VOLUME 35 NUMBER
Banana Growing in
FLORIDA QUARTERLY BULLETIN OF THE
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Commissioner of Agriculture
Entered Jan. 31, 1903, at Tallahassee, Fla., as second-c
matter under Act of Congress of June, 1900. "Acceptance
mailing at special rate of postage provided for in Section 1:
Act of Oct. 3, 1917, authorized Sept. 11, 1918."
Artcraft Printers. Tallahassee
A A A AA AA A AA AAAAAA =AAAAAA ~~^"
Banana Growing in Florida
By W. E. BOLLES, Oldsmar, Florida
Secretary of the Florida Banana Growers'
My experience in growing bananas and my obser-
vations of the success of other growers have demon-
strated to me that the production of this tropical
fruit is a practical commercial proposition in many
parts of Florida. There are a number of good-sized
plantations, especially in the southern half of the
State, with scattered plantings here and there as far
north as Jacksonville and Tallahassee.
For a profitable commercial banana proposition,
I would recommend that part of the State south of
a line drawn east and west from Daytona to Cedar
Key. Bananas can be grown for home use north of
that line, but the crop will not be so dependable for
a money-making proposition. The best location for
a plantation is on the south side of a lake, bay, river
or stream of some kind, because this gives a little
added advantage in the way of protection against
cold winds from the north. Such a location is by no
means essential, but it does give the grower a little
advantage which is worth having.
Bananas like plenty of moisture, but they can be
drowned out by too much water, just the same as
other plants or fruit trees. There must be sufficient
drainage to carry off excess water from heavy rains.
I have my ditches all running into one main outlet
ditch, and have the latter so arranged that I can
close it any time I want to and hold in rain water
during a somewhat dry season, or I can open it and
let the water flow off freely during wet seasons.
Beyond a doubt, sub-irrigation and sub-drainage
make the most scientific method for best results, as
is the case with truck farmers and strawberry grow-
ers; but this is not necessary at the start, because
grower fertilizer. The second application should be
put on in June before the summer rains come along,
and should have a good percentage of phosphoric
acid for fruiting purposes. The third application
should be put on after the summer rains are over,
and should contain the larger percentage of potash
to harden the plants and prepare them to go through
the cooler months. Stable, dairy and poultry man-
ures are good at all times of the year excepting the
cold months, when it is not wise to encourage rapid
growth. If a frost comes along it will nip the new
tender leaves, but the main stalk will usually come
through unharmed. If a hard freeze kills the main
stalk, the roots will generally come through safely
and throw up new growth after the weather mod-
erates. Protection of the stalk and roots against
freezes can be secured the same way as in an orange
grove, by banking up dirt over the roots and up
around the stalks when frost is threatened.
Mulch is one of the most important factors in
growing bananas successfully. One cannot put too
much dead vegetable matter on top of the ground
around each stalk. This vegetable matter rots and
furnishes plant food, also keeps the roots cool in
summer and warm in winter. When the fertilizer
is applied it is a good plan to pull all of the mulch
back away from the plants, put on fertilizer, and
immediately put the mulch back where it was. The
shade and plant food created by the mulch have the
effect of making the banana roots come up toward
the surface, and it is easy to see why roots which
have been accustomed to protection would soon suf-
fer severely from exposure to the sun. In other
words, when you have once started using mulch in
a banana plantation you must keep it up continu-
The character of the banana plant indicates that
it was designed by nature to grow in a hammock or
glade where it can enjoy some protection from the
winds and hot summer sun. These conditions can
be reproduced by planting wind breaks of Napier
grass or bamboo around the banana plantation, and
the plants be allowed to grow freely just about the
way they want to-in other words, allow them to
make a thick growth, which will shade the ground
all around and thereby absolutely prevent the
growth of grass and weeds.
Scientifically, the proper spacing for banana
plants when setting out is about 8 x 10 feet. If the
planter allows only four stalks or sprouts to grow
on each root, and removes all extra stalks and
sprouts, the plant will produce better. In the case
of a mature plant which has been scientifically cared
for, there will be one full-grown stalk, one about
three-fourths grown, one about half-grown and one
about one-fourth grown.
