growing bananas

Position

To give your bananas the best possible start in life; choose a wind-protected, full-sun position

Preparation

Prepare well in advance. Soil should be fertile, rich in organic matter, well-drained and not compacted. pH should be approximately 6.5. Incorporate 200g Dolomite and 150g fertilizer (Nitrophoska or Rustica) thoroughly into the soil. Organic matter, such as compost is very advantageous, to increase the level of beneficial micro-organisms in the soil. Irrigate thoroughly for a few days prior to planting. Banana plants love water but they hate wet feet. Mound the soil up and then dig a hole so the plant will be higher than the surrounding ground, to minimize water pooling around the base and drowning the roots.

Planting

Plant 100mm deeper than the plant was in the pot. Immediately after planting, tissue culture plantlets are at their most vulnerable, as the potting medium is light and the root system is very concentrated. Plants become more stable after a week or two, once the roots have spread into the surrounding wet soil. Do not over-irrigate, but the soil should remain moist. Leaf wetting is critical at this stage. It has nothing to do with irrigation, but with alleviating stress if you can keep the leaves wet for as long as possible. Evaporating water cools the leaves, enabling them to photosynthesize at maximum efficiency. These tender leaves will wilt and fold very easily during the heat of the day and they may even burn and die back if conditions are severe. Bear in mind they have come from tropical North Queensland with average daily temperatures in the low 30s and humidity in the high 80s. The entire leaf area should be gently wetted by the irrigation system for about 5 minutes, three times a day, between 10am and 5pm. This should continue for about 3 weeks until the root system takes over, the leaves harden off and normal transpiration begins.

Fertilizing

Commercial growers use Nitrophoska or Rustica, or a Nitrogen(N), Phosphorus(P) and Potassium(K) blend as close a possible to 10N:3P:6K. During warmer growing months apply every 4 to 6 weeks. Reduce during cold months. Take care not to allow any to come into contact with the plant stem. Water in well. Within two months of planting, roots can extend more than a metre away from the stem, so apply the fertilizer thinly over the whole area, NOT in a concentrated dollop around the stem.

Watering

Maintain soil in a moist but not sodden condition.

Deleafing

Remove any diseased or down leaves. Try to maintain as many healthy leaves as possible to ensure efficient photosynthesis.

At bell emergence

Apply a good handful of Potash around the tree.

Blue Sky Backyard Bananas
Bluggoe - Image Courtesy Jerry Coleby-Williams

Desuckering

The first flush of suckers may appear very early and these should be cut off at ground level until the mother plant is about 2m tall. Don’t apply kerosene at this young age, as you may damage the mother plant. Don’t be tempted to keep these suckers for your next crop because they have emerged from a point too shallow under the base of the mother plant and they will more than likely topple over (and pull the mother plant over as well) when mature. The most suitable sucker for your next crop should be selected about 5 months after planting, at which time it will have emerged from a point much deeper in the soil and be more stable at maturity. The suckers you want to select are called sword suckers – very thin sword-like leaves. The big fat healthy leafed suckers are not the ones you want to select – these are called water suckers and they will not produce the best plant or the biggest bunch of bananas.

Image Courtesy Jerry Coleby-Williams
  Lady Finger - Image Courtesy Jerry Coleby-Williams

Weeds

Weeds will compete with your banana plants. Tiny tissue culture plants have very little reserves. Competition from weeds will weaken the plant. Use only hand-hoeing to remove weeds, until the banana plants are about 2m tall. Avoid ALL systemic, contact, or hormone weed-killers around young tissue culture banana plants.

Bunch trimming

Remove the bottom couple of hands to increase the overall size and length of the remaining fruit. These lower hands are noticeably smaller than the ones above, and you can just snap them off with your fingers.

Bagging

When the fingers start to turn upwards, put a banana bunch cover over the bunch to protect it from hungry birds and flying foxes, leave the bell attached. Tie the top end of the bag around the bunch stem and leave the bottom end hanging open.

Harvesting

Tree ripened fruit tastes the best, so remove a hand at a time when the fruit are yellow. Commercial growers harvest when the fingers on the lowest hands are rounded but still green. Ripen a hand at a time by storing them in a cool dry place alongside a ripe banana.

If you want to remove the whole bunch

Work with a mate if possible – the bunch could weigh as much as 40 kg. Cut a notch in the tree at your shoulder height and then pull the bunch down onto your shoulder. Have someone else cut the bunch stalk from the tree. Cut the remaining crown (leaves) off the tree as high as possible and leave these as compost around the base of the tree. Leave the remaining stem as tall as possible as the retained water and nutrients will continue to feed the suckers.

Image Courtesy Jerry Coleby-Williams
Lady Finger - Image Courtesy Jerry Coleby-Williams

Craig and Sue Althaus - Blue Sky Tissue Culture