Fertilizer for banana trees

Contents

What To Feed Banana Plants – How To Fertilize A Banana Tree Plant

Bananasused to be the sole province of commercial growers but today’s different varieties allow the home gardener to grow them as well. Bananas are heavy feeders in order to produce sweet fruit, so feeding banana plants is of primary importance, but the question is what to feed banana plants? What are banana fertilizer requirements and how do you fertilize a banana tree plant? Let’s learn more.

What to Feed Banana Plants

Like many other plants, banana fertilizer requirements include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. You may choose to use a balanced fertilizer on a regular basis that contains all of the micro and secondary nutrients the plant needs or divide feedings according to the plant’s growing needs. For example, apply high-nitrogen rich fertilizer once a month during the growing season and then cut back when the plant flowers. At this point, switch to a high phosphorus or high potassium food.

Fertilizing a banana plant with additional nutrients is fairly rare. If you suspect any type of deficiency, take a soil sample and get it analyzed, then feed as necessary per results.

How to Fertilize a Banana Tree Plant

As mentioned, banana trees are heavy feeders so they need to be regularly fertilized to be productive. There are a couple of ways to feed the plant. When fertilizing a mature banana plant, use 1 ½ pounds of 8-10-10 per month; for dwarf indoor plants, use half that amount. Dig this amount in around the plant and allow it to dissolve each time the plant is watered.

Or you can give the banana a lighter application of fertilizer each time it is watered. Mix the fertilizer with the water and apply as you irrigate. How often should you water/fertilize? When the soil dries out to about ½ inch, water and fertilize again.

If you are choosing to use high nitrogen and high potassium fertilizers, the method is a bit different. Add the high nitrogen food to the soil once a month during the growing season at full dose according to the manufacturer’s directions. When the plant begins to flower, cut back on the high-nitrogen fertilizer and switch to one that is high in potassium. Stop fertilizing if the soil has a pH of 6.0 or under or when the plant begins to fruit.

Banana trees are some of the most popular plants which come to mind when you think about tropical plants.

Belonging to the genus Musa, these banana trees are incredibly rugged and may produce an abundance of sweet fruits.

A part of the Musaceae family, the genus Musa consists of more than 70 species of plantains and bananas.

The name of the genus is in honor of 1st century B.C. physician, Antonia Musa.

Interestingly enough, bananas plants are not trees at all. They are the world’s largest herb.

The main stem is the fruiting stem enrobed by large leaves. It’s the size of the plant which makes people assume it’s a tree.

Most cultivars of banana fruit grow best in warmer climates and hardiness zones 10 to 11.

However, there are cold-hardy banana trees as well.

For instance, one species called Musa basjoo may survive in Zone 5 when well-mulched.

Not only do banana plants add a tropical look and feel to your yard, but they also give fruits.

When provided the right growing conditions, you may end up cultivating many racks of sweet bananas.

Best Fertilizer for Banana Plants

To have good fruiting and healthy fruit trees, they need full sun, organic matter, and lots of fertilizer as they are heavy feeders.

Banana fertilizer needs to include a high amount of NPK, i.e., Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium.

Whether you’re growing Cavendish bananas or Musa acuminate, the plant needs a lot of nourishment to produce a high number of bananas.

For this, you need to feed it regularly.

A balanced formula makes an excellent banana fertilizer and can be used regularly.

This provides the plant with a sufficient amount of all the necessary micro and secondary nutrients needed.

The plant grows from a central corm or rhizome.

This means the parent plant dies after fruiting and young plant offspring, sometimes called Keiki, takes its place.

This helps the plant grow in small groves and make the most of the nutrients.

Use a high potassium fertilizer once a month in the growing season.

This is very important as Potassium is crucial to the plant’s health.

Details on Growing –> Tropical Bananas

When and How to Fertilize Banana Species

With heavy feeding needs, banana plants need a lot of organic matter to thrive and be productive.

If you have mature banana plants on your hands, use one and a half pounds of 8-10-10 NPK fertilizer.

For potted, dwarf indoor plants, cut down the amount by half.

Apply fertilizer every 3 months.

Remove enough soil from around the plant to hold the amount of fertilizer you will be feeding.

Water the plant over the fertilizer so it dissolves slowly and releases the nutrients into the soil.

Liquid Feeding is an Option

There is another way to feed a banana plant. Using a water-soluble formula, dissolve a lighter application of the fertilizer in water whenever you irrigate.

This should be repeated when the soil dries out to about ½” inch.

The method is different when using high potassium or high nitrogen fertilizer.

Feed the plant with a high nitrogen fertilizer once a month during the growing season.

Once the plant starts flowering, switch to a high potassium formula.

This is essential for healthy fruits.

Halt fertilizing when the plant begins to fruit or when the soil has a pH of 6.0.

Paying close attention to potassium levels is crucial.

It is an essential nutrient and encourages a good growth rate.

Signs of Potassium Deficiency

If you notice the following, you need to add potassium to the soil:

  • Small, broken or crumpled leaves
  • Leaf splitting
  • Leaves falling down
  • Yellow or orange leaves
  • Small banana bunches

Similarly, nitrogen is also needed for a vegetative leaf growth with a healthy green color.

The amount of nitrogen in the soil impacts the size, weight, and number of bananas produced by the plant in the first six months.

Be vigilant about the levels of nutrients in the soil if you are growing banana trees.

Feed the plant regularly, especially during the growing season to make sure it fruits properly.

If you’re concerned about the plant despite feeding it enough, sample the soil and send it for evaluation.

This lets you take the proper steps to improve the overall growing conditions for your banana plants.

