The Q&A Archives: Banana Plants

Question: my daughter lives in Van Nuys, Ca. and has huge banana plants and has no idea how to care for them. The big fruit stems are forming. Wow, what an interesting plant. Any advice?

Answer: Bananas are fast-growing, upright herbaceous plants that sprout from underground rhizomes. The leaves are huge, and attach to the fleshy stalks by short petioles. Seedless fruits develop without pollination from unisexual flowers grown in a single large cluster. Some varieties grow over 25? tall before flowering and dying back to the ground; other, dwarf varieties, get no more than 7? tall.

Banana plants do best in full sun and require a constantly moist, but not flooded, soil, rich in humus and composted organic matter. The pH should be 5.5-6.5.

These plants are hardy in USDA Zones 8-11. Bananas require 10 to 15 months of frost-free weather to produce a flower stalk, and then another 4 to 8 months to ripen fruit. Temperatures below freezing will kill the foliage to the ground. The rhizomes, hardy to 22? F or lower, will send up new shoots when the weather warms again. Outside the tropics, bananas have no pests or diseases, but they should be planted where strong winds won?t topple them.

Bananas are propagated from pieces of rhizome, or from suckers, called pups. Allow only one shoot to grow from the rhizome until it is six to eight months old, then let another shoot develop for next season?s stalk. Use the surplus suckers to propagate additional plants. Bananas are very heavy feeders, and during the summer a mature plant requires as much as 2 lbs. of 6% N every month. After the fruit is harvested, cut the stalk back to the ground, chop it up and use it as mulch. If cold weather threatens, a banana plant can be protected by covering it with a blanket or tarp and burning a light bulb inside the tent.

Hope your daughter enjoys her garden!

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