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Banana Cultivation Tips

Storing Seeds
Seeds are best sown straight away when they arrive. If you aren't going to sow them straight away they can be stored briefly in their packaging in a cool (not cold) dark, dry place. Do not refrigerate.

Sowing Seeds
Prepare the seeds for sowing by rinsing them thoroughly and then soaking them for 2-3 days in tepid water that has been previously boiled. Change the water daily. Remove any fruit remaining on the seeds as it will encourage the seed to rot. Sow the seeds using coir (a sterile medium made from coconut husk fibre), perlite, vermiculite or sterilised compost. Then choose one of the methods below, depending on what you have available:

  1. Place the seeds in moist sowing medium and seal in a plastic bag. Check the germination temperature for your seeds (this is shown in the pop-up window when you click on a thumbnail) and then place them in a warm room or an airing cupboard. You can check the temperature range or your room or airing cupboard by using a min/max thermometer. Avoid locations that get above 40C.
     

  2. Sow the seeds half covered in moist sowing medium that is at least 1.5 inches deep. Spray the surface with a little dilute copper based fungicide (there are organically acceptable ones available) then place them in a heated propagator.

Check the seeds daily for germination, signs of drying out or mould/fungus forming. If mould/fungus is a problem rinse the seeds in tepid water then sow in fresh medium as spray the seeds with a dilute fungicide. Germination is erratic and can take up to 12 months for some seeds: so donít give up!!

Potting on
With banana plants the root and shoot often appear at the same time. It is important to catch the shoot before it has been growing in the dark for too long, as they don't always take too well to the move into the light!

When the root or shoot has appeared pot the seeds on into individual pots of sterile potting compost. I use a potting mix made up from 5 parts organic peat free compost (J A Bowers New Horizon), 3 parts coir and 1 part perlite.

Plant the seeds just below the surface of the compost. Position the seedlings in good light, but avoid strong direct sunlight until the plant has established itself into its new container. Water seedlings regularly, but never let them get waterlogged as this will encourage damping off (rotting). Bananas prefer a fairly humid environment, at least initially.

Pot on again when a good root system has formed and before the plants become too root-bound. Mix in some slow release fertiliser with the potting compost.

Planting out
Plant out in late spring after the danger of frost has passed. Plant them into rich, moist (but not waterlogged) soil. Most bananas like a sunny spot in the garden that is sheltered from strong winds, which can shred the large leaves. Dwarf varieties are happy planted into large pots.

Feeding
Bananas are greedy. Mix in some slow release organic fertiliser to the planting hole and feed every few weeks during the growing season with an organic liquid fertiliser.

Winter Protection
Banana leaves will not survive the winter. Rootstock, however, can survive a few degrees of frost depending on the variety. Young plants of hardy stock (less than one year) are most safely over-wintered in an unheated greenhouse. To provide extra protection for outdoor plants treat them as follows:

  1. Cut off the leaves to the top of the pseudo stem (to preserve plant height) or cut to 6 inches above ground level.
  2. Wrap the stem in several inches of straw then cover with horticultural fleece.
  3. Cover the base of the plant with at least 6 inches of mulch to provide extra protection to the roots.

Since plants are normally more hardy when a little dry, in wet weather you could also provide a water-proof cover. However, do avoid completely covering the plant with plastic for more than a few days as this will promote rotting.

Common Pests (Just in Case)
Aphids are rather fond of banana leaves and can be a problem in greenhouses in particular. To get rid of them gently rub them off by hand. There are biological controls available for use outdoors and in the greenhouse (see the links page for suppliers). Some people use aphid sprays but I have found most to be ineffective, as over-use has led to widespread resistance. I have had some success with a new organic product called Eradicoat, which suffocates them (see links for suppliers).

Occasionally Spider Mites can be a problem if there is low humidity. Spray the banana leaves with water to increase local humidity, spray the undersides with Eradicoat or try biological controls.

Sterilising Compost
Small quantities of compost can be sterilised in a domestic microwave. Fill a microwaveable bowl with moist compost and cover with microwaveable Clingfilm. Microwave on full power for 10 minutes. Allow to cool before handling or sowing seeds.

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