I was visiting some family in Florida and I noticed that they had a banana plant with curled leaves. They couldn’t figure out why it was happening or how to fix it, so I decided to do some research. Here’s what I found.
Banana plant leaves curl or fold due to improper watering, sunlight, climate, and nutrients. Generally, only water banana plants when the soil is dry and provide full sun, quality fertilizer, and a warm and humid environment. Check each of these conditions one at a time and the leaves should stop curling and folding.
So, banana plant leaves curl from watering, sunlight, climate, and nutrients, but how can we tell which issue it is, and how do we fix it? Let’s take a look.
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Over or Under-Watering
Banana plant leaves can curl from too much water, but curling from too little water is more common. This is because when under-watered, banana plant leaves curl to retain moisture. If left for too long, the leaves will dry, brown, and drop. For best results, only water banana plants when their soil is dry.
Under-watering is especially common in hot and dry climates, in which soil moisture can be evaporated in a matter of hours. When under-watered banana plant leaves curl to capture moisture. However, this only works for so long as the leaves will begin drying out. This drying and browning usually start from the tips of the leaves before working their way up.
Over-watering, or soil with poor drainage, can quickly cause waterlogged soil and root rot. This disease is a mold that takes hold of the roots and decays them. Over a short period, the banana plant will start to die, starting with leaves curling, browning, and dropping.
So, what’s the best way to water banana plants?
Only water banana plants when the top 2-4 inches of soil are dry. This will provide the proper amount of water and help avoid both over and under-watering. Additionally, provide 2 inches of each compost and mulch to increase water retention. However, this only works if the soil has sufficient drainage.
Compost provides valuable nutrients to the soil and increases the soil’s richness and water retention. For example, every 1% increase in the soil’s richness can hold an additional 20,000 gallons of water per acre (source). It also feeds beneficial soil life such as earthworms and mycorrhizal fungi—which provide even more nutrients and disease resistance for the plant.
Mulch protects the soil (and the beneficial soil life) from drying out in the sun and wind. In hot and dry weather, mulch dramatically reduces evaporation and locks in moisture from the soil. In cold weather, mulch provides a layer of insulation for the tree and its roots. Some good mulches for banana plants are leaves, bark, pine needles, and straw.
If you find that your banana plant has poor drainage or collapsed soil, this should be amended before using compost and mulch.
Planted banana plants in poorly draining soils can be amended by planting in mounds. This is especially useful in clay soils. For more about planting fruit trees in mounds and clay soils, see my post: Can Fruit Trees Grow in Clay Soil (& How To Plant Them)?.
On the other hand, potted banana plants will poor draining or collapsed soil should be repotted with fresh soil. After, provide the compost and mulch to the top of the soil.
If you’re growing your banana plant in a greenhouse or indoors, many banana plant growers recommend getting 1-2 humidifiers and placing them nearby. This helps make banana plants more comfortable and prevents curled leaves as it mimics their native tropical environment (more on this later).
Lack of Sunlight
Banana plants prefer at least 6 hours of daily sunlight to properly photosynthesize and grow. The leaves of banana plants often curl when they don’t receive enough sunlight to photosynthesize. Another symptom of poor sunlight and photosynthesis is yellow leaves due to the lack of chlorophyll.
Compared to other fruiting trees, sunlight is especially important for banana plants since they grow from pups within 9 months. This quick growth demands high amounts of sunlight and nutrients.
So, if you can provide it, 6 hours or more of sunlight will greatly help your banana plant. However, there are times when sunlight is restricted.
Planted banana plants can have limited sunlight in some backyards or patios. This is even more of an issue in the winter, as the days are shorter and the position of the is sun not as high. On my north-facing patio, I sometimes only get 1-2 hours of sun in the winter.
Indoor banana plants can have a harder time as there’s usually not a lot of options for window positions. The best placement would be next to a southern-facing window for maximum sunlight, followed by an east or west-facing window.
Additionally, planting your banana plant along a south-facing wall will help reflect more sunlight and heat onto the plant and keep it warm, even into the night.
Banana plants are natively from the tropics, so they prefer a warm, humid environment. Because of this, they generally grow best in areas like Florida and Hawaii and struggle in California, Arizona, and Nevada. However, microclimates can be adjusted to better care for banana plants and prevent leaf curl.
If your banana plant is in a hot and dry climate, and you find that its leaves are curling, start by checking the soil moisture. If it’s bone dry, adjust the amount of water and provide compost and mulch (see the above watering section for more info).
However, if your banana plant’s soil is doing fine, the leaves are likely curling and folding as they’re getting hotter than they can handle. Normally, it’s the job of the roots to send moisture to the leaves and cool them, but in extremely hot and dry weather they can dry too fast.
Providing some afternoon shade for your banana plant goes a long way as the afternoon sun is normally hotter than the morning sun. You can use umbrellas, shade sails, or other trees for shade.
In hot weather, plants also go through a process called transpiration, which is similar to how we release moisture when we sweat and breathe. If it’s too hot and dry, banana plants can lose much of their moisture this way, especially if they are planted without other plants nearby.
But, if banana plants are planted among other nearby plants, the moisture from their transpiration collects in the canopies, providing a more humid and cooler environment. This is why food forests are becoming more popular practices—the plants benefit each other through biodiversity and permaculture principles.
So, if you’re in a hot and dry climate, consider planting other plants among your banana plants and creating a microclimate, like an oasis in a desert.
Microclimates can even work for indoor banana plants, as using misters or humidifiers work exceptionally well and simulate a more tropical environment. On the other hand, make sure to keep indoor banana plants away from the central heat as the hot and dry air will quickly kill them (this started to happen to my potted Meyer lemon tree).
If you’d like more information on microclimates, check out this video by Gardener Scott.
Is Your Fruit Tree Beyond Saving?
Generally, you can tell if a fruit tree is still alive by either pruning or lightly scratching off some bark from a small branch. If there’s any green inside, the plant is still alive.
In the off chance it’s not alive, revisit what may have happened (ask yourself if it was the wrong climate, watering, nutrients, etc) and adjust as needed for any remaining plants.
If you’re looking to replace your fruit tree, or add more to your orchard, the best places to get them are your local nursery or an online nursery. For example, I got my Fuji apple, brown turkey figs, and bing cherry tree from Fast Growing Trees, and they were all delivered quick, neat, and healthy (see below).