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FROM THE LIBRARY
Mimeographed Report No. 11 /D-- December 1946
University of Florida /
SUB-TROPICAL EXPERIMENT STATION
Homestead, Florida 7 '
GROWING BANANAS IN FLORIDA / I
Ge- D. Ruehle / 96-
The banana (mostly Musa paradisiaca var. sapientum Kuntz.) isa'nia. ye of the
Old World tropics but is now widely cultivated in tropical countrSt 4,thhout
the world. In Florida, it has not proved adaptable to commercial profttiy' j
but is grown considerably in the southern half of Florida on estates and i
home gardens, both for its ornamental value and for its fruit. In North Floria,
scattered plantings consisting usually of but a few plants each extend as far
north as the Georgia line.
The banana plant is seriously injured by temperatures of 250 F. but will endure
a slight frost without injury. When only the tops are frozen back, new growth
puts forth from the'underground rootstock with the return of warm weather. An
abundant rainfall, from 60 to 100 inches annually, is essential unless irrigation
is practiced. In southern Florida, the weather is too cool and too dry in an
average winter season for the successful development of commercial plantings.
The leaves are liable to be damaged by heavy winds and, therefore, bananas should
not be planted in exposed locations. The tattered older leaves are unsightly and
cannot function as well as undamaged entire leaves.
The banana thrives best on heavy soils fairly rich in organic matter, and in
moist situations provided the soil is well-drained. It will grow in nearly any
soil, except one composed almost wholly of sand or of limerock, although even in
these situations the plant will struggle along and even bear small bunches of
inferior fruits provided climatic factors are favorable and the plants are fer-
tilized. The banana is seriously damaged by salt water.
The banana is a rapid growing, herbaceous plant varying in height from 4 to 25
feet according to variety and location. The stalk or false trunk is succulent
and is composed of cq centric layers, being made up of the bases of the leaf
When the plant reaches flowering age, the terminal inflorescence forces its way
upward through the stalk, emerging from the center of the crown. In post varie-3
ties, the floral stalk bends downward but the fruits turn upward. In the common
varieties, the first few clusters of flowers which open at the base o' the rachis
are female" and these set as "hands" of fruit. The flowers along the middle of
the r is generally are perfect but seldom set fruit. Male flowers appear near
the ti of the rachis and later fall off, leaving the tip of'the flowering stem
bare. An exception to this is the Cavendish or Chinese Dwarf banana, on the
flowering stem of which the male flowers persist. Each stalk produces fruit but
once. New stalks arise as suckers from the base and in their turn are capable
of producing fruit. A strong sucker may bear when 12 to 18 months old but the
rapidity of production and time of ripening varies according to both soil and'
There are many varieties of banana cultivated but very few of these are known
outside of the tropics. The Gros Michel or Jamaica, the chief commercial variety
of the tropics, is not welldaapted to Florida conditions and is grown to little
extent in the state.
The Cavendish or Chinese Dwarf banana (M. cavendishii Lamb) is quite common
throughout the West Indies and is perhaps better adapted to Florida conditions
than other varieties grown for fruit production. It has a short, stout ttem
from 4 t'o 7 feet tall with rather broad leaves borne on short petioles. It is
hardier than other sweet bananas and is considerably more wind resistant than
taller varieties. The fruit is small, thin-skinned, and of good quality, but
requires very careful handling in transit. It requires considerable moisture
for best development.
The Apple banana, grown occasionally in Florida, is hardy and prolific but the
fruit is not of as good quality as the Cavendish. The plant is medium in size,
producing small bunches of short plump fruits which should be fully ripened
The Lady Finger or Hart's Choice is a tall variety producing fruit of excellent
quality. It is more subject to damage by wind than the Cavendish and is not
quite as hardy.
The Orinoco (horse-banana) is grown occasionally and is the hardiest of the
ornamental bananas. The fruit is of poor quality and is borne in small bunches,
The Colorado or Red banana, existing as several types, is occasionally seen in
Florida gardens. It is a tall, vigorous plant, with a reddish stem and red mid-
ribs in the leaf. The fruits are about 6 inches long, plump with a red skin,
and borne on medium sized bunches usually bearing from 4 to 6 hands. The fruit
is of rather poor quality when eaten raw.
Planting Stock and Planting
Varieties commonly grown do not produce seed and naturally increase by suckers.
