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Plantain Plant Care – How To Grow Plantain Trees

Plantain Plant Care – How To Grow Plantain Trees


If you live in USDA zones 8-11 you get to grow a plantain tree. I’m jealous. What is a plantain? It’s sort of like a banana but not really. Keep reading for fascinating information on how to grow plantain trees and plantain plant care.

What is a Plantain?

Plantains (Musa paradisiaca) are related to banana. They look quite similar and are, in fact, morphologically similar, but while bananas are grown for their sugary fruit, growing plantains are cultivated for their firmer, starchy fruit. Both are members of the Musa genus and are technically large herbs and their fruit classified as berries.

Plantains and their cultivated ancestors originated on the Malaysian peninsula, New Guinea and Southeast Asia and can attain heights of from 7-30 feet (2-10 m.). Plantains are a hybrid of two species of banana, Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. Unlike bananas though, which are eaten fresh, plantains are almost always cooked.

Plantains are grown from a super long 12-15 foot (3.5-5 m.) underground rhizome. The resulting plant has giant leaves (up to 9 feet (3 m.) long and 2 feet (0.5 m.) across!) wrapping around a central trunk or pseudostem. Flowering takes 10-15 months of mild temperatures and yet another 4-8 months to fruit.

Flowers are produced from the pseudostem and develop into a cluster of hanging fruit. In commercial growing plantain plantations, once the fruit is harvested, the plant is cut down soon to be replaced by pups that sprout up from the mother plant.

How to Grow Plantain Trees

Plantains are grown just like bananas, which if you live in USDA zones 8-11, you can grow too. I’m still jealous. Initial plantain plant care requires well-draining soil, regular watering and protection from wind or frost.

Choose a sunny, warm area of your garden and dig a hole that is as deep as the root ball. Plant the plantain at the same level it was growing in the pot. Keep the plantain 4-6 feet (1-2 m.) from other plants to give it plenty of room to spread.

Add 4-6 inches (10-15 cm.) of organic mulch around the tree, keeping it 6 inches (15 cm.) away from the psedostem. Spread this mulch out in a circle 4-6 feet (1-2 m.) wide around the tree to help the soil retain water and protect the plants roots.

Plantain Plant Care

The number one rule when caring for plantain trees is don’t let them dry out. They love moist soil, not soggy, and need careful watching during hot, dry weather.

The number two rule of plantain plant care is to protect the plant. Cover it with a blanket during cold snaps and put a light bulb or string of holiday lights under the blanket. While the rhizomes will survive underground down to 22 degrees F. (-5 C.), the rest of the plant will die back during freezing temperatures.

Follow those two rules and caring for plantain trees is fairly simple. As with all plants, some feeding is required. Feed the plant once a month during the summer with a slow release 8-10-8 fertilizer. A heavy feeder, a mature tree needs about 1-2 pounds (0.5-1 kg.), spread out in a 4-8 foot (1-3 m.) radius around the plant and then lightly worked into the soil.

Prune off suckers with a pair of gardening pruners. This will divert all the energy to the main plant unless, of course, you are propagating a new plant. If so, leave one sucker per plant and let it grow on the parent for 6-8 months before removing it.

When the fruit is ripe, cut it from the pseudostem with a knife. Then chop the tree down to the ground and whack up the detritus to use as mulch to be spread around the new plantain tree that will arise from the rhizomes.


Plantain

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Plantain, major group of banana varieties (genus Musa) that are staple foods in many tropical areas. The edible fruit of plantain bananas has more starch than the common dessert banana and is not eaten raw. Because plantains have the most starch before they ripen, they are usually cooked green, either boiled or fried, in savory dishes. The ripe fruits are mildly sweet and are often cooked with coconut juice or sugar as a flavouring. Plantains may also be dried for later use in cooking or ground for use as a meal, which can be further refined to a flour.

Plantain is also a common name for unrelated plants of the genus Plantago (family Plantaginaceae).


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Plantains are big bananas. While they may be unfamiliar in Australian home gardens and restaurants, plantains and dessert bananas are important foods in tropical and subtropical regions. Their starch has a low glycaemic index, so they are a source of sustained energy for physically active gardeners. Whether ripe or semi-ripe, it’s worth exploring the different ways they can suit your palate and be incorporated into your diet. Use them as an alternative to rice, potato gnocchi, chips or mash for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a satisfying snack.

