Simple growing guide for plantain trees: Care and growing

Dorice Ombuna a banana farmer inspects her bananas at her Kionganyo farm in Kisii County. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Growing plantains is easy; however, simple mistakes can result in a plantain tree that does not give maximum yields. Some planting techniques will have healthy, vigorous plantain suckers with high yielding potential to produce smaller fruits upon maturity. Small fruits or plantains with few hands lead to low market prices and poor income for farmers.

Some farmers also experience prolonged dry spells for months, even weeks after planting the suckers, and the rains suddenly disappear. Irrigation would be an option for farmers who can meet the associated costs.

Planting time

Plant suckers immediately after field preparation. Plantains can be planted throughout the rainy season. This is because plantains should thrive without water stress during the first three to four months after planting. Avoid planting during the last months of the rainy season. 

Growing with the first or last rains may be what agronomists advise; however, it is financially disadvantageous. This is because most farmers will plant during this time, and harvesting will be at the same time 9 to 12 months later, resulting in market oversupply. The glut results in low market prices, reducing the farmer’s income.

Planting with the last rains will mean more stress for the farmer as water must be artificially supplied to the plants to maintain the optimum soil moisture content and ensure a good yield. This will guarantee high market prices.

Planting in the middle of the rainy season may be a better bet because plantain production will be off-season. During this period, farmers would be assured of higher prices.

Planting hole size

Prepare holes to plant with a minimum size of about 30 cm x 30cm x 30 cm, which is about the length of a plastic ruler. Holes can be dug with a shovel. If you are planting for fruit production, it should be spaced about 8 to 10 feet. 

Matoke (Plantain) on 20th December 2021 [David Gichuru, Standard] 

During the hole preparation, care should be taken to separate the top from the bottom soil. The sucker is placed in the hole, and its corm is covered, first with the top  and then with the bottom soil. This is because the top soil is more fertile than the subsoil, and the new sucker requires many nutrients. Add manure to supplement the top soil fertility.

How to plant

In the plant hole, the side of the sucker corm that was formerly attached to the corm of its mother plant is placed against the hole wall. The opposite side of the sucker corm is placed towards the middle of the plant hole, where the soil is loose. The best sucker (the future ratoon) will emerge opposite the planted sucker that was previously attached to the mother plant. If the land is sloping, the sucker should be so oriented that its follower will emerge against the slope. That will delay the development of the so-called high mat when the ratoon crop grows out of the soil and exposes the corm.

Plantain trees will require constantly moist but not soggy soil. As a result, these trees will need a relatively large amount of water during the warmest months. Try to water the soil whenever the top layer begins to dry out. One of the essential rules of plantain tree care is not to let them dry out; these are trees that crave moist soil and regular watering, particularly during hot, dry weather. Try spreading a four-to-six-inch layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree. Mulching can help keep the soil from drying out too quickly, as well as protect the plantain tree’s shallow roots.

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