learning how to properly care for the plants. The aim is to keep your plants healthy and happy enough that they mature and produce fruit.
Rich, green leaves are a sign that your plant is well cared for.
When to Water
Knowing when to water is one of the most difficult parts of learning how to grow bananas. Underwatering can kill the plant. Too much causes the roots to rot and also kills the plant.
Aim to keep the soil lightly moist or damp. If the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch, it is time to water your plant.
Plants that are yet to develop a lot of foliage are particularly sensitive to overwatering. Banana plant leaves help excess moisture to evaporate. Too few leaves can cause excess moisture to hang around, keeping the soil soggy and potentially drowning the plant.
In warmer weather you will need to water the plant frequently. During the cooler, damper months the plants require less frequent watering.
How to Fertilize
The banana plant is a heavy feeding specimen. Fertilize once a month with a balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 fertilizer. A fertilizer slightly higher in phosphorus, such as a 8-10-8 fertilizer can also be used.
How much fertilizer you apply depends on the product you are using and the age of your plant. Mature plants can need as much as 2 pounds of fertilizer a month. Younger plants require about half a pound.
Once the plants go dormant in the fall and growth ceases, stop fertilizing. Resume again the following spring when new growth emerges.
Plants growing in pots can be given a light dose of fish emulsion such as Neptune’s Harvest Fertilizer, once a month.
When fertilizing your plants, focus on the soil. Do not let the fertilizer contact the plant or trunk.
Plants require more fertilizer as they grow.
How to Prune
An important part of learning how to grow bananas is keeping the plants looking neat and tidy. An overgrown plant is rarely productive.
As the plants grow suckers emerge from the base. Suckers are small plants that grow from the same rhizome as the main plant. These should be removed as and when you notice them.
If your current plant is over 6 months old allow one sucker to develop. After the main stem has finished fruiting it dies back. The sucker grows in its place ready to produce a new crop.
You can also separate the suckers from the new plant and pot on to create extra plants.
If several stems emerge from the rhizome allow only the strongest to remain. Pruning the others away as they develop forces the plant to focus its energy on fruit production.
After harvest, cut the fruiting stalk back to roughly 30 inches above the ground. From here the stub dies back and can be lifted. It is common for leafy trunk growth to die back once fruiting has finished. This can be cleaned away and placed on the compost heap. New growth emerges the following year.
How to Support Growing Plants
Bananas that grow in sheltered spots are unlikely to require support. In more exposed positions you can help the plants to stay upright with a Mininfa Eco-Friendly Bamboo Cane.
Plants become top heavy as fruits develop.
As the plants start to fruit they become top heavy. This can cause them to lean or bend. To prevent them from snapping, prop up the plants with a bamboo stake or long piece of wood.
If you grow bananas in pots, move them inside as the temperatures start to fall.
In areas that enjoy mild winters, where temperatures are unlikely to fall below 23 ℉, the plants can remain outside or in a greenhouse. Once the foliage has died back, cover the stem with a Conmacro Frost Protection Blanket or horticultural fleece.
You can also lift the plants and replant in a pot for the winter. To do this, begin by cutting back the plant. This makes it easier to lift and handle.
Plant in a large pot filled with moist, fresh potting soil and store undercover. Replant outside in the spring once both the soil and air temperatures have warmed up.
How to Harvest
Fruit is usually ready for harvest 15 to 18 months after planting.
A purple flower can appear as soon as 6 months into the growing season. Do not remove any of the leaves from around it. These protect the flower and the fruit from the sun.
The purple flower of the banana plant.
After a few months the petals withdraw or fade away to reveal bananas. At this point any remaining petals or flower buds can be removed. This encourages the plant to focus its energy on fruit production. Continue to water plants regularly during this period.
Once the bananas are well-rounded and have developed visible ribs you can start to harvest them. At this stage the small flowers at the end of the fruit should be dry. They can now be brushed from the fruit.
Cut bananas away from the plant while they are still green. Allowing fruit to ripen on the plant can cause them to rot. Harvesting green fruit speeds up the ripening process and also improves the flavor.
In cooler climates, covering the ripening fruit with a brown paper bag helps to raise temperatures around the fruit. This speeds up ripening and also protects the plant from sunburn.
Hang your green banana hands in a cool shaded location to finish ripening. Usually all the fingers ripen at the same time.
Hands form on the plant.
How to Store Fruit
A single large banana plant can produce up to 240 bananas. While your plant may not be that productive, you may still find yourself with a glut of fruit.
