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BANANAS

The Banana Tree is actually a herbaceous plant.

Banana Trees grow very rapidly under good conditions and reach maturity in one season, in the Houston, Texas area. They can bear bananas the first year, but usually they need a year to build up not only one Banana Tree trunk, but a number of smaller trunks immediately around the bottom and some suckers. All of these contribute to nourish the largest tree, which will then blossom, produce bananas and then this trunk dies.

Bananas have broad, long, graceful leaves of dark green which may be a foot or more across. The leaves stay in one flat sheet, unless there are strong winds in which case the leaves tatter. The tears are from the edges to the central part of the leaf stem. The tearing does not seem to affect much the leaves ability to function as the leaves stay dark green and do not show signs of dying any earlier than other leaves which are not torn.

In the more tropical parts of the United States Banana Trees are a favorite for planting around pools and pario areas or just a corner of the yard where one hopes to have a harvest of bananas. Bananas are good tasting and very nutrious in a number of vitamins and minerals. Most varities are usually eaten raw, but your curator likes to make Banana-Nut Bread from home grown bananas.

Banana is a tropical herbaceous plant consisting of an underground corm and a trunk (pseudostem) comprised of concentric layers of leaf sheaths. At 10 to 15 months after the emergence of a new plant, its true stem rapidly grows up through the center and emerges as a terminal inflorescence which bears fruit. Banana cannot take freezing and in cold weather may die back completely. However, if the area of the Banana is covered, it will come out hail and hearty the next spring.

When the Banana is large enough to bloom and bear fruit a purple-maroon torpedo shaped growth appears out of the top of usually the largest of the trunks. This growth is in layers, called "bracts", which peel up each day revealing the flowers, which appear in groups, called "hands". Each day, after some hours, the bract and the blossoms will fall off. The first "hands" to appear are the female flowers, which will develop into bananas. These are usually seedless in edible species of banana trees. The number of hands of female flowers varies from a few to more than 10. Following the female flowers there will be quite a few hands of sterile flowers, which also appear as a bract rolls up, and both are later in the day shed as well. Following these sterile flowers are a number of "hands" of male flowers. The male flowers are also covered by a bract which rolls up exposing the male flowers. This opening of one of the bracts and exposing flowers is virtually a daily occurrence until all flowers have been exposed.

In the Philippines and other tropical countries, the purple-maroon "fruit" is sometimes cut and cooked. It is good, if a bit bitter tasting, according to my Filipino wife.

Soil and Site Selection

Banana grows in a wide variety of soils, as long as the soil is deep and has good internal and surface drainage. The effect of poorly drained soils can be partly overcome by planting in raised beds, as the plant does not tolerate poor drainage or flooding.

The planting site should be chosen for protection from wind and cold weather, if possible. The warmest location in the home landscape is near the south or southeast side of the house.

Propagation: Propagation of banana plants is done with rhizomes called suckers or pups. Very small pups are called buttons. Large suckers are the preferred planting material. These are removed from vigorous clumps of banana trees with a spade when at least three feet tall, during warm months. Pups should not be taken until a clump has at least three to four large banana plants to anchor it. When the pup is taken the cut must be into the mother banana plant enough to obtain some roots. Plant close to the surface. Large leaves are cut off of the pup leaving only the youngest leaves or no leaves at all.

PRUNING Only one primary stem of each rhizome should be allowed to fruit. All excess shoots should be removed as soon as they are noticed. This helps channel all of of the banana plant's energy into fruit production. Once the main stalk is 6 - 8 months old, permit one sucker to develop as a replacement stalk for the following season. When the fruit is harvested, cut the fruiting stalk back to 30 inches above the ground. Remove the stub several weeks later. The stalk can be cut into small pieces and used as mulch.

Banana Plant FROST Protection: Bananas flourish best under uniformly warm conditions but can survive 28 F for short periods. If the temperature does not fall below 22 F and the cold period is short, the underground rhizome will usually survive. To keep the plants that are above ground producing, protection against low temperatures is very important. Wrap trunk or cover with blanket if the banana plants are small and low temperatures are predicted. You can also dig up the roots with or without the banana plant above the ground, and store in a dark dry place inside untill spring. This is the best way for most.

