Perma Tropics – Banana Plantation

Bananas are a popular fruit that can be enjoyed fresh or used in cooking. Did you know that bananas can also be grown in your homestead garden, using basic permaculture methods?

They are one of the easiest fruits to grow in a tropical climate, and amongst the first choices for many people who are reticent to jump straight into growing the fussier or intimidating tropical fruits.

Bananas are also one of the most giving tropical plants, as their organic matter provides an incredible food buffet to your food forest or garden. They are one of our favourite plants to keep.

Growing and planting bananas is very easy to do, as long as you start off on the right foot.

About Bananas

Although often thought of as trees, bananas are perennial herbs. Their stems are made up of the leaf stalks of each plant, and can grow to anywhere between 3 feet to over 20 feet tall, depending on the variety. They have a long stem, and the fruit hangs down from the stem. Bananas are typically yellow when ripe, but can also be green or brown.

In the U.S. alone, each person consumes an average of 13.4 pounds of bananas each year. That’s a lot of bananas, considering the U.S. population is about to top the 330 million mark!

THE BASICS

Banana LikesBanana Dislikes
Humid, tropical climateFreezing temperatures
Plenty of direct sunHigh winds; they can be uprooted and torn
Mulch, mulch and more mulchSoil that is too dry or lacking in nutrients
More banana friends in the vecinityStanding water around the roots
Snails

How many different types of bananas are there?

There are many different types of bananas, including the Cavendish banana, which is the most common type. There are also red bananas, green bananas, plantains, and dessert bananas. Which type you choose will depend heavily on your growing and climate conditions and what you intend to do with the bananas once they mature. Do you like vegetable-laden soups that can include green bananas? Or are you more of a sugary, caramelized plantain and ice-cream aficionado? Are you able to provide your plantains with a steady intake of water, or is you water usage a bit more limited?

One thing is for sure. Growing bananas is a straight and easy experience and will make you feel like a tropical gardener in no time!

How to Plant and Grow Banana Plants

The first thing you need to do is find a spot in your garden or food forest where the banana plants will receive plenty of sunlight. Bananas like warm temperatures, so make sure the spot you choose is sunny and sheltered from strong winds. Amend the soil with compost or manure before planting to ensure that your banana plants will have all the nutrients they need.

Plant the banana plants in well-draining soil, making sure the roots are covered but the top of the plant is exposed

Banana plants need plenty of water, especially when they are flowering and fruiting. Make sure you keep the soil moist but not wet. Mulching around the base of the plant will help to retain moisture in the soil. The more mulch the better. Go crazy, your banana plants will thank you.

You can also fertilize your banana plants regularly with an organic or home made fertilizer that is high in potassium. It’s not an absolute necessity, but if you are uncertain about the health of your soil or trying to hand at gardening for the first time, it can help to improve the outcome of your first banana growing attempt.

Most common varieties of banana plants will grow to be about 6-8 feet tall, so make sure you have enough room for them before you plant. Meaning, don’t start any banana plants under the canopy of other trees.

Harvesting and Storing Bananas

Once your banana plants start producing fruit, you’ll want to harvest them regularly. You can harvest the ripe fruit one at a time, or cut off the entire bunch at once, using a sharp knife. Either way, do not let the ripe fruit stay on the plant, as it will attract all type of wildlife (here, in Nicaragua, the White-throated Magpie-Jay can decimate any ripe bananas on or off the plant within hours). Once the bunch is cut off, the main banana plant will die off and one or more suckers will replace it.

Banana fingers

Each banana mother usually grows several suckers around her, in various stages of maturity. Keep the suckers with the small, spear shaped leaves. They will be the strongest ones, rather than the suckers with big, broader leaves. You can cut the harvested mother plant and other pups you will not keep into small bits of mulch to help feed the soil for the still-growing suckers, which will fruit in about a year’s time.

Don’t be afraid to cut down your old banana plants, and trim down extra suckers. Your bananas will be happier, stronger and produce better fruit.

Bananas should be allowed to ripen at room temperature or above. If you are ripening a lot of bananas at once, you can lay dry banana leaves on top to hasten their maturity, or cover them with a tarp, which is what is often seen out in the countryside of banana growers.

