In February, Mark Steele, professor at CSUN and member of California Rare Fruits Growers, spoke at our Organic Garden Club meeting and explained that gardeners in Southern California can grow bananas in their yard by getting a pup from a neighbor’s banana plant or a banana corm from the nursery. People have been eating bananas for 10,000 years. An instant energy booster, bananas are rich in fiber, loaded with essential vitamins, and high in potassium and iron.The banana plant is not a tree, but the largest herbaceous flowering plant with about 1000 edible varieties. Bananas are tropical plants and grow more slowly here than in the tropics. Because some varieties grow to 20 feet tall, dwarf varieties growing to about 12 feet are best for fruit picking. Backyard gardeners can choose a Dwarf Brazilian or Dwarf Namwah for sweet tasty bananas that grow well in Ventura County.
The banana has a corm instead of a trunk, which is a stem of the plant that stores nutrients from one growing season to help to grow roots, leaves, and flowers for the next growing season and has a rhizome that sprouts shallow and extensive root systems, like ginger or turmeric. Banana plants spread rapidly with their underground roots and need to be pruned to one or two stalks. It takes about 18 months for a stalk to start flowering. The curved fruit grows on the long flowering stalk and the bananas form in clusters called hands. Gardeners should wear old clothes to harvest them because sap from the bananas permanently stain. Each stalk will only bear fruit once and should be removed after a few replacement stalks grow.
Bananas like rich organic soil, lots of water, and heavy feeding when they are growing, spring through fall. Plant them near a warm south facing wall to protect them from winds and frost. Prune the dead leaves and use them with lots of compost for mulch to hold in the moisture. In the winter, when they are dormant, water the bananas very little. Each flowering stalk holds 6 - 8 hands of bananas that ripen from the top. Pick the ripe hand of bananas, leaving the green hands on the stalk to lengthen the harvest and not have too many ripe bananas at once.