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As gardeners all look for opportunities to reduce both the costs of looking after their plants and also their impact on the environment, more and more are looking at where there may be opportunities to make better use of what they already have. It will come as no surprise then that one question frequently asked is whether banana water is good for plants.
Banana water is not particularly good for plants. While bananas are known for their potassium content, this is not as high as some other fruits and vegetables and requires microbes to break the banana down before it is available to the plants.
The practice of using banana water in the garden is one that is gaining some steam, but it’s unlikely to make much of a difference to the success of your plants. Keep reading to learn more about banana water and why relying on it for plant growth might be doing more harm than good.
Why Is Banana Water Not Good for Plants?
Banana water is not especially good for plants because the process of creating the water does not allow for much of the nutrient value of bananas to enter the water. This is not to say that banana water is necessarily bad for plants, but it is just a reflection of the limited value that banana water presents.
The general consensus is that while bananas are a welcome addition to the garden under the right circumstances, the effort that goes into banana water specifically is unlikely to be worth it.
There are two reasons why there can be negative effects from relying on banana water:
- Deficiencies in non-potassium nutrients
It is well-understood that the primary level of nutrients includes the big three: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. Bananas contain an above-average amount of potassium, with the fruit being a good source of the element in a dietary context.
The issue with banana water is that while a very small amount of potassium may make its way from the peels into the solution, this is likely to be very low, and neither of the two other big elements is likely to be contained at all. If banana water is being relied upon as a source of nutrients, then there is a risk of deficiencies, like when using distilled water, because of the limited nutritional value that the solution requires.
In light of this, it is always beneficial to be aware of the different symptoms of nutrient deficiencies to catch them early. It’s why a balanced approach to the nutrition that a plant receives is crucial and one of the many areas that a gardener should be acutely aware of in order to ensure that the effort that goes into caring for their plants does not go to waste through stunted growth or poor crop yields.
Commercial bananas are, similar to almost all other commercially grown fruits and vegetables, grown in an environment that contains a lot of pesticides. Banana water typically relies on the use of the skin of the banana to make the solution, so there can be a risk of pesticides making their way into the solution.
In this case, the pesticides are typically not likely to do much negative damage to the plant that it is applied to itself, but it can mean that there is a negative effect on the wider ecosystem, perhaps damaging the population of helpful insects such as ladybugs.
Similarly, there should also be special care taken if the banana water is applied to plants that are likely to be consumed, especially those which need little preparation, such as lettuce.
You can see a contrasting view of banana water in the garden here.
What Are Alternative Uses of Bananas in The Garden?
While banana water provides limited value in a garden setting, most of the issue comes from the way in which it is prepared. There is absolutely some truth in the idea that bananas can provide nutrients to the soil to support plant growth.
As a result, there are two main places recommended for using bananas in the garden:
- The compost heap
- Trench composting
The Compost Heap
A favorite place to utilize bananas in the garden is on the compost heap. By adding bananas to compost, you allow time and an appropriate environment for microbes to break down the elements in the banana peels, which can then be more readily absorbed by the plant.
Adding bananas to the compost heap is generally seen as a great way to utilize the organic matter in order to give back to the garden; it means that the nutrients in the bananas can add to the balance found across the compost mix.
Another effective way of fully making use of the nutrients available in the banana skins is to use them for trench composting. This is the process through which you effectively shortcut the composting process by creating a trench around the area you wish to affect and then burying the composted material.
The benefit of trench composting is the same as that of normal composting: the microbes in the environment to which the organic material is added have the time to break down. By breaking down, the skins are able to release the nutrients they hold into the soil at a steady pace, which not only provides a more effective nutrient load than banana water but also does so over an extended period of time, which is important so as to provide a more steady source of the compounds that plants need to absorb to grow.
It is important to bear in mind that for both types of composting, while banana skins (and indeed the fruit if available) are welcome additions to a compost pile, It should be as part of a broader and more structured approach to the development of the compost.
