Growing banana trees in North Florida is more than possible. In South Florida, bananas will produce year-round. Since they’re non-seasonal, your goal should be to plant a big patch of them so you’re getting new fruit for cooking and fresh eating on a regular basis. In the northern half of the state, frosts and cold will take a big chunk out of your yields.
That’s not to say it isn’t worth planting bananas there – it’s just going to be less reliable than some other plants. Like collards or even a weed like Spanish needle. Of course – bananas taste better than both of those, so heck with it. We’re gonna grow them anyway – because that’s what we mad horticulturalists do.
Here – I did a video on growing bananas in North Florida – check it out:
Bananas, even though subject to frost damage, are still beautiful trees and worth growing.
Most of us know that modern bananas are seedless. They weren’t that way originally, but over time we bred the seeds out of them. (Interestingly, there is also an alternate theory on where the fruit came from.)
Now we can only propagate most banana plants by dividing off the pups. That’s not good for genetic diversity, but it is good for getting consistent results.
Let’s assume you’ve got a little baby banana plant that someone really nice gave you. When you plant that in your yard, it will start to grow into a big banana plant. Quickly if you water and feed it… slowly if you don’t. Beneath the ground, a bulb is growing. As the first “tree” gets bigger and bigger, little pups will generally start growing alongside it. Leave at least one there – you’re gonna need it.
When your original banana has successfully created a certain number of leaves, it will then flower and create a lovely stalk of bananas. Watching the bud unfurl and young bananas peek out is like magic. The first rows are all female, meaning they’ll be your fruit… and then after those have all appeared, the bud will continue to descend and reveal male flowers. The bananas take a long time to ripen, in my experience. At least four months or more.
This is bad if the tree decides to bloom in the fall… and you get frost in your area. I have one in my side yard doing that right now. It being December, those poor bananas are going to freeze right off unless I can find a way to protect them.
When the fruit turn yellow – or start to – you can cut the entire cluster off the tree and bring it inside to ripen completely. Plantains are a higher-starch variety of banana that are used for cooking – I usually wait until those are mostly black before cooking them. If you’d rather them not be sweet, you can cut and cook them earlier. Unfortunately, plantains do NOT like the cold (though I’m attempting to grow them here anyhow). If you’re up north, I’d recommend begging pups off friends, neighbors or strangers in your local area… that way you know the plants are likely to survive some freezes.
Once you harvest your bananas, that “tree” is done. Kaput. Played out. Yesterday’s news. Old hat. Dead and gone. Expired. It’s not going to make more bananas for you. So cut that stem down WITH A MACHETE! Or it will die on its own. Then the next largest pup beside it (you did leave a pup, right?) will take its place. Remember – the “tree” is basically a big bulbous plant with multiple tops above ground – not a real tree at all.
As for growing bananas, they like a lot of water so pick a moist area. They can take sun or shade and like it warm. Think: south wall right next to the house. They’ll also eat every bit of nutrients you can shovel their way. Most of the trees in my yard were originally growing on a foreclosure next to a broken septic tank that was seeping sewage. They looked so amazing there it was hard to move them. Now they’re being fed by a greywater line coming from my kitchen sink… but it’s just not the same… hmm… wait… that gives me an idea…
Check out my video for the best bananas to grow:
And for more information on survival plants get my book Florida Survival Gardening.
Latin Name: Musa spp. (It’s complicated, actually.)
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Exposure: Full sun/shade
Part Used: Fruit
Method of preparation: Green bananas cooked, fresh bananas raw
Storability: When pulled green, they keep for a week or two. May be dried or frozen.
Ease of growing: Moderate
Availability: Moderate, depending on location in state