Louisiana Bananas

Daniel Gill, Pyzner, John R., Witcher, Anthony L.

Banana fruit on tree.

Banana plant in landscape.

Bananas are tropical, rapidly growing herbaceous perennials that produce fleshy trunks called pseudostems from underground rhizomes. Winter cold kills the pseudostems in most areas of Louisiana, but some bananas' rhizomes have enough cold tolerance to survive the winter. A good layer of mulch over the rhizomes can help them survive.

Bananas are grown throughout Louisiana as an ornamental to give a tropical affect to the landscape. North Louisiana residents are limited to a few cold-hardy varieties; these are frequently planted near buildings to give additional warmth. Residents in south Louisiana have a wider selection of banana varieties and fewer climate limitations.

Many gardeners want to harvest bananas from their own trees. Extreme efforts are sometimes made to make this fantasy come true. These efforts rarely bare fruit in north and central Louisiana.

Banana trees in south Louisiana grown below Interstate 10 frequently produce edible fruit; however, the size, shape and quality of the fruit may vary greatly from tree to tree.

Cold weather normally kills the leaves and trunk of most banana plants during the 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.

Most banana trees are cut down in the wintertime when a freeze browns the leaves, because people think they are dead or may just want to get rid of the brown foliage. Even though the leaves may be brown, the trunk can be alive.

In March, determine which, if any trees, may have been killed to the ground. Those that are dead will have become soft and mushy because of decay and will not stand up when given a moderately strong push. Any dead plants should be cut at ground level.

On the other hand, any plants whose pseudostems (trunks) are still alive will be strong and will resist being pushed over. Though the outermost layer of tissue may have turned brown and be dead, a small cut will reveal living tissue deeper in. Trees in this category should simply be groomed by removing the dead leaf blades. They should not be cut down because new leaves and flower stalks will emerge from the top of the trunk.

Flower stalks produced before the banana produces 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.

Bananas should be fertilized after danger of frost is over. Apply 1-3 pounds of 13-13-13 (depending on the size of the plant) to each banana clump. Apply a second fertilizer application in July of 8-8-24 at a similar rate.

Plants should be well supplied with soil moisture at all times to produce fruit. Mulching helps conserve moisture and should be used if practical. Otherwise, irrigation is recommended every two to three days in the absence of rain.

Bananas will 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 sharp angular shape in cross section to a more rounded shape.

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 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 growth below 60 degrees and stop growth when temperatures below 50 degrees start to occur, so little growth of the plant or fruit may occur the last month or two of the growing season.

The flavor of some bananas may be disappointing because they belong to the plantain or cooking banana group. These bananas have starchy fruit and are cooked before eating. They will have more of a chalky taste when eaten raw. Most Louisiana bananas are selected for landscape appeal and cold hardiness and not for fruit; harvested fruit from landscape bananas may be sweet or starchy, depending on the variety, which is seldom known.

4/23/2005 1:19:22 AM
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