Title: Growing bananas in Florida
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00084491/00001
 Material Information
Title: Growing bananas in Florida
Series Title: Growing bananas in Florida
Alternate Title: Circular 178 ; Florida Agricultural Extension Service
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Ruehle, George D.
Publisher: Agricultural Extension Service, University of Florida
Publication Date: April 1958
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00084491
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 229354661

Full Text


I Bananas



Agricultural Extension Service
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida

APRIL, 1958

Circular 178 April, 1958

(Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914)
Agricultural Extension Service, University of Florida,
Florida State University and
United States Department of Agriculture, Cooperating
M. O. Watldns, Director


By George D. Ruehle
Vice-Director in Charge,
Subtropical Experiment Station,
Homestead, Florida

The banana(Musa paradisiaca var. sapientum
Kuntze) is native to the Old World tropics but is
now widely cultivated in tropical countries
throughout the world.
Although the banana has not proved well
adapted to commercial production in Florida, small
commercial plantations do exist in scattered lo-
calities in South Florida. Most of these are in
Dade County, the largest being about 15 acres
located a few miles east of Homestead. The ba-
nana is also grown considerably on estates and
in home gardens in South Florida, for both its
ornamental value and its fruit. In North Florida,
scattered plantings consisting usually of but a
few plants may be found as far north as the Geor-
gia line.

Climatic Factors

The banana plant is seriously injured by
temperatures of 270F. 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 a-
bundant rainfall, from 60 to 100 inches annually,
is essential for commercial production unless
irrigation is practiced. In southern Florida'the
weather is too cool and too dry in an average win-
ter season for the successful development of com-
mercial plantings without the use of supplemental

The leaves are liable to be damaged by heavy
winds and, therefore, bananas should not be plant-
ed in exposed locations. The tattered older leaves
are unsightly and cannot function as well as un-
damaged 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. Even in these situations
the plant will struggle along and even bear small
bunches of inferior fruits, if climatic factors are
favorable and the plants are fertilized. The banana
is seriously damaged by salt water and by high
chloride accumulation in soils due to intrusion of
brackish water in coastal areas.

The banana is a rapid growing herbaceous
plant varying in height from 4 to 25 feet, accord-
ing to variety and location. The stalk or false
trunk is succulent and is composed of concentric
layers, being made up of the bases of the leaf
sheaths. The true stem of the banana plant is an
underground rhizome from which the stalks grow.
When the plant reaches flowering age the
terminal inflorescence forces its way upward
through the stalk, emerging from the apex. In most
varieties the floral stalk bends downward but the
fruits turn upward. Flowers of the banana appear
to be perfect but are unisexual by abortion of
"male" or "female" organs. The first clusters
of flowers which open at the base of the rachis
have well developed ovaries and abortive stamens
and function as "female," developing without
pollination as "hands" of fruit. After all the fe-
male flowers open, a number of clusters of sterile
flowers appear with both male and female parts
abortive. These clusters and their bracts are shed.
Male flowers, with abortive ovaries and normal
stamens, are produced as the rachis continues
to elongate, but they soon fall off so that the
rachis is bare from the developing fruit to the
terminal cluster of developing male flowers. The
Cavendish or Chinese Dwarf variety is exceptional
in retaining the dead male flowers.

Typical backyard clump of bananas grown to
hide unsightly areas and provide some fruit for
the family.

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 suck-
er may bear when 12 to 18 months old but rapidity
of production and time of ripening vary according
to soil and climatic conditions. From flowering to
maturity takes about three months in summer.


Many varieties of bananas are cultivated but
very few are known outside of the tropics. The
Gros Michel, the chief commercial variety of the
American Tropics, is poorly adapted to Florida
conditions and is rarely grown in the state.
The dwarf variety Cavendish 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
stem from 4 to 7 feet tall, with rather broad leaves
borne on short petioles. It is somewhat hardier
than other sweet varieties and is considerably
more wind resistant than taller varieties. The
fruit is of medium size, thin skinned, and of good
quality, but requires very careful handling in
The Apple banana, grown occasionally in
Florida, is fairly hardy and prolific, but the fruit
is not generally considered of as good quality as

