Finally! A guide on growing bananas that, well, won’t drive you bananas!
Growing bananas from seed takes a sound approach, but with a little guidance, it’s more than possible.
And guess what!? You can grow bananas from seed in just about nine months.
You can grow these plants indoors or outdoors (in the right season and climate), but be aware that successfully growing bananas can be challenging for first-time growers.
From choosing and grooming your mother plant to seed germination and harvest, this guide walks you through the steps to reach your first successful banana bounty.
Table of Contents
Banana Tree Overview
|Common Names||Banana / Nana / Naner / Nana-Nana-Boo-Boo|
|Size (Mature Plants)||13-21 feet tall on average|
|Distinguishing Features||Long and Yellow|
|In-Home Placement||Direct Sun|
Do Bananas Have Seeds?
Yes! Besides the genetically modified bananas we find in the grocery store, most banana species actually produce fruits that have seeds. The banana plant is grown from seed, and when it’s ready to start producing fruit, banana fruit grows from the flowering stem (female flower of the plant).
The bananas we buy from the grocery store are seedless because they have been modified to have three sets of chromosomes (called a triploid). This means that the plant has an odd number of chromosomes to work with during reproduction, which results in seedless fruit.
One cool thing about banana plants is that after the fruit is harvested from the female flowers, male flowers grow in their place, supporting the overall female flower pollination process.
What Do Banana Seeds Look Like?
If you’re wondering what banana seeds look like, you should know that they are small, brown, and oval-shaped.
Each primary seed is about a quarter of an inch in diameter, while the secondary seeds developed in the seed pod are just a couple of millimeters wide.
While almost all bananas from the grocery store are seedless, most varieties of bananas grown and sold in other parts of the world, like Southeast Asia and South America, contain up to six seeds or more in each fruit.
How Long Does it Take to Grow Bananas from Seed?
It takes about 9 months for a banana plant grown from seed to produce its first fruit. Most home-grown bananas only produce one bunch of fruit per year, but some can produce multiple.
The good news is that each bunch of bananas can contain up to 200 bananas! Not bad for a single harvest.
If you want your banana plant to produce a lot of bananas and prevent seed dormancy, you should consider buying seeds from an established grower or nursery. This way, you can ensure the banana plant reaches full size and can bear the most fruit!
Wild Bananas vs. Cultivated Bananas
While wild and home-grown bananas are both edible bananas, they certainly hold contrasting qualities.
Wild bananas tend to be smaller, more fibrous, and range in sweetness, while cultivated bananas are consistently bigger and have a very sweet flavor.
From my time living in Thailand and other tropical and subtropical climates of the world, I can say with certainty that not all bananas are created equal. It can be a bit of a mystery until you take your first bite, even if they all look similar.
Which reminds me, be careful when eating wild bananas! Their seeds are hard as rocks and can easily damage your teeth.
Fun Fact: Bananas are actually considered perennial herbs, and ginger’s distant relative!
Quick Care Overview
Growing bananas is a fun way to keep a green thumb throughout the year, and it certainly rewards those growers who give them the right amount of care and love. Growing bananas from seed can be challenging, though, so you’ll need to do your due diligence before undertaking the task.
The following overview of ideal conditions for growth and care will get you stepping in the right direction.
Banana plants typically thrive in well-drained, fertile soil. The soil should also be deep and acidic, with a pH between 6.0-7.0 (depending on the variety). Rocky or sandy soils are ideal for bananas to help with good drainage, and banana root systems need at least 50 centimeters of depth to thrive.
One thing to note is that the more acidic soil is, the more susceptible to Panama Disease banana plants are. Just keep an eye out for signs of disease, and you should be able to stay ahead of the curve. Testing your soil pH from time to time is also recommended.
Soil should be rich in organic matter, but banana plants also enjoy partial peat moss or vermiculite in the substrate. To increase soil organic matter (SOM), use natural homemade compost or manure if accessible. Organic matter not only creates nutrient-rich soil, but it helps with maintaining well-drained soil with a strong and sturdy structure as well.
