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Broad, long, graceful leaves and rapid growth-commonly reaching full size in just a few weeks-make banana a favorite plant for providing a tropical look to pool and patio areas. The development of bananas following a frost-free winter is a source of both pride and amazement to those unfamiliar with banana culture.
Banana is a tropical herbaceous plant consisting of an underground corm and a trunk (pseudostem) comprised of concentric layers of leaf sheaths. At 10 to 15 months after the emergence of a new plant, its true stem rapidly grows up through the center and emerges as a terminal inflorescence which bears fruit.
The flowers appear in groups (hands) along the stem and are covered by purplish bracts which roll back and shed as the fruit stem develops. The first hands to appear contain female flowers which will develop into bananas (usually seedless in edible types). The number of hands of female flowers varies from a few to more than 10, after which numerous hands of sterile flowers appear and shed in succession, followed by numerous hands of male flowers which also shed. Generally, a bract rolls up and sheds to expose a new hand of flowers almost daily. Be careful when buying field grown banana tree offshoots or offsets. Many have virus and diseases. Some growers sell banana tree water shoots which have big leaves when small, these banana plants are no good for landscaping or bananas and should be cut off as the main banana plant grows. Good field grown banana tree offshoots (corms) have sword like thin leaves until 3' tall.
Starting new plants from the main clump is a rather easy procedure that requires only a spade to break off a sucker or "pup" from the main pseudostem. This is done by digging straight down between the main stem and around the "pup". I typically dig down at least 2 ft. and dig around the perimeter of the pup and with one final scoop, you have yourself a new banana plant!
Banana is a tropical plant which grows best under warm conditions. In colder areas where banana is used mostly as an ornamental, new plants are obtained and planted each spring.
The leaves are tattered badly by strong winds, rendering the plant less attractive. Strong winds, in conjunction with saturated soil and the weight of a stem of fruit, can result in significant blow down unless guying or other protection is provided.
Soil and Site Selection
Banana grows in a wide variety of soils, as long as the soil is deep and has good internal and surface drainage. The effect of poorly drained soils can be partly overcome by planting in raised beds, as the plant does not tolerate poor drainage or flooding.
The planting site should be chosen for protection from wind and cold weather, if possible. The warmest location in the home landscape is near the south or southeast side of the house.
The first priority to consider when growing banana is to use the proper growing media. Use a potting mix because it will dry out fast and that is when the roots will grow. Just do not keep it wet during the first month. Shade is best for a few days when they come out of the box
Fruits: The ovaries contained in the first (female) flowers grow rapidly, developing parthenocarpically (without pollination) into clusters of fruits, called hands. The number of hands varies with the species and variety. The fruit (technically a berry) turns from deep green to yellow or red, and may range from 2-1/2 to 12 inches in length and 3/4 to 2 inches in width. The flesh, ivory-white to yellow or salmon-yellow, may be firm, astringent, even gummy with latex when unripe, turning tender and slippery, or soft and mellow or rather dry and mealy or starchy when ripe. The flavor may be mild and sweet or sub acid with a distinct apple tone. The common cultivated types are generally seedless with just vestiges of ovules visible as brown specks. Occasionally, cross-pollination with wild types will result in a number of seeds in a normally seedless variety.
Location: Bananas require as much warmth as can be given them. Additional warmth can be given by planting next to a building. Planting next to cement or asphalt walks or driveways also helps. Wind protection is advisable, not for leaf protection as much as for protection of the plant after the banana stalk has appeared. During these last few months propping should be done to keep the plant from tipping or being blown over.
Soil: Bananas will grow in most soils, but to thrive, they should be planted in a rich, well-drained soil. The best possible location would be above an abandoned compost heap. They prefer an acid soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. The banana is not tolerant of salty soils.
Irrigation: The large leaves of bananas use a great deal of water. Do not let plants dry out, but do not over water. Standing water, especially in cool weather, will cause root rot. Plants grown in dry summer areas such as Southern California need periodic deep watering to help leach the soil of salts. Spread a thick layer of mulch on the soil to help conserve moisture and protect the shallow roots. Container grown plants should be closely watched to see that they do not dry out. An occasional deep watering to leach the soil is also helpful.
Fertilization: Their rapid growth rate make bananas heavy feeders. During warm weather, apply a balanced fertilizer once a month--a 8:10:8 NPK fertilizer appears to be adequate. A mature plant may require as much as 1-1/2 to 2 pounds of the above fertilizer each month. Young plants need a quarter to a third as much. Spread the fertilizer evenly around the plant in a circle extending 4 - 8 feet from the trunk. Do not allow the fertilizer to come in contact with the trunk. Feed container container plants on the same monthly schedule using about half the rate for outside plants.