the Cavendish. When well matured and fully
ripened it has a pleasant mild subacid flavor, pre-
ferred by many people to the less acid Cavendish.
The plant is medium in size, producing small
bunches of short, plump, thin skinned fruits.
The Lady Finger or Hart's choice is a tall
variety producing small, very thin skinned fruit
of excellent quality. It is more subject to damage
by wind than the Cavendish and is not quite as
A red banana, existing in several types, is
occasionally seen in Florida gardens. It is a tall
vigorous plant, with stems, fruits and leaf midribs
reddish in color. The fruits are plump, about 6
inches long, and borne in medium sized bunches
usually having from four to six hands. The fruit
is of rather poor quality when eaten raw.
Several varieties of plantain are seen in
Florida gardens. The Horse plantain is the hardi-
est and is grown more as an ornamental than for
its fruit, which is of poor quality and is borne in
small bunches.

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

:'~~~ P.~~E~j


Banana planting materials. Top right, root-
stock cutting with a sucker started; top left, basal
sucker just starting from the base of a pseudo-
stem; lower, a sucker.

when from two to eight months old. March or April
is a good time to remove the suckers for planting
in Florida. They may be piled and cured for sev-
eral weeks before planting, but direct planting
probably is best.
Another method of propagation is to cut rhi-
zomes into pieces, each weighing from 7 to 10
pounds and containing at least two buds. Rhi-
zomes from large suckers that have not fruited
are preferred, but those from suckers that have
fruited are sometimes used.
The planting holes for either suckers or rhi-
zomes should be fairly large (2/Y to 3 feet 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 dis-
tance of planting should be 8 to 10 feet apart for
the Cavendish variety and 12 to 15 feet apart for
the taller varieties. 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 nutri-
ent s.


The banana plant is a heavy feeder and re-
sponds well to fertilization. In many of the plan-
tations in the tropics, where the soils contain
appreciable quantities of the minerals essential
for plant growth, little fertilization is practiced
except for the occasional application of nitrogen-
bearing materials. In others, considerable nitrogen
and potash are 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 may be deficient in the minor elements mag-
nesium, 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 fixed and unavailable
although present in the soil.
Since bananas require all of the above ele-
ments for normal growth, the grower should supply
those needed particularly for his soil, either with

the fertilizer as ground.applications or in nutri-
tional sprays.
Fertilizer practices for bananas therefore
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 in-
cluded 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
experience 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 than
from infrequent 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 ele-
ments. A typical formula is as follows:
Cuprocide 1 lb.
Zinc sulfate 2 lbs.
Manganese sulfate 2 lbs.
Lime 2 lbs.
Water 100 gals.

A heavy mulch, constantly renewed as it de-
cays, is particularly beneficial.


If a mulch is maintained, little cultivation
is necessary for keeping down weeds or conserv-
ing 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 largerbunches can be ex-
pected. Later, when the stool has matured, from
3 to 5 stalks may be allowed to grow if well
spaced. 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 applica-
tion of partially decomposed manure or compost
and a fresh sucker planted in its place.


A number of diseases and insects attack the
banana in various parts of the world. The most
serious diseases are Panama disease and Sigatoka.
The first, a wilt disease caused by a fungus
(Fusarium oxysporum cubense), has thus far not
been found in Florida.
Sigatoka disease, caused by the fungus
Cercospora musae Zimm., occurs in Dade County
and can seriously lower the productiveness of
Cavendish bananas. It causes dark brown to black
linear-oblong spots up to one-half inch in length.
When the spots remain small, little damage is
done, but eventually tissue around the spots dies
and sometimes leaves are completely destroyed.
Spraying periodically with copper fungicides will
control the disease.
Nematodes attack the roots of banana plants
but apparently do not seriously damage plants
well supplied with water and nutrients. Mulching
heavily helps to reduce nematode damage.
No serious insect problems on bananas in
Florida have developed up to this time.


Bananas harvested 7 to 14 daysbefore ripen-
ing and hung in a shady, cool place on the bunch
will develop their flavor and nutritive value better
than 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 quickly and help to fertilize the soil.

(Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914)
Agricultural Extension Service, University of Florida,
Florida State University and
United States Department of Agriculture, Cooperating
M. O. Watkins, Director

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