Banana trees are easy to grow fast to a fruiting size from field grown banana bulbs. Gardeners find it fascinating that a tropical look can be grown in Northern states by starting out by planting large field grown, banana bulbs or either mature giant banana trees. Field grown banana trees are decapitated before shipment and boxed for shipment to be planted directly into landscapes near pools, gardens or patios. The banana tree is so vigorous, when removed from the field, that it often begins growing from the middle of the central banana tree stalk during shipment. Vigorous growth on newly planted banana trees usually begins a week or two after replanting, and during the summer months a field grown banana tree can grow a foot in height every week, especially in July and August, when the temperatures exceed 90 degrees F. and the daylight period is extended. Watering of newly planted banana trees can damage the plant, if the watering is done before the second new leaf appears; Two or three weeks after the initial planting.

After the banana plant leafs out, daily watering can accelerate the maturity of the plant, and at TyTy when temperatures exceed 95 degrees F, we water the banana trees two or three times every day, resulting in a surge of growth, 17 ft. in some banana cultivars in only four months time. The rapid fast grown of banana trees goes unmatched by any other plant or tree in the U.S., even bamboo plants. In a matter of four months a banana tree can increase in total weight to one thousand pounds, including the weight of the offsets.

In addition to the benefit of flooding the banana trees with water, fertilizer and decaying organic material, such as rotting leaves, magazines and newspapers, and the nutrients are absorbed by the roots of the banana plant, like water is absorbed by a sponge – Newspapers and Magazines spread out above the roots of the banana trees benefit the tree growth by preventing weed competition and providing a favorable growth environment for congregations of insects, fungi, bacteria and worms, all of which degrade the organic material, and many complex minerals and inorganic chemicals that are recycled into manageable nutritional growth supplements by these earth dwelling creatures. The chemical compounds of the element potassium seem especially favorable to the growth of banana trees- 40% potash applied directly to the soil. At TyTy Nursery we fertilize with concentrated ammonium nitrate fertilizer that contains about 30% nitrogen in the elemental stage. Ammonium Phosphate will supply the element phosphorous that anchors the plant roots well into the grounds that prevents the banana tree from breaking over from the weight of the newly formed banana bunches during the Fall. The application of nitrogen to banana trees often will cause extreme acceleration of stem and leaf growth, and the intensification of a deep green leaf color can be easily seen on the day following fertilization, if the banana trees were chlorotic. Magnesium sulfate (Epsom Salts) and chelated iron are also dramatic stimulators to banana trees on sandy southern soils, where those chemical elements are often deficient. Slag which is a residual inexpensive biproduct in the manufacture of iron and will recover most mineral deficient soils to an acceptable fertility level for banana tree vigor.

Cold hardiness quality has been monitored at TyTy, Georgia since the zero degree F freeze in January of 1983, when some banana trees that were growing before the freeze they were found to be cold hardy temperature to zero degrees F. Other cultivars of banana trees that survived temperatures much below freezing were collected at TyTy Nursery from freezes in Wichita Falls, Texas, and named “Texas Star” banana trees, and still another cultivar collected from snow capped Kilimanjaro Mountain in Africa. TyTy Nursery was the first American nursery to name and offer cold hardy banana trees for sale, both fruiting banana tree plants and ornamental banana tree selections. The introduction and advertising of cold hardy banana trees through National magazines in the early 1980s was an instant success, and for many years, there was a demand for all types of banana trees that could not be filled. That initial introduction of cold hardy banana trees has now stimulated the planting of this choice tropical tree to many states and overseas markets. Some major wholesale banana growers now grow containerized banana trees from tissue culture germ plasm. Many clones of these tissue culture, banana tree cultivars have “run out”, just like strawberry plants, Canna lily cultivars, and many others. These “run out” clones of banana tree plants are weakly growing, stunted plants and usually form offsets that have pointed, sword shaped leaves that etiolate and shrivel in size after separation from the mother banana plant. Field grown banana trees normally produce offsets that have rounded leaves that can be safely separated from the mother banana plant after the appearance of the third leaf. Tissue culture banana production-line plants offered an endless supply of mailorder small plants, but they rarely grew into acceptable fruit producers. Even the potted banana plants grown from tissue culture in greenhouses produced octopus-like clumps of banana offsets surrounding the mother banana plant, that parasitically drained the energy from the mother plant and they rarely fruited. Field grown banana plants will outgrow tissue culture grown banana plants 10 to 1, and larger bulbs of field grown banana plants will fruit more frequently.

In rating cold hardy banana plants, the Chinese banana tree is number one, followed by ensete banana cultivars, however, the ensete banana trees will not produce offsets unless decapitated, in situ, which forces the mother plant to multiply vegetatively. This phenomenon is often observed in many crinum lily cultivars that do not produce offsets or seed, since they are hybrids. Most commonly, ensete banana tree cultivars are seed forming, and commercially are produced by planting ensete banana seed.

By Pat Rick

BANANA

Popular symbols of the tropics, lush banana trees are not trees at all, but gigantic herbaceous perennials that grow from corms (or pseudobulbs). Thick, fleshy stalks (pseudostems) emerge from the large corms and can increase in height anywhere from 1 to 30 feet in a year, depending on the selection and location. Each stalk carries spectacular broad, 5- to 9 feet-long leaves. Each also produces a single flower cluster, which develops fruit; the stalk dies after fruiting, and new stalks then grow from the corm.

Where To Grow Fruiting Bananas

Fruiting bananas are often grouped botanically under Musa acuminata. To produce a crop, these plants generally need 10 to 15 months of frost-free conditions and a long, warm growing season. They fruit best in the Coastal and Tropical South, but old, established plants growing in protected spots in the Lower South occasionally bear fruit. Drooping clusters of orange-yellow flowers appear in spring, followed by bunches of bananas. The fruit usually ripens by late summer or fallbut whenever you see that the bananas at the top of the bunch have begun to turn yellow, cut off the whole bunch and let it ripen at room temperature. If left on the plant, the fruit will split and rot. Banana sap permanently stains fabric, so wear old clothes when harvesting or pruning.

