Bananas are one of my favorite plants to use in the landscape. Their large leaves can help give you the privacy you need around sitting areas, swimming pools, and lanais. When used as a specimen plant, bananas can also be very attractive and add that tropical look to your landscape. Some varieties grow large and stately while others are short and stocky. If you combine these attributes with the fact that many varieties of bananas will also produce a delicious fruit you can enjoy, then you have a winner for the garden. This article will go over some of my favorite varieties and how to care for bananas.
Photo by Bananas.org
I must start with the banana I grow and recommend as one of my favorites. The Mahoi or “double” banana tops my list of the edible varieties and lowest maintenance. After the first bunch of bananas are born on the initial plant you purchase, the suckers produced at the bottom of the mother plant will grow up and eventually produce two sets of bananas (sometimes three) on the same plant. This usually occurs about eighteen months after the initial plant you flowers and dies. The Mahoi is also dwarf banana growing to a height of about 6 feet tall with gorgeous wide leaves. These small banana trees provide the perfect screen for small patio areas and never get to high as to obstruct power lines. Because of their size they are easier to maintain than some of the larger varieties. Their thick trunks support the fruit once the plant goes into bloom so you never have to worry about the tree falling over because of the weight of the bananas. After you harvest the bananas, the main trunk is cut down and the suckers which form at the base will become your next years crop.
Lady finger bananas are an old time favorite. These common bananas are available at many local nursery and garden centers and can grow to a height of 12-16 feet tall. Multiple hands of bananas are formed under the bright purple flower which forms in about 18 months. Lady Finger bananas are cigar shaped and thin skinned. These sweet bananas are a favorite of many backyard growers and when planted with some of the dwarf varieties of bananas or comingled with an ornamental banana such as the Red Abyssinian banana (Ensete maurelii) your garden will light up with color.
Photo by Bananas.org
One of the newest bananas on the market today is the FHIA 17. This rare banana is a very large grower. Heights of 12-14 feet are common and the bananas are very large for our area with some of the banana stems taking several people to hold up at one time. Average production of this plant is between 100-200 pounds of bananas per tree. These bananas are heavy feeders so be prepared to fertilize every two months for best results. Currently there are only a few providers of this amazing banana (bananas.org carries them) but those of you that can not find it can call me for details on where to pick up a specimen plant for your yard.
Caring for bananas is relatively easy. Once you purchase your banana you should improve your soil with the addition of Black Kow and compost. Make sure you loosen the soil with a sharp shovel first then add these components and mix thoroughly. Plant your banana in full sun for best results and mulch your plants heavily. Water your new plants well every day for the first few weeks to allow your bananas to establish themselves. Plant your bananas at the same height as they were in the pot and then use several inches (up to a foot) of mulch or grass clippings around your plants. As the plants grow I continue to add grass clippings and additional mulch on a regular basis. You will find that the more mulch and compost you use around your bananas the bigger the stems will be and the suckers which grow from the base of the mother plants will grow even better then the mother plant.
Bananas are like grass so make sure you feed them regularly. A common lawn fertilizer like an 8-10-10 is sufficient but make sure you spread the fertilizer out evenly. Use a hand held spreader and apply at least a couple of pounds of fertilizer every two months around your plants. Water is also very important. Make sure you water often and deeply. You do not want your plants to sit in water but also do not let them dry out.
Bananas usually produce their fruit in about 12-16 months after planting. The first sign you will need to look for once your plants attain their mature height is the flowering. Look at the center of the plant and you may notice a purple flower emerging. This flower will elongate and expose the first flowers which are the male flowers. No bananas will form from these but be patient, the next flowers will be the females and the bananas will form behind these flowers. You will notice several hands of bananas will form as the stem elongates. Once all the hands are formed, you can cut the blue flower off the stem. This flower only adds weight to the plant and is of no use once the hands are formed. Some trees, especially the larger trees may benefit from support in the form of poles to hold up the stem. A 2X4 piece of wood will suffice to keep the stem from folding over due to the weight of the bananas.
As the bananas are first formed they will have a box looking appearance. Once the bananas lose their box ridges and start to round out, check them regularly as they will start to ripen quickly. Look for a slight color change of the fruit after about two to two and a half months from bloom. If they start changing color you will need to harvest them immediately. Cut off the entire stalk with a sharp knife. Once the banana stalk is cut the cut end will ooze a clear sticky substance. Try not to get this on your clothing as this sticky substance will stain. Place cut bananas in a cool dry place to start the ripening process. Unfortunately, as the bananas start to ripen, all the bananas ripen so be prepared to eat them or make some banana bread!
Photos by Banana.org
I hope you enjoy using bananas to enhance the tropical look of your landscape and do not forget, if you take care of them they will take care of you by giving you back bananas you can use for your dining table. I hope you enjoyed this section on Bananas. Thank you for your support and remember, without plants we wouldn’t be here!