The unsuspecting fruit taking the top spot for the world’s most popular is the banana. Well, actually it’s the tomato with bananas second, but I am a proud member of the ‘tomatoes are a vegetable’ tribe so they don’t count. They also strangely steal the top spot for the world’s tallest herb, making banana ‘tree’ a misnomer (because the stem is fleshy, not woody). On top of all that, the fruit is technically classified as a berry! If you live in a tropical area, you can easily grow this weird and wonderful plant in your garden.
Bananas are grown, first and foremost, for their fruit. However, the plant itself has so many other uses. Banana trees grow extremely quickly and make a great windbreak or screen when planted in groups. The leaves are large and waterproof, perfect for a number of uses in cooking. Most commonly, banana leaves are used like foil to wrap fish or other meats, or to cook rice. This imparts a sweet flavour and protects the food from burning when cooked over fire. The leaves have also been used to wrap fruits and vegetables in shops, and to make natural crockery, making them a great sustainable alternative to plastic.
Bananas can also be grown in large containers and look great on a sunny patio. They even grow well indoors and fit perfectly with the popular tropical look, but they unfortunately won’t produce any fruit.
Not all varieties of bananas are edible, so be sure to double check what you are buying at your local nursery. Choose a very sunny spot with high humidity that mimics the rainforest conditions bananas are found in. If you are planting a few banana plants, keep them about 4m apart as the leaves are large and take up a lot of space. Incorporate a good amount of compost into the soil before planting and add a layer of mulch afterwards.
Food and water
Banana plants are hungry. Due to their large leaf size, they need a lot of water and plenty of fertiliser to keep them healthy. Keep the soil evenly moist (but not wet) by watering well every few days in summer and a bit less often in winter. They need to be fertilised often too, every 4 – 6 weeks or so, keeping potassium in mind as the most important nutrient.
Within 9 months of planting you should have a mature cluster (called a hand) with plenty of individual bananas (called fingers). Keep an eye on the fruits and cover them in plastic bags once the ends turn upwards instead of downwards, to protect them from bugs, birds and hopefully monkeys. As the hand grows heavier it may become too heavy for the plant and you may have to prop it up. To harvest, pull individual fruits from the tree before they are ripe and leave them to ripen inside. Alternatively, they can be left to ripen on the tree and pulled once the ends are dry.