Advice for growing bananas

Farming bananas can be profitable, if production is planned and carried out carefully.

preparing-the-soil-for-bananas
The correct size for the banana plant hole. It should be roughly 50cm deep.
Photo: Supplied

In South Africa, bananas are generally planted in December.

A soil analysis for lime and phosphate should be carried out in June and land preparation begins in September.

Add kraal manure or compost if available. Fertilise the soil using four bags/ha of MAP fertiliser.

Add two bags of lime if the soil analysis shows that the pH is low.

Rip the land to loosen the soil at a deep level. Spray or disc if there are many weeds in the land. There are several methods of planting bananas, but tissue culture plants are best. These are grown from the tissue of the banana plant in bags, and come ready for planting.

  • Prepare for planting by digging holes in November. Space the rows 3m apart and the plants 1,5m apart in the row. The hole should be 30cm x 30cm and knee height in depth.
  • Add old kraal manure and put some loose soil back into the holes. Do not add more than 10g of MAP to each hole.
  • Plant in December. Remove the plastic bag and place the plant with soil around its roots in the hole. Do not damage the plant or dislodge the soil when removing the bag – use a knife rather than a hoe.
  • Allow 10cm between the plant and the soil surface.
  • Fill the hole and compact it. Irrigate the plants after planting.

Fertilisation

Apply the first top dressing a month after planting, using two bags/ha (50g/ plant) of LAN fertiliser. Apply the second top dressing in March, using two bags/ha (50g/ plant) of LAN fertiliser and four bags/ha (100g/ plant) of KCI.

Apply the third topdressing in May, using the same amount/ ha of KCI and LAN fertiliser. Do not apply top dressing in June, July and August. Top dress again in September (nine months after planting), using four bags/ha KCI and two bags/ha LAN, and again in November (11 months after planting), using the same amount/ha KCI and LAN.

Using the same amount once more, apply the last top dressing in January. Compost made from old vegetable leaves, chicken and kraal manure can supplement the fertiliser programme.

Desuckering

  • Use a knife to cut off the stems of suckers that have grown about 30cm long.
  • When planting on a slope, always leave the suckers on the uphill side.
  • Cut off all suckers on the north-western side of the banana plant. This is the side where the bunch hangs.
  • Five months after planting, select only one vigorous sucker to carry the next bunch. Remove the remaining suckers.
  • Continue removing unwanted suckers as they appear. To protect the bunches, keep no more than 2 080 plants/ha. For this reason, make sure there is only one sucker after harvesting.

Irrigation

  • Irrigate newly-planted tissue culture banana plants every day for two weeks (15 minutes per irrigation) to protect the leaves from heat stress.
  • In the absence of rain, irrigate frequently and lightly.
  • If the land has heavy, loamy soil, apply 20mm of water every three days in summer and every eight days in winter.

Source: ‘Banana Production’, compiled by Directorate Communication, department of agriculture in conjunction with the ARC-Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Crops.