Pruning Bananas

Each plant can produce as many as ten suckers, eventually forming a sizable clump. If you want large, high-quality fruit, let just one or two stalks per clump grow; prune out all others as they emerge. After the stalks have bloomed, allow replacement stalks to begin developing for next year’s crop. After cutting the bunches of bananas, remove any stalks that have fruited.

Ornamental Bananas

Certain types of bananas are grown strictly as ornamentals (see Ensete ventricosum and Musa), but even fruiting types make bold and striking garden plants. Use them for tropical accents near pools, in sitting areas, at the back of a border, or in large containers. Strong winds tatter the leaves, but some selections have wind-resistant foliage. View ornamental bananas.

Types of Dwarf Bananas

Dwarf selections are the best bets for most home gardens. They mature at about 715 feet high and usually ripen fruit 70 to 100 days after blooming. Recommended selections include the following.

Dwarf Brazilian

  • To 8 feet tall.
  • Excellent fruit.
  • Wind-resistant foliage.

Dwarf Cavendish

  • The most popular dwarf banana.
  • Growing only 5 feet tall.
  • Sweet fruit.
  • Excellent in containers.

Dwarf Orinoco

  • Grows just 56 feet.
  • Produces fruit clusters weighing up to 40 pounds.
  • Good cold tolerance and wind resistance.

Goldfinger Bananas

  • Grows 1214 feet tall.
  • Cold tolerant and disease resistant.
  • Reliable producer of very tasty fruit.

Grand Nain

  • To 68 feet tall.
  • The Chiquita banana from Central America.
  • Bears up to 50 pounds of fruit per year.
  • Wind-resistant foliage.

Ice Cream (Blue Java)

  • Fruit tastes like vanilla custard.
  • Grows 12 feet tall.

Mysore

  • Sturdy plant, 1416 feet tall.
  • Produces large bunches of sweet, thin-skinned fruit.

Rajapuri

  • Cold-hardy selection from India that fruits reliably in Lower South.
  • Sweet fruit.
  • Grows 8 feet tall, with stout trunk and extra-large leaves.

How to Care for Banana Plants

Bananas need moist, fertile, well-drained soil and lots of sun. Feed liberally in spring. They will reliably survive winter outdoors in the Coastal and Tropical South (USDA 9-11); in the Lower South (USDA 8), spread a generous layer of mulch around the plant’s base in fall to insulate the corm.

Gardeners in the Middle and Upper South (USDA 6-7) can save a banana plant from year to year by cutting off and discarding the top (leafy part) of the plant in fall, then digging up the stalk and corm and storing them for the winter in a cool, dark place such as a basement or garage.

No watering is required during the dormant period. Replant after all danger of frost is past.

We all love our tropical houseplants! Growing stuff like Boston ferns, crotons, bromeliads, or even a dwarf banana tree livens up the house or yard. It adds just a bit of that lush greenery to your personal space.

And no, that wasn’t a typo. The banana plant can be a stunning ornamental houseplant if maintained properly. Technically not a tree at all, the thick “trunk” of the banana tree is actually made up of tightly-clumped leaf stalks,

While they’re not true trees like apples or other fruiting trees, bananas can grow to be incredibly large. Thankfully, we have dwarf cultivars which only grow to be 4′ to 12′ tall, making them viable for home gardens.

You don’t need to be in the tropics to grow them, although they definitely love the warm weather. With the right care, you too can enjoy this leathery-leaved plant. And if you let it flower, you might even get some bananas, too!

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Best Products To Fix Dwarf Banana Tree Pests/Diseases:

  • Monterey Garden Insect Spray
  • Safer Brand Yard & Garden Spray
  • Beneficial Nematodes
  • Ladybugs
  • Lacewings
  • Diatomaceous Earth
  • Neem Oil
  • Yellow Sticky Traps
  • Bonide Copper Fungicide
  • Bonide All-Seasons Horticultural and Dormant Spray Oil

Dwarf Banana Tree Overview

Care guide for the dwarf banana tree, custom-illustration by Seb Westcott.

Common Name(s) Dwarf banana tree, Dwarf Cuban red, Dwarf Cavendish, Giant Cavendish, Williams Hybrid, Gran Nain, Chiquita, Lady finger, Sugar banana, Latundan banana, apple banana, silk banana, Pisang Raja, Brazilian, Raja Puri, Rajapuri, Red Tiger, Darjeeling banana, Flowering banana
Scientific Name Musa acuminata, Musa balbisiana, Musa x paradisiaca, Musa sikkimensis, Musa ornata
Family Musaceae
Origin Warm tropical and subtropical regions, varies by cultivar
Height Dwarf species are 4-12 feet in height.
Light Full sun to partial shade
Water Likes moist but not wet soil. About 1” per plant per week, estimated.
Temperature 75-90 degrees Fahrenheit
Humidity Loves humidity, 50% or higher preferred
Soil Well-draining soil, about 20% perlite
Fertilizer High potassium fertilizer preferred.
Propagation By corm, pups/offshoots, and tissue culture. Very rarely by seed in the wild.
Pests Nematodes, thrips, black weevils, banana stalk borers, mealybugs, spider mites, aphids, banana fruit scarring beetle. Also at risk for these diseases: Sigatoka leaf spot, black leaf streak, Panama disease/banana wilt, Banana bunchy-top disease, Banana mosaic disease, black end, cigar tip rot, Moko disease.

Types of Dwarf Banana Tree

At one point, it was believed that all plantains or cooking bananas came from the species Musa paradisiaca, and all dessert bananas came from the species Musa sapientum.

However, later study revealed that all edible bananas came from hybridization of two wild species, Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana, regardless of whether they were cooking or dessert bananas. Thus, virtually every edible banana available today is a hybrid cultivar of one or both of those two wild banana species.

These are now classified into groups where it’s detailed what the hybridization levels are, with “A” referring to acuminata, and “B” referring to balbisiana.

