We have a banana plant that’s taking a while to fruit. Granted, we recently replanted it, so there could be some transplant shock. However, I wanted to find out more, so I did some research. Here’s what I found.
Expect banana plants to take 10-15 months to fruit. To encourage fruiting, only water when the soil is dry, provide full sun, and apply fertilizer or compost 1-2 times per year. Bananas are natively from the tropics, so they grow best in warm and humid climates (usually USDA hardiness zones 9-11). Avoid dry climates.
So, while this helps explains why banana plants won’t fruit, are there any ways to speed this up? Let’s take a closer look.
Banana plants take 10-15 months from sprout to fruit. Because of their soft trunk, banana plants grow much quicker than hardwood fruit trees such as apples and cherries (which commonly take at least 3-5 years to fruit). When fruiting, a single banana bunch can produce up to 200 bananas.
“Most bananas will produce the flower bud within 10 to 15 months of emergence as a new sucker, depending mostly on variety and extent of cool/cold weather. Most production north of the lower Rio Grande Valley occurs in the spring and summer following a particularly mild winter.”Julian W. Sauls, Extension Horticulturist, Texas A&M University
So, if your banana plant is younger than 10-15 months, it likely needs more time to mature and fruit.
Keep in mind banana plants only fruit once. After that, the main plant dies and a “pup” or sprout from its roots grow into a new banana plant.
Because of this, many gardeners allow 4 banana pups to grow from a single rootball at a time. Each one of the 4 is at a different stage of growth (often referred to as grandmother, mother, daughter, and granddaughter).
This way once the main banana plant dies, a pup is always reaching maturity, leading to more frequent fruit sets. The main banana plant is commonly cut down and used as a valuable mulch for the remaining banana plants or other plants in the garden.
2. Transplant Shock
If your banana plant was recently planted or repotted, and it’s not fruiting, it’s likely due to transplant shock. Transplant shock occurs when a plant is exposed to a new environment and has to establish a new root system.
Avoid transplanting banana plants unless necessary as it can take up to 1 year for recovery.
To help avoid transplant shock, I like to plant with the following steps in mind:
- Have the new ground (or pot) prepared
- Remove as much of the plant’s current topsoil as possible, without damaging the shallow roots
- Grab the base of the plant’s stem and wiggle lightly
- Using your other hand, scoop up and support the rootball
- Lightly place the plant in the new ground (or pot) and fill it in
- Make sure the soil is at the same level on the plant as before
- Apply 2 inches of compost and 4-12 inches of mulch to the top of the soil
- Water generously and add more soil as needed
3. Improper Watering
Banana plants are fast-growing and require plenty of water to grow and fruit. However, too much water and their roots can rot, leading to stress and reduced fruiting. So, what’s the right balance when watering banana plants?
The best way to water banana plants is to only water when the top 2-4 inches of soil is dry. You can check this by pushing a finger into the soil. Usually, this is every 2-5 days, but it depends on the climate.
Banana plants exposed to more sun and dryness may require water daily, while those in humid climates with partial shade and moderate rainfall may never need watering.
By checking the soil before you water, you prevent both under-watering and over-watering. While some tools can help with this, I found simply doing the “Finger Test” worked well.
Whichever climate you’re in, here are a few more tricks to watering banana plants.
- Compost: Provide 2 inches of compost every 1-2 months. Compost retains water in the soil and feeds the beneficial soil life. With some quality compost, you may not need fertilizer for your banana plants.
- Mulch: Apply 4-12 inches of mulch around your banana trees. Mulch dramatically improves soil by reducing evaporation, regulating temperature, and preventing erosion. It also promotes beneficial soil life such as earthworms and mycorrhizal fungi.
Mycorrhizal fungi promote many aspects of plant life, in particular improved nutrition, better growth, stress tolerance, and disease resistance.Department of Biology, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
Recommended: What Is a Banana Circle?
4. Wrong Climate
Banana plants are natively from the tropics and as a result, prefer to grow in warm and humid climates. They’re highly vulnerable to frost.
For example, when temperatures dip below 55ºF, they stop growing and fruiting. And when it drops below 32ºF (freezing), the banana plant begins to die.
For best results, only grow banana plants if you live in USDA hardiness zones 9-11. These climates have little to no frost. However, banana plants can grow well in greenhouses in colder zones.
Tip: If you live in the US and don’t know your hardiness zone, consider finding out. It only takes a minute and helps show you which plants do the best in your climate. Just type in your zip code and look for plants that share your same zone.
More Tips for Cold Climates
- Bring potted banana plants indoors in times of frost.
- Cover outdoor banana plants with bedsheets or other insulating materials in times of frost. You can also cut the banana plants and provide 1-2 feet of mulch to insulate the rootball and ground from freezing.
- Use greenhouses for the best temperature (and humidity) control.
5. Lack of Sunlight
When banana plants don’t have enough sunlight, their growth and fruiting can become stunted. You might also see other symptoms such as pale or yellow leaves.
Banana plants are from sunny, tropical climates, so they prefer full sun.
However, if you live in a dry climate, consider providing your banana plant with partial shade for 2 hours in the afternoon. You can use trees, structures, or shade sails to provide shade.
Let’s take a look at some tips if you think
Tips to Increase Sunlight
- Prune overhead trees to allow more sunlight to reach the banana plants.
- Plant the banana plant facing south for maximum sunlight (north if you live in the southern hemisphere).
- Plant along a south-facing wall (again, north if you’re in the southern hemisphere).
6. Lack of Nutrients
Provide 2 inches of compost every 1-2 months and/or fertilizer as directed in the early spring and late fall.