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Like all bananas, plantains are ornamental and highly productive plants. They’re suited to a warm, humid, sub-coastal climate. In Australia, they grow well from Wollongong in NSW northwards to Cairns, Darwin, then south to Carnarvon in WA where they are farmed.

Plantains and other green bananas are used like potato, served boiled and mashed. Boiled plantain is also sliced and fried, or the mash can be moulded in a similar way that durum wheat is prepared into pasta and lasagne.

All banana has a low glycaemic index (GI), so their starch is a filling and very sustaining food. Boiled plantain tastes a bit like potato, but the texture is different. So if your diet requires you to limit the amount of potatoes you eat (potatoes being high GI), try growing plantains or bananas instead.

Plantains produce bigger than average fruit – the bunch pictured is carrying 51 bananas and weighs 25 kg. That’s enough starch for a feast for 51 people!

Plantains take longer to ripen than dessert bananas, but by the time the skin is almost black, they become very sweet. They are cooked at varying degrees of ripeness, and semi-ripe plantain can be quite a surprise when mingled with other ingredients in a savoury stew. I like braising ripe plantain in coconut milk and sprinkling it with cardamom.

‘Bluggoe’ is the only plantain cultivar gardeners are permitted to grow in SE Queensland, where I live.

Plantains need just the same treatment as ordinary bananas – well composted, freely draining soil, full, all day sunshine and shelter from gales. Half a handful of dolomite sprinkled around the base each autumn provides a valuable supplement of magnesium and calcium. I feed mine once every three months with poultry manure (a quarter of a bucket per plant).

Each plant gets a 20 litre bucket of recycled water every other day in dry weather. Normally it takes eighteen months from planting to flowering stage, but mine flowered at eleven months old. The fruit took another two months to mature.

So how can you prepare plantains?

Boiled green plantain

* Slice off the tips
* Use a sharp knife to slit the skin lengthwise
* Slice each fruit into halves
* Boil in salted water for twenty minutes. Drain and allow to cool. The skin will fall away with a little help

After boiling and slicing, plantain (or green banana) is essentially a variation on gnocchi and can be served in a similar way.

Boiled plantain tastes really good when mashed with milk and butter. Adding wasabi sauce makes a zesty combination and this, plus some gravy, goes well with sausages of all kinds.

Mashing takes a little more effort than potato, so I use an augur-style crushing juicer (they are used to make pasta).

Mashed plantain can be substituted for potato in bubble and squeak. I’ve used home grown sweetcorn, Ceylon spinach, garlic chives and spring onion to make my own bubble and squeak, serving it with home gown, home made sweet chilli sauce.

Baked green plantain

Bake whole plantains at 190C for 45 – 50 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, butter and serve. Adding sour cream, chilli and garlic and mashing it up makes a tasty dip to go with corn chips or sliced, crunchy vegetables like carrot and cucumber.

Green banana: boiled then fried.

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Fried green plantain

Boil and then slice into pieces 2cm thick. Coat in flour and shallow fry on both sides until golden brown. Serve with stir fried vegetables and accompany either with sambal sauce or satay sauce.

Another option is to serve fired green plantain with raita – made by combining natural yoghurt with diced cucumber, fried garlic, chilli and spring onion and sprinkled with Vietnamese paddy herb (or use cumin as a substitute).

You’ll need:
2 green plantains
Sunflower oil for deep frying
Salt
Serves: 3-4 people

To prepare
* Heat the oil to 190C
* Peel the plantains, and cut into 2cm thick slices
* Fry in hot oil for 3 minutes until a light golden colour and a semi-soft texture
* Remove slices with a slotted spoon, and drain on paper towelling
* Maintain the oil’s temperature
* When the slices are cool enough to handle (about 1 minute), crush them flat into rounds
* Re-fry the rounds in the hot oil for a further 3 minutes until they become crisp and golden brown tostones
* Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towelling

Serve and salt to taste – possibly serve with sour cream and chilli, or with garlic dip, or with cucumber raita.

You’ll need:
1 green plantain
3 cloves minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Sunflower oil
Grater
Serves 2 people

To prepare
* Peel plantain, then coarsely shred
* Store in salty water for ten minutes. This prevents them from oxidising before cooking
* Drain on paper towelling
* Mix in minced garlic
* Heat the oil to 190C

Fry the shredded mix by the spoonful, in clumps, and until golden. This takes about five minutes
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towelling
Serve and salt to taste – possibly serve with sour cream and chilli, with garlic dip, or with mint and cucumber raita.

