Banana Propagation

From the Horticultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida

Today bananas must be propagated from large rootstocks or rhizomes that are carefully transplanted in a suitable climate, namely the hot tropics, where the average temperature is a humid 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius), and a minimum of 3 1/2 inches (75 mm) of rainfall a month. The soil must have excellent drainage or the rootstocks will rot. The plants grow new shoots, often called suckers, pups, or ratoons, from the shallow rootstocks or rhizomes, and continue to produce new plants generation after generation for several decades.

 In about nine months the plants reach their mature height of about 15 to 30 feet. Some varieties will grow to a height of 40 feet. From the stems, that are about 12 inches thick, flower shoots begin to produce bananas. If you have never seen bananas growing, you might be puzzled that they appear to be growing upside-down with their stems connected to the bunch at the bottom and the tips pointing upward.

The most common propagation material is suckers, or pieces of the rhizome. There are 3 types of suckers: maidenhead, a large non-fruiting pseudostem (plus roots and some rhizome); sword sucker, a sucker attached to the original (mother) rhizome with narrow sword-like leaves, and; a water sucker, a sucker next to but only superficially attached to the mother rhizome with broad leaves. Water suckers produce inferior fruit and are therefore not recommended. Large sword suckers and maidenheads are the preferred planting material.

Water suckers have broad leaves at an early age and also lack the distinctive taper of sword suckers. Water suckers usually develop from the corm of previously harvested plants and unsuitable as they lack a strong attachment with the corm of the plant and thus suffer an early nutritional deficiency causing production of small uneconomical bunches. They take longer till bunching and are also more prone to falling over.

Sword suckers is the best choice. It is very important in management of bananas to select correct sucker for next crop and quality bunches. Sword suckers are tapered with a large base with small narrow leaves. Sword suckers should be removed from vigorous clumps with a spade when they are 4-5 ft (1.2-1.5m) tall. The largest leaves are cut off, leaving only the youngest or none at all. Suckers should have many healthy roots, without symptoms, such as nodulations and internal lesions, of nematode or borer damage.

The pseudostems of maidenhead suckers are cut down to 8 inches (20 cm) high and the remaining rhizome is cut into "seed" pieces for planting.

In the event that healthy propagating material is not available, the sucker is cut off and its rhizome is pared of all damaged roots and dark tissue, or is cut into pieces containing only white, healthy tissue and a few buds. If nematodes are a problem in the area, it is strongly recommended that nematode-free or hot water treated (described under nematodes) propagating material be used.

Bananas have recently begun to be commercially propagated from meristems by tissue culture. The advantage of this system is that plants are uniform and free of nematodes and most diseases. The disadvantage is the time it takes for small plants to be grown to a sufficient size for sale from the nursery and in some areas their lack of availability.

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Crane, Johathan H., Balerdi, Carlos F. and Maquire, Ian. "Bananas Growing in the Home Landscape." This document is HS-10, one of a series of the Horticultural Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. First printed 1972 as FC-10. Revised Jan. 1998, Dec. 2005, Oct. 2008, and Nov. 2016. Web. 14 Mar. 2017.

Published 24 Mar. 2014 LR. Last update 14 Mar. 2017 LR
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