Since there are hundreds, even thousands of cultivars of edible bananas today, it’s confusing to pick a plant. For today, we’re going to focus primarily on dwarf varieties. I’ll also include a couple of the most popular ornamental (inedible) varieties, as they also make great show plants too!

Musa acuminata (AAA Group), ‘Dwarf Cuban Red’

Dwarf banana tree, ‘Cuban Dwarf Red’. Source: Starr Environmental

This is a triploid hybrid of Musa acuminata cultivars, popular as a small and firm dessert banana. Its name comes from its red-skinned fruit, very notably different from the modern supermarket bananas. The leaves also occasionally are tinged with red. This cultivar tends to reach 7-8′ heights.

Musa acuminata (AAA Group), ‘Dwarf Cavendish’

Dwarf banana tree, ‘Dwarf Cavendish’. Source: chrissatv

The dwarf Cavendish is likely the most popular dwarf dessert variety amongst most gardeners. However, it and all other Cavendish varieties are susceptible to a fungal disease that’s being called Tropical Race 4, a strain of the Panama Disease which wiped out commercial cultivation of the Gros Michel banana variety in the mid-1960’s.

Home gardeners shouldn’t avoid growing Cavendish species, but should be watchful for signs of fusarium-type wilting and be prepared to take action.

There is a standard dwarf Cavendish that reaches about 9′ in height, and a super-dwarf cultivar that gets to about 4′.

Musa acuminata (AAA Group), ‘Giant Cavendish’, ‘Williams Hybrid’

Dwarf banana tree, ‘Williams Hybrid’. Source: Scot Nelson

When you’re at the local supermarket buying bananas, this is quite likely what you’re getting. Giant Cavendish are not a dwarf banana cultivar, but they can be trained to grow rather small if you aren’t growing them for fruiting purposes. This is currently the most popular dessert banana in the world, and the one most commonly imported.

Like the dwarf Cavendish, it’s susceptible to Tropical Race 4 and is at risk commercially.

The Williams Hybrid reaches heights of about 8′ tall.

Musa acuminata (AAA Group), ‘Gran Nain’, ‘Chiquita’

Dwarf banana tree, ‘Gran Nain’. Source: MeganEHansen

Triploid hybrid of Musa acuminata. Gran Nain dessert bananas were once at major risk due to the fusarium-related fungal disease called Panama Disease. At the same time that these were under fungal attack, the Gros Michel variety (unrelated to Gran Nain) was commercially destroyed.

Current Gran Nain cultivars have a similar flavor to the classic Gros Michel banana, but are a dwarf plant. They are very slightly resistant to older strains of Panama Disease, but can still be overwhelmed. These grow to 8′ in height.

Musa acuminata (AA Group), ‘Lady Finger’, ‘Sugar Banana’

Dwarf banana tree, ‘Lady Finger’. Source: dracophylla

Duploid hybrid of Musa acuminata. The Lady Finger banana tends to produce very small and slender finger-shaped dessert fruit, and also tends to have a much smaller dwarf profile than many other banana species. It’s slowly gaining popularity because of its miniature fruit. The plant itself grows between 4-9′ tall.

Musa x paradisiaca (AAB Group), ‘Latundan Banana’, ‘Apple Banana’, ‘Silk Banana’, ‘Pisang Raja’, ‘Brazilian’

Dwarf banana tree, ‘Apple Banana’. Source: Scot Nelson

This is a true hybrid of both Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. It produces a plantain-style cooking banana which is popular throughout south America and in other parts of the world. They’re described to have a slightly-acidic, apple-reminiscent flavor. There’s many different cultivars that share some of these names, but most are 7-9′ tall.

Musa x paradisiaca (AAB Group), ‘Raja Puri’, ‘Rajapuri’

Musa x paradisiaca, ‘Raja Puri’. Source: Starr Environmental

Rajapuri bananas are a dessert banana in sweetness, even though by hybridization they fall into the plantain group. Its fruit has a very dense texture with a rich and sweet flavor, but is used mostly for cooking purposes. The plant itself is most definitely a dwarf cultivar, growing at most 8-10 feet in height. It tends to be hardy even in non-optimal conditions.

Musa sikkimensis, ‘Red Tiger’, ‘Darjeeling Banana’

An ornamental variety which likes higher altitudes. Musa sikkimensis is popular in the mountainous regions of India. While one could eat the fruits of this banana, it has poor flavor. It can be grown as an ornamental in other areas, although it does still prefer higher altitude growing conditions. Red Tiger grows to about 7 feet.

Musa ornata, ‘Flowering Banana’

Musa ornata. Source: Mauricio Mercadante

This ornamental variety is popular in lowland environments where heat and humidity are high. While it produces stunningly beautiful flowers and fruits, the fruit tends to be inedible. Originating in southeastern Asia, it’s now widely cultivated as an ornamental or a source of ingredients for ayurvedic medicine.

Dwarf Banana Tree Care

There are some really important environmental conditions for your dwarf banana tree to thrive. While many cultivars can still grow in hostile conditions, they slow down significantly in speed.

Light

Dwarf banana trees are a full-sun plant. A minimum of eight hours of sunlight is required to give them the best growth, and up to 12 hours if you’re trying to promote fruiting.

If you are trying to keep them in a dwarf ornamental status, keep them in partial shade. The shadier conditions will promote deeper and richer green foliage. Full sun conditions will lighten the leaf coloration to a yellow-green tone, but will aid in flowering.

It is essential to be sure your plant will have enough warmth, as well. These tropical species prefer locations that rarely get below 57 degrees Fahrenheit, and prefer it to be well above 60. Optimal temperatures are between 75-90 degrees.

If you get frost in the winter, you may need to bring your dwarf banana tree indoors. Provide a grow light so it has the light it needs, and keep it in a location where it’s comfortable.

Water

Lots of access to water is necessary, but with bananas, there is a risk of too much. Bananas are susceptible to root rot conditions with over-watering. Under-watering will cause wilting or slow growth.