Cleaning up

This is important information. Banana sap permanently stains clothing. If you do get stained hands, use a flannel and some warm soapy water to clean them.

I have been unable to find any references to the fact that boiling plantains and green bananas leaves a gummy residue around the water level in saucepans. Ordinary washing up detergents don’t remove this, they can make the rime even stickier.

After a long process of elimination, I’ve found using a soft scourer either with eucalyptus oil, Planet Ark’s citrus-based laundry stain remover, or Citro Clean. All clean pans quickly and efficiently.

Jerry Coleby-Williams
3rd March 2009


What is the best fertilizer for plantains?

The quick answer is that plantain trees are heavy feeders. For that reason, look for a fertilizer that has a nice blend of the top nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

In addition, granular forumlas work better than water soluble for trees because they are classified as slow release. This means rather than getting all the nutrients at once, they are slowly release into the soil over a period of time.

Here is a quick preview of our top 4 options when it comes to feeding your plantains.

What to look for in a good fertilizer for plantains?

Before we take a closer look at some great options on the market today, let’s talk about what to look for in a good fertilizer.

Plantain trees are heavy feeders that prefer a balanced fertilizer that contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in a similar ratio.

To see optimum results in your fruit trees look for a fertilizer with a nutrient ratio of approximately 8-10-8.

These numbers found on the label are the N-P-K ratio (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) the consumer can look at this ratio and determine the percentage, by weight, of nutrients in the bag.

For example, a 10-pound bag of plant food with an 8-10-8 fertilizer formula would contain 0.8 pounds of nitrogen, 1.0 pounds of phosphorus, and 0.8 pounds of potassium.

Why are these nutrients important?

To put it simply, nitrogen is going to keep the plant looking green. Phosphorus is needed for flowering and strong roots.

Lastly, potassium helps the overall health of the plant.

So, as you can see each of these nutrients is essential in keeping your plant healthy.

Once you have selected the plant food with the right combination of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium it is important to apply it properly.

Applying fertilizer to plantain trees is fairly straightforward. There are many fruit tree specific fertilizers that provide the essential nutrients banana trees need.

Start by looking for a product with balanced nutrients or one slightly higher in phosphorus to promote flower and fruit development. Then you can then choose whether you want to feed organically or not and if you prefer a granular or liquid concentrate formulation.

At this point we have talked about what to look for in the right fertilizer and how to talk about it, let’s take a look at some of the best options on the market.

  • OMRI certified organic
  • Granular
  • Nutrient ratio: 3-5-5
  • Contains Biozome
  • Feed every 2 to 3 months

An OMRI certified organic, granular fertilizer, Jobe’s Organics Fruit & Citrus Fertilizer with Biozome is specially formulated to provide fruit-bearing plants the nutrients they need to produce abundant, healthy fruit.

It contains biozome, bone meal, feather meal, potash and composted manure with an N-P-K ratio of 3-5-5.

Biozome is a proprietary product containing a combination of healthy bacteria, mycorrhizal fungi, and microorganisms that helps to improve soil texture and increase water infiltration and retention. Jobe’s Organics – in any variation – are highly recommended by professional and amateur growers with proven results.

Application Tips: Apply the plant food at the rate recommended on the label every 2-3 months for optimum growth.

  • Granular
  • Slow Release
  • Nutrient Ratio: 10-15-15
  • Specifically formulated for fruit-bearing trees

If you are looking for a plant food that you can just set it up and forget about it, you can’t go wrong with Miracle-Gro’s Fertilizer Spikes.

Fertilizer spikes are a simple way to provide fruit trees with the nutrients they need for a season in a single application.

Miracle-Gro products are tried and true, known to be industry leaders for their quality and effectiveness.

This product is specially formulated for fruit and citrus trees with an N-P-K ratio of 10-15-15 to release nutrients directly into the root zone.

Application Tips: To encourage the best growth possible in your plantain trees, drive spikes into the soil at the edge of the drip line, spacing them about 3’ apart once in the spring and then again in the fall.

Spring application will feed trees during the most critical growing time of the year as they consume energy to push out new leaves and form flowers. These spikes will promote lush, green foliage and enhanced fruit production.

