To compete with other succulents, string of bananas appeals with its unique foliage. Moreover, it is a low maintenance plant that even beginners can become an advanced gardener. With its speedy growth, this plant is perfect to bring an aesthetic feature in a dull room.
First of all, Curio radicans or string of bananas is NOT a fruit. The name “banana” comes from its green banana-shaped leaves which grow on soft tendril. And this structure also makes people call this plant “fish hook”. Meanwhile, radicans (“taking root”) refers to the rooted long vines. Banana vine, creeping berry, and necklace plant are also popular nicknames of this plant.
In its native land, South Africa, a dry air and hot temperature are more familiar to this succulent. Many are confused to differentiate string of bananas and string of pearls. Actually, beside the different leaf shape, string of bananas has a bit transparent leaves and thicker stems. Therefore, it is not as delicate as string of pearls and easier to maintain.
The flowers of banana vine usually bloom in autumn or winter. Since they need direct sunlight for blooming, they are likely to bloom in outdoor than indoor setting.
Many have said that these flowers are insignificant, but they are quite beautiful when you look closer. These solitary flowers consist white, mauve, pink, or lavender florets with five lobes. Although their cinnamon-like scent is less strong than string of pearls’ flowers, they still work well to attract insects.
Some keen gardeners raise the concern whether this plant is 100% toxic. Additionally, this plant is still not on the ASPCA reputable list. However, if we refer to other succulents in general, many of them are mildly toxic to human and animal. Diarrhea, skin irritation (dermatitis), or vomiting probably occurs on the victims that eat this plant accidentally.
Because this is not a staple food in the first place, please stay with its purpose as a decorative plant. For the sake of the plant, kid, and pet’s safety, place string of bananas in a higher place indoor. Here, pets and children will not have a chance to eat or play around with the plant. Also, use glove when handling this greenery.
In its original habitat, the stems of string of bananas can easily grow around 90 cm long. You can either grow them as ground cover or hanging them down. Some even suggest to train the plant to grow upward in moss pole or trellis.
An area where sun always shine all year around is perfect if you prefer outdoor growing. It is also a good thing to grow the plant in a specific succulent garden. In outdoor setting this plant can grow pretty fast because of the abundant light it receives.
Since it is a drought-resistant plant, this plant is prone to frost. If your living area cannot provide constant warm temperature, bring it indoor immediately in cold weather.
There are 3 points you must aware in outdoor setting.
- NEVER give the plant strong, hot, direct sun for too long.
- Outdoor shade/shelter is important to protect the plant from intense sunlight and heavy downpour. It is also effective to prevent sunburn and overwatering.
- Hose the plant gently before moving it inside during cold season. The purpose it to get rid of pests which might stay on your plant.
Contrarily, the growth rate in indoor setting is moderate and slower. It is because the limited access to direct light outside. Yet, don’t worry because string of bananas could thrive happily inside.
A hanging pot/basket, decorative pot, top of bookcase/shelves are some options to put the plant at home. Provide the plant with good soil, shallow pot with bottom holes for smooth drainage, and ample lighting to fasten their growth.
Buying String of Bananas
It might be little difficult to find this plant in nearby garden store or plant nursery. Nevertheless, several online stores sell string of bananas.
Usually, they sell the plant in 3, 4, or 6 inches pots. The bigger the size, the higher the prize. For example, 2” pot of Curio radicans may cost you $5 and one in 4” pot size could be $12.
Ask in detail about the shopping since each shop may have different policy. Also, remember to read the reviews before buying.
With the hot and dry climate of South Africa, it is a given that this plant can stand in high temperature of 43°C (110°F). Furthermore, it still tolerates a low temperature of 0°C (32°F). However, string of bananas could not stand a prolonged freezing cold and sudden temperature change.
In winter, experts suggest you to bring the plant inside the house. Another alternative is to cover the plant with towel while it is in outdoor space.
Moreover, this plant hates both cold and hot draft. Thus, never expose the plant to air conditioning and heater when it is inside.
String of bananas requires bright indirect light to reach its maximum growth.
In average, banana vine needs bright light for 5-6 hours either indoor or outdoor. Even though this plant loves direct sun, harsh midday sunlight could easily burn the leaves. To avoid this problem, prepare a shade as a sunlight protection when growing the plant outdoor.
The downside of planting banana vine indoor is insufficient lighting. Without several hours of bright indirect sunlight, the plant may experience slower and stunted growth, wilting leaves, and weaker structure.
First, find the brightest room with natural lighting in your home. Sunny windowsill or balcony can provide enough light for the plant. At noon in particular, never let the plant touch the window glass directly. During this period, the leaves might scorch and die.
To at least maintain moderate lighting indoor, using grow light is quite helpful. Remember that letting the plant stays in low light condition is a BIG mistake.
If you have access to outdoor space, you may consider bring the plant out in summer. One thing is, outdoor lighting is more intensive than indoor. Therefore, acclimatization is crucial to prevent the plant from getting shock.
