My family in Florida has a few banana plants, and while most of them are doing well, one of the banana plants is dying. They asked if I could help look into it, so I did some research. Here’s what I found.
Banana plants typically die from improper watering, nutrients, or climate. However, transplant shock, pests, and disease can also affect them. For best results, water only when the soil is dry, apply compost, and plant in USDA hardiness zones 9-11. Once the source of stress is reduced, the banana plant should recover.
So, while banana plants die for a variety of reasons, how can we tell which issue it is, and from there—how do we fix it? Let’s take a closer look.
Can Dying Banana Plants Be Saved?
Dying banana plants can be revived if you first find the proper issue and apply a timely solution. The hard part is finding out which issue is affecting it. However, a good approach is to start with the possible issues based on the symptoms and try solutions starting from the least invasive to most invasive.
The reason why we want to start with the least invasive solution first is to minimize the stress your banana plant takes. For example, if we’ve narrowed down the possible issues to a lack of water or drainage, it’s much easier on the banana plant to adjust its watering rather than spray it with chemicals or dig it up.
By approaching solutions in this way, it will also make it easier for you to treat your banana plant, as you can work your way up from simple solutions to more complex ones.
How Do You Know if Your Banana Plant Is Dying?
It can be difficult to tell if your banana plant is dying or not, but generally, if it has any of the below symptoms, it’s likely declining in health.
|Banana Plant Symptom
|Under-Watered, Heat Stress, Transplant Shock
|Under/Over-Watered, Transplant Shock, Lack or Excess Nutrients, Pests
|Under-Watered, Heat/Frost Stress, Transplant Shock, Pests
|Spotted Leaves or Fruit
|Pests or Diseases
|Under/Over-Watered, Heat/Frost Stress, Transplant Shock, Lack or Excess Nutrients, Pests or Diseases
|Under/Over-Watered, Heat/Frost Stress, Transplant Shock, Lack or Excess Nutrients, Lack of Pollination, Pests or Diseases
Keep in mind that these symptoms aren’t normally a cause for concern if they’re affecting less than 10-20% of the plant. For example, it’s fairly normal for 10-20% of your banana plant to have broken or yellow leaves. The same is true for minor flower or fruit drop.
However, if you’re finding that more than 20% of the plant is affected, or you’re seeing other concerning signs such as pest or disease symptoms, then action is likely needed to save the plant.
How To Save a Dying Banana Plant
If you’ve already tried finding out which issue your banana plant has, and you’ve gotten stuck, there’s still hope.
Here are 3 steps you can use to save your banana plant from the ground up, for just about any condition.
3 Quick Steps To Save a Dying Banana Plant
1. Identify the Possible Issues
The first step in reviving a dying banana plant is to identify the possible issues. After all, the process of elimination wouldn’t work if we didn’t know which options we were eliminating!
If you haven’t seen them yet, reference the below sections for the top 5 most common banana plant issues.
2. Isolate the Actual Issue
Once you’ve checked the specific symptoms your banana plant has, you can now cross off potential issues from your list.
Try to get it down to 1-3 potential issues that best match the symptoms your banana plant is exhibiting. This will give you the best chances to provide the right solution for it (you don’t want to spray the plant with neem oil if the problem is a watering issue).
If you’re still not sure about the issue your banana plant has, that’s okay! Call up your local nursery and get their opinion on what’s happening. You may need to talk to a few people to get their experience, but there’s a strong chance they’ve seen it before and can point you in the right direction (or even provide you with the solution!).
Additionally, you can contact your local professional orchard or cooperative extension service.
3. Test Solutions
Now that you have a narrowed-down list of the potential issues, it’s time to try the solutions one at a time.
Start with the least invasive and work your way up to the most invasive. For example, providing less water is much easier than going through the process of repotting the plant. Try to save that option for last.
Continue testing the treatments you believe are most likely to fix the issue. Hopefully, one of them sticks.