If growing in a container, it’s important to water slightly more often than if they are in the ground, as containers will dry out faster. Water only when the soil has dried out in the top half inch to inch, and try to maintain a moist but not soggy soil state.

If planted in the ground, ensure that the soil maintains a nice level of moisture but isn’t wet, and water when the soil is dry in the top half-inch to inch.

Most outdoor dwarf bananas require about an inch of water per week per plant. This will change depending on your weather conditions. Cooler climates typically require less water. Mulching also prevents water loss in the soil.

Dwarf banana trees are humidity-loving plants. 50% or higher humidity is best.

Soil

Dwarf banana tree ‘Super Dwarf Cavendish’. Note the mulch to keep the soil moist. Source: F. D. Richards

A midrange pH condition is ideal for bananas. They enjoy soils which are 5.5 to 7 pH.

Dwarf banana plants prefer well-draining soil. They can develop root rot in overly-moist soil. You don’t want to plant them in soil which has previously shown signs of any fusarium fungal infection. Use a high-quality, sterile potting soil for containers, and well-amended clean soil in planters or other outdoor planting sites.

Before planting your banana, mix some fertilizer thoroughly into your potting soil or planting site to give it a boost. Adding some vermiculite or peat moss is also good for moisture retention. Increase the level of your mix to about 20% perlite to ensure good drainage.

If adding composted material in your soil mix, don’t use freshly-produced compost. The warmth of freshly-composted material can retard plant growth or cause damage to the banana corm. Be sure it’s well-aged composted material.

Once your plant is in the soil, mulch around your plant to a depth of at least 4″ to help keep the soil moist and prevent weed growth.

Fertilizer

Dwarf bananas are big eaters. You’ll need to fertilize your dwarf banana tree on a monthly schedule for best growth. Using a high-phosphorous fertilizer like an 8-10-8 is ideal. If you can’t find that, a balanced 10-10-10 will work. For young plants, use 65-75% strength fertilizer, as they don’t need quite as much. Older plants should have full strength.

If you’re trying to promote fruiting, you are going to want a high potassium fertilizer. The fruit requires extra potassium to grow. Opt for something like a 10-10-15 or 10-10-20.

If you are growing your plant indoors, you don’t need to fertilize as heavily. Indoor bananas grow much more slowly. Use 50% of the fertilizer you would use on an outdoor dwarf banana tree. Overwintering plants require no fertilizer at all.

Propagation

Tissue cultured Dwarf Cavendish banana plant. Source: Roopesh M P

Since so many varieties of dwarf banana tree are hybridized, it’s best to buy live plants from suppliers. Most hybrid plants don’t produce seed, and if they do, it’s not viable.

The most reliable way to propagate most cultivars of bananas is by tissue culture. That’s how the majority of banana plants are produced for commercial sale. Tissue culture enables growers to produce perfect clones of the original parent plant.

You can also produce bananas from suckers or “pups”, the offshoots of an adult plant. Banana pups grow in a cluster around the base of the parent plant. These can be carefully shorn from the corm, or base of the plant.

Once these have grown 3-4 leaves, they’re ready to separate. Use a sharp-edged spade to carefully slice these away from the banana corm. Be sure to keep some of the corm and its root mass attached to the pup. Once you’ve separated your pups, you can then plant them along with their attached corm segment elsewhere.

If you plan to keep your dwarf banana tree in the same location, it’s good to remove all but one of the pups from the plant. Select the strongest-looking pup and allow it to remain in place.

When the parent plant dies back, the pup will take over the corm base and will continue to grow. You can then remove the parent plant’s foliage and let the pup develop into an adult.

Repotting

Dwarf Banana Tree as bonsai. This pot is too crowded for normal growing conditions but is fine for bonsai. Source: Tony Buser

Most people growing banana plants in pots pick the wrong size pot. You want a deep pot with a good-sized drainage hole that allows about 3″ space on all sides around the corm or base of your banana plant.

Once you’ve selected your pot, fill the lower portion with new sterile potting soil that’s been blended with some fertilizer. Then, carefully remove your dwarf banana tree from its old pot. Dust off any loose soil, then set it into its new pot. Fill around the plant with new sterile potting soil that’s been fertilizer-amended. Finally, place a 4″ or thicker layer of mulch on top of the soil.

Your plant will stop growing when it begins to become rootbound. At that time, you’ll need to re-pot it again to maintain its current size and encourage growth. Alternately, cut off part of the corm to keep it in the same pot.

Fruiting

Banana hand above flower. Source: Starr Environmental

It can take 6-9 months before a banana flower forms, longer in cooler climates. Some varieties which prefer hotter climates may never bloom in cooler ones. Pick a variety which is suited to your area.

When it flowers, do not remove the leaves that shade the flower from the sun. Those leaves help protect the flower and any subsequent fruit.

As the flower petals begin to draw back, you will see very young bananas begin to form. Each segment of bananas is called a hand, with an individual banana called a finger. Multiple hands of bananas will form on a single flower stalk. The full stem holding multiple hands is called a bunch.

Once all of the hands are revealed and are starting to grow, remove the remaining flower at the tip of the stem. Cutting that off will encourage fruit growth. You may also need to remove the tiny “extra hand” that sits against the flower, as that will generally not fully fruit.

It’s best to cover your growing bananas with a loose nylon sack that has openings at both ends to allow for airflow and water drainage. This protects your fruit from pests. When the petals at the tip of each banana fall off or dry to a crumbling state, you can remove the bag and harvest your bananas.

As your dwarf banana tree is harvested, the adult tree will die back. At that point, remove the dying or dead adult plant’s foliage and encourage a pup to take the adult’s place.

Pruning

Pruning is minimal for most of a dwarf banana tree’s life cycle. Remove most of the suckers or pups from around the plant’s corm, only allowing the most vigorous to survive. An indoor plant can handle 2-3 suckers, but shouldn’t have more than that. I recommend only leaving one, the healthiest, and encouraging that to take over from the parent later.