The suckers, which grow from the base of the parent stem, are readily detached
by means of a spade, mattock or machete. In the case of the Cavendish banana,
the leaves may be left on the sucker, but they are usually removed from suckers
of other varieties. Suckers for planting should be selected only from vigorous
plants and these may be taken when from 2 to 8 months old. March or April is a
good time to remove the suckers for planting in Florida. They may be piled and
cured for several weeks before planting, but direct planting probably is best,
Another method of obtaining planting stock is to cut the whole of the rootstock
into small wedge-shaped pieces, leaving an outer surface of 1 or 2 inches on
each piece. These are planted, wedge downward, in moist soil and lightly
covered with leaf mold or sand. A sunny place should be chosen and the plants
should be kept moist. As soon as the cuttings have started 1 or 2 leaves they
should be planted.
The planting holes should be fairly large (2 1/2 to 3 ft. each way) and filled
with a mixture of top soil and well rotted cow-manure. Well made compost may be
substituted for cow manure. The average distance of planting should be 8 to 10
feet apart for the Cavendish variety and 12 to 15 feet apart for the taller vari-
eties. The suckers should be planted 10 'to 12 inches deep, with the earth firmly
pressed down about them, and they should be watered liberally. A heavy mulch of
cut grass, weeds, or other vegetable trash should be established about the plants
for the purpose of suppressing weed growth and conserving moisture and plant food.
The banana plant is a heavy feeder and responds well to fertilization. In many
of the plantations in the tropics, where the soils contain appreciable quanti-
ties of the minerals essential for plant growth, little fertilization is prac-
ticed except for the occasional application of nitrogen bearing materials. In
others, considerable nitrogen and potash is applied as well as moderate amounts
of phosphate bearing materials.
Most Florida soils are deficient in the major elements nitrogen, phosphoric
acid and potash and are deficient in the minor elements magnesium, copper, zinc,
and manganese as well. Some are deficient in calcium and iron, while others
contain so much calcium that certain of the essential minerals are immobilized
and unavailable although present in the soil.
Since bananas require all of the above named elements for normal growth, the
grower should supply those needed in his particular soil type either with the
fertilizer as ground applications or in nutritional sprays.
Fertilizer practices for bananas should be varied in accordance with the soil
type and its special requirements. Thus, in the organic soils of the muck lands,
nitrogen need not be included in the fertilizer but the other elements should be
provided. In certain of the calcium and magnesium deficient flatwoods sandy
soils, these elements should be supplied along with the.other essential elements.
As a general rule, bananas will thrive on the fertilizer mixtures shown by ex-
perience to be necessary on other crops grown on each particular soil type.
Amounts of fertilizer required will also vary with the various soil types. Since
the banana is a heavy and constant feeder, results usually will be better from
frequent light applications of low analysis mixed fertilizer rather than from in-
frequent heavy applications. The zinc, copper and manganese requirements can
best be supplied by means of a single annual application to the foliage of a
spray containing these elements. A typical formula is as follows:
Cuprocide 1 lb. Lime 2 lbs.
Zinc sulfate 2 lbs. Water 100 gals.
sulfate 2 lbs.
A heavy mulch, constantly renewed as it decays, is particularly beneficial.
If a mulch is maintained, little cultivation is necessary for keeping down
weeds or conserving moisture. Suckers appear above ground before the flowering
stem emerges from the original stalk and these require attention. While the
plant is young, it probably is best to remove all suckers but one. This will
throw the strength into the flowering stalk and the one to take its place after
fruiting and in this way larger bunches can be expected. Later when the stool
has matured, from 3 to 5 stalks may be allowed to grow. After 4 to 6 years,
when the stool shows signs of exhaustion, it should be removed, the fertility
of the soil renewed by a liberal application of partially decomposed manure and
a fresh sucker planted in its place.
Bananas harvested 7 to 14 days before ripening and hung in a shady, cool place
on the bunch will develop their flavor and nutritive value as completely as if
allowed to ripen on the plant. The bunch is cut with a portion of the stem
for convenience in handling and the terminal flower buds should be removed at
the same time. The stalk should then be cut down to allow the suckers space
to expand. If it is chopped into short lengths, and dropped to the ground around
the suckers, it will rot and help to fertilizer the soil.