Frost Protection: Bananas flourish best under uniformly warm conditions but can survive 28° F for short periods. If the temperature does not fall below 22° F and the cold period is short, the underground rhizome will usually survive. To keep the plants that are above ground producing, protection against low temperatures is very important. Wrap trunk or cover with blanket if the plants are small and low temperatures are predicted.
Pruning Only one primary stem of each rhizome should be allowed to fruit. All excess shoots should be removed as soon as they are noticed. This helps channel all of of the plant's energy into fruit production. Once the main stalk is 6 - 8 months old, permit one sucker to develop as a replacement stalk for the following season. When the fruit is harvested, cut the fruiting stalk back to 30 inches above the ground. Remove the stub several weeks later. The stalk can be cut into small pieces and used as mulch.
Pests and Diseases: Bananas have few troublesome pests or diseases outside the tropics. Root rot from cold wet soil is by far the biggest killer of banana plants in our latitudes. Gophers topple them, and snails and earwigs will crawl up to where they can get continuous water, but these pests do not bother the plant.
Fruit Harvest: Stalks of bananas are usually formed in the late summer and then winter over. In March they begin "plumping up" and may ripen in April. Occasionally, a stalk will form in early summer and ripen before cold weather appears. The fruit can be harvested by cutting the stalk when the bananas are plump but green. For tree-ripened fruit, cut one hand at a time as it ripens. If latter is done, check stalk daily as rodents can eat the insides of every banana, from above, and the stalk will look untouched. Once harvested the stalk should be hung in a cool, shady place. Since ethylene helps initiate and stimulate ripening, and mature fruit gives off this gas in small amounts, ripening can be hastened by covering the bunch with a plastic bag. Plantains are starchy types that are cooked before eating.
Cold protection of the top is possible by use of coverings and heat sources, but such is not often practical. However, in colder locations, soil can be banked around the trunk just before a projected cold spell to better protect the underground buds, which will allow the plant to regenerate in the coming spring. Unprotected but well-established bananas across the south with some exceptions, regenerated after freezes.
Some people dig the entire plant, rhizome and all, remove the leaves and store the plant, dry, in a heated area over winter. To assure survival, it is easier to dig small suckers, severed very close to the parent rhizome, and pot them for overwintering indoors.
After fruiting, the mother plant which bore should be cut off near ground level, as it can never produce again. The old trunk will quickly decompose if cut into three or four pieces, with each piece then being split lengthwise. Use the remains in a mulch bed or compost heap.
Tattered older leaves can be removed after they break and hang down along the trunk.
Production, Maturity and Use
Most bananas will produce the flower bud within 10 to 15 months of emergence as a new sucker, depending mostly on variety and extent of cool/cold weather. Most production north of the lower Rio Grande Valley occurs in the spring and summer following a particularly mild winter.
The reddish purple bracts of the flower roll back and split to expose a hand of bananas, usually at the rate of one per day. After all hands with viable fruit are exposed, the bracts continue to roll back and split for several weeks, leaving a bare stem between the fruit and the bud.
Well-tended bananas in commerce produce fruit stems approaching 100 pounds, but such yields are rare under most conditions. The more delicately flavored, small-fruited varieties may attain stem weights of 35 to 40 pounds. Most producers readily accept production of stems having only two or three hands, although six to eight hands per stem is common for well-tended plants.
The entire stem (bunch) should be cut off when the individual bananas are plump (full) and rounded. Although green in color, the fruit is mature and will ripen to good eating quality. The stem of fruit should be hung in a cool, shaded place to ripen. Ripening will proceed naturally in a few days (if properly harvested), but can be hastened by enclosing the bunch in a plastic bag with a sliced apple for about a day. Once ripening starts on the oldest hand, the entire bunch will ripen within a couple of days.
Ripe bananas are consumed fresh out-of-hand, in salads, compotes, ice-cream dishes and pudding. Overripe fruit can be pureed in the blender for use in ice cream and baking. Both dessert and cooking bananas may be fried or baked, but the cooking bananas are generally more starchy until nearly spoiled ripe, and their fresh flavor is not so good. Green (mature but not ripe) bananas and plantains can also be sliced thinly and fried for a starchy treat.
The beautiful and stately banana "tree" grows about one hundred pounds of bananas. Bananas are cut and left in large clusters just as they grew. Cut while still green and unripe, the flesh of the banana is very dense and starchy. As the banana ripens, the flesh becomes somewhat sticky and deliciously sweet. A very popular fruit, a ripe banana offers a satisfying soothing flavor and a wonderful creamy texture.