At the beginning, put the plant in a spot with complete shade (e.g. taller tree, terrace, etc.) about 1 week. Then, you can gradually expose the plant to sunlight one step at the time.
Note. Banana vine must get light from all sides for optimum growth. When the condition does not allow that, rotate the plant every 3 to 6 months.
String of bananas needs a light, well-drained potting mix. Don’t use clayey and compact mix as they retain more water which eventually lead to rot.
A shortcut for beginners is to purchase premixed cactus or succulent soil. It has a complete package, so you can use it easily.
You can make your own mix if you like. Try the following ratio as a basic reference.
- potting soil, sand/pumice, part perlite (2:1:1)
- cactus/succulent potting mix and pumice (1/2:1/4)
Note. When adding materials to improve aeration and drainage 50% is the maximum amount you can add.
For succulents, clay or terracotta with ample drainage holes is the right choice. Both terracotta and clay pots are able to prevent root rot and absorb excess moisture. In addition, more drainage holes are better because the excess water could escape faster, preventing overwatering.
Fertilizer is not highly significant for string of bananas. Some people even don’t feed their plant for 1-2 years and it is okay. Basically, feeding the plant occasionally could promote new growth, healthy rots, and stronger plant.
You just have to feed the plant lightly in growing season (spring & summer). Too much fertilizer might burn the plant.
- Worm compost/compost: simply add 1/4 of them on the top soil in early spring, it is a rich and organic option.
- Fish emulsion or liquid kelp: choose these balanced liquid houseplant fertilizers with 5-5-5 balance or lower, dilute it at half-strength and apply it in spring.
Note. If the plant seems to need more fertilizer, you can add once again in summer.
A regular household humidity of 30-40% is actually good enough for string of bananas. There is no need to take unnecessary effort to increase the humidity level. Too high humidity may invite fungal issue and root rot. Therefore, string of bananas is popular as a winter houseplant.
This drought-tolerant succulent only needs moderate watering. Since various factors may influence there is no a set watering schedule for this plant. Once week in growing months, and biweekly in cold months is quite normal for string of bananas.
Proper watering will effectively prevent overwatering, leaf discoloration, and fungus growth. Therefore, you must follow some basic watering rules.
- Start watering when the soil is completely dry, but not for too long. Under watering is more acceptable than overwatering because banana vibe is very sensitive to root rot.
- Water the plant thoroughly and let the soil soak the water. Then ensure the excess water flows out from the drainage holes.
- When watering, never let the leaves getting wet for too long. Thus, some gardeners suggest to use bottom watering method.
One of the good thing about having string of bananas is it doesn’t need frequent pruning. Pruning is only necessary to remove the damaged, dying, and dead leaves. If the plant becomes too leggy, pruning will create a bushier and denser look.
Under ideal condition, string of bananas can grow fast out of control. Even without pruning, this plant is versatile enough to somehow spread on the rock or climb the wall.
- Try to prune the plant in early summer.
- Always use sterile shears for trimming the large growth.
- To reduce the plant size, ONLY cut the tips to make it denser at each stem ends.
- Don’t prune more than 1/3 of the overall mature plant.
By referring to the structure of Curio radicans, a shallow pot with drainage pot is the best. For repotting, only upgrade the old pot by one size bigger. Furthermore, oversized pot means more soil in the pot. Eventually, it would take longer time to dry between watering.
Most of houseplants hate repotting as it can shock the plants. Moreover, many succulents have fragile leaves and vine. Luckily, repotting string of bananas is easy because of its thicker stems and the leaves don’t easily fall off. Beside root bound and soil replenishing, repotting every 2 or 3 years is enough.
There are two reasons why these period are ideal for repotting and propagation. First, the plant is growing new roots. Second, the plant will have more times to heal from transplant shock. In reverse, in winter, the plant enters dormancy and won’t grow eagerly. If you persist, string of banana may get really sick.
- In a recommended pot above, fill half the pot with cactus/succulent potting mix.
- After taking out the plant from its current pot, shake carefully to remove the remaining soil on the roots.
Tips. For falling vines that may occur in the process, just put them back in the soil. Then cover them with some soil.
- Put the plant in the pot center while spread out the roots well. To avoid root rot, the plant crown* should not be deeper than 1 inch in the soil.
- Add 1 or 2 inch of soil around in and pat the soil gently.
- Keep the soil moist to make the roots grow naturally.
Stem cutting method is possible in soil and water medium. Ensure the plant is mature and healthy before repotting in warm month.
- Cut 2 inches of vines above the stem.
- Remove the lower leaves on the nodes (cut end).
- Dry out the cuttings for 3-7 days. The cuttings will be ready if they have formed the callus. It also let the wound to heal before propagation continues.
- Prepare pot with drainage holes and fill with well-draining potting mx.