Once they are ripe, you can store them in the fridge or freezer. They will keep for several days in the fridge and a few months in the freezer. Eventually, they will start to turn brown or black in the freezer, a visual reminder that you’ve ignored them for too long. You can still add them to a smoothie, even though they don’t look great anymore.

When to Plant Bananas

Bananas can be planted year-round in most climates, but the best time to plant them is during the spring or summer. Make sure you avoid planting them during times of frost (if you are in a sub-tropical climate) or heavy rain (in the tropics). The ideal time is around October or November, when the monsoon season has passed.

Banana Cuttings Starting Tips

If you want to start your own banana plants, you can do so by using cuttings from an existing plant.

Two basic methods:

Planting in water

Cut a very young sucker from the banana plant and remove the leaves from the bottom half of the stem. Make sure the jar is kept in a warm, sunny spot. Change the water regularly, and once new roots have formed (usually after a few weeks), transplant the cutting into soil.

Planting directly in your garden

The best and easiest way is to cut a hardy sucker with a good amount of root, and plant directly in the soil where you want your new banana plant to grow.

Use a sharp shovel to cut the sucker away from the banana plant. You must cut downwards through the corm, so use some force. Make sure you sever the sucker with a piece of corm and many roots, so it will have an easy time growing.

Growing Bananas: Troubleshooting

If your banana plants are not producing fruit, or if the fruit is small and misshapen, there may be something wrong with your soil or the plants may not be getting enough water. Check to make sure the soil is moist and amend it if necessary. Make sure the plants are getting enough water, especially during hot weather. This will often mean watering the plants several times each day. If you notice any insects or diseases on your banana plants, treat them with an appropriate natural pesticide or fungicide.

Here are a few common problems that can occur when growing bananas:

  • The plants are not receiving enough water or fertilizer
  • The plants are being attacked by pests or diseases
  • The bananas are not ripening properly

If you experience any of these problems, take steps to address them immediately, especially in the case of pests of diseases, as the problem can spread quickly from one banana plant to another.  

Banana Cooking and Serving Tips

banana pancakes

Bananas can be enjoyed fresh or cooked. They are a versatile fruit and can be used in many different recipes. One of my favorite ways to cook bananas is to fry them in some butter until they are golden brown and crispy. They are also great in smoothies, pies, cakes, and other desserts. Enjoy!

Some easy cooking suggestions:

  • Bananas are a great addition to smoothies or milkshakes
  • They can be mashed and used as a topping for pancakes or waffles
  • Bananas can be pureed and used as a base for ice cream or sorbet
  • They can be sliced and added to oatmeal or cereal
  • They can be chopped and added to muffins, cake or cookies.
  • Cooking bananas make a great addition to hearty soups, or easy sides to many different types of meals

FAQ

banana plantation

Can you grow banana trees from the seed?

The short answer is, yes, although the result will not be of a type of banana you are accustomed to. Over the years, commercially grown bananas, like the popular Cavendish variety, have been genetically altered in favour of their delicious flavour, but are technically sterile, as their seeds never reach maturity.

If you do a search on YouTube, you will find a variety of videos demonstrating attempts to grow bananas from seed. All of these use seeds generally procured from exotic seed suppliers, and produce wild types of bananas not commonly known. While it is possible to do, germination from seeds can take up to a month and the plants can take several years to fruit.

How many years does a banana plant produce fruit?

Although each individual stem will only bear fruit once, a banana plant will continue sending up new shoots from the ground to replace it. These shoots will, in turn, bear fruit. This cycle can continue for five or six years, after which time, the plant will stop producing good fruit and will have to be replaced with a fresh banana plant.

Do all banana species produce fruit?

No, some species, like the Musaceae are strictly ornamental. They grow beautiful, large leafs that can make your garden a pleasure to walk through, but they do not produce any fruit. Other types of wild bananas, like The Musa Balbisiana or Musa brachycarpa product fruit that has large seeds, which make it difficult to enjoy the fruit of the banana. In Indonesia, the Musa Balbisiana Colla is known as the Klutuk banana, a name that comes from the sound the seeds make against the teeth when they are eaten.

About US

We are a family of avid gardeners, lost and then found again in the majestic landscape of the tropics. Each day, we try to share bits and pieces of our journey, so that you too, can possess the confidence and ease to grow your own food in a tropical climate.