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Yellow Leaves on Banana Plants? Here’s How To Fix It

I’ve recently been reading about banana plants and I’ve seen that they commonly develop yellow leaves which sometimes brown and fall off. There really wasn’t a clear explanation of why, so, to learn more, I did some research. Here’s what I found causes yellow leaves on banana plants.

Banana plants most often get yellow leaves from over-watering and soil with poor drainage. Stagnant water can lead to root rot, which causes the leaves to yellow and die. For best results, check the soil with a finger and only water when dry. Other causes of yellow leaves are transplant shock and natural shedding.

So, while over-watering is the most likely cause of yellow leaves on banana plants, what’s the best way to water banana plants, and what else can we do to prevent yellow leaves from developing? Let’s take a further look.

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banana plant with yellow leaves

Over-Watering

Watering is one of the simplest, yet hardest practices when it comes to gardening. Too much water will commonly cause yellowing, browning, and dropping leaves, while too little water causes curling, drooping, browning, and dropping leaves.

Over-watering is caused by providing too much water or having soil that has poor drainage. If the banana plant’s roots sit in stagnant water for over 24-48 hours, it can develop root rot which leads to yellow leaves, stunted growth, and fewer fruits. Keep the soil well-draining and only water when the soil is dry.

Here are a few quick tips that can make watering your banana plants (and other plants) a breeze:

  1. Before watering, push a finger into the soil, up to the second knuckle
  2. If the soil is dry, water the plant. If the soil is sopping wet for more than 24-48 hours after watering, improve the drainage.
  3. Repeat

However, if your banana plant already has poor drainage or root rot (a fungal disease that can be identified from stagnant and swampy-smelling soil), then you’ll need to address it first.

Fortunately, root rot can be fairly easy to treat if you catch it in time.

If you do find that your banana plant has poorly draining soil, and is developing root rot, often the best thing to do is to provide it with fresh soil and some elevation. Planted banana plants can be replanted on mounds or in raised beds, while potted banana plants can simply be repotted with fresh soil.

By replanting or repotting, the fresh soil will absorb the excess moisture, killing the fungus. From there the plant can begin its recovery.

Additionally, by elevating the banana plant, you’re not only helping gravity pull the water out of the soil, but also avoiding flood zones.

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

My potted Kaffir lime tree had root rot last year due to the pot not having enough drainage holes. Luckily, I caught it in time and repotted it with fresh soil. It took a few months for the tree to recover, but now it’s providing more fruit and looking great!

our dog Banjo with our Kaffir lime tree
Our dog Banjo with our Kaffir lime tree that recently had root rot.

On the other hand, if your banana plant’s soil is commonly dry, add 1-2 inches of both compost and mulch to the top of the soil.

Compost increases the soil’s water retention, while mulch dramatically reduces evaporation. Since banana plants are from the tropics and thrive with consistently moist soil, composting and mulching are great practices.

Some good mulches for banana plants are leaves, bark, pine needles, and straw. Just make sure to keep the compost and mulch at least 3 inches from the banana plant’s stems as these soil amendments can occasionally introduce mold.

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 avoiding damaging the rootball.

I recently repotted my avocado tree, and it recovered almost immediately. If you’d like, here are some steps that I commonly use to prevent transplant shock with my plants:

  1. Have the new ground (or pot) prepared
  2. Remove as much of the tree’s current topsoil as possible, without damaging the shallow roots
  3. Grab the base of the tree’s trunk and wiggle lightly
  4. Using your other hand, scoop up and support the rootball
  5. Lightly place the tree in the new ground (or pot) and fill it in
  6. Make sure the soil is at the same level on the trunk as before
  7. Apply 1-2 inches of compost and mulch to the top of the soil
  8. 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 owners like to use humidifiers near their banana plants and report great results from it.

Also, keep banana plants away from central heater vents as the air can be extremely dry. I once brought in my potted Meyer lemon for the winter, and it took a while to find out the central heat was drying the plant out and causing its leaves to drop. I simply moved it into another room and it recovered nicely.

Many fruit trees 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 fruit trees, so it should only take weeks to months for them to fully adjust after transplanting or relocating.

Regular Shedding

If you find that your banana tree isn’t over-watered or hasn’t gone through transplant shock, yellow leaves can simply be a part of the regular shedding of the plant. Typically, the older, lower leaves begin to yellow and die off to make room for the new, upper leaves. Only prune the old leaves when they brown.

It’s normal for just about every plant to have some leaves that shed. In fact, it’s similar to how our skin sheds to make room for newer skin.

So, if your banana plant’s yellow leaves are only appearing on the lower sets of leaves, and the plant’s soil isn’t sopping wet, it’s likely a natural shedding event.

Some banana plant owners even like to prune any yellow or broken leaves off of their plants, but most prefer to keep them around to capture more moisture and sunlight for the plant and only prune when they turn brown.