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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Growing Edible Fruiting Bananas in Las Vegas

It isn't often I post other people's work on my blog. Several people have contacted me they have grown bananas here in our hot and cold desert but I thought the information here should be posted for comments and discussion. Harrison sent it to me in 2015. Yes, I'm slow.
 - Xtremehort


A successful strategy for growing edible fruiting bananas in Las Vegas has not yet been found; it is a challenge to match our environment with the banana’s requirements. That said, it is marvelous to watch the huge purple flower emerge and slowly expose tiny green bananas, even if they are not able to mature into sizable yellow fruits.


Edible bananas, Musa acuminata, are herbacious perennials that grow with a large pseudostem through which leaf stalks emerge at its tip until the growth cycle nears completion, about 2 years under favorable conditions. Then, instead of a leaf stalk growing from the pseudostem, a single flower stalk emerges, enlarges, the petals peel back from the “bud” and in between at the base of the petals are the fruits in bunches called hands. [See pictures, changes over 7 days.] After fruiting, the pseudostem dies back.

Banana plants are usually not available in local nurseries so mail order is customarily
required. Common cultivars are a good choice, and note that not all banana plants are edible fruiting. Search the Internet for their current availability. Order from resources that provide safe packingand shipping, and the shorter the travel time the better (the expense of air or two day shipping is sometimes worth it.) The plants will be shocked from travel in any case. Best time of year to order is spring. Fall ordering leaves short time for the plants to acclimate before winter protection must be placed.

Location. Daylight and sun light are two considerations. When the days get short, say less than 12 hours, their growing slows. That is why overwintering them in a dark garage is not a
good idea. They may never recover, and it can get dangerously cold there in winter. In our climate, bananas can tolerate heat but do not tolerate direct sun; broken shade is probably a best location. They should be planted in the warmest microclimate on your property. In my opinion, the growth of the plant is best if it is continuous and not interrupted by cold, wind, or heat. Banana plants tolerate wind, but not a hot, dry desiccating one, so limiting exposure to wind is also a consideration. In-ground (not in greenhouses) bananas require serious winter protection, strategies for which are available in nursery catalogues.

Container planting may seem a reasonable option, especially when considering seasonable portability in anticipation of hostile weather. In warmer weather, relocating the plant should maintain its orientation to sunlight. An urn of at least 20 inches is desirable, with a radius of about 5 feet around it to allow proper leaf spread. I prefer clay to plastic or pottery. Since the duration of the plant’s life is about 36 months, accumulation of salts from hard water should not be a problem. Emerging plants in the same urn, however, should be transplanted to replacement soil. Hand watering may be necessary, and moving the watered urn is a challenge. It is a good idea to “double pot” the urn so that, in the heat of summer, roots are not “cooked.”
Soil. Planting either in the ground or container, native soil is alkaline and bereft of nutrients. Various formulations have been given to improve the soil, for example, perlite, peat moss, potting soil, 33% each. The ultimate pH should be on the acid side, between 5.5 and 6.5. Well draining medium is preferred, and a generous bottom layer of cactus mix will enhance drainage.

Fertilizing. A well-balanced product, either 6-6-6 or 12-12-12 should be satisfactory. I recommend applying fertilizer first when the weather warms up and once in early fall. Some recommend more frequent fertilizing and special fertilizer combinations of nutrients.
Watering. For container plants, mulching and using a “water stick” is a useful guide to determine plant watering needs. In-ground plants, also mulched, are regularly watered, once per week for 15 minutes in Winter, increasing to twice per week in Spring, and perhaps once more per week at the height of Summer. Observation of the leaves, drooping when dry and discoloring when too wet, is also helpful in modifying watering schedules.

Fruiting. Between 9 and 12 leaves suggest the plant is potentially able to fruit. If you count the leaves on pictures of fruiting plants in nursery catalogues you will note they almost all have at least 10 leaves. Preventing leaf loss is critical to successful fruiting. After fruiting, it will take 2-4 additional months for fruit to ripen. I have not found measuring the girth of the pseudostem helpful in predicting flowering.

Pests. I have not noted any specific pests, but focused observation on plant growth should detect harmful conditions.

Propagation. Bananas are easily propagated, once you are able to grow them, even if they don’t grow edible fruit. From the base of the mother plant, little plants surface, and can grow to be mature plants. These offshoots are called “pups,” and are the same cultivar as the mother plant.



Following the suggestions above, I have found complete success, i.e., growing edible fruit, elusive. I have been able to get fruiting but the fruits do not grow or ripen; they are small and inedible. There are still adjustments to try, for example, timing the cultivation of “pups,” the root offshoots from the mother plant, to allow for a longer uninterrupted season may be one strategy. 
 For me, growing edible bananas in Las Vegas is a work in progress.

Resources
Francko, David A. Palms Won't Grow Here and Other Myths. S.l.: Timber, 2011. Print.

Kepler, Angela Kay, and Francis G. Rust. World of Bananas in Hawai'i: Then and Now: Traditional Pacific & Global Varieties, Cultures, Ornamentals, Health & Recipes. Haiku, HI: Pali-o-waipi'o, 2011. Print.

Lessard, William O. The Complete Book of Bananas. Place of Publication Not Identified: W.O. Lessard, 1992. Print.

Morton, Julia Frances, and Curtis F. Dowling. Fruits of Warm Climates. Miami, FL: J.F. Morton, 1987. Print.

Roth, Susan A., and Dennis Schrader. Hot Plants for Cool Climates: Gardening with Tropical Plants in Temperate Zones. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Print.

Waddick, James W., and Glenn M. Stokes. Bananas You Can Grow. New Iberia, LA: Stokes Tropicals Pub., 2000. Print.

"California Rare Fruit Growers." California Rare Fruit Growers. Web. 11 Sept. 2015. .

"Growing Bananas in Phoenix Arizona." Web. 
.

Web. .

Mattocks, David. "Growing Bananas Is Easy." Central Florida Farms. Web. http://www.centralfloridafasrms.com/bananacare.htm

"Welcome to Going Bananas of Homestead, Florida!" Welcome to Going Bananas of Homestead, Florida! Web. 11 Sept. 2015. .

Harrison Sheld
Las Vegas, Nevada
September, 2015

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