Overwatering is enemy number 1 when it comes to banana plants. If the soil becomes saturated with a lot of water, your banana plant can quickly experience fungal growth and root rot, which can be detrimental, to say the least.
Water regularly, but as we mentioned above, the soil should drain adequately to prevent oversaturation. More water will be needed in the hot summer months and the cultivar’s primary growing season, while the cold hardy bananas will need less water over the cold winter months when the temperature drops. Cold winters = less growth and production.
If you are growing indoor bananas in a pot, be sure that you have a large pot with at least one big drainage hole for excess water at the bottom. Warm water is the best, but no need to fuss if it’s room temperature or even slightly cool water.
The best way, and easiest way, to see if your pot’s drainage is sufficient is to elevate your pot using a stand or surface and keep an eye on the bottom of the pot. If water releases from the bottom, you should be ready to rock.
Bananas grow on tropical plants, which means they love to hang out in warm climates with high humidity. These climates exist all over the world, although mostly south of the hemisphere in places like Southeast Asia, South and Central America, and even the southern US.
It’s challenging to grow most banana varieties in colder climates, but as we mentioned above, some cold weather varieties can withstand those non tropical regions and continue to produce fruit efficiently. For most varieties, though, the ideal temperature should be around 80 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the year.
Banana plants typically need full sun exposure to thrive, but if a FULL sun environment is not accessible, they should receive at least six hours of direct sunlight for best results. If you are growing banana plants indoors, that means the best place for them would be in front of a south-facing window, where sunshine is most abundant.
Humidity is key for most banana varieties. Most species prefer a minimum humidity of 50-60%, but the higher, the better. While most indoor conditions will support these humidity ranges, just be sure to keep an eye on the indoor conditions.
USDA Hardiness Zones
With over a thousand varieties of banana plants in existence, they grow in all sorts of locations and conditions. Most varieties can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 4-11, with only a few exceptions.
Since most banana plants are such rapid growers, they need plenty of fertilizer and organic matter to grow to their full potential. A balanced fertilizer is best (something like an (8-10-8) mix should work), and you should plan to fertilize monthly during the growing season.
One good rule of thumb to follow is to use ¾ to one cup of fertilizer for every foot of plant height. The base applications should take place in March, June, September, and December.
One last consideration to make is where you grow your banana trees. Typically, banana trees should be planted near a hill or structure so that it can protect the young plant from strong winds and other harsh weather.
This will allow them to grow with the strength and vigor they need rather than being blasted by all that mother nature conjures up.
Banana Plant Varieties You Can Grow at Home
Think choosing a banana variety to grow at home will be easy? Think again!
More than a thousand varieties of bananas grow around the world, and most different types of bananas have some pretty unique differences. But rather than running through a trial and error process, we list our top choices for growing bananas from seed below.
Cavendish bananas make up around 99% of the bananas exported as food crops and are the typical variety of bananas you buy from the supermarket. These bananas bruise more easily than some of their counterparts and become sweeter as they become ripe bananas.
Seed to Fruit: 9-15 Months
Dwarf Cavendish bananas are a lot like the normal Cavendish variety listed above. The primary difference with this is, yup, you guessed it, the plants are shorter and more compact. These bananas come from tropical plants that love the hot and humid climates found in Southeast Asia and similar parts of the world.
Typically, dwarf cavendish plants only grow to 6 or 8 feet tall in a controlled environment, unlike their counterpart, which can reach up to 20 feet in height. While the main types of banana plants grow tall, that’s not the case for all of them.
Seed to Fruit: 9-15 Months
The blue Java is a hardy variety of banana plant that can tolerate cooler temperatures quite well. Sometimes called ‘ice cream bananas,’ or a ‘dessert banana, ’ these fruits have a sweet flavor that holds hints of vanilla and has an almost ice-cream-like consistency.
While this variety of tropical plant is also native to Southeast Asia, it has been adopted in cooler regions around the world as a cultivated fruit. A mature banana plant of this variety grows to heights of 15-20 feet on average, and its leaves have a silver-green hue.