Try not to remove green and vigorous leaves unless they are really in the way. It’s best to only remove leaves when the leaf has become yellowed or browned and has shriveled on its own. The leaf should easily pull off at that point. If not, use a clean sharp knife to sever it from its stem.

Overwintering Dwarf Banana Trees Indoors

Banana in container. Source: Gardening Solutions

If you don’t have room indoors for your dwarf banana tree to take up a lot of space during the cold months, cut it back!

As it approaches wintertime, the leaves along the outside of the dwarf banana tree will begin to yellow along the edges or go yellow-brown and withered. This is a sign that it’s time to trim it and bring the corm or root base indoors.

If it’s already in a pot, simply take a sharp saw or knife and cut the plant off about 3″ above the soil level, leaving a flat top. New growth will begin to appear from the center of the corm later.

If it’s in the ground, still cut it off as mentioned above. However, carefully dig out the root ball of the plant and put it into a pot filled with potting soil, and bring that indoors for the winter.

Keep the soil moist and stored in a location that is above 60 degrees. Some light is preferred, but it will handle low-light conditions during the cold season as well. If new leaves begin to form, provide at least some light to keep it going until you can take it back out.

Overwintering Dwarf Banana Trees Outdoors

If you are growing your tree for its fruit, don’t cut it back to 3″ above the ground. In most non-tropical areas, it can take longer than a year for some varieties to produce a flower stalk, and you don’t want to slow that process.

If your average weather is going to be at or above 60 degrees, you don’t have to take any steps to overwinter your plants.

In an area where you don’t get frost, but you do get temperatures below 60 degrees, take chicken wire and make a tubular ring around your dwarf banana tree. Add shredded leaves inside the chicken wire to make a shield from the cold.

Areas that receive frost should overwinter their banana trees indoors. Carefully remove your plant from the ground and place into a pot that’s at least 3″ larger on all sides than the root mass and corm. Keep it in a warm, well-lit portion of your house until the weather is again consistently above 60 degrees.

Problems

As a plant, the dwarf banana tree is at risk from a number of diseases and pests.

Pests

Pest nematodes can be a problem for most plants, but root knot nematodes are especially problematic for bananas. The large corm and unusual root system provides ample below-ground food for this pest. These pest nematodes can spread deadly fusarium-type diseases such as Panama disease.

I highly recommend purchasing and spreading beneficial nematodes in and around your banana plants. Beneficial nematodes will hunt out and kill the other varieties of nematode. They also help control most soil-burrowing or soil-pupating larvae of other insects. These micro-insects are a wonderful aid to your soil!

Corky scab thrips (Chaetanaphothrips signipennis) damage to plant. Source: Scot Nelson

There is a type of thrip called the Banana Rust Thrip which feasts upon the leaves of banana plants as well as on the peels of their fruit. Another thrip, the Corky Scab Thrip, can destroy bananas rapidly. While you may be able to remove thrips by hand, I recommend killing them with a spinosad spray. Monterey Garden Insect Spray is my personal favorite for thrip control.

Black weevils, sometimes called banana stalk borers, are another problem for dwarf banana trees. You can coat the leaves and stalks of your banana plants with diatomaceous earth to repel them. Beneficial nematodes will help wipe out the larval stages. Using a pyrethrin spray such as Safer Brand Yard & Garden Spray can kill off what persists in plaguing your plants.

Mealybugs can pay a visit to your dwarf banana tree, as can spider mites or aphids. Aphids in particular can be risky as they are carriers of the bunchy-top disease. All of these sap-sucking insects can be repelled with the application of some neem oil on all plant surfaces. If the neem oil doesn’t work, the Safer Brand Yard & Garden Spray will also work for these tiny pests.

Finally, the coquito, also called the banana fruit scarring beetle, will attack banana fruit in its adult form. The eggs it lays turn into larvae which burrow into the soil at the base of the plant to eat the roots and pupate. Sticky traps work to capture the adult beetle, but for the larvae, beneficial nematodes are one of your best defenses. Inviting ladybugs and lacewings to help eat the eggs on your plants will also destroy this pest.

Diseases

A healthy banana leaf. Source: scinta1

There are a couple varieties of leaf spot which can impact dwarf banana trees. Sigatoka and black leaf streak are both fungal leaf spots which can be hard to treat. Your best bet in a home gardening scenario is to use a product such as Bonide Copper Fungicide.

However, black leaf streak can be resistant to fungicides, so it may take repeated applications to have effect. A horticultural spray oil may help prevent leaf spot diseases. Bonide All-Seasons Horticultural and Dormant Spray Oil is a good choice.

Fusarium oxysporum is a fungus that causes the dreaded Panama disease, also referred to as banana wilt. This type of fusarium wilt is lethal to banana plants.

In fact, it caused the commercial banana industry to stop growing the Gros Michel cultivar of banana entirely. Gros Michel was at one point the world’s most popular banana, and has since been replaced by the Cavendish. However, the Cavendish is at risk from a new variety of this fusarium wilt called Tropical Race 4.

Signs of Panama disease include yellowing leaves, drooping fronds, and eventually plant death. It can be transmitted by wind, water, movement of infected soil, or via farm equipment. It’s important to thoroughly clean tools you use on banana plants to prevent the spread of this fusarium fungi.

Once your plant has contracted the disease, it should be destroyed to prevent further spread. not plant more bananas in the same soil or exact location.

Banana Bunchy Top Disease causing leaf cupping. Source: Scot Nelson

Banana bunchy top disease is transmitted by aphids, especially the banana aphid. This disease causes upward curling or cupping of the leaves and narrowing of leaves. The leaves will eventually become stiff and brittle, and the disease retards the plant’s growth.

To avoid bunchy top, wipe out aphids before they can cause the disease’s spread. While it’s most common in Australia and some parts of New Zealand, occurrence of bunchy top disease has slowed in recent years.