The use of bananas exclusively will not provide the optimal balance of nutrients for the vast majority of plants, so they should be combined with other types of organic matter. The advice often given is to utilize a wide range of kitchen scraps as this generally provides a balance of chemical compounds across the wide range of fruits and vegetables typically eaten by a household.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that while an unripe banana has a relatively low pH level of around 6, as they ripen either in the store, at the house, or when composting, this level will return closer to neutral. A ripe banana is generally considered to have a pH level of around 6.5.
As will any additions to the soil, the impact on pH level is critically important because of the vital role it plays in the ability of the plants to take up the nutrients it needs. Bananas, as part of a broader approach, are certainly nothing to be concerned about, especially with most plants preferring slightly acidic soil.
However, a very banana-heavy compost mix should at least give a cursory thought to the impact this might have on the natural balance of the soil’s acidity.
This is one of the many reasons why however bananas are applied to the garden; they should always be applied in a way that is balanced. This means taking the time to try to, as much as possible, equally distribute the additives across the entire bed to which they are looking to be applied. This reduces the chance of imbalances across the bed, which can take a long time (sometimes multiple seasons) to slowly equalize and provide a consistent area for the plants to grow.
How Do I Make Banana Water and Apply It to My Plants?
Provided that care is taken around the amount of pesticides used on the bananas and the broader range of chemicals that plants need in order to grow effectively, there is no harm in applying banana water to your plants.
When looking to make banana water, there are a number of different strategies that can be put to use. The primary methods relate to the steps taken to help the banana decompose, balanced with how long it takes for the solution to become unappealing to keep in the kitchen. The two main approaches can be seen as:
- High banana breakdown
- Low banana breakdown
The general steps we are looking to take is to find some sort of container in order to start our process. This is often recommended to be a large pitcher or another easily movable water container.
The size of the container will play an important role in the process because as time goes on and more bananas are eaten or go past their best in the house, more will be added to the solution. The larger the container, the more time can be allowed to pass before it becomes full and requires emptying.
While a large container is also more likely (by virtue of the longer length of time it can last) to start to attract flies or smell bad, it can simply be emptied at any point where it becomes a problem.
The bigger issue, though, is where a container is picked which is too small to support a reasonable length of time of addition of bananas. This is especially true when the maker is not taking steps to break down the bananas because very few nutrients are likely to be passed into the solution.
This does not cause a problem for the plants — who in the worst case simply get watered — but it can mean that the whole exercise provides too little value to justify the effort taken in making the banana water in the first place.
High Banana Breakdown
In this strategy, we attempt to allow the bananas to break down as much as possible in order to encourage them to release as much of the nutrients they hold into the water.
In order to action this, we want to try to increase the amount of surface area that the bananas expose so that there is a greater rate of diffusion of the different chemicals into the water. One strategy that many users take is to cut up bananas into pieces, with smaller pieces requiring more effort but resulting in a higher rate of decomposition.
Another strategy some people take is to put the bananas in building water to speed up the breakdown of the organic matter. This issue here, though, is that if the water is being kept for more than just a short period — in hopes of passing as much nutrient value into the water as possible — then the boiled water itself also needs to be added to the container.
In fact, this problem is one of the main reasons that most people who take the step of boiling bananas in water often apply this to their plants as soon as it is cooled. Due to the limited time, this allows for decomposition, though they are likely better off taking a cooler approach for a longer time period.
Low Banana Breakdown
Under the approach which looks to focus instead on allowing time for natural breakdown instead of facilitating it directly through steps like boiling the bananas. This approach typically focuses on maintaining the container of water and simply adding more and more organic matter from the bananas consumed by the household as time passes.
Steps such as cutting the bananas into pieces can aid this process, but without taking steps to heat the water, it means that more time is allowed for the process to occur more naturally.
As previously discussed, neither approach will likely yield a high amount of chemical compounds in the banana water. So care should be taken not to assume that it will have a significantly beneficial effect on the growth of the plants over time.
Banana water is a wonderful idea, and bananas can certainly play a role in helping create a healthy natural compost. Banana water by itself, though, is unlikely to provide many nutrients at all to your plants and so relying on it as a way to improve the quality of the source is likely to lead to, at best, disappointment.