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Bananas are a superior staple crop in many ways. They fruit fast, heavily, year-round in some areas and are useful as both a fruit and a vegetable. The drawbacks are that they take up a lot of space and are thus not a great solution for small yards. They can grow very tall, so if you don’t want bananas fruiting at 14 feet high, be mindful to select dwarf varieties.

Bananas have three stages of development. The growing leaves/vegetative stage, the flowering stage, and the fruiting stage. Typically, the first stage takes six months. The last two stages take three months each. You could get fruit in the first year. Worth mentioning: the stalk that bore fruit (what you think is a fruit tree) is an herbaceous plant that after it fruits, will die. Cut it down with a machete, and chop it up at the base of the pups to feed them. More banana pups/suckers will come up from the ground.

Source Bananas for Free

Bananas are pretty pricey these days. Depending on your area and the plant size, they can run anywhere from $40 to $80 each. Ouch! Here’s the good news. If you pay attention when you drive around, and start noticing neighbors and friends with banana plants, you might be able to start getting banana pups for free or cheap. Many people with older banana stands have not managed them well and let them get out of control. Often, they’d be happy to let you come dig up some pups. Even if they don’t want to give them away, offer $5 or $10 per pup. It’s a lot less than you’ll pay in a nursery!

Pup Selection

There are wide leaf pups, called water suckers. You don’t want these if you can find the other. If this is all they’ve got, take them. But, if you can find the narrow leaf pups, called sword suckers, those are preferable. You want to dig out pups that are 2-4 feet tall. Smaller ones will not do well. You also want to angle your shovel slightly towards the mother plant. In the ground is a big white clump of root called the banana corm or mat. You want to make sure that you get some corm/root on the bottom of your pup, or it won’t survive. Angle the shovel ever so slightly toward the parent plant, and you’ll be fine.

Resilient in a Hotel Room

Strong banana pups when dug are so resilient, you could leave them in a hotel room for a week, and they’d be fine. How do I know? Have I ever walked through a five star hotel lobby with a large banana plant? Why, yes. I have. I don’t know why you ask.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit Josh Jamison at Cody Cove Farm just south of Lake Wales. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend taking a tour. While there, he kindly gave me a large pup of SH3640. This is an amazing banana variety that makes a large, grocery store sized banana, which is rare in the backyard banana world. Almost all commercially available banana varieties produce small bananas. So this bigger banana variety is coveted.

The top of the plant wouldn’t fit well in my car, so we cut the top foot off with a machete. The leaves would quickly regrow. Josh wrapped the corm in a plastic bag, to protect my van from the dirt on the roots, and I drove off to the fancy hotel in Clearwater Beach where I had to stay for a work gig. At that time, I still worked in nonprofit fundraising. So here I am, at the valet, putting a big banana plant on my luggage cart with my suitcase and favorite pillow. The bellhop had a few questions, as you might imagine.

The most amazing part of this story is what happened over the next few days. Sitting in a hotel room, deprived of soil, water, and sunlight, the banana plant wrapped in a plastic bag grew! And it didn’t just grow a little, it grew a lot. By the end of four days, the leaves had regrown nearly six inches! I was dumbfounded. How amazing! That’s how I learned both how resilient these plants are, and how much energy is stored in the roots. This is why all the plants can get killed by frost, but if the corm/roots are protected with heavy mulch, they’ll come back.

Feed Your Bananas and they’ll Feed You

Bananas are heavy feeders. What this means to the organic, backyard gardener is that they need as many kitchen scraps and compost and manure and mulch as you can spare. Now, we have both chickens and pigs, so many of our kitchen scraps go to them. But whatever isn’t fed to the farm animals is put on my back porch in a 5 gallon bucket. Coffee grinds, egg shells, onion skins, banana peels, citrus rinds. The list goes on. Anything you could throw in compost. I add to this bucket some water, and everything begins to get anaerobic. Be sure to use a bucket with a lid; you’re not going to want to smell this! Once it smells like death or feces, good job – it’s ready! You can use it like a compost tea. Pour the water into watering cans and dilute with water. The ratio doesn’t matter much if you’re using it on bananas. They could take it straight. On other plants, I might do 30% compost tea to 70% water. Once you’ve used the water, you’ll be left with a delightful sludge. As David the Good says, plants don’t have noses, so they won’t mind. I would use a few cups of sludge per plant, then add some mulch on top to try to keep racoons and other pests away.