Aphids also cause the banana mosaic disease. Mottled or striped foliage will result, and the mottling can spread to the fruit as well. Unfortunately, there is no real cure for banana mosaic disease. Destroy infected plants to prevent further spread.

While there are other diseases that impact bananas, it is unlikely that the home grower will have problems with them. Black end can cause blight-like symptoms on fruit, and cigar tip rot starts in the flower and can turn fruit black and inedible. Both of these can be wiped out by removing the fruiting stalk, but the plant may not last much after the stalk is removed.

Moko disease is a bacterial infection which is very difficult and expensive to control, but resistant cultivars are widely available.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why are the edges of the leaves of my plant turning brown?

A: This is a difficult question to answer. Both too much and too little water can cause leaf browning. Further, different diseases such as bunchy top or Panama disease can cause browning.

Most home growers are less likely to have disease issues, so most of the time watering problems are the culprit. Check the top inch of soil around your plant. If it’s dry, you need to water more often. If it’s soggy, you’re overwatering. You want it to be moist but not muddy, and your soil needs to be able to drain extra water easily.

Q: Are bananas going extinct?

A: While there have been drastic problems in the commercial market with Panama disease, bunchy-top disease and Moko disease, bananas are nowhere near extinction. However, the Gros Michel variety of banana is very susceptible to older forms of Panama disease.

The Cavendish variety of bananas that’s widely available commercially right now is susceptible to a new strain of Panama disease, the Tropical Race 4 strain.

Unless commercial banana farming is changed to avoid fungal infections such as these, the commercial viability of bananas may be at risk. Home gardeners have less concern unless they live near commercial banana farms. So don’t fear the extinction of bananas quite yet… but be watchful for fungal infections!

When all’s said and done, the dwarf banana tree can be a beautiful addition to your garden, indoors or outdoors. They might require a bit more maintenance than some plants, but it’s well worth the effort. As long as you keep a watchful eye out for any problematic symptoms like leaf browning, you will have a beautiful tropical addition to your home!

Have you grown bananas before? Which cultivar do you prefer the most, and do you grow them as ornamentals or fruiting plants? Share your stories in the comments below!

The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:
Kevin Espiritu
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The bananas your grandparents ate were different than the ones you eat today. And the bananas your grandchildren know will probably be entirely different as well.

For the moment, we are in the age of the Cavendish, a banana cultivar that accounts for 99 percent of imports to the Western world. But the Cavendish is in trouble. Like its predecessor the Gros Michel, the Cavendish may soon pass from our lives, potentially taking with it an entire industry.

At the heart of the conflict is the sturdy little fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense; it infects and kills banana plants and, since the banana industry relies so heavily on one species, it is spreading steadily across banana-rich Southeast Asia and into Australia and the Middle East.

The awkwardly long scientific name is because it is only one of several strains of the pathogen, also known as Panama disease. The current epidemic is a close cousin to the variety of Panama disease that nearly ended the banana industry entirely in the mid-20th century.

Today, Tropical Race 4, or TR4, is taking down the Cavendish. The mid-20th century menace was Race 1, which ravaged banana plantations in Central America, home to most commercial operations, beginning in the early 1900s. By 1960, it was ubiquitous in the region.

There’s no cure, no spray that fights the disease, and it was only a lucky break, followed by a mad rush of replanting, that saved commercial banana production from itself back then. Today, that same tragicomic situation is playing out once again, and it appears we haven’t learned much.

Those Who Forget The Past

By the early 1900s, United Fruit had established itself as the leading banana producer in Central America. Vast banana plantations, many on land donated by the government, produced vast quantities of a fruit few in the U.S. had ever seen before. The banana would soon be firmly entrenched in consumer’s lives.

But we don’t know bananas, not really. United Fruit made its fortune on a single variety, the Gros Michel, which is just one of dozens of varieties grown for consumption around the world. Western customers, then and today, have only peeled back one layer of the real diversity that’s out there.

Gros Michel, or “Big Mike,” was near-perfect for mass production. Tightly-packed bunches, thick skin and a general durability made it easy to transport and the banana was sweet and creamy enough to keep customers coming back. Once they had the Gros Michel, the banana companies never looked back.

Banana growers utterly embraced Big Mike, growing it as a monoculture on massive plantations to take advantage of the heightened efficiency that homogenous production brings. In the process, they lost the resiliency that diversity imparts.

In a forest filled with hundreds of plants, Cavendish and Gros Michel plants would have been few and far in between, so Panama disease couldn’t spread far. In a plantation where bananas grow by the thousands, the fungus had nothing to stop it.

A Dirty Menace

The fungus lives in the soil, where it attacks the roots of the banana plant and eventually clogs their xylem, the tissues responsible for transporting water. Within a few months, or a year or two at most, banana plants die. Fusarium spreads slowly but surely as it can’t travel via the wind like some other diseases; instead, it hitches rides on boots, tires and farm equipment. Once the disease infiltrates a plantation, containment is difficult — most growers simply choose to abandon the infected soil completely — and the fungus creates spores that can remain viable for decades.

Because the fungus spreads so slowly, United Fruit was for a time able to maintain production by simply moving their plantations. The company exerted enormous political influence in the poor Central American countries it occupied, leaving them free to snap up millions of acres of fresh land.

“The policy was, when our plantations die out we will just move on to other good banana soils, which would be virgin rainforest, chop it down and keep expanding,” says Clyde Stephens, a retired banana researcher who worked for United Fruit for more than 30 years.

Over the course of more than three decades in the 1900s, United Fruit staged a measured retreat through the verdant rainforests of Central America. Tropical forests, with their nutrient-rich soil, were replaced by orderly stands of banana plants in a wave of colonization and subsequent abandonment. All the while, the fungus stalked close behind.