  • Organic
  • No GMO’s
  • Powder Plant Food
  • Slow Release Formula
  • Nutrient Ratio: 7-4-2
  • Feeds for several months

An organic, coarse powdered fertilizer, Dr. Earth Organic 9 is a superior blend of feather meal, fish bone meal, cottonseed meal, kelp meal, alfalfa meal, soft rock phosphate, mined potassium sulfate, seaweed extract, probiotic, seven strains of beneficial soil microbes, and mycorrhizae.

Nutrients are released quickly and easily available for uptake trees are fed a continuous amount of high-quality nutrients for several months.

The natural, organic 7-4-2 ratio of N-P-K results in strong root development and more abundant fruit sets.

Application Tips: For established plantain trees, use 1 cup of fertilizer for every inch of trunk diameter (measured 4”– 6” above the soil line). Gently work into the soil inside the drip line of the tree then water thoroughly.

  • Organic
  • No GMO’s
  • Nutrient Ratio: 5-4-2
  • Easy To Use
  • Apply every two weeks

Another 100% organic option, Dr. Earth Natural Wonder Fruit Tree Ready to Spray is a liquid fertilizer, free from GMO’s, chicken manure and/or sewage sludge.

Not only does it have what it takes to be considered the best fertilizer for plantains, but it also is extremely easy to use.

The all natural, organic product contains an N-P-K ratio of 5-4-2 to enhance strong root development and more abundant fruit.

The plant food is derived from fish meal, fish bone meal, mined potassium sulfate, kelp meal, seaweed extract, and earthworm castings.

This option is rich in probiotics (solid sugars that feed existing soil microbes) to help maintain a healthy soil ecosystem and is safe for use around kids and pets.

Application Tips: Can be applied every two weeks during the active growing season.

The ready to use spray bottle attaches directly to your hose end for easy application. Thoroughly spray branches and undersides of leaves until they are dripping wet apply early in the morning or after 4 pm to avoid burning leaves. Each bottle covers 1200 square feet.

Final Thoughts….

Caring for plantain trees is fairly simple as long as you live in a growing zone that is warm enough to support their growth.

To see good yields from your tree make sure to keep the soil around the roots moist at all times, protect the tree from cold snaps, and apply a slow-release formula periodically throughout the active growing season.

What have you found to be the best fertilizer for plantains? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


Growth and Propagation of Plantain Trees

Commercial propagation of bananas and plantain trees is done from either corm pieces from the base of mature trees or from suckers which sprout from around the base of the tree. Seeds are not produced by cultivated plantains. (However, seeded varieties are used in breeding programs for plant improvement.) After planting, it takes about a year and a half (plus or minus a couple of months) to produce fruit. Factors that affect the rapidity of fruiting include the size of corm pieces used, or, if using suckers - the type is important. "Maiden" suckers are preferred over "water suckers" because they have developed broad leaves and are more vigorous. Other factors which help establish a vigorous stand are:

  1. Proper fertilization practices. These plants take up a lot of nutrients from the soil. A balanced fertilizer or one with higher phosphorus levels is recommended. Calcium addition to the soil also is required. Add fertilizer and calcium to the planting hole.
  2. Planting at the proper time. Plant at the end of a dry season so there is constant moisture available for growth. However, staggered planting is also practiced to help reduce surplus production during summer months. Irrigation methods must be in place if there are extended dry periods, however. Banana plants don't survive when there are two successive months without moisture.
  3. Plant spacing. Plantain roots compete heavily for moisture and nutrients. Spacings that allow from 400 to 600 plants per acre have been found optimum for yield production.
  4. Weed control. Periodic herbicide applications are needed to reduce competition for nutrients.

After a stand is established, pruning of old leaves and continued attention to reducing weeds is needed. Water suckers need to be eliminated as well and only on maiden suckers should be allowed to grow along with the mother plant. This sucker should originate closest to the stem of the mother plant to provide a vigorous succession plant once the fruit is harvested. There is only one crop per plant, so succession plants are essential for continuous production.

Plantain flowers and fruit.


Choosing the Time to Plant

Plantains can be planted throughout the rainy season. However, they should grow vigorously and without stress during the first 3 to 4 months after planting, and therefore they should not be planted during the last months of the rainy season.

Planting with the first rains seems agronomically sound but not financially advantageous.

Most farmers will plant at the onset of the rains, causing the market to be flooded with bunches 9 to 12 months after planting, when prices will be very low.

Planting in the middle of the rainy season is a better proposition as plantains will then be produced off- season and get high prices.


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