The fourth-largest fruit crop in the world is (drum roll, please) : the banana. Its rise to fame in non-tropical countries is nothing short of stellar; it is now a year-round staple available in grocery stores throughout the U.S. Bananas are high in potassium and easily digested, making them healthful for almost everyone from babies to oldsters. Selective breeding has produced a very uniform and seedless fruit and thousands of acres are devoted to their culture. What you may not know is there is a huge variety of those sweet-fruited plants-dwarf varieties that top out at a foot or two and giants that tower 15 feet or more. Fruit size and flavor also varies from the standard supermarket fare. Some are good for eating out of hand and others are more suited to cooking. Many of them can grow and fruit successfully in our home gardens.
Banana plants are herbaceous perennials that grow from an underground rhizome. Each stalk will, given the right conditions, bloom and produce a cluster of fruits. That stalk will die once this cycle is completed, but other stalks will grow and individual plants can thrive for several decades. All require consistent soil moisture and above-freezing temperatures to thrive. With careful siting, they not only can be a novel addition to your garden, but produce a flavorful crop. Sites on south-facing slopes and against walls with maximum sun exposure will provide the heat. Soil with a high organic component and mulch with regular irrigation will not only keep the root system happy, but increase the humidity of the air. Mist or micro-spray systems can increase it even further if you live away from the coast.
Few nurseries will have bananas for sale, so for a better selection, search the Internet. One good source is Stokes Tropicals (stokestropicals.com), whose catalog lists about 30 varieties. Another source of information and other potential suppliers is the association of California Rare Fruit Growers (crfg.org). Many of this group’s articles are available online; it also has a bevy of advisors on any fruit you may wish to grow, including bananas.
Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to email@example.com