Banana plants are large, herbaceous perennials that produce pseudostems from underground rhizomes. Pseudostems are fleshy, upright stalks that serve as the functional trunks for the plants. Each pseudostem produces only one banana cluster before dying; however, new stalks are continuously produced from the rhizome to take their place. Consequently, plants will continue to make more bananas for several years.
Mature bananas are 2-1/2 to 12 inches in length and ¾ to 2 inches in width. Fruit peels are red, yellow or green, while the fruit flesh is a white or yellow color. The texture of the fruit begins firm and gradually turns more tender and slippery as it ripens. Banana plants are very fast growing. It takes anywhere from 10 to 20 months from planting until harvest and approximately 80 to 180 days from fruit shooting to harvest. This range is largely dependent on cultivar, growing conditions and temperature.
Consistent pruning is needed for optimal growth and fruit production. If allowed, banana plants will produce an abundance of suckers. The presence of excess suckers will result in smaller and lesser quality fruit, longer ripening times, as well as higher disease occurrence. For best results, remove extraneous suckers by chopping plants down and gouging out remains from below the surface soil level as soon as they develop. Allow no more than five suckers to surround the primary pseudostem at any one time.
Bananas are harvested when the fruit is fully developed but only 75 percent mature. The fruit should appear plump, rounded and light green in color. Removed banana bunches should be left in a cool, shady place to fully ripen. Alternatively, bananas may be left on the plant until the first fruits turn yellow; however, mature fruit can attract rats. To hasten ripening, place picked fruit in a paper bag.
Following harvest, the pseudostem can be left standing for a few months to dehydrate before removal, or it can be removed immediately. A tool called a mattock, which is a combined axe and hoe, is used to remove the pseudostem in commercial operations. Best practices suggest cutting down the plant and spreading the felled pseudostem, as well as any other organic material, on top of the banana plant roots. Banana plants are heavy feeders that respond well to regular feedings. Hard pack any remaining stumps to discourage pest infestation.