All others will have been taken off to prevent
them from draining the strength from the main
stalks. The little sprouts act like suckers and nat-
urally take away a great deal of strength. They can
be cut off and set out to form new production, or sold
under the rules of the Florida State Plant Board of
Gainesville. Practically it seems to be a demon-
strated fact that in Florida it is just about as well
not to be too scientific, but strike a happy medium
between science and practice, by allowing the ba-
nanas to do pretty much as they like short of per-
mitting them to run absolutely wild. Nature likes
to have a little freedom, but if a cultivated plant is
allowed to romp any way it likes, it has a tendency
to go back to its wild state, which generally means
a reduction in fruit-bearing ability.
When to Plant
The best time to set out new banana plants is
during the summer months-July, August and Sep-
tember-when there is plenty of moisture to enable
them to get a rapid start. As a matter of fact, how-
ever, they can be set out successfully any time in
the year, but if put in the ground after November 1
they are not likely to make much growth until Feb-
ruary, and a few of them may rot in the ground
before they get started.
Diseases of banana plants are few in number in
Florida. The main danger is from the borer which
gets into the bulb or crown at the base of the stalks.
A good preventative against this pest is to use castor
pomace as a fertilizer in the first or spring applica-
tion. The castor pomace is rich in nitrogen and it
is also poisonous enough to the borer to discourage
him considerably. Goat. manure is also a good
spring application. Tobacco stems are excellent
from the point of view of a fertilizer as well as pre-
vention of the operations of the borer.
Caring for Plants
After a banana plant stalk has borne one bunch
of bananas, that stalk might just as well be cut
down, because it will never bear again. Cut it off
close to the crown of the roots, but do not injure
the crown. Cut the stalk up in pieces and put it in
a compost bed to make humus for use later on. If
you cut the stalk down and let it lie just as it is on
the ground among the banana plants, this old stalk
may become a nesting place for borers.
Some people refer to banana plants as banana
trees. To be technical, the word tree is not correct.
The banana plant is a true plant from the botanical
point of view, because its stalk is really composed
of the stems of the leaves. It grows high enough
to be classified as a tree, and I have seen it so re-
ferred to by one of the best authorities. If he can
do it, I suppose we can.
After about seven years a banana plantation
should be reset for best results. Most people are
familiar with the fact that lilies do better if they
are taken up and reset in a different location once
in a while, and the banana plant is a sort of a dis-
tant cousin of the lily family. Bananas will keep
on bearing if you do not transplant them, but from
a commercial point of view they will pay you better
to move them onto other ground once in seven years
and plant a crop of cowpeas or velvet beans on the
old banana field for one season. I prefer velvet
beans because they are not so likely to throw root-
knot into the soil.
When to Gather
All bunches of bananas are better if cut from the
plant at the time when the fruits are rounded and
fully matured in size but still green in color. The
bunch should then be hung up in a shady place, out
of the draft, and allowed to ripen if intended for
home use; or should be shipped green if they are
going to a distant market.
After you cut a bunch of bananas, take it imme-
diately to a shady place, or the summer sun will
"burn" the fruit and cause brown patches on the
inside, which of course reduces the value for market
Rats sometimes bother banana plantations by
climbing up and eating the fruit, but I find cats
which know their business will soon clean a planta-
tion from rats.
There is a great deal more that might be said
about banana growing, but at the request of Hon.
William A. McRae, former Commissioner of Agri-
culture, I prepared this information in the form of
a short practical treatise for beginners. Those who
have experience in growing bananas will under-
stand this without my saying so.
When I began growing bananas at Oldsmar, near
Tampa, quite a number of people told me it was
impossible to do it successfully. I replied that I saw
a few bananas growing here and there all over the
southern part of the State, and where a few can be
grown successfully I believed a larger number could
also be grown, and this has proved to be true.
When I started, I hunted high and low for prac-
tical printed information to help me, but could not
find enough in the United States. I wrote to the
British West Indies, Hawaiian Islands and to Eng-
land for literature, which I received in due time.
The best I have found anywhere is the book by
Fawcett, published for the West Indies Committee
of London, England. It costs about $6, and if you
intend to go into banana growing on a big commer-
cial scale you will certainly get more than $6 worth
of information from it. If, however, you only in-
tend to plant one or two acres and grow fruit for
nearby towns and cities, perhaps you will get all the
information you need to start with from this brief
The food value of bananas is much higher than
that of many other fruits. If a man were compelled
to live on bananas and nothing else to save his life,
bananas would carry him a much longer period than
the majority of fruits. In the mature green condi-
tion, bananas contain a good per cent of starch and
can be fried like potatoes, in which the chief food
value is also starch. When bananas begin to ripen,
turning from the green color to yellow, the process
is converting the starches of the fruit into sugars,
which are very nutritious and strengthening.
