Bananas thrive in tropical and subtropical climates, but will grow in many warm frost free regions. They can grow from 1.5 to 8 metres high depending on the variety. The first harvest can be within 2 years. They like full sun and in temperate climates grow well in front of a north facing wall to receive extra warmth. The roots are shallow and leaves are large thus they may be blown down if not protected from strong winds.
Each tree produces just one flower cluster or hanging bell on which forms hands of banana fruit. The tree can tolerate compacted soil and clay and temporary water inundation, but they grow best in well drained soil. Supplementary watering or irrigation is beneficial in dry periods and they benefit from the use of grey water.
They propagate vegetatively through roots suckering and new ‘pup’ trees growing alongside the parent tree. Once the tree has produced fruit and a few pups, it can easily be chopped down and used as mulch for the pups or elsewhere around the garden.
Mulching keeps the soil moist, controls weeds and feeds the tree with nutrients. Between September to March (spring to summer) they need to be well fed every few months with rich compost or composted animal manure. As they are heavy feeders, a popular way to feed them is to create a banana circle. A half metre deep pit is dug in the centre and the soil is mounded around the edges in a circle. A few banana pups and maybe some papaya (pawpaw) are planted in the mound and composting materials are added to the central pit and its edges. To keep pests out of the compost, you can use a plastic compost bin and/or worm farm in the circle. See this PRI article for more.
There are numerous banana varieties, cultivars and hybrids grown around the world. The most common type of banana sold is the Cavendish which is a genetic subgroup of cultivars originating from Vietnam and China. Two good tasting medium height varieties include ‘Goldfinger’, and ‘Pisang Ceylan’. Backyard growers most commonly start out by planting a pup from a friends garden.
Adapted from Annette McFarlane Organic Fruit Growing and other sources.