- Lay flat the cuttings on the soil to fasten the process. This trick may promote bushier and denser plant. On the other hand, replanting the cuttings vertically provide slower results than laying it horizontally.
In fact, propagating in water has lower successful rate compare to soil propagation. Nonetheless, it still works if you want to try it.
- Choose cuttings with aerial roots, then cut right below them. This is to ensure easy root growth.
- After the letting the cuttings dry for a few days, put them inside a clean water. You can choose a vase, jar, glass, or other type of containers, preferably the transparent ones.
- Usually, people can spot new roots in 2-3 weeks.
- Take out the cuttings in which the roots have reached a few inches long.
- Put them in fresh, light, aerated soil and you will have new growths in several weeks.
Note. Keep the soil moist but not too wet. Once the roots firmly established and new growths emerge, continue with the regular care as usual.
It might not happen often, but under watering reduces the foliage size. Without enough water, the growth gets slower and the leaves start to fall off. Excessive sunlight may worsen this condition too. Hence, move string of bananas a bit far from the intense sunlight and correct the watering process. Naturally, the leaf size would go back to normal.
Leggy growth and stretch out
These are the result of insufficient light. In a leggy state, this plant tries to reach out for more light. Moreover, you will notice wider gap among the leaves and vines due to this desperate effort. An easy solution is to position the plant in brighter area to maximize its growth.
Overwatering is the primary cause of root rot. The plant will rot faster if high humidity, cold temperature, and low light condition exist for a long time.
When the roots experience waterlogged, they won’t function well. Furthermore, fungal growth may attack the plant.
As soon as you notice the symptoms, lift the plant from the pot and examine its condition. Remove the dying and damaged leaves, stems, and roots. Last, replant the healthy plant in new pot with well-drained soil.
Note. If you still use the old pot, disinfect it first before use it again.
You can find these gray/green pests reside undersides. This is also the place where they lay the eggs. Aphids suck the plant sap while injecting their saliva causing slow plant growth.
Additionally, this pest produce sticky substance called honeydew. Consequently, sooty mold appears and hinder the photosynthesis process. Other consequences include curling and wilting leaves, stunted growth, as well as delayed flower growth.
Three organic ways to handle aphids:
- Wash the plant thoroughly with water
- Spray the pest with neem oil, homemade garlic, or insecticidal soap solution.
- Introduce natural enemy like ladybugs to control pest population
At a glance, they seem like white cotton creatures stuck on the leaves. They loves to stay in warm condition. Mealybugs cause yellow and dropping leaves.
Simply wash away the plant with water would suffice in case of early infestation. If the condition is worse, use cotton swabs and dip them in isopropyl alcohol to get rid of the pest. Then, continue the treatment with insecticidal soap or neem oil. These two ingredients would help prevent further infestation too.
Similar to other pests, spider mites live by sucking the leaf juice. Infestation by this pest causes dry and yellow leaves, blotches, and white spots. These pests are less visible with naked eye, so inspect the plant thoroughly.
When simple water spray doesn’t work, use insecticidal soaps. Pay more attention to the undersides and stems. Spider mites usually attack dry plant, thus don’t let your plant in bone dry condition too long.
Winter Care for String of Bananas
In South Africa, frost or frequent cold draft is uncommon. If such condition, your string of bananas may die from freezing. Here what you should do to prevent the misfortune.
- Bring the plant inside if you grow it outside.
- Reduce watering frequency.
- Let the soil completely dry out in every winter watering.
- Place the plant near west-facing window to obtain bright indirect light.
- Maintain the temperature in the range of 13-14°C.
- Never fertilize the plant in cold months.
- Don’t repot or propagate the plant.
- Pruning the leaves would help conserving more energy to survive.
- For even and continued growth, advanced gardeners suggest weekly rotation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why String of Bananas becomes soft?
It likely occurs due to overwatering. This is also one of the sign of root rot.
Stick your finger on the soil to check if it is dry before watering. You must also use well-drained soil and pots to support good watering.
In severe condition, try to save the healthy part (firm ones). Or, take some stem cuttings and propagate the plant instead.
Why String of Bananas grows upward?
If not getting enough light, this is what will happen. There are times when high shelves and coffee table don’t provide bright indirect light. It is better to move the plants near bright window permanently or regularly move it around to fulfill the basic light requirement.
Why my String of Bananas is thin?
Improper watering (less or too much), unfavorable temperature, and low light exposure would get you thin banana vine. Just find the right cause and correct the mistake.
Should I bottom water String of Bananas?
As a hardy succulent with low water requirement, overwatering is unacceptable. You must go with “soak and dry” rule on every watering.
Bottom watering will ensure the leaves from staying wet longer. Watering the soil is enough because later, the roots would distribute the nutrients to all plant parts.
Is it possible to propagate String of Bananas from leaves?
Yes, it is possible although the success rate is quite low. It also takes longer time before you finally see the result. For this reason, many recommend stem cutting because this method is easier and better even for beginners.