The best time to eat bananas raw is after they
have ripened to such an extent that there is no
longer any green color on the skin. It should all be
yellow, and if the yellow has begun to turn brown,
this marks a still further advance in the process of
ripening, indicating that most of the starches by this
time has been converted into sugar. Many people
who say they cannot eat bananas without distress
in their stomach would perhaps enjoy bananas
which have reached the yellow-brown stage of
ripening, and people who have delicate stomachs
can get along better if they chew their food about
twice as long as other people do.
I look forward to the time when Florida will pro-
duce all its own bananas, and also supply neighbor-
ing States such as Georgia, Alabama and the Caro-
linas. We might be able to extend the shipments
farther than that, but in doing so we must remember
that we are in competition with the cheap labor of
Central and South America. The big fruit import-
ing companies, who bring so many millions of
bunches of bananas into the United States each
year, are strong corporations who generally own
their plantations and the ships which transport the
fruit into this country. Perhaps their expense of
long shipment will in some measure help to offset
their advantage of cheap labor.
Every family in Florida can have a clump of
banana plants in the back yard, and grow their
own. I do not know of an easier fruit tree to grow,
nor one which is freer from disease. A banana
plant will bear fruit in less than two years after
being set out, and this is one big advantage.
The vitality of the banana plant is astonishing.
I had some plants uprooted and washed out by the
storm of October, 1921. I purposely allowed one
of these full-grown banana plants to remain out in
the weather, sunshine and rain until February-25th,
1922-right where it laid after the storm. I then
had one of my men plant it, and it rapidly threw
up new sprouts and behaved just as happy and en-
joyed life just as much as if it had never been dis-
turbed. If you can show me any other kind of fruit
tree which you can uproot and let lay in the sun
and weather for four months without killing it, I
will be glad to hear something about it. I am fully
satisfied that the banana is entitled to a seat in the
king row for vitality.
At any rate, I am entirely satisfied that Florida
can produce all of the bananas necessary for use in
our own State, and this will make many thousands
of acres of land profitable and provide work for
thousands of people.
The banana plant is one of the most tropical
growths in Florida; it lends an air of luxuriance
which no other plants provide. To my mind, the
banana is in a class with the cocoanut tree and royal
palm as an emblem of the tropical character of
California makes very little effort to grow ba-
nanas, because the climate there is generally so
much drier and the rains come in the winter instead
of in the summer. All of Florida is farther south
than any point in the State of California, therefore
we are more tropical and better able to grow things
which are supposed to exist only near the equator.
The wholesale price of banana plants in the nur-
series ranges as high as seventy-five cents each or
$5.00 per dozen, depending upon the variety, char-
acter and age of the plant. The Hart's Choice and
Orinoco suckers are generally sold cheaper than the
Cavendish and Martinique suckers.
You can set out young plants of all sizes, from
mere peepers, as they are called (which are very
small, pointed sprouts just large enough to stick
their heads through the ground), up to sword suck-
ers, which are suckers perhaps one or two feet high
and have not yet developed anything more than the
narrow sword-shaped leaves; or you can plant the
maiden suckers, which are two to four feet high and
have attained sufficient age to show two or three
of the oval-shaped mature leaves. You can also
propagate bananas by root division, that is, by cut-
ting the eyes in somewhat the same manner as you
would when planting potatoes in Florida for the
spring crop. Undoubtedly the best plants of all to
reset are the maiden suckers, because they are
nearer the fruit-bearing age. Consequently these
suckers will cost more than any of the others, for
the express charges will be higher, because the
plants are larger and weigh more.
In shipping banana plants it is necessary to cut
off all the leaves right down to the main stalk. Some
people cut off the main stalk also and leave only
the bulbous root or rhizome. If you cut off all the
stalk down to the root, express charges will be less,
but it will take your plants longer to get going good,
because they must grow that much stalk over again.
They will do it, but it means delay.
