Go Bananas!

Barb Stauffer, Pinellas County Master Gardener

Theresa Badurek, UF/IFAS Extension, Pinellas County

Ian Maguire 2

Photo: Ian Maguire, UF/TREC

Ian Mcguire 1

Photo: Ian Maguire, UF/TREC

Many banana trees have large stalks of fruit now. It takes from 2 1/2 to 6 months for the bananas to mature depending upon temperatures, cultivar and cultural practices. If you don’t already have bananas growing in your landscape, now is the time to plan adding them in the spring. Plant them in June when summer rains begin. Read on to learn more about going (ahem, growing) bananas.

The banana is native to Southeast Asia and has been grown in various locations throughout Florida since it was introduced during the 16th century. Banana cultivars grown today are mainly hybrids of the two species: Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana which belong to the Family: Musaceae. They vary greatly in plant and fruit size. Banana plants grow vigorously and can be used for both ornamental and edible purposes.

 Ornamental and cold tolerant varieties: 

  • Japanese Fiber Banana (Musa basjoo)
  • Black Thai (Musa balbisiana)
  • Pink Velvet Banana (Musa velutina)

Some cultivars for eating include:

  • ‘Ladys Finger ‘
  • ‘Apple’
  • ‘Ice Cream’
  • ‘Dwarf Cavendish’

Please refer to Banana Growing in the Florida Home Landscape for other cultivars and more information.

 Description

Banana plants grow from six feet (dwarf species) to over 30 feet in height. They have large, fleshy, upright stalks which are topped with soft, smooth, arching leaves. They produce flowers that are covered by purplish-to-greenish fleshy bracts, which turn into clusters of fruits, called “hands”. These clusters of upwardly, pointing green fruit mature to a lovely yellow. Each year the banana’s rhizomatous root system puts up new stalks. The stalk emerges from the center of the pseudostem (upright, trunk-like structure) 10 to 15 months after planting.

Planting

Ideal conditions for Bananas include:

  • well-drained soils (many cultivars perform well on sandy soils)
  • high organic matter
  • pH of 5.5-7.0
  • good soil drainage- no soggy areas for extensive amounts of time
  • full sun – will tolerate light shade
  • warm areas that do not flood (or remain wet)
  • wind-protected location
  • areas away from other trees, structures, and power lines
  • turfgrass free area – (injured by lawn mowers and weed eaters)
  • warm to hot temperatures:
    • 78-820 F for plant growth
    • 84-860 F for fruit growth
    • 50-600 F – growth slows and stops

Care

The first 3 to 4 months of development determine the quality of the bananas.  It is essential to provide the best care during this period. It is suggested to limit the plant to three or four stalks of different ages: (1) oldest, tallest stalk – flowering and/or fruiting, (2) one-half to one-third the size of the first stalk, and (3) one or two young stalks – six inches to three feet tall. Bananas require frequent fertilization (4 to 6 times) and regular watering (one to one and a half inches of water/week). Not enough water can slow fruiting, produce inferior fruit, or result in low yields. Overwatering with continuously wet soils is harmful. Mulch with well-draining organic mulch for weed control and never use any systemic herbicides in the trunk area.

The banana stalk produces fruit only once.  After harvesting the bananas, cut off the stalk at the base and chop it into small pieces.  Leave them on the ground as mulch or compost them.

Harvesting

From the time the stalk appears from an established plant to fruit harvest depends on the temperature, cultivar, soil moisture, and cultural practices, ranging from 80 to 180 days.  Banana bunches can be harvested when the fingers are plump but before they begin to turn yellow – possibly 7 to 14 days prior to ripening on the plant. Hanging the fruit in a shady, cool place to ripen seems to allow for better flavor.  After producing fruit, that stem will die. Carefully cut out the old pseudostem and watch out for “banana blood”, clear sap that comes out of the stems.  It dries a reddish-brown color that can stain clothing and concrete.

Nutrition

Bananas are low in sodium and rich in potassium. They also have small amounts of calcium, copper, iodine, iron, phosphorous, zinc and vitamins A, B, and C. A medium banana contains:

  • 90 calories
  • 350 milligrams of potassium
  • 1 gram of protein
  • 23 grams of carbohydrates
  • trace amount of fat

Source: USDA National Nutrient Database

For food safety during preparation and recipes visit: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/HE/HE60700.pdf

Now go BANANAS!!