“And finally, they couldn’t keep running,” Stephens says. Desperate for a cure to Panama disease the company poured millions of dollars into a long-shot solution: Flooding banana fields in an attempt to drown out the fungus.

It didn’t work.

“After a year or two, all the new planted vigorous, beautiful Gros Michel started dying off,” Stephens says. “It was a multi-million-dollar failure.”

In 1958, Stephens says, decades after Panama disease first showed up, United Fruit finally began searching for a new variety in earnest. Though there are many edible banana varieties out there, few also have qualities that make them ideal for mass production.

Through trial and error they found that the Cavendish, a variety similar to the Gros Michel and discovered hiding in the greenhouse of a British Duke, seemed able to the weather the fungus. It was a windfall. Though it didn’t ship as well as the Gros Michel, the Cavendish was easy to grow and tasted good enough for the company to stake its future on.

In just a few short years, Stephens says, United Fruit figured out how to plant, foster, fertilize, harvest, ship, ripen and sell the Cavendish banana. It was a massive feat of agricultural engineering, and saved the company from bankruptcy. By the mid-1960s, United Fruit was wildly profitable once again, and the banana was back.

But just 30 years later, an interregnum short enough that those who fought Panama disease in Central America are still alive to remember it, the fungus resurfaced in southeast Asia, in Cavendish bananas this time. The one-time savior of the banana companies had a short life span.

Doomed To Repeat It

Though United Fruit, now Chiquita Brands International, has lost the dominance it enjoyed during the 20th century, the banana continues to be a lucrative crop. While Latin America still leads the world in exports, Southeast Asia countries produce far more — most of which is consumed at home. Globally, 114 million tons of bananas are produced every year, almost half of which are Cavendish.

Though Southeast Asia, where bananas originated, grows dozens of varieties of banana, the Cavendish is the only kind deemed acceptable for export. That makes it a lucrative cash crop, and the region exported nearly 4 million metric tons of bananas in 2014.

The Cavendish boom began in the 1990s, when demand from Middle Eastern countries began to grow. And, coincidentally, that time period neatly aligns with the first wide-spread appearance of TR4 in the region, says Randy Ploetz, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida.

“For the first time we started seeing this susceptibility of what we thought was a resistant banana,” he says. “In short order when they started trying to grow these export plantations of Cavendish in southeast Asia they started succumbing to this new genetic group of the pathogen.”

Ploetz thinks that TR4 was probably there in the soil all along, but, because it doesn’t affect many of banana types typically grown there, it was never able to spread. In fact, the disease likely grew up right alongside the bananas, he thinks, a tandem evolution that left the disease more virulent and the local bananas better at protecting themselves. The Cavendish, though, didn’t benefit from this evolutionary arms race.

“Monoculture plantations of banana or any crop are a surefire way that if you’ve got a virulent pathogen out there, boy you’re gonna know about it because you’ve got this uniform population of suspect hosts,” he says.

The way TR4 is moving is depressingly similar to the way TR1 spread in Central America. And Asian banana growers are reacting much like United Fruit did, by uprooting plantations to try and keep ahead of the disease. It’s already widespread in China, Ploetz says, and has begun to encroach on Laos and Vietnam.

As before, the tactic isn’t working. Banana exports in 2015 from Asia dropped by 46 percent, due to both storms and the disease. In recent years, the disease has spread to Australia and the Middle East, and turned up most recently in Mozambique. Growers in Central America worry that they’re next.

Losing Ground

It hasn’t helped that plantation owners in Asia often don’t use responsible planting techniques that could slow down or perhaps stop the disease’s spread. That includes quarantining affected areas and carefully cleaning farm equipment that could transmit the disease elsewhere. The practice of using suckers, or shoots from the banana plants’ stems, to grow new stands could be a factor as well. Commercial bananas are clones, they don’t reproduce with seeds like most plants. When growers need to establish a new grove, they do so with the identical twins of existing plants.

Suckers from infected individuals will spread the disease wherever they are planted. Plants grown from tissue cultures, or collections of cells incubated in a lab, won’t spread disease in this way, but the practice is more difficult and expensive and growers in southeast Asia don’t always do it.

One company in the Philippines, South African-based Unifrutti, has done a decent job of keeping their plantations clean, Ploetz says, but they are by far the minority. Even Australia, where a government-imposed quarantine for bananas went into effect, was unable to keep the disease out.

To cope, researchers have for years been attempting to create genetically modified versions of the Cavendish that are immune to TR4. There has been some success with breeding somoclones, a type of genetic variation caused by tissue culture cultivation. There are a few somoclonal variants that display a greater resistance to Panama disease, Ploetz says, but even these die out after two or three cycles of harvesting and must be replanted.

The prospect of creating a transgenic banana, one with beneficial genes from another species, or one that’s been modified with a technique like CRISPR is even more tantalizing. Just this year, James Dale, a researcher at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia reported that he’d created two strains of TR4-resistant Cavendish using genes borrowed from other species. Two separate varieties, one with genes from a banana resistant to TR-4, and another with genes from a nematode, remained disease-free after three years.

It’s a victory for Dale, who’s been working on such a banana for years now. And it could represent a renaissance for the Cavendish, allowing the banana to return to fungus-laden fields and continue its dominance. Such an undertaking would be expensive, though banana exporters who have built their fortunes on the variety could have little choice. And for Central American growers fearful of the disease’s seemingly inevitable appearance on their shores, it could be a godsend.

If planting transgenic banana proves to be economical, and consumers can stomach the extra genes, the Cavendish may well remain king in Western supermarkets for the foreseeable future.

What remains to be seen is whether genetically-modified bananas are simply a more high-tech version of the great banana swap United Fruit pulled off in the 20th century. No matter what genes they have, the Cavendish will still be grown in the kind of monoculture plantations that let disease spread in the first place.

If Ploetz is right, TR4 could be but one of many previously undiscovered banana pathogens already in existence. TR5 could be lurking in the wings, waiting for its cue.

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