Here’s how to grow bananas in North Florida, step by step!
How To Grow Bananas In North Florida
Growing bananas and keeping them alive through a chilly Florida winter isn’t rocket science.
It’s not even hard.
It doesn’t require sheets, Christmas lights or a greenhouse.
All you need is a little patience, a somewhat sheltered location, lots of nutrition and water… and for you to put away your pruning saw… and you’ll be able to grow bananas in North Florida, no matter what everyone says. Ready? Let’s go!
Growing Bananas Requires Patience
Don’t think you’re going to plant a little banana pup and get fruit the first year. Bananas quit growing when it gets cool out. We’re talking at 70 or below… they just kind of hang out and wait for it to get hot again.
If you live in a place that has cool winters, during those few months your bananas are just going to sit. Frost damage will also set them back, which leads me to my next point.
To Grow Bananas You Should Have Shelter
Winds and cold nights will wreak havoc on your trees. If you have a south-facing wall with some sun, plant them there. I love south walls and you will too, once you see what you can pull off.
Other locations that are good for bananas are right beside a swimming pool, next to a fence that blocks the wind, or under the outer edge of a large shade tree so they get some sunlight but also some canopy protection from cold nights.
Shorter bananas are easier to shelter than taller varieties, but I still grow 16′ Orinoco bananas at my place and they do great by the south wall of my house – despite some nights that have reached down into the teens!
Bananas Like Lots of Water and Fertilizer
Banana fertilizer can be compost, urine, chemical fertilizer from a bag, or whatever kitchen scraps wash down the sink. Septic tanks are also beloved by banana trees. Just know this: they’re hungry trees!
Bananas are also very thirsty. I read somewhere that they like at least 100 inches of rain a year. Plant them at the base of a gutter and/or make sure they’re getting water regularly or they stall out. Greywater systems are great for bananas.
Don’t Cut Back Your Banana Trees!
For some reason, folks around here like to chop back banana trees after a frost, along with removing all the dead leaves. Don’t do that! First of all, only remove the dead banana leaves after all danger of frost has passed. Secondly, cutting the trunk back will set the tree back a season or so and keep it from fruiting as soon. I know, the tree looks ugly – let it look ugly for a while. Usually, new shoots will emerge from the center of the tree once the weather warms up – and often, a bloom and bananas will follow. If you chop them back… this usually won’t happen until later in the year… and you may lose your bananas to frost.
Banana Fruiting Times
Bananas are non-seasonal trees (actually, they’re not even trees… but I digress), meaning they fruit when they feel like it. This could mean that they decide to put out a bloom in September and then as it cools off in October, you have a little hand of bananas hanging there and not maturing because the weather has gotten cool… and then in November or December, a freeze will take out the fruits before they have any kind of chance to ripen.
Ideally, your tree will outgrow the frosts of winter and put out blooms in the spring and early summer, ripening up by fall and frost season.
When To Harvest Bananas
I get asked when to harvest bananas by gardeners all the time. Harvest ALL of a stalk of bananas by cutting down the complete stalk – but only do this when the fruit have all filled out and plumped up and the top few are starting to turn yellow or at least green-yellow. It’s not quite a science, but it’s close. Catch them at the right time and bring them indoors or hang them on a porch. Once you harvest your stalk of bananas, cut down the entire tree that bore the fruit – it won’t bear again. The biggest pup beside it will replace it, don’t worry!
Propagating Banana Trees
Long ago, farmers and hobbyists bred the seeds right out of most good eating banana varieties. This is a good thing since banana seeds are like birdshot and aren’t kind to your teeth. What this means, though, is that bananas can only be cultivated by clonal reproduction. Divide a little banana pup off the base of a clump of bananas carefully with a shovel, getting a chunk of the main root system while NOT cutting through the little banana’s trunk and leaving the roots behind… and you’re set. Bananas grow lots of little pups if they’re happy and one banana can easily turn into a clump under the right conditions.
Good Banana Varieties For North Florida
We’ve had good success with both Orinoco and Raja Puri bananas. My new video on growing bananas in North Florida shows my patch of Orinoco bananas in full bloom:
Dwarf Cavendish will also produce, though it’s a bit slow and prone to frost damage. Other varieties are worth testing, however, since most of the work with bananas has been done in the tropics.
Now that you know how to grow bananas in North Florida… why don’t you try every one you can get your hands on and let us know how you do?
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