John R. Pyzner | 4/19/2005 10:28:37 PM
"Many gardeners have the fantasy of harvest bananas from their own trees," the horticulturist remarks, adding, "Extreme efforts are sometimes made to make this fantasy come true."
He notes, however, that these efforts rarely bare fruit in north and central Louisiana, but they sometimes succeed in south Louisiana during mild winters, especially south of Interstate 10.
Cold weather normally kills the leaves and trunk of most banana plants during winter. During mild winters and in protected areas, the trunk sometimes survives. If the trunk survives the winter with only the outer layers of the trunk being frozen, flowers are often produced.
Flower stalks produced before the plant grows new leaves in the spring will die. Flower stalks produced after leaves have developed will often produce fruit. Plants that flower in May will sometimes develop mature fruit before the cool weather starts in the fall.
Since last winter was mild, banana trunks survived, and the plants produced flower stalks, which now bear fruit. Home gardeners are asking when their bananas are ready to pick.
Pyzner says bananas generally take three to six months for fruit to reach maturity after flowering, depending on temperature, variety, moisture and culture practices. There is normally a slight yellow tint to the fruit when it reaches maturity. The color change may be so slight that it is hard to see. The fruit will generally look smoother or plump as it changes from square or angular (as seen in a cross section) to more rounded.
Fruit should be harvested before fully ripe, because the fruit will often split if left on the plant until fully ripe. The fruit stalk should be cut and placed in a shady place above 55 degrees F to complete ripening. Bananas will ripen after they are picked. Even very young green fruit will ripen, although there may not be much edible material in small fruit.
Bananas slow their growth below 60 degrees F and stop their growth when temperatures fall below 50 degrees F. Therefore, very little growth of the plant or fruit may occur the last one or two months of the growing season.
Pyzner says the flavor of some bananas may be disappointing, because they belong to the plantain or cooking banana group. "These bananas have starchy fruit and should be cooked before eating," he says, explainng that they will have more of a chalky taste if eaten raw.
"Most Louisiana bananas are selected for landscape appeal and cold hardiness and not for fruit," Pyzner notes. Consequently, harvested fruit from landscape bananas may be sweet or starchy depending on the variety, which is seldom known.
"Gardeners producing their own bananas this year should enjoy their fantasy," the horticulturist says. For related topics, look for Gardening and Get It Growing links in the Feature section of the LSU AgCenter Web site: www.lsuagcenter.com. Additional yard and garden topics are available from an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.