Banana plants can be a delicious addition to the garden but they can be much more too. Many people don’t realise just how easy it is to grow bananas in Perth. Bananas are rich in fibre, potassium, vitamins A, B6 and C. But it’s also about flavour – and you just can’t beat the taste of a home grown banana. Additionally bananas can make a useful landscape plant and they look wonderful in a tropical garden setting here in Perth.
Commercially Carnarvon is Western Australia’s largest banana growing area and Kununurra is also hub for West Australian bananas. Carnarvon bananas are typically smaller and sweeter than bananas from eastern Australia.
Best climate for growing bananas:
Bananas are best suited to a warm, frost-free, coastal climate and usually grow well as far south as Perth. They need all day sunshine and moisture. They prefer steady temperatures and dislike extreme conditions such as strong winds, intense heat or cold, and being too exposed. Growth will stop when temperatures drop below 15˚C but will begin again once it warms up.
The banana can be grown in the home garden in other parts of Western Australia from the Kimberley to coastal areas as far south as Margaret River and east to Esperance.
Banana varieties in Australia:
There are two main varieties of bananas grown in Australia – Cavendish and ladyfinger. Cavendish bananas account for over 90 percent of Australian production and includes varieties such as Hybrids, Williams, Mons or Dwarf Cavendish. The lady finger banana is a smaller variety that is popular in Asian countries.
Cavendish is the variety that you know from the supermarket. If you live near a banana growing region, this is the variety you see in the plantations. It is a stout plant that produces large heavy bunches.
Lady Fingers are very tall and slender plants and have smaller, sweeter fruit. They are often grown by gardeners as ornamental plants with the small fruit being a bonus.
Look for dwarf banana varieties if you plan to grow the fruit in pots.
How to plant bananas:
The right time to plant is in spring and summer. Prepare your soil prior to planting by incorporating plenty of compost or manure and irrigate thoroughly at least a few days prior to planting. If you’re growing more than one banana plant, space them approximately four metres apart. When planting, create a raised mound around the banana to improve drainage around the roots of the plant.
When to harvest bananas:
A banana plant takes approximately nine months (but it may take longer) to mature and produce fruit however it is important to manage the process. Each cluster of bananas is called a “hand” and each individual banana is called a “finger”. The entire stem containing several hands (and many fingers) is called a bunch.
It is recommend that you cover the entire fruiting stem of bananas with a large open ended bag once the fruit moves from being downward to upward facing to deter birds from eating the bananas.
You may have to prop your plant with a stake or similar as the fruit gets heavier to prevent it falling over.
You can harvest individual hands of bananas before they are ripe and allow them to ripen further indoors, to spread out your banana harvest so that you don’t have them all ripen at the same time.
Bananas which you leave to ripen on the tree, will be ready to be picked when the little flowers on the end are dry and rub away from the banana.
How to store bananas:
Ripen the bananas in a fruit bowl at room temperature – the optimum storage temperature is 13°C. Storing bananas next to other fruit such as tomatoes or avocados will speed the ripening process. Surplus bananas may be dehydrated or frozen. Once ripe, the bananas can be stored in the fridge; but their skin will turn black but the flesh should be good for a few more days. These slightly older mushy bananas are excellent for making homemade banana bread.
Banana diseases and common problems:
For the home grower the largest problems come from wildlife attacking fruit. Also, banana trees may suffer from root rot if the soil is too wet. There are other diseases but these are likely to impact commercial growers.
Bananas have been grown in Perth for a very long time. In the early 1900s, before commercial production became common in Carnarvon, commercial bananas were grown by Chinese gardeners at the foot of Mt. Eliza, below Kings Park.
Check out how to grow other fruits and berries in Perth: