San diego banana seeds

Gardening: Yes, we have bananas

That song galvanized a nation that desperately wanted more songs about bananas.

And composers responded with the classic tune, “I’ve Got the ‘Yes! We Have No Bananas’ Blues.”

Bananas are descendants of Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana, a lovely couple from southeast Asia.

According to the World Atlas (2014), next to tomatoes, bananas are the most common fruit in the world. states that the banana plant is technically an herb, since the plant has a succulent tree stem, instead of a wood one. The banana fruit is technically a berry. Horticulture can be a funky world.

The Food and Agriculture Organization says bananas are grown in 135 countries primarily for their fruit, but also to make fiber, soap, banana wine and banana beer.

I’m not monkeying around when I say you must be bananas to drink banana beer. But everyone in East Africa drinks it, and so do nine people in Georgia and four people in Oregon. Surprisingly, nobody in California drinks the stuff.

Plantains are members of the banana family. They contain more starch and less sugar than dessert bananas. Plantains can be eaten raw, boiled, baked, microwaved or grilled.

Although incorrectly referred to as banana trees, what appears to be a trunk is actually many leaves tightly wrapped around a single stem.

Banana plants are available through our local nurseries. If you already have one and wish to grow more, use a shovel to cut a section of rhizome along with a 3-foot tall sucker (has pointed leaves). The sucker (aka “pup”) will lose some leaves in its first weeks after planting. Don’t panic. Well, you can panic if you want, but it’s not necessary.

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Only one primary stem should be allowed to fruit. Excess shoots should be removed.

This year-round fruit likes rich, well-drained, acidic (pH between 5.5 and 6.5) soil.

My little boomerangs have been happy with a quarterly application of 8:10:8 fertilizer.

The ideal temperature range for banana growing is 75 to 85 degrees. They grow best in full sun, but 90 degree-plus temperatures can scorch leaves and fruit.

It’s currently 39 degrees outside and my banana plant is getting ready to meet Elvis.

If freezing temperatures are forecasted, wrap the trunk with burlap or quality landscape fabric until it looks like an Egyptian mummy.

Most banana plants grow to 15-feet tall. Some reach 25 feet with leaves that can grow to be 9 feet long and 2 feet wide.

The popular “Dwarf Cavendish” can reach 10 feet tall.

Dwarf varieties can grow in containers, but unless you enjoy repotting, plant them in the ground.

The fruits develop in a large hanging cluster, made up of “hands.” This cluster is called a “bunch” and can weigh 100 pounds. An individual banana fruit is called a “finger.”

To prevent a banana bunch from breaking off, prop it up with a stick with a u-shaped hook at the end.

A banana plant takes a year to produce decent results.

Their leaves are easily torn by the wind. Even though mine is protected by a wood fence, large fruit trees and two armed guards, the Santa Ana winds re-shaped it to resemble Phoenix Robellini palm fronds.

Root rot is the probably the biggest killer of banana plants.

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Use clear, perforated, polyethylene bunch covers to protect from diseases, insects, sunburn, birds and, of course, a mob of kangaroos.

Harvest by cutting the stalk when the bananas are green and plump. The stalk should be hung in a cool, shady area. Since ethylene stimulates ripening, and mature fruit emits this gas, ripening can be hastened by covering the bunch with a paper or plastic bag.

“Ungassed” (not treated with ethylene) bananas show up at the supermarket fully green.

Bananas will eventually ripen on the bunch, too, but they’ll ripen faster than you can eat them. Consider cutting the top hands off a bit earlier and ripen them indoors.

Some common ones growing in California are Manzana, Cavendish (common in supermarkets), Ice Cream (aka Blue Java), Lady Fingers (height 20 feet-plus) and Orinoco (grown as a landscape plant).

Supposedly, bananas are good for mosquito bites, poison ivy, scrapes, burns, warts, splinters, whitening teeth, hair conditioners, banana splits, curing headaches, silver and leather shoe polish and numerous health benefits. I’ll vouch for the banana split. You’re on your own for the rest of them.

Oh … and who can forget that hit song by the Hoosier Hot Shots, “I Like Bananas (Because They Have No Bones)”?

These classics dropped from the charts, but not from our hearts.

(No bananas were harmed during the writing of this article).

Schmidt is a Poway resident with over 40 years of gardening experience.

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The Enano Gigante, meaning “Giant Dwarf,” requires substantial water, and eminates an attractive tropical look that is ideal in small landscaped areas. It produces 4- to 5-inch bananas that are sweet and taste similar to those commonly found in supermarkets.

Ice Cream

Also known as the “Blue Java,” the cold-tolerant Ice Cream Banana tree produces fruit with a texture and flavor similar to that of vanilla ice cream. Its large, beautiful leaves cover the medium bunches of silvery-blue bananas that are delicious eaten fresh or when cooked. When properly fertilized, the Ice Cream Banana tree can grow to 10 feet in height.

Lady Finger

Lady Finger Bananas are the second most popular banana in Australia. This could be because they are slightly sweeter than common bananas or because they do not turn brown when cut, therefore making them perfect for fresh applications. These trees can reach heights up to 25 ft when planted in the soil and fertilized properly.