While banana plants can thrive with only compost, you can use fertilizer as well to help the plant grow faster. For this reason, I suggest using both fertilizer and an organic fruit tree fertilizer.
Banana plants are quick growers, so when it comes to fertilizer, aim to get one with more nitrogen (the primary nutrient required for leaf growth). For example, a fertilizer with double the nitrogen to phosphorus and potassium (such as a 6-3-3) works well.
To see which fertilizers I use and recommended, see my recommended fertilizer page.
Keep in mind that if you have a lot of banana plants growing together, they can deplete the soil’s nutrients fairly quickly.
Without a balanced soil pH, banana plants can develop growing and fruiting issues.
While nutrients are essential, banana plants also need a soil pH of 5.5 to 7.0 (source). This is because a slightly acidic pH is required to dissolve the solid nutrients in the soil.
Fourteen of the seventeen essential plant nutrients are obtained from the soil. Before a nutrient can be used by plants it must be dissolved in the soil solution. Most minerals and nutrients are more soluble or available in acid soils than in neutral or slightly alkaline soils.Donald Bickelhaupt, Instructional Support Specialist, Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management
Two good ways to check your soil’s pH are either by using a pH strip or a pH meter. I prefer using a pH meter since they’re affordable and easy to use. To see which pH meter I use and recommend, check out my recommended tools page.
If you find that your banana plant’s soil is too alkaline (above 7.0) you can add acidic amendments such as coffee grounds, sand, and peat moss. On the other hand, if your banana plant’s soil is too acidic (below 5.5), add alkaline materials such as wood ash, charcoal, or lime.
Additionally, cold and/or wet soils are not good at promoting nutrient uptake as the banana plant will either be dormant during the cold or too stressed in wet soils.
Weevils are one of the most common pests for banana plants. They’re a black and glossy beetle with a long snout. Adult beetles are approximately 0.5 inches (or about 1.3 cm) long. Larvae are creamy white, legless, and C-shaped, which is typical of beetle larvae.
You can usually tell if your banana plant has weevils if you see holes in the corm (trunk). Another likely symptom is yellow leaves.
- Symptoms: Weevils mainly affect the roots and corm of the plant. The adults are nocturnal and the larvae are the most destructive. They bore into the corm, causing tunneling damage which results in weakened plants and reduced yields.
- Treatment: Biological control with pathogens or parasites of the weevil can be effective. Additionally, good sanitation practices, like removing and destroying infested plant material, can reduce the pest’s impact. Chemical sprays are also an option but should be used as a last resort due to environmental impacts.
Aphids are very small insects, usually under 1/8 inch long. They are pale yellow to green in color, with black antennae. These tiny pests are usually found clustered together on the undersides of leaves or along the stems of banana plants. Infected plants may display curling or yellowing of leaves.
- Symptoms: These tiny pests suck sap from the plant and can cause curling or yellowing of leaves. They can also transmit banana bunchy top virus.
- Treatment: Natural predators like ladybugs and parasitic wasps can help control aphid populations. Insecticidal soaps or neem oil can also be effective when used properly.
Black Sigatoka (Pseudocercospora fijiensis)
Black Sigatoka is a fungal disease that appears as small, long dark spots on the banana leaves. These spots eventually grow in size, causing the leaf to turn brown and die. The dead leaves (brown or black) can significantly reduce the plant’s ability to photosynthesize and its overall health and fruit production.
- Symptoms: The disease presents as small, dark spots on leaves that eventually enlarge and become necrotic. Severe infections can lead to reduced fruit size and yield.
- Treatment: Regular applications of fungicides can control the disease, but should be used in combination with good cultural practices, such as removing infected leaves and maintaining optimal plant health to improve resistance.
Panama Disease (Fusarium wilt)
Panama Disease is a soil-borne fungus that causes yellow leaves and stunted growth and fruiting in the early stages. As the disease progresses, the leaves may wilt and the entire plant may eventually die. If the cut the banana plant, you may see discolored (dark brown to black) vascular tissue.
- Symptoms: The fungus blocks the plant’s vascular system, causing wilting. Yellowing leaves and stunted growth are often the first symptoms. As the disease progresses, the entire plant can wilt and die.
- Treatment: There is no known cure for Panama disease once a plant is infected. The best prevention is good sanitation practices, including cleaning tools and boots that have come into contact with infected plants. Crop rotation and using disease-free planting materials can also help prevent the spread of this disease.
Do You Need 2 Banana Plants to Get Fruit?
Banana plants are parthenocarpic (self-pollinating), so they don’t need a second banana plant to fruit.
As banana plants are self-pollinating, and don’t have seeds, you may be wondering how they reproduce. Banana plants reproduce by their sprouts, or suckers, that appear at the base. If removed and replanted, each of the suckers can become its own banana plant.
Remember, banana plants only fruit once. After fruiting, the main plant dies and a new sprout (or “daughter”) grows from the rootball to take its place. This cycle will continue until the rootball is killed.
Need More Help?
You can always ask us here at Couch to Homestead, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.
- Local Cooperative Extension Services: While we do our best with these articles, sometimes knowledge from a local expert is needed! The USDA partnered with Universities to create these free agriculture extension services. See your local services.
- 7 Easy Steps to Grow Fruit Trees (Free Guide): Need more fruit tree help from the ground up? See our free guide to make growing fruit trees a breeze.
- Ask the Free Community: Join The Couch to Homestead Community and connect with other members discussing gardening, homesteading, and permaculture.
- 30-Day Permaculture Food Forest Course: Learn how to turn your backyard into a thriving food forest in just 30 days with our online course.