Seed to Fruit: 15-24 Months
Lakatan bananas hail from the island nation of the Philippines and are a diploid cultivar, which means the fruits contain seeds. It’s among the most common banana varieties found in the Philippines, and it is commonly referred to as the “best-tasting banana.”
It is also relatively high in nutrients compared to other varieties, so it makes a great choice for a healthy, home-grown snack.
Seed to Fruit: 8-12 Months (One of the quickest growing banana varieties)
Musa balbisiana (Plantain)
Musa balbisiana, or the plantain, is a type of banana that is cultivated quite regularly in some parts of the world. Plantains are particularly popular in Central and South America and hold a solid spot on any menu as a go-to food crop.
Still, like most banana cultivars, plantains are native to Southeast Asia (also Southern China). Plantain fruit trees grow fast and can quickly reach heights of 16-20 feet when grown from seed.
Seed to Fruit: 14-23 Months (Has a Sporadic Germination Process)
Musa acuminata (Lady Finger Banana)
Lady Finger Bananas, which are sometimes called Sugar Bananas, are a diploid (seeded) species of banana that are smaller and thinner-skinned than their relatives. This cultivar originates in the South Pacific and has a dwarf variety that grows to only 5 feet.
The Musa acuminata ‘Dwarf Lady Finger’ pretty easily takes the cake for the best indoor banana variety to grow from seed.
Seed to Fruit: 15-18 Months
The Musa basjoo is a cold-hardy banana variety that is native to the Ryuku Islands of Japan. The fast-growing, fibrous fruits are not as tall as some banana varieties but still reach up to 13 feet in height, making them a great choice for backyard gardens in the right climates.
Since these banana plants are hardy down to -10 degrees Fahrenheit, they can be grown in a wide range of locations, including the Midwestern and Northeastern United States!
Pro Tip: Hand pollination is key with the Musa basjoo variety!
Seed to Fruit: 12-24 Months (Location and Climate Dependent)
Giant Banana (Honorable Mention)
The Giant Highland Banana, or the Musa ingens, is the largest banana plant variety. In fact, this banana plant species is considered the world’s largest herbaceous plant, reaching a whopping 60+ feet high at maturity.
It is extremely rare and only grows in the mountains of New Guinea, so it only gets an honorable mention on our list, as it would be nearly impossible to grow in North America (or almost anywhere else, for that matter). This thing is a beast!
How to Propagate Banana Plants (Seed Alternative)
Growing bananas from seed can be tough. Sometimes, we do everything right and still can’t get the best results from our efforts.
One common problem is that the seed coat of a banana seed will keep the new seeds from germinating properly, which is a huge inconvenience. Even with tools like a heated propagator or seed tray, seeds can lie dormant for a long time.
Luckily, you can propagate a relatively fast growing banana plant if you don’t want to go through the process of growing a banana plant from seed.
The big suckers growing at the base of a banana plant (the banana stalk) are generally not the best choice for propagation. These suckers are typically a bit loose in the soil and have big, broad leaves growing from their stalk. These new suckers lack the strength to take well in the soil and can easily be damaged by wind or heavy rains.
Instead, you’ll want to use the small suckers (sword suckers) with thinner leaves and leaf tips for the best results.
Further, your parent plant should have enough vegetation so that it does not get stressed from you taking the cuttings and remains strong enough to begin new growth – although this is typically not a problem for a mature banana plant.
Tools and Equipment
- Shovel or Sharp Knife
- Mother Banana Plant
- Pot / Soil / Bed
- Rooting Hormone (Optional)
- Disinfect your shovel, knife, and other tools or materials that will come into contact with your new cuttings or pups.
- Dig an area around your banana plant to expose the strong suckers. You should only choose the suckers that look vigorous and healthy, and you should avoid weak, mushy suckers at all costs.
- Using your sterilized shovel, dig into the ground around the base of the sucker and pull out the base of the sucker from the ground.
- Trim back any excess roots, leaving just about an inch or so of roots near the base of the sucker.