Bananas are one of the FDA's top twenty fruits. An excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, and potassium, they provide fiber, are low in fat, cholesterol-free and low in sodium. A regular sized banana has about 95 calories. Some medications for controlling blood pressure deplete the body's storage of potassium. One banana eaten each day restores the balance of potassium. Recognized as an important part of the diet and to lower the chances of cancer, at least five servings daily of either fruits or vegetables are recommended. A recent study found that eating nine or ten daily servings of fruits and vegetables, combined with three servings of low-fat dairy products, were effective in lowering blood pressure.
To lift ink stains from skin
We’ve all been there, you’ve got ink-covered hands and soap and water just aren’t cutting it. To naturally de-ink your skin, eat a banana and grab the peels. Rub the fleshy white side onto the discolored areas and watch the stains fade away almost immediately. The natural oils in the peel will attract the oils in the ink, weakening the pigment’s bond with the skin, aiding in easy removal, minus the scrubbing with soap that would’ve left your skin dry and red.
To soothe an itchy bug bite
Summer is approaching and mosquitoes have begun feasting on us. For fast, chemical-free relief from an itchy bite, rub the inside of a banana peel against the reddish, bumpy inflamed area. The Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry recommends rubbing the infected area with the lining of a banana peel for immediate cooling effect. The peels are full of polysaccharides, which will seep into skin cells to halt swelling and inflammation within minutes, while promoting the healing process.
To whiten teeth on the cheap
No need to spend a fortune on professional whitening treatments at the dentist. Let banana peels do the job instead. Make it a point to rub the inner white side of a peel against freshly brushed teeth for about two minutes daily. The combination of plaque-busting, astringent salicylic acid and gently bleaching citric acid in banana peels will efficiently lighten surface stains on teeth without eroding the enamel. With this clever trick, you’ll have bright pearly whites by the end of the week.
To buff away scuffs on leather shoes
We spend a bunch load on leather shoes, but, sadly, the scuffs and stains on the toes are just unavoidable. To get them back in mint condition, lightly rub the spots with the white side of a banana peel, then wipe with a clean cotton cloth. The peel’s potassium content (a key ingredient in leather polish) will be absorbed into the leather and diminish the marks almost immediately, leaving your shoes looking pristine.
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Bananas are one of our best sources of potassium, an essential mineral for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. Since the average banana contains a whopping 467 mg of potassium and only 1 mg of sodium, a banana a day may help to prevent high blood pressure. Bananas have long been recognized for their antacid effects that protect against stomach ulcers and ulcer damage. Could be World's Healthiest
How do bananas grow?
A banana plant takes about 9 months to grow up and produce a bunch of bananas. Then the mother plant dies. But around the base of it are many suckers, little baby plants.
At the base of a banana plant, under the ground, is a big rhizome, called the corm.
The corm has growing points and they turn into new suckers. These suckers can be taken off and transplanted, and one or two can be left in position to replace the mother plant.
Great, so now you know what to do once you have bananas growing in your garden, but how do you start?
How to get started growing bananas.
Bananas can handle extreme heat (if they have enough water), but they don't like it. They can handle cool weather for a short while, but they don't like that either.
You need very rich soil. If you don't have good soil to start with, make some. Incorporate lots and lots of compost and before you plant your bananas (wood ash for extra potassium doesn't hurt either), and then mulch them very thickly. And keep mulching and feeding them!
You can not grow edible bananas from seeds. Edible Banana plants don't produce seeds.
You just need to sprinkle on some fertilizer every now and then, to replace what you took out of the system when you took the bananas. Keep the fertilizer close to the trunk as bananas don't have a big root system.
Growing banana fruit
You may see your first flower emerge after about six months, depending on the weather. Leave the leaves around it, especially the one protecting the top bend of the stalk from sunburn!
As the purple flower petals curl back and drop off they reveal a "hand" of bananas under each. Each banana is a "finger"
You may get anything between four to a dozen or more full hands. Then, under the next petal, you'll see a hand of teeny weeny excuses for bananas. Those are the male fingers.
The male fingers just dry and drop off. Only the stalk remains. If you let it grow it will eventually reach the ground.
They will eventually ripen on the bunch, and those bananas taste the best. But once they start they ripen very quickly, faster than you can eat or use them. So you may as well cut the top hands off a bit earlier and ripen them on the kitchen bench.
You can also cut the whole bunch and hang it somewhere if you need to protect it from possums or birds or other thieves. But then all bananas will ripen at once! So be prepared.
You can preserve bananas for use in cooking and baking by peeling and freezing them. Or, to preserve them for eating, peel, split in half lengthwise and dry them.