Banana tree Fertilization: Their rapid growth rate make bananas plants heavy feeders. During warm weather, apply a balanced fertilizer once a month--a 8:10:8 NPK fertilizer appears to be adequate. A mature plant may require as much as 1-1/2 to 2 pounds of the above fertilizer each month. Young banana plants need a quarter to a third as much. Spread the fertilizer evenly around the plant in a circle extending 4 - 8 feet from the trunk. Do not allow the fertilizer to come in contact with the trunk. Feed container container banana plants on the same monthly schedule using about half the rate for outside plants.

Soil: Banana plants will grow in most soils, but to thrive, they should be planted in a rich, well-drained soil. The best possible location would be above an abandoned compost heap. They prefer an acid soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. The banana plant is not tolerant of salty soils.

Culture Weed and grass competition should be eliminated prior to planting. Mulching is useful to prevent weed regrowth, but turfgrass may need to be controlled by hoeing or with herbicides. Irrigation should be applied periodically to thoroughly wet the soil. Avoid standing water, as bananas do not tolerate overly wet conditions. Fertilization requirements under Texas conditions have not been researched. However, it is reasonable to presume that nitrogen will be the only limiting nutrient in most situations. For new plants, one quarter cup of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0), watered in, after the plant commences regrowth should be applied monthly for the first three to four months. The rate can be increased over time to two cups per month when fruiting begins.

Established plantings of several plants together should receive about two cups of ammonium sulfate every couple of months throughout the year.

Cold protection of the top is possible by use of coverings and heat sources, but such is not often practical. However, in colder locations, soil can be banked around the trunk just before a projected cold spell to better protect the underground buds, which will allow the plant to regenerate in the coming spring. Unprotected but well-established bananas across the U.S., with some exceptions, will regenerated after light freezes.

Some people dig the entire plant, rhizome and all, remove the leaves and store the plant, dry, in a heated area over winter. To assure survival, it is easier to dig small suckers, severed very close to the parent rhizome, and pot them for overwintering indoors.



Irrigation: The large leaves of banana plants use a great deal of water. Regular deep watering is an absolute necessity during warm weather. Do not let banana plants dry out, but do not overwater. Standing water, especially in cool weather, will cause root rot. Banana plants grown in dry summer areas such as Southern California need periodic deep waterings to help leach the soil of salts. Spread a thick layer of mulch on the soil to help conserve moisture and protect the shallow roots. Container grown banana plants should be closely watched to see that they do not dry out. An occasional deep watering to leach the soil is also helpful.

Banana Location: Banana plants require as much warmth as can be given them. Additional warmth can be given by planting next to a building. Planting next to cement or asphalt walks or driveways also helps. Wind protection is advisable, not for leaf protection as much as for protection of the plant after the banana tree stalk has appeared. During these last few months propping should be done to keep the banana plant from tipping or being blown over.

Banana Fruit Harvest: Stalks of bananas are usually formed in the late summer and then winter over. In March they begin "plumping up" and may ripen in April. Occasionally, a stalk will form in early summer and ripen before cold weather appears. The fruit can be harvested by cutting the stalk when the bananas are plump but green. For tree-ripened fruit, cut one hand at a time as it ripens. If latter is done, check stalk daily as rodents can eat the insides of every banana, from above, and the stalk will look untouched. Once harvested the stalk should be hung in a cool, shady place. Since ethylene helps initiate and stimulate ripening, and mature fruit gives off this gas in small amounts, ripening can be hastened by covering the bunch with a plastic bag. Plantains are starchy types that are cooked before eating.




Starting new PlantsThis is a rather easy procedure that requires only a spade to break off a sucker or "pup" from the main pseudostem. This is done by digging straight down between the main stem and around the "pup". I typically dig down at least 2 ft. and dig around the perimeter of the pup and with one final scoop, you have yourself a new banana plant!