Crops

Growing bananas – An Overview

Banana plantations can last a long time. However, if you want good harvests, you must dig up the plantation after 7 to 10 years. Some commercial farmers dig up after 4 years. You’ll also have to practice crop rotation and plant legumes such as beans for 2 years before you plant on the land again.

There’s only one trick to growing bananas – getting it right when you first get started. So, lets take a look at what banana plants like and dislike:

What banana plants like

  • Rich, dark, fertile soils.
  • Mulch and organic matter. LOTS of it
  • Plenty of nitrogen and potassium. (Chicken manure!)
  • Steady temperature, not too hot and not too cold.
  • Good moisture, in the ground and air.
  • Other banana plants

What banana plants dislike

  • Extreme heat or cold (The ideal temperature range is around 26-30°C)
  • Strong winds (To shelter them, plant bamboos on the edges of the plantation)
  • Hunger or thirst
  • Being alone and exposed

Getting started

A banana plant takes about 9 months to grow up and produce fruit. The mother plant then dies but has many suckers, little baby plants around the base. Under the ground, is a big rhizome, called the corn which has growing points that turn into new suckers. You can take these suckers off and transplant. But remember to leave one or two to replace the mother plant.

One or two months before planting, do soil analysis and if pH is low, add lime to the soil. Make a holes at the places 60 cm deep, 60 cm wide and 60 cm long and fill with compost and manure. These holes should be 1.5m apart in rows that are 3m apart. But don’t cover the compost withe the soil. At planting time, take the compost out of the holes. Put the soil from the top into the bottom of the hole.

Planting bananas

Every banana plant produces a lot of suckers, so if you know someone who grows bananas, try to get suckers from them.  However, the suckers have to be from banana plants that are between 3 and 6 years old. The suckers have  to be between 50 cm and 1 m high and broad at the base. You can also dig up a bit of corm and chop it into bits. Every bit that has an eye can be planted and will grow into a banana plant. But it takes longer than growing banana suckers…

Let the suckers dry in the shade for 3 or 4 days before you plant them.Then, just before planting, trim them at a point 50 centimetres from the base of the   and dip them in water mixed with potassium permanganate.

To prevent suckers from rotting, plant before the rainy season begins, so that roots grow.  If you buy the suckers already planted in bags, remove the plastic bag and place the plant with soil around its roots in the hole. Do not damage the plant or dislodge the soil when removing the bag – use a knife rather than a hoe. Allow 10cm between the plant and the soil surface. Fill the hole with soil and compact it. Add the manure you dug out around the plant. Irrigate the plants after planting.

Fertilising your plant

Apply the first top dressing a month after planting, using two bags/ha (50g/ plant) of LAN fertiliser. Apply the second top dressing in after 2 months, using two bags/ha (50g/ plant) of LAN fertiliser and four bags/ha (100g/ plant) of KCI.

Apply the third topdressing in after another 2 months, using the same amount/ ha of KCI and LAN fertiliser. Do not apply top dressing for 3 months. Top dress again in in fourth month (nine months after planting), using four bags/ha KCI and two bags/ha LAN, and again in @ months later (11 months after planting), using the same amount/ha KCI and LAN.

Using the same amount once more, apply the last top dressing in every year. Compost made from old vegetable leaves and chicken manure can supplement the fertiliser programme.

Prunning

Use a knife to cut off the stems of suckers that have grown about 30cm long.
When planting on a slope, always leave the suckers on the uphill side. Cut off all suckers on the north-western side of the banana plant. This is the side where the bunch hangs.

Five months after planting, select only one vigorous sucker to carry the next bunch. Remove the remaining suckers. Continue removing unwanted suckers as they appear. To protect the bunches, keep no more than 2 080 plants/ha. For this reason, make sure there is only one sucker after harvesting.

Caring for your banana plant

The fruit of banana plants is very heavy. The plant bends under the weight, and the wind may blow it down. You must prevent it from falling by supporting it with bamboo.

Irrigate newly-planted tissue culture banana plants every day for two weeks (15 minutes per irrigation) to protect the leaves from heat stress. In the absence of rain, irrigate frequently and lightly. If the land has heavy, loamy soil, apply 20mm of water every three days in summer and every eight days in winter.

Harvesting

Bananas are ready to be picked when they look well rounded with ribs, and the little flowers at the end are dry and rub off easily. Bananas must not ripen on the plant. The bunch of fruits finishes ripening tied to a rope, in the shade. If the bunch ripens on the plant, the bananas split and become mealy. In fact, the bunches can be kept longer if they are harvested unripe.The yield of a plantation may vary between 30 and 50 tons per hectare.

References: FAO    Tropical Permaculture

12 thoughts on “Growing bananas – An Overview

  1. I am a new banana farmer and this information is really useful. I have seen blue plastic bags covering the bunch. What is the reason for covering the bunch?

    1. Hi Dorothy, That’s called bagging. The main reason for bagging is to protect the fruits from damage against insects and other animals. Furthermore, it’s used to stop the fruit from rubbing against the leaves and to keep the fruit away from chemicals when they are applied. Some studies have shown that it also increases yield and improves fruit quality.

  2. This is very useful and rich information. Just want to venture into this farming. I’m based in Mpika Muchinga Province.

  3. I live in zambia,where can i get banana suckers that are highly resistant to diseases any reputable suppliers in our country?

  4. Kindly advise!
    Roughly how much is required in starting up banana farming?
    Otherwise I found this information to be very useful and educative as I am aspiring to becoming a banana farmer.
    Thanks.

  5. Thank you so much for this vital information about banana plantation. Am in Mwinilunga district North western province of Zambia. Where can i get good yielding bananas within Zambia?. Can bananas do well in sandy soils?

    1. Most plants can grow in any soil. However, they don’t grow as well as they should. Sandy soil does not grow bananas very well because it does not hold water. Even with fertilizer, the bananas are not as vigorous. If you find a hardy banana like Musa basjoo especially if it’s grown in your area, it should be able to hold. You can also amend the soil by digging big holes and adding loam and compost.

  6. Hello there,
    Great thread here with a lot of helpful and educational information. I am currently putting together a banana plantation project proposal to assist some small scale farmers in central province. Would someone be kind enough to give me a rough guide of cost of banana seedlings / acre and cost of fertilizer that would be required and where these can be bought .
    Thank you.

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