- Gently place the sucker in its new home and gently pack the soil around it to keep it sturdy, and water in your new banana-baby.
- If you are growing your banana babies outdoors, cover the new cuttings with a plastic bag to maintain humidity and moisture for optimal growth.
- Keep an eye on your new banana plant as it grows. This stage can be tough.
Common Problems with Growing Bananas from Seed
Root Rot & Bacterial Soft Rot
There are many types of rot that can affect banana plants, but among the most common is Rhizoctonia. Rhizoctonia is a type of root rot fungus that attacks the roots of your banana plant and can cause it to wilt and die.
The first signs that your banana may have Rhizoctonia will be wilting and yellowing on new leaves, but Rhizoctonia can also cause brown spots on the roots and stems of new banana plants.
Another type of rot commonly found in banana plants is bacterial soft rot. This type of rot typically appears in recently planted suckers or new plants, rotting the internal tissues.
The first sign of bacterial soft rot is normally soft yellow or dark brown areas that have a terrible smell. You shouldn’t have too much trouble identifying this issue with a strong inhale from your nose.
The next stage of bacterial rot is a loss of vigor and wilted leaves, which, if left untreated, will quickly lead to plant death. If this type of rot sets in, it will typically happen just a few months after planting.
Panama disease is a fungus that attacks the roots of bananas. It’s spread by wind and rain and can also be spread by humans via surface exposure.
It can take years to kill the banana plant, but it will eventually kill it if left untreated. The fungus does not infect humans or other animals, though, so you cannot get sick if you touch an infected area of your banana plant.
Can You Grow Bananas Indoors?
Yes, you can grow bananas indoors. However, you will need to choose a variety with short stature and a relatively dense composition to make it work. Many species of banana plants grow upwards of 15 feet, so choosing the right variety for your indoor space is a must.
If you choose to attempt to grow a banana plant indoors, even if it’s just during the early stages of development, you need to consider a few important things.
First, you should place your banana plant in a south-facing window so that it has maximum exposure to the sun. Banana plants love full-sun conditions and need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight every day to thrive.
Second, you need to be sure that you are using a large container for your plant’s roots to spread. Banana plants are fast-growing, and they pull nutrients out of the soil quickly, so be prepared with plenty of fertilizer, water, and organic matter!
Lastly, ensure your home has humid conditions, as banana plants start to suffer at humidity levels below 50%. To keep humidity high, consider using an indoor plant humidifier and regular misting of the leaves.
FAQs for Growing Bananas from Seed
Growing bananas from seed can be a rewarding experience, but it does require some special considerations. Below, we answer some of the most common questions people ask about the endeavor.
How Tall Do Banana Trees Get?
Banana trees can get massive! Most varieties typically grow to heights of 13 to 21 feet tall. However, dwarf varieties, like the Dwarf Cavendish, only grow to about 7 feet tall on average, while the rarest of banana varieties, the Giant Highland, grows upwards of 60 feet tall!
What is the Lifespan of a Banana Plant?
Like most things in this guide, the variety of banana trees in question is going to change the answer to this question. With that said, banana plants typically survive and produce edible fruit for about 6 or 7 years on average. Unlike pineapples which fruit once and die off, bananas live and produce fruit for quite a long time, considering how easy they are to propagate. We don’t usually say ANYTHING is impossible
Can You Grow a Banana Plant from Grocery Store Bananas?
We don’t usually say ANYTHING is impossible, and we won’t start here. However, growing individual bananas from the tiny black seeds in a store-bought banana is highly unlikely, as the seeds in these fruits are not “primary seeds” and don’t offer a great pathway for production.
Commercial bananas are generally the best banana varieties for consumption, not cultivation.
Do I need a Grow Light for My Indoor Banana Plant?
If you have a large, south facing window in your home with enough room for your banana plant, you may not need the support of a grow light. If you don’t have access to a lot of light indoors, a grow light can help you fill those gaps.
Remember, different varieties of bananas require different care and growing conditions, so some may withstand low light better than others. It’s a good idea to do a bit of research before jumping in.