Some banana species produce suckers: the rhizome grows from the mother plant and new plants or offshoots grow on these rhizomes.
You can leave the suckers so you get a nice group of banana plants. But sometimes you want a new plant to be planted somewhere else in the garden or as a precaution to overwinter in a frost free place, even if it is a hardy species.
There are three types of suckers:
- maidenhead sucker is a large pseudo-stem that will not form fruit
- water sucker is only superficially attached to the mother plant and will bear fruits of a lower quality
- sword sucker is attached to the mother plant and it has, unlike the previous two types, very narrow sword-shaped leaves
The production of these different types of suckers gives the banana plant a greater chance of success in different situations:
- in a dense vegetation the sword suckers spend little energy to form leaves when they are small, the intention is to gain altitude as soon as possible to get more sunlight
- other types of suckers are faster and have large leaves and thus a head start on the sword suckers in a situation with less dense vegetation as they quickly enjoy photosynthesis with their wide leaves
Which type of suckers should I use?
Sword suckers and maidenhead suckers: they will grow faster thanks to a better root system than the water suckers.
The picture shows left a water sucker with big leaves and right a sword sucker with narrow leaves.
But in practice, if you grow bananas for ornamental purpose or indoors and not for the production of bananas, you can use any kind of sucker, as long as it’s big enough: 30-50 cm (depending on the species, dwarf species or not). Choose a sucker at least have 4-5 leaves.
- anytime during growing season
- select suckers of at least 50 cm high or with 4-5 leaves
- carefully dig around the base of the mother plant to expose the rhizome
- cut the rhizome as close to the mother plant as possible, preferably with a piece of the tuber
- dig the rhizome carefully out with as much of the lateral roots as possible
- cut off the lower leaves, retaining only the new leaves as this will prevent young plants from drying out
- let the sucker dry out for a couple of days, out of direct sunlight, so that the wound on the rhizome heals nicely
- plant the sucker in a whole at the bottom of which you have put a layer of organic compost or manure
- fill the whole and push the soil well so that the plant remains firmly upright
- in a pot you will put a drainage layer of stones at the bottom and fill the pot with any fresh soil, it contains enough nutrients for the start of the young plant, you will need to fertilize about 1 month after plantation
- after planting, you may remove as many leaves as you wish to prevent drying out
- you may also cut the sucker above ground, it will grow back
- don’t overwater the first 2 weeks: the soil must be damp but not too moist
- don’t give liquid or other fertilizers the first month: if you planted it in the garden, you have put a layer of organic fertilizer and if you planted it in pot, the fresh soil contains enough fertilizers to sustain the young plant
The drying out of the young sucker is the technique used in agriculture, in garden literature you may read that you can plant the sucker immediately after separating them from the mother plant but this may result in rot and fungal infections. Alternatively, you can plant the suckers straight in soil after separating them but you have to dry the soil out:
- excavate the pit in advance and leave a few days to 2 weeks to dry out (weather permitting)
- plant the sucker and fill the pit again with the dry earth that you have previously excavated
- wait a few days before resume wateringlike normal
- you can also soak the sucker for a half hour in a bucket with a solution of cutting hormone and antifungal agent and then safely plant it
Forcing the formation of suckers:
Some banana species do not or rarely produce suckers but may be forced to do so by:
- cutting the mother plant right above the surface
- cutting the pseudo-stem of the mother plant in half so it will still be partly attached but bent
- excavating the tuber and cut it in pieces, each containing an eye