Growing up in Florida, we had a few banana plants in our backyard and I remember they’d occasionally get broken and split leaves. I recently heard this is a common issue with banana plants, so I did some more research to find out more. Here’s what I found.
Banana plants most often get broken and split leaves from transporting, transplant shock, or the wind. While leaves breaking can appear to be an issue, it’s a normal occurrence and the leaves will grow back tougher. As long as the main part of the plant (the root ball) is alive, the plant will grow back well.
So, while it’s fairly normal for banana plants to have broken leaves, what are some more details on the causes, and what can we do to prevent it from happening? Let’s take a further look.
Many times, banana plants will have broken and split leaves after they’re delivered. Even if the shipping and handling are done well, banana plants typically have fragile leaves, which break easily. However, once the plant is established in a pot or the ground, and it stays healthy, it will regrow new shoots and leaves.
Since banana leaves are soft and fragile, it’s super common for them to break during transport. Maybe they’re cramped or rubbing on something, or maybe the wind from the drive broke the leaves.
Luckily, this should only happen once—when you get the plant. After this, if the plant is healthy and cared for, it should regrow nicely (and quickly)!
Transplanting or repotting a banana plant can stress it, causing it to focus on surviving and stop supporting the less vital parts of the plant, such as the leaves. Without proper support, the leaves can break. Once the plant is established in the new soil, fewer leaves will break and new ones will grow.
For best results, transplant the plant fairly quickly and avoid damaging the root ball.
If you’d like, here are some steps that I commonly use to prevent transplant shock with my fruit trees:
- 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 trunk 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 trunk as before
- Apply 1-2 inches of compost and mulch to the top of the soil
- Water generously and add more soil as needed
With some practice, the plants you transplant won’t be as stressed and will recover quicker. Typically, fruit trees can take a long as a year to fully recover, but banana plants shouldn’t need any more than a couple of months since they’re more of a large herb than a woody tree.
Strong winds are fairly common in the banana plant’s native tropical and subtropical climates and can lead to many broken and split leaves. While this seems like a problem, banana plants can be trained to grow back its leaves stronger.
However, if the wind is excessive, banana plants can benefit from windbreaks.
For example, you can identify the common direction of the wind and use trees, walls, or other structures to block at least some of the wind.
If you’re in an apartment and don’t have many options to protect your potted banana plant, you could always bring it inside during heavy winds.
More Tips to Care for Banana Plants
No matter the reason, when banana leaves break, they’re getting trained slowly, and will typically grow back tougher than before. Banana plants are also one of the fast-growing fruit “trees”, only taking around 12 months to fruit (compared to 3 to 10 years for woody fruit trees).
So, don’t stress if your banana plant has some (or even all) broken leaves. The root ball is the main part of the plant and will sprout new shoots, or pups, constantly. As long as this part of the plant is healthy, it’ll grow back.
Still, if you’d like more information about caring for your banana plants and helping to prevent their leaves from breaking, here are a few tips:
- Provide 4-12 inches of mulch to improve water retention. Some good mulches for banana plants include leaves, bark, straw, or pine needles. This will also help prevent issues such as yellowing leaves.
- Fertilize the banana plant with 2 inches of compost every 1-2 months. Compost increases the soil’s richness and water retention, which is helpful for moisture-loving banana plants. Using compost can also usually replace chemical fertilizers, often leading to better results. You can also use kitchen scraps such as coffee grounds.
- Don’t remove or prune anything green on the banana plant. Even if the green leaves are broken, if they’re still capturing sunlight and holding moisture around the plant. Only prune and remove brown or diseased leaves.
- (Optional) Mist your banana plants to simulate a tropical environment. This can often make the plant more comfortable and willing to grow and fruit more. Misting is especially helpful if you’re in a hot and dry region. You can do this daily, but again, this is optional.
Is Your Plant Beyond Saving?
Generally, you can tell if your plant is still alive by either pruning or lightly scratching off some flesh from a branch or shoot. If there’s any green inside, the plant is still alive.
On 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 plant or add more to your garden, 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 quickly, neatly, and healthy (see below).