Bananas – By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”

Bananas are one of my favorite plants to use in the landscape. Their large leaves can make a great screen to give homeowners privacy around swimming pools or lanais. When used as a specimen plant bananas can be very attractive and add that tropical look to any landscape. Many varieties grow large and stately while others are short and stocky. All of these attributes are things we look for in the garden when completing our landscape. Combine these with the fact that many will give you delicious fruit and you have a winner for the garden. This article will go over some of my favorite varieties, where to plant them, and how to care for bananas.
 

I must start with the banana I grow and recommend as one of my favorites. The Mahoi banana tops my list of the edible varieties and lowest maintenance. Mahoi’s are known as the double banana because after the initial plant flowers and produces bananas, the suckers produced at the bottom grow and eventually produce two sets of bananas (sometimes three) on the same plant. This usually occurs on the second or third year of growth. Mahoi’s are also a dwarf banana. These bananas only grow to a height of 6 feet tall with gorgeous wide leaves. Their thick trunks support the fruit once the plant goes into bloom. After you harvest the bananas, the main trunk is cut down and the suckers which form at the base will become the new plant.

 


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.

 

 
 
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 do not have to improve the soil where you plant them but you must follow a few easy instructions. Plant your banana in full sun and mulch your plants heavily. I like to put several inches of mulch or grass clippings around my plants and out at least a couple of feet. As the plants grow I will continue to add grass clippings and additional mulch on a regular basis. Bananas are like grass so make sure you feed them regularly. A common lawn fertilizer is sufficient but make sure you spread the fertilizer out evenly. 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 thing you will see is the purple flower. This will elongate and the bananas will form behind this flower. Once all the hands are formed, you can cut the flower off the stem. At this point the flower only adds weight to the plant and is of no use. Some trees benefit from support in the form of stakes to hold up the stem. When the bananas are first produced they 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. You may notice a slight color change after about 2months. At this time you need to cut the entire stalk of bananas off and put them in a cool dry place upside down from the way they were on the tree. This helps them in the ripening process. Unfortunately, all the bananas ripen at the same time so be prepared to eat them or make some banana bread!
 

 
 
 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 until next time, remember without plants we wouldn’t be here!

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