Worst case scenario, start from step 1 and make a new list of possible issues. There’s a chance you might have missed something or you notice something new the second time around.
Stay persistent! It’s easy to say, “Dumb plant, why don’t you want to live?”, but there’s always a reason why plants act the way they do. Keep the course and see if you can uncover it.
Now, to give you a head start on treating your banana plant, let’s look at the 5 most common reasons why banana plants die.
The Top 5 Reasons Why Banana Plants Die
1. Over or Under-Watering
Over and under-watering commonly leads to a dying banana plant, with under-watering being the most frequent cause. Too little water and banana leaves will curl, brown, and drop. Too much water causes root rot and the leaves will droop, brown, and drop. Only water when dry and provide 2 inches of compost and mulch.
When banana plants are under-watered, their leaves curl to conserve moisture. If left for too long, the leaves will begin to dry further and brown. Occasionally, this leads to leaf drop, although some banana plants keep their brown leaves. Under-watering is common in hot and dry climates, where soil moisture can be evaporated in a matter of hours.
On the other hand, over-watered banana plants often cause stagnant water in the soil and root rot. Once this happens, the banana plant becomes stressed until the roots can have a chance to dry out a bit and fight off the root rot mold. If left with root rot, the roots will decay, leading to more brown leaves before killing the plant.
While there is a lot of information out there about how to water plants, the best rule is to only water when the soil is dry. This prevents both over and under-watering as you’re only watering when the plant needs it.
Also, providing 2 inches of each compost and mulch on top of the soil goes a long way to helping the soil hold more water and increase the water independence of the plant. It also encourages deeper roots that can access deeper water. However, this should only be done once the banana plant has well-draining soil as these practices can make poor drainage worse.
Here’s a bit more information about compost and mulch (and why they’re so beneficial for your banana plant).
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).
Compost also feeds beneficial soil life such as earthworms and mycorrhizal fungi—which provide even more nutrients and disease resistance for the plant.
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
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 plant and its roots. Some good mulches for banana plants are leaves, bark, pine needles, and straw.
So, to recap:
Once you have well-draining soil, only water banana plants when the first 2-4 inches of soil are dry. I check for this by pushing a finger into the soil. Then, apply 2 inches of each compost and mulch under the drip line of the plant, keeping them at least 3 inches from the trunk. Reapply compost every 1-2 months.
Recommended: 10 Expert Tips for Watering Fruit Trees
2. Transplant Shock
If a banana plant was recently planted or repotted, and it’s starting to die, it’s likely due to transplant shock. Transplant shock occurs when the plant is exposed to a new environment and has to establish a new root system. Avoid transplanting unless necessary as it can take up to 1 year for recovery.
Like many plants, banana plants are vulnerable to transplant shock, which can take up to a year for them to recover from. 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 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
3. Lack of Nutrients
If you’re using chemical fertilizers, provide banana plants with a balanced NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium), such as a 10-10-10. Alternatively, you can apply 2 inches of compost every 1-2 months. Unlike chemical fertilizers, compost has many other benefits such as improved water retention.
Too few or too many nutrients causes brown leaves on banana plants. With too few nutrients, banana plants can’t support their leaves’ requirements, which then start to brown and die. Too many nutrients chemically burn the plant’s roots and lead to browning and dropping leaves. Ideally, provide quality fertilizer or compost.
Keep in mind that soil pH is equally, if not more important than nutrients. Without a proper soil pH, the banana plant’s roots will be unable to absorb nutrients in the soil. This also leads to browning and dying leaves.
Generally, banana plants prefer a soil pH of 5.5-7.0.
You can measure soil pH with pH strips or a pH meter. I prefer using a pH meter since they’re easy to use and affordable. To see which pH meter I use and recommend, visit my recommended tools page.
4. Climate Stress
Banana plants are natively from the tropics, so they prefer warm, humid environments such as USDA hardiness zones 9-11. However, this is a generalization as there are a few cold-hardy varieties that can survive down to hardiness zone 4.