If you can get your hands on manure, that’s garden gold. Bananas would be happy with manure almost any way you can get them. The only exception is newly planted bananas. Baby banana plants can’t handle fresh manure, it’s too hot and will burn the plant. Aged manure would be fine. Mulch would make them happy happy.

Bananas need *tons* of water. You can’t get them enough. For real. You can’t. Planting them near lakes, ponds, or in wet areas is a good idea. Clarification: I don’t mean areas that flood for more than a few days. You’d want to plant bananas near the high water line. More than a few days of flooding and the roots will start to rot.

The best solution for most homeowners, myself included, is to plant bananas where you could easily run a drip line/soaker hose. For most, this means planting bananas near a hose nozzle, putting a two way splitter on it (so you can run a drip line one direction and a regular hose the other way) and running a soaker hose through a clump of your bananas. Many of drip lines are 20-30 feet long. This is the best way to ensure that your bananas are getting slowly, constantly watered. Watch them explode and start producing bunches and fruit and lots of new pups. You can thank me later.

To Banana Circle or Not to Banana Circle

There’s this trendy idea in the food forest world called a banana circle. Early in my journey, I was a fan and planted bananas in circles. Time has proven that this was not advisable. Typically, in the banana circles mentioned on YouTube, they’re planting bananas 2-3 feet apart. That’s WAY too close. As they start to spread (once the mother plant dies and more pups come) they need space. I’m now planting bananas 6 to 8 feet apart.

How many banana plants do I need?

How much does your family enjoy bananas? Let’s think through a calendar year. How often could your family consume a bunch of bananas? I have three growing boys who love bananas. Bananas fresh, bananas in smoothies, and you can even use bananas green as a vegetable, similar to potato. We could use a bunch nearly every week. There are 52 weeks in a year, so 52 banana plants wouldn’t be a bad idea. But that won’t fit in your average suburban yard. Think about if you’d like a bunch a month. You need 12 plants. Or, you’d like a bunch every two weeks, you need 26 plants. Bananas fruit year round, so if you have enough of them, there seem to always be bunches coming if you’re in the southern part of Florida.

Banana Stand Maintenance

Again, feed your bananas. Water your bananas. They want lots more than you think they do. Mulch them heavily, especially if you live in a frost prone area. I don’t like to allow more than 4-5 pups per plant, maximum. You want the mother plant to focus on making fruit, not pups. Any water suckers should be cut down as chop and drop, or dug out to start a new stand (although sword suckers are preferable). If your plant is producing a lot of pups, begin to dig one out every now and then. Sometimes I remove one based on the direction it’s growing — it’s growing into another banana plant, it’s growing at a 45 degree angle, or getting too close to a sidewalk, etc. Growing at too severe an angle will be a problem when it comes time to fruit and the plant is trying to not fall over under the weight of a 40 pound bunch of bananas.

Blowing Over

Bananas are shallow rooted, and are thus susceptible to wind damage. Solutions are to plant near buildings, fences, hedges, etc. Of course, plant a few feet away, because they’ll spread. Another solution is to plant other plants nearby that could serve as a windbreak. Pigeon Pea would be a good choice. If you happen to have bamboo on the property, they’re a fantastic windbreak.

Here Comes the Hurricane – the Reynolds Prop

When a hurricane is coming, and you have big beautiful banana plants loaded with fruit (so they’re already nearly falling over) you have a problem. Uh oh. Gratefully, the solution is simple. It’s lovingly referred to as the Reynolds prop, of Jay Reynolds fame. It’s a pretty simple concept. You take two bamboo or areca poles that are as tall as your banana plant, or at least as tall as where you need to support it. Tie them together with rope or strong twine. Once tied together, cross them into an X. Put the base of the X up under the banana plant, to support it. This is your best chance to withstand hurricane force winds and keep your fruit ripening on the plant.

Growing Bananas in Central/Northern Florida

In Northern Florida, I’d recommend a variety called Viente Cohol, which is known for fast ripening. The last thing you want is for a bunch to emerge going into winter, and this fast-ripening variety. If you’re in the vicinity of St Cloud, head over to Nick’s Edibles. That’s where I got mine.