Store your bananas somewhere cool, around 53 ℉. Here the fruit keeps for 2 to 3 weeks. Don’t place the fruit in too warm a position because it will continue to ripen.
Store the fruit in a cool location.
As the fruit ripens a gas called ethylene is released. This speeds up the ripening process.
To prevent fruit from ripening too quickly you need to slow down how much ethylene is released. One way to do this is to separate the bananas and wrap them up individually. Make sure that the stem as well as the fruit is covered. Be careful not to bruise the fruit, which can cause them to rot, as you do this. Store the wrapped fruit by hanging.
To speed up ripening, store the fruit in a plastic bag. This traps the ethylene gas, speeding up the ripening process.
You can also freeze your fruit. Peel and slice or puree before freezing. Frozen bananas retain their flavor for around 6 months.
How to Treat and Prevent Banana Plant Diseases and Problems
When learning how to grow bananas there are a number of issues that you need to be aware of. Providing the optimal growing conditions helps to prevent serious problems from developing.
Growing undercover protects plants from cold temperatures.
Do not expose your plants to cold temperatures. Banana plants stop growing when temperatures fall below 57 ℉. The skins can also turn gray-brown and leaves yellow if temperatures become too cold.
Frost exposure kills leafy growth. The rhizome can survive a frost and may send up new shoots the following year.
Root rot is often caused by overwatering your plants. Like Crown rot it often develops in soil that is slow to drain. Planting in a well draining soil and watering correctly helps to prevent rot issues from developing. A soil moisture sensor is a useful investment to help you work out exactly when to water your plants.
Root rot can also be caused by planting, or allowing plants to sit in cold soil. Mulching the soil helps to keep the rhizome warm.
Snails often climb into the plants and eat the foliage.
Check the foliage for snail damage.
Panama disease or wilt causes leaves to yellow. A fusarium fungal disease, this infection can kill plants. Should you notice any signs of disease, treat the affected foliage with a fungicide.
Bacterial leaf spot causes yellow patches to develop on leaves. As these spots darken the leaves die. Cut away diseased foliage and destroy. Do not place diseased leaves or plants on your compost pile. Bacterial leaf spot is most commonly caused by planting in soil that is poor to drain. Ensure that you plant in a well draining soil.
Anthracnose is another fungal disease. This can cause leaves and fruit to turn black. Should you notice any signs of Anthracnose, treat the plant with Earth’s Ally Fungicide. Again, Anthracnose is unlikely to develop in well draining soil.
Banana weevils like to tunnel into the root and stem of the plant. Treat plants with Natural Guard Spinosad Soap and cut away any infected stems and foliage.
Thrips like to feed on the peel and flowers of young bananas. They can cause the fruit to crack or split and can also turn the affected areas rough or rusty. Insecticidal soap or neem oil can be used to treat infestations.
Mealy bugs are common on indoor or greenhouse plants. Causing a cottony-wax substance to form on the leaves, dabbing the insects with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol is a good way to get rid of them. You can also use insecticidal soap or neem oil to treat infestations.
How to Propagate Banana Plants
As we have already noted, as they grow bananas develop suckers around the base of the plant. These can be separated and planted on as individual plants.
You can also learn how to grow bananas from seed.
Commercially produced fruit is usually seedless. If seeds are present in the fruit, they are probably sterile.
However, you can learn how to grow wild bananas from seed. While these are often sweeter than commercially produced banana fruits, they do contain a lot of hard seeds. This can make it hard to chew the fruit.
Before sowing the viable seeds, soak them in water for 24 to 48 hours. This helps to soften the protective shell and break the seeds dormancy.
Keep the soil moist. Banana seeds are more likely to germinate in damp soil.
The temperature around the seeds should be at least 60 ℉ to encourage germination. Placing the seed tray on a VIVOSUN Seedling Heat Map helps to maintain temperatures and promote germination.
Growing from seed is a slow process.Each variety of banana plant germinates at a different speed. Some can germinate within 3 weeks while others take a few months.
Following germination continue to care for the seedlings, keeping the soil moist and the plants warm. Once they are large enough, harden off the plants before transplanting into the final growing position. It can take a few years before they produce a viable harvest.
Learning how to grow bananas is a deeply rewarding process. As well as providing lots of ornamental interest thanks to the plant’s large, tropical leaves, just one plant can produce a heavy crop of delicious fruit. Now that you know how easy it is to learn how to grow bananas, why not give it a try for yourself?
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.