Climates that are too cold or hot and dry quickly pose a problem for the tropical-loving banana plants. In dry areas such as California, Arizona, Nevada, and parts of Texas, banana plants lose moisture from their leaves and soil quickly.
Much like humans, plants breathe and release moisture when hot. For plants, this is called transpiration. When the climate is too hot and dry, the transpiration and root moisture can’t effectively keep up and cool the plant and its leaves. When this happens, the banana plant’s leaves curl, brown, and sometimes drop.
So, the hotter and drier the weather, the more energy the plant uses to transpire and survive, and the less energy it has to use to establish its root system and grow. This drain of resources can quickly stunt or kill the plant.
For best results, keep banana plants in a warm and humid environment if possible. If the sun is too hot, and the tips of the leaves are browning, provide shade or move potted banana plants indoors. When bringing potted banana plants indoors, take care to avoid the hot and dry air from the central heat.
I found out about the effects of central heat the hard way. We had a surprise snowstorm last year here in Austin, Texas, and I moved my potted Meyer lemon tree inside. However, it quickly started losing its leaves. After moving it into a cooler room, it quickly started growing new leaves (see the photo below).
Also, for banana plants in greenhouses or indoors, many banana plant owners highly advocated placing 1-2 humidifiers nearby to make their banana plants much more comfortable. Along with placing near a sunny window, these conditions help mimic the tropical environment that banana plants prefer.
Keep in mind that if you are growing a more cold hardy banana plant, brown leaves and dieback in the winter is normal, and the plant’s pups should grow again in the spring.
By the way, if you live in a drier climate, and you’d like more information about the best drought-tolerant fruit trees, check out my other post: 30 Best Drought-Tolerant Fruit and Nut Trees (Ranked).
5. Pests and Diseases
Black Sigatoka (Black Leaf Streak)
Black Sigatoka is the most common disease for banana plants. Symptoms of this fungal disease include red-brown or yellow-grey spots on leaves, dead leaves, and poor leaf development. Rain and wind often carry the spores. Treatment includes pruning, spacing, and sprays.
Cigar End Rot
Cigar End Rot is a fungal disease that affects the bottom of banana fruits, turning them dark and wrinkled. Verticillium and Trachysphaera fungi can make the issue worse by drying or lining the fruit in white spores—making the fruit appear like a cigar. Treat by pruning infected flowers and fruit, and use sprays.
Anthracnose is a fungal disease that affects the fruit of banana plants. Symptoms include brown or black spots and areas, along with black lesions. This disease spreads easily in warm and wet climates and can be treated by pruning and with sprays (source).
Banana aphids are small red-brown bugs that feed on banana leaves and cause them to shrivel and curl. Normally, ants are also present as they commonly farm aphids, using their honeydew sap for food. Treat aphids by spraying water, applying neem oil, or releasing ladybugs (a natural predator to aphids).
Banana weevils are small, black, nocturnal beetles that eat the stems and trunks of banana plants. Symptoms can include reduced fruiting, topped or falling plants, destroyed roots, and visible holes. Treat with hot water, neem powder, or sprays.
A Note on Insecticides and Herbicides
We recently had an issue with caterpillars eating our basil plants and we were about FED UP. Every time we’d plant basil plants, the caterpillars ate it.
Fortunately, we found an organic spray at our local nursery that’s made from fermented rum. The day after spraying, we’d find dead caterpillars on the soil.
If you’d like to find out more about this organic spray, you can find it here on Amazon.
So, what’s my point here?
Before using chemical sprays, weigh the pros and cons and consider trying organic or permaculture-based treatments first. Even though chemical sprays and fertilizers are an easy way out, like all easy and convenient things, there are usually long-term costs!
To give you a head start, Stefan Sobkowiak – The Permaculture Orchard has a great video on a safe, homemade, and most importantly—effective fungicide (hint: the secret ingredient is whey).