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Growing Bananas

SERIES 19 | Episode 05

Bananas are the world’s favourite tropical fruit. The fruits are rich in fibre, potassium, vitamins A, B6 and C. But it’s also about flavour – and you just can’t beat the taste of a home grown banana.

Bananas have been cultivated for so long that they have lost the ability to reproduce by seed. They need gardeners to survive. They are propagated either by division or by tissue culture, and that means they are all genetically identical clones. They’re not true trees, in fact the stems are made from layers of tightly-packed leaf-bases, and each new leaf is forced through the centre of the stem. At maturity they flower and the first part of the flower to open is male – that’s called the bell. Then the spirally arranged female flowers come out and develop into fruit.

Anyone can grow backyard bananas, but banana-growing in Australia is highly regulated and a permit is needed to plant or transplant a banana. There’s a good reason for this. Banana plants are susceptible to serious diseases and plants can only be bought from government approved, certified disease free sources.

There are several cultivars of banana for the home garden. These include ‘Lady Finger’, ‘Dwarf Ducasse’, ‘Pisang Ceylon’ and ‘Bluggoe’. ‘Bluggoe’ is a plantain variety that’s picked and cooked, similar to a potato, when it’s green.

Bananas are best suited to a warm, frost-free, coastal climate and usually grow well as far south as Perth and Sydney. They need all day sunshine and moisture. Before planting, thoroughly loosen the soil. For each plant I’ve added three buckets of compost, plus a bucket of blended organic manure and mixed a handful of lime thoroughly into the soil surface. This creates a slightly raised planting mound to improve drainage around the roots.

If you’re planting several bananas, keep them four to five metres apart. Mulch and water them well. Bananas are hungry plants. Each one will need a bucket of blended organic fertiliser, applied four times a year, and water them regularly, particularly in dry weather.

They’re suckering plants. But producing too many suckers will reduce yields. Just go for a leader and two followers – or two strong suckers – and remove the rest.

Performance with bananas is connected to food and maintenance. Remove any dead material and when a stem has finished fruiting it will die. Cut it out and remove the dead leaves regularly – compost them for the garden.

Bananas often produce large bunches of fruit. Don’t let them all ripen together. To avoid gluts try cutting them off as individual hands, put them in a paper bag, and ripen them indoors.

The fruit bunches are heavy so be careful, and whenever you’re working around banana plants, wear old clothes because the sap will stain permanently.

With some effort and regular attention you can share the pleasure of growing your own bananas. Just remember to get them from government approved sources and don’t forget a permit.

Jerry explains how to grow bananas

Jerry Coleby-Williams

Sustainable Gardening in our Continually Surprising Climate

Tag: Banana

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