Banana plants are mainly grown for their nutritious fruits. This herbaceous plant can be grown indoors and outdoors, if the necessary growth conditions are provided, and the plant is properly taken care of.
The name ‘banana’ is used both for the herbaceous plant and the fruits, produced by it. Banana plants are native to Southeast Asia, and are actually not trees. What appears to be the trunk, is a pseudostem, i.e., a false stem, made with concentric layers of tightly packed leaf sheaths.
Banana is the largest herbaceous flowering plant, which is mainly grown for its delicious fruits, though a few banana plants are also grown as ornamental plants, for their spirally arranged beautiful leaves and showy flowers.
Musa acuminata, and Musa balbisiana are the progenitors of almost all the modern bananas, cultivated for their seedless edible fruits. Musa × paradisiaca, a widely grown banana plant, is a hybrid between Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. On the other hand, Musa coccinea (scarlet banana), Musa velutina (pink banana), and Musa ornata, are the most commonly grown ornamental banana plants.
If you are considering to grow banana in your yard or as a houseplant, then the most important thing to keep in mind is that, this tropical plant requires plenty of sunlight, moisture, and a warm environment.
Banana is a rapidly growing herbaceous plant, with a strong and sturdy stem or stalk. The stalk is actually a pseudostem, which emerges from the underground rhizome or corm.
The pseudostem can reach a height of about 20 to 25 feet, with spirally arranged leaves. The leaves are broad and can spread up to 60 cm, while reaching a length of about 2.6 meters.
In the flowering season, a cluster of flowers can be found in the stalk, that remains covered with purplish bracts. As the fruiting season arrives, banana fruits grow in a hanging cluster, which is termed as a bunch. Soon after fruiting, the stalk dies and the next year, a new stalk grows from the corm.
How to Care for a Banana Plant
Banana plant care begins with the selection of a proper planting site. As mentioned already, it is a tropical plant and therefore, needs a lot of sunlight to thrive. So, choose a location that receives bright sunlight for about 12 hours in a day. Banana plants are very sensitive to sunlight and excessive intense sunlight during the summer days can burn them. So, if you have planted your banana plant in a place that receives lots of sunlight, protect the leaves by providing shade during summer.
You can also cover the fruits with a light cloth, to protect them from intense sunlight. The planting area should be large enough, so as to accommodate the size of a full-grown, mature plant. It is better to choose a wind-protected, sheltered area for planting it, if you don’t want its leaves to be torn apart by the wind. However, shredded leaves are not harmful for the plant and so, they need not be removed.
The next step is to prepare the soil. Well-drained and fertile soils, rich in organic matter, are ideal for growing banana plants. Soils that retain enough moisture, but at the same time, do not stay wet for a long time, can be considered the best type of soil for growing this plant. The soil pH should be between 5.5 to 7 for the healthy growth of a banana plant.
To prepare the soil for planting banana plant, first remove any weed and plant from the planting site.
After weeding, prepare the soil by applying organic matter, such as compost.
Be sure to water the site for a few days, prior to planting the banana plant.
After preparing the soil for planting, mound the soil up and dig a hole, which should be about 100 mm deeper than the pot that contained the plant. The diameter of the hole should be about 50cm.
You can add organic or inorganic fertilizer at the bottom, only if it is required. But, be sure to use only the recommended amount, as an excess of fertilizer may burn the roots.
After adding the compost to the soil, soak the root ball in water and massage it with one hand, after which place it in the hole and shovel some soil around the plant. Now, pat the soil around the base firmly. If the soil is dry, then water the plant.
Banana plants require heavy mulching, which helps retain water and moisture, inhibit the growth of weeds, and acidify the soil. When mulch breaks down, it releases nitrogen into the soil. You can use any vegetative waste, such as leaves, wood or bark chips, and even old banana leaves and the pruned off stalks of banana plant, as compost. However, dried leaves of oak tree are excellent for mulching banana plants, as this mulch is slightly acidic in nature.
The banana plant needs regular watering, but make sure that it does not sit in water. Standing water can rot the root of this plant. The best way is to check the top soil, before watering the banana plant. If the top inch of soil is dry, then water the plant. Banana plants grown in wet and shady places, require less water than those grown in sunny places. The water requirement of this plant will be less during the winter days.
Suckers are the new growths arising from the base of the plant or its roots. In case of banana plants, suckers may develop quite early, but it is important to control the population of suckers, if you want to get bigger bunches and healthier plants.
The suckers that appear before the mother plant reaches a height 2 m, should be cut off at the ground level, as they develop from a shallow point under the base of the mother plant.
The sucker that is suitable for the next crop is the sword sucker, which can be distinguished by its thin sword-like leaves. Such sword suckers emerge from a deeper point and hence, they are more stable. The suckers having fat leaves are water suckers, which usually do not produce healthy and big bunches of bananas.
