I remember when I saw my first growing bananas, just a few on a small stalk not far from what was then our new home. They really can flourish here, quite easily.
And like all homegrown foods, they taste at least 10 times better than anything you can buy. Besides that, you know for sure no poisons have been used in their growth.
I bought a small pot with two plants, about 9-inches tall, for $6 and planted one on one side of the house and one on that other. Almost all of our yard was sunny then. One grew much quicker than the other, but every winter we had freezes and they died back. Not knowing any better, I cut them back to the ground.
Later I learned that even if they looked terrible, it’s best to cut back as high as you can reach. If there is no sign of growth within a few weeks of warm weather, you can cut a little lower, but I’ve never had to do that.
I also learned to plant bananas in the back yard and out of the spotlight because they look ratty in the winter no matter how warm it stays.
It took me three years to get bananas to eat. When I was still waiting, someone told me to mulch knee deep around the trunks and that made a difference. I was also encouraged at Rare Fruit Council International meetings when others said they got bananas every year no matter what once they started producing fruit.
My first bloom appeared on Christmas morning, a gift from God that thrilled me. Even though there was no freeze the fruit took five months to ripen.
Since then we’ve had some bananas every year. Some bunches were huge. Others were smaller. We’ve tried several different kinds, but all of them are delicious. The plants thrive on plenty of fertilizer. But now that they’re deeply rooted, I rely mostly on all of that mulch.
The year my son Phil was hit by a train, we all left for Iowa in a hurry. When we were sure he would survive and recover, we got back home to find many bananas had fallen right out of their skins and been eaten by the wildlife. So now we cut the whole stems at the first sign of color. When winter cold threatens, we bring in any bananas that have reached a decent size for eating and let them ripen indoors, even if it takes a another month or more.
Once a trunk has borne fruit, it will not bear any more but by that time it has sent up pups around itself. So if you can’t reach the banana bunch, you can cut down the whole stalk to get it. And if there are more than four offshoots, dig up some and plant them somewhere else or share them with family or friends.
Today’s pick is Acalypha or copperleaf, an evergreen shrub that can grow 5- to 8-feet tall but requires frequent pruning. It has green or variegated foliage – some with red, green and pink and some with green and white for year-round color. The flowers are deep red catkins, fairly inconspicuous ones on most of the species but quite showy on the cousin chenille plant. All species are frost tender but mine have always come back from the roots. They like full sun to partial shade, have medium salt tolerance and low drought tolerance. They can be started from cuttings.
Now’s the time...to tell you you’d be surprised at how many of those bananas you can eat. They do tend to ripen quickly once they start. You can put some in the freezer, if necessary. I peel them and cut them in half for fruit smoothie drinks. You can also dry them in the oven. Bananas are very nutritious for you and even more so as they ripen. You can put them in the refrigerator but not until they get to the ripeness you want. Then the cool temperature will keep them longer.
The Tampa Bay Orchid Society will meet tomorrowat Christ The King Church, McLoughlin Center, Room C, 821 S. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. Its annual orchid auction will be held in place of the regular meeting. Orchids of all types will be available from a generous selection donated by monthly advertisers. The lively auctioneers are entertaining as well as knowledgeable. Come have a fun evening and add some quality plants to your collection. Doors open to the public at 7 p.m. Look for a preview list at http://tampabayorchidsociety.shutterfly.com/calendar.
For more information, call Kathy at (813) 996-3388.
The Tampa African Violet Society will meet at 10 a.m. Friday at the Seffner Mango Library’s Public Meeting Room, 410 N. Kingsway Road, Seffner. Award-winning grower Mina Menish will discuss potting techniques. The event will include growing tips and a plant raffle. There is free admission and parking. For information call Mary Lou Harden at (813) 924-2686 or Menish at (813) 681-1910.
Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at [email protected] Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.