My uncle in Florida has a banana plant that’s getting yellow leaves and asked me if I knew anything about it. I had an idea, but I wanted to do some research to get him the best answer. Here’s what I found causes yellow leaves on banana plants.
Banana plants normally get yellow leaves from shedding older leaves but can get yellow leaves early from issues such as improper watering, nutrients, sunlight, and transplant shock. For best results, only water banana plants when the first 2-4 inches of soil is dry.
So, while several conditions cause yellow leaves on banana plants, how can we tell which issue is causing it, and from there—how can we fix it? Let’s take a further look.
1. Regular Shedding
The first thing to check when your banana plant gets yellow leaves is if it’s the new or the old leaves that are discoloring. Like pineapple plants, banana plants die after fruiting and one of their “pups” take their place. As banana plants begin to die, their leaves often turn yellow.
Pro-tip: To ensure fruiting multiple times a year, many banana gardeners have several pups growing at different stages all from a single plant.
So, the older, lower leaves begin to yellow and die off to make room for the new, upper leaves. If you’d like you can prune the old leaves when they browning or breaking, but it’s not necessary.
After a banana plant fruits, and its rack is harvested, many growers cut down the main banana plant since it will die anyway, and use it as mulch for the young banana plants. This is a good way to recycle nutrients for any banana pups you may have growing.
But what if your banana plant hasn’t fruited recently? What’s the next most likely cause of yellow leaves?
Banana plants can be over-watered not just from too much water, but also from poor drainage. Symptoms of over-watered banana plants include curling, drooping, yellowing, and dropping leaves. Additionally, waterlogged banana plants can develop root rot—a water mold that eats away at the banana plant’s roots.
You can tell if your banana plants are over-watered if the top 2-4 inches of their soil is staying sopping wet after 1 hour of watering. Severely waterlogged banana plants will have water pooling towards the surface and begin smelling swampy (a clear sign of root rot starting).
Over-watering is especially common in compact or heavy clay soils. This is because the finer clay particles are condensed, preventing water from seeping into the ground. Instead, you get water pooling near the surface, drowning the plant’s roots.
Since banana plants are natively from the tropics, they’re used to light to moderately sandy soil—which naturally promotes proper drainage. See the below graphic for a comparison of the size of sand vs clay particles.
To amend a planted banana plant’s soil, provide 2 inches of compost every 1-2 months and let the compost naturally work its way into the soil. More extreme cases can benefit from transplanting the banana plant to a raised bed or mound—using gravity to assist with drainage.
Bananas should not be planted in flood-prone areas. In areas where the water table is high and/or frequent soil saturation or very brief flooding occurs, planting on beds is recommended. Symptoms of continuously wet but not flooded soil conditions include plant stunting, leaf yellowing, and reduced yields.Jonathan H. Crane and Carlos F. Balerdi, professors at the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
To amend a potted banana plant’s soil, repotting is the simplest and most effective option. Make sure to use dry and fresh potting soil to dry out any existing root rot mold.
Only water your banana plant when the first 2-4 inches of its soil is dry. Once your banana plant has well-draining soil, provide 2 inches of compost and 4 inches of mulch to provide nutrients, soil temperature regulation, and reduced evaporation.
If your banana plant’s soil moisture is similar to a wrung-out sponge, and it’s still getting yellow leaves, it’s time to look at nutrients.
3. Improper Nutrients
Excess nutrients are typically caused by over-fertilizing banana plants. This can lead to the potential burning of the banana plant’s roots, causing the plant stress and developing yellow leaves. Normally, fast-release fertilizers are the cause of over-fertilization as compost isn’t potent enough.
Lack of Nutrients
|Nutrient Deficiency||Leaf Symptom|
|Nitrogen||Entire leaf is pale or yellow|
|Iron||Dark green veins, rest of the leaf is yellowing|
|Manganese||Broadly pale leaves, foliage color looks mottled or smeared|
A lack of nutrients also causes stress to the banana plant, which then develops yellow leaves.
Insufficient nutrients are commonly caused by poor soils, leaching, and other stressors.
Nutrient leaching occurs when soils have too much drainage or are over-watered and the nutrients seep too far down into the soil, out of reach of the plant’s roots.
The Best Way to Fertilize Banana Plants
You can choose to fertilize your banana plant’s soil with fertilizer or compost. If you choose store-bought fertilizer, aim for a balanced NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium).
Generally, while chemical fertilizers have nutrients in quantity, they typically don’t have nutrients in quality. So, chemical fertilizers might be sufficient over the short term, but over the long term, they often cause damage by short-circuiting the nutrient exchange between the plant and its beneficial soil life. This leads to dry and dead soil (dirt) and overall decreased plant health.
On the other hand, compost provides more than sufficient nutrients, increases water retention, and promotes healthy soils. For example, every 1% increase in the soil’s richness (organic matter) leads to 20,000 more gallons of water absorbed per acre (source).
Many gardeners are even finding that compost is successfully replacing their fertilizers.
If you’d like to see my recommendations for both compost and fertilizer, check out my recommend fertilizer page.
Aside from nutrients, keep in mind that banana plants need a balanced soil pH between 5.5 to 7.0.
The reason why banana plants prefer soil with a slightly acidic pH is that it’s ideal to dissolve 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 slightly dormant during the cold or too stressed in wet soils.
4. Lack of Sunlight
Generally, banana plants require at least 6 hours of sunlight to photosynthesize properly. Without it, their leaves turn yellow and they’re unable to develop sugars for the plant. Over time, this low energy leads to the plant’s declining health, which leads to a dying banana plant.
Tips to Increase Sunlight
- Plant the banana plant in a south-facing direction for maximum sunlight (north-facing if you live in the southern hemisphere)
- Plant the banana plant along a south-facing wall to reflect more sunlight and heat onto the tree (some heat even persists into the night).
- Prune some overstory trees that are blocking the banana plant’s canopy from the sun. Banana plants evolved as understory plants and prefer partial shade (especially from the hotter afternoon sun). You can also prune the upper banana plant itself to allow more light to reach the mid and lower branches. This new space also increases aeration from the sun and wind—discouraging pests and diseases from occurring.
5. Transplant Shock
Relocating or repotted banana plants can cause transplant shock, which stresses the plant and can lead to conditions such as drooping, yellowing, and dropping leaves. In some cases, it can even kill the plant. For best results, transplant swiftly and avoid damaging the rootball.
If you’d like, here are some steps that I commonly use to prevent transplant shock with my plants:
- 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 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 stem as before
- Apply 2 inches of compost and 4 inches of mulch to the top of the soil
- Water generously and add more soil as needed
While it’s not always possible to prevent all of the negative effects of transplant shock, they can be greatly reduced.
Some shock can also be caused when potted banana plants are moved indoors. The sudden swing in temperature and lower humidity can stress the plant until it gets adjusted. For this reason, many banana gardeners like to use humidifiers near their banana plants.
Also, keep banana plants away from central heat vents as the air can be extremely dry. For example, I once brought in my potted Meyer lemon for the winter and its leaves were drying and dropping. I simply moved it into a cooler room and it recovered nicely.
Many plants can take up to a year to fully recover from transplant shock and establish a new root system. Fortunately, banana plants grow and fruit quicker than regular fruit trees (since banana plants are an herb and not woody), so it should only take weeks to months for them to fully adjust after transplanting or relocating.
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).