The sucker that is suitable for your next crop is usually the one, that emerges approximately 5 months, after planting the mother plant. It is better to limit the number of pseudostem to three, one large, one medium-sized, and one baby pseudostem, if you want to encourage proper fruiting.
Fertilizers can be applied throughout the growing season. This fast growing plant needs a lot of nutrients. You can use both inorganic, as well as organic fertilizers for your banana plant. You can also use compost and well-composted manure. Potassium is very important for banana plant and so, a fertilizer high in potassium and comparatively low in nitrogen, is ideal for this plant. A balanced fertilizer can also be used, but the amount of nitrogen should be reduced at the time of flowering.
Banana plants need occasional pruning. So, remove the dead bottom leaves, when they turn brown. The dead banana leaves should be cut back to within a few inches of the main stalk. After harvesting, the pseudostem can be cut down to the ground.
Flowering Plant Care
Depending on the climate, a banana plant may take 9 months to a year, to produce flowers. In tropical climates, it usually takes place within 9 months from planting. The flowers normally appear between April to June, in a long pendulous stalk. The first clusters are female flowers, which develop into clusters of fruits called hands. Several tiers of hands appear on the stalk, and together they are called a bunch. The inflorescence contains many purple-colored bracts between the rows of flowers.
After the emergence of several hands (fruits), the stalk will continue to grow, but produce only male flowers, which are sterile. The female flowers are those found near the leaves, above the stalk, while the male flowers appear down the stalk. After the appearance of the last hand, you can cut down the flower stalk just below the bunch of developing bananas. It is also recommended to remove the bottom rows of hands, which are much smaller than the other hands, as they are more likely to wilt.
When the banana fruits start growing in size, you can protect the bunch from birds and squirrel by covering it with a plastic sack. This will also help retain heat and ethylene oxide released by the fruit, which in turn, will promote ripening. Tie the sack round the bunch stem and be sure to keep the bottom end open, or make holes at the bottom.
Usually, the fruits take four to six months to grow fully.
The fruits should be harvested when they reach the full size, but are still green. They may split, If left to ripen on the stalk. The fruit stalk should be cut close to the main stalk and then hung in a warm and shady place, till the bananas ripen.
As winter approaches, your banana tree will need some extra care and protection. The ideal temperature for growing banana plant is 79 to 82 degree Fahrenheit, while the growth of the plant comes to a halt at about 50 degree Fahrenheit. The plant parts above the ground can die at a temperature below 28 degree Fahrenheit. During winter, the banana plant should be watered less frequently. Keeping the ground moist is enough during this period. Fertilization is usually not required during winter.
If place where banana is planted gets light frost, you can wrap or cover the main stalk with a blanket or plastic mesh. Before covering the plant, check for the presence of pest and remove all the leaves. Now, wrap the stalk with the mesh or blanket, leaving some space around the stalk. Fill this space with dried leaves or straw and secure the mesh or blanket with strings. Now, add mulch around the base of the main stalk, in order to insulate it from cold.
If your banana plant has produced fruits and you have harvested them, then you can cut down the stalk to the ground and then cover it with mulch, to protect the root or corm from winter.
Caring for Indoor Banana Plant
If you want to grow banana as a houseplant, then it is better to opt for a dwarf variety, as normal varieties can grow really big, to be accommodated inside your house.
To grow a banana plant inside, first of all you will need a pot, large and deep enough to accommodate its roots. The soil should be fertile with pH levels between 5.5 to 7, and also well-drained.
Like outdoor banana plants, an indoor plant also requires bright sunlight for about 12 hours. So, keep it in a place that receives enough sunlight.
Indoor banana plants need hot and humid conditions to thrive properly. The ideal temperature for growing this houseplant is 80 degree Fahrenheit during the day and about 67 degree Fahrenheit in the night.
Indoor banana plants would also require lots of water during the growing season. But, standing water can rot the root. So, ensure proper drainage for the bananas grown in pots, and allow the top inch of soil to dry before watering. Misting should be done regularly to keep them well-hydrated, and also to remove dust from the surface of the leaves.
During summer, the banana plant can be moved outdoor. But, during winter, it should be brought inside to protect it from cold, especially when the temperature falls below 28 degree Fahrenheit. For moving the plant easily, you can use a rolling stand.
Like outdoor plants, the indoor banana plants can be fertilized during the growing season, usually while watering the plants.
By growing banana plants, you can add that exotic tropical aura to your landscape. Apart from being a beautiful plant with lush green foliage, a banana plant produces fruits, that not only have a delectable taste, but are also known for their nutritional value. So, you can grow banana plants, both for their ornamental value, as well as for their delicious fruits.