The Florida Banana Growers' Association was or-
ganized in Tampa in October, 1921. We believed
there were enough banana growers in Florida to
make such an organization useful, and our expecta-
tions have been fulfilled. It is the plan to meet only
once or twice a year to exchange information for
mutual benefit. The annual membership fees were
fixed at the nominal amount of $1 in order to enlist
the co-operation of every one interested.
The pioneer work of introducing bananas into
Florida was done in 1627 by Count Odette Philippe
of Spain, and I have in my collection several banana
plants which are direct descendants of the ones
which he brought into Florida.
A man who did much to make banana growing
popular in Florida was E. H. Hart, who imported
about a dozen leading tropical varieties for testing
purposes. He selected one he considered the best
suited to Florida. It was his choice from all the
varieties he was familiar with. It began to be called
Hart's Choice, and the name has wisely been pre-
served as a tribute to the work of this successful
horticulturist. Another man who did a great deal
to promote the growing of bananas in Florida is Mr.
Reasoner, who deserves much credit for his fine
work around the years 1873-1875.
The cost of land suitable for bananas depends
upon location, quality and other advantages, the
same as lands for all other purposes. If the land is
naturally easy to drain, if the soil is rich muck or
hammock, if the property is on or near a paved
road, or close to a city or town, the value is regu-
lated by these things. Uncleared land suitable for
bananas can be bought for $25 to $50 per acre up
to as much as you wish to pay.
The expense of clearing land is also dependent
upon the character of the soil and the natural
growth which must be removed. It may run from
around $10 per acre in the case of muck, to $50 in
the case of high hammock; but if you buy land
heavily grown with pine and dwarf palmettoes, the
cost of clearing alone may run to $75 or more per
I would rather pay more for good land and buy
fewer acres. Some thin, light, white sandy soil in
Florida is easy to clear at small expense because
there is little growth on it to be taken off; but I
always figure if nature cannot do much with a piece
of land, I do not want to try it.
The following table is based on estimates of what might be called favorable conditions
of original cost and clearing.
APPROXIMATE COST OF DEVELOPING A 10-ACRE BANANA PLANTATION
By W. E. Bolles, Oldsmar, Florida
First Second Third
Year Year Year
Cost of land at $50 per acre .............
Cost of clearing land at $50 per acre...
Plowing and discing...........................
160 rods fencing.................................
200 posts at 15 cents each ....................
B uild in g fen ce ......................................
4,000 Banana Plants at $25 per 100.....
Planting 4,000 plants............. ..........
Cultivation and Mulching.................
1$2,725.001$ 375.00!$ 275.001$
. .. . . . .
In explanation of the table of costs, I want to say
that it is based upon a good job all the way through.
Four hundred plants to the acre means rows 10
feet apart and set the plants eight feet apart in the
rows. This gives room between the rows for culti-
vation and harvesting, and room to turn at the ends
of the field, also ditches. The plants in the rows
will throw so much shade that cultivation will be
materially lessened for the third year, or eliminated
entirely, for the bananas will come near taking pos-
session by that time if everything is going well. I
figured on fertilizer costing $40 per ton after freight,
hauling and spreading are included. A half-ton to
the acre would require a total of five tons for ten
acres. This is based on commercial or mixed fer-
tilizer. If you use stable or dairy manures, and
some commercial fertilizer to, provide the phos-
phorus and potash, the costs will run about the
same in the end.
The gross earnings from ten acres of bananas will
be nothing the first year, and they should be $300
per acre, or $3,000 for the second year. If you
have taken proper care all the way along, the gross
receipts the third year should be at least $400 per
acre, or $4,000. It is possible to make $500 to $800
gross per acre after the third year, which of course
means $5,000 to $8,000 per year.
The cost of planting should not be stinted. The
holes should be two feet six inches wide, the same
distance long, and the same distance deep. This
gives the set of roots which tends to go down
straight, a chance to anchor deeply, and also gives
the lateral sets of roots a chance to grow fast and
get at the food in the soil easily.
Most of the failures everywhere in any line of
agriculture are caused by lack of capital, lack of
knowledge, lack of willingness to be thorough in
doing the work. Ten acres in Florida, well cared
for, would be better than twenty or even forty acres
half-cared for, because half-care usually means fail-
ure, no matter what the size of the farm.