Food ForestsFood Plants - PerennialWater Conservation

Build a Banana Circle

A banana-paw paw circle is an excellent way to grow fine fruit and root vegetable crops whilst using up excess water and organic wastes.

by Jan Buckley

Why it works so well

The design is basically a circular swale, and it works well because there’s only one place to mulch, feed and water, which serves many plants. It’s a good spot to put all your kitchen scraps, to use as a handy compost heap, and it can also take cardboard, paper and tin cans. It can make use of excess water run-off, or if water is scarce, greywater can be directed to the circle so water is reused.

On top of that, bananas grow well in a circle, and bear bunches on the outside. Both bananas and paw paws are gross feeders and thrive on nutrients from the decaying organic matter in the central hole.

So you get ample production of fruit, and root crops. You can also plant climbing plants like beans to grow up the banana stalks once they are tall. Volunteer plants like pumpkins and tomatoes are likely to spring up from vegetable scraps in the compost.

Step by step establishment

You will need about four banana suckers (preferably a dwarf variety, to allow easy picking), four to five paw paws and ten sweet potato runners; also newspaper and plenty of mulch material.

Start by marking a circle about two metres in diameter. Then dig a dish-shaped hole 0.5 to one metre deep in the centre. Mound the soil around the outside in a circular ridge. If you like you can dig a narrow inlet at ground level to collect rainwater runoff.

Cover the whole earth circle with wet paper or cardboard, or banana leaves. Fill the hollow with rough mulch material such as course twigs, leaves, straw, decaying logs, rice husks, etc. Add scatterings of manure, ash, lime, dolomite or other fertilisers. Overfill into a dome; it will sink down over time.

If stones are available you can bank them around the outside of the rim.

Now plant banana suckers at 60cm intervals around the rim of the mound. Pierce the newspaper and mulch layers and plant into the fine raised soil.

Alternate with paw paws, and fill the spaces on the top and outside of the rim with sweet potato. Ten or so plants will spread to cover the soil with their edible foliage. You can also use other root crops like cassava and Jerusalem artichokes. Comfrey can be interplanted as a green manure crop; cut the leaves and add them to the nutrient heap as fertiliser.

On the inside of the rim you can add shade and moisture-loving plants like taro and ginger.

Shower within, garden without

Your banana-paw paw circle can become an outdoor shower or wash-up area if you put a circular grid or wooden slatted platform over the mulch in the centre.

You can plan a mandala garden using the circle as the focal point. Wrap a circular sawdust path around the outside with keyhole garden beds radiating off it. Keep an access path to give entry to the banana circle.

This design can be scaled larger for communities such as schools and villages, and has proved useful in countries like the Philippines and India. Multiple circles with vegetable mandalas produce food for villagers, use roof runoff or reuse washroom water where water is a critical resource, and provide shady areas for people to sit outside.

Meanwhile it is something almost any of us can do in a back garden or bit of space. It is easy, effective and looks good too.

The pattern, which particularly suits tropical and subtropical areas, can be adapted to temperate or other climates using different species.


  1. well if there is no reuser or scavengers to recycle them they break down into the elements that made them and return to the food chain. instead of being an eyesore and or hazard. though I think that was a bit sarcastic the original suggestion.

  2. sounds great but what climate limitations are there? i’m looking for a way to grow banana’s, pineapples and mangos in SA and dont think i have a snowballs chance.

  3. 60cm is very close to plant the bananas, and will cause them to lean out considerably. Banana plants are filled with water, hence they are very heavy and can have a tendency to topple over if leaning too much. I have found it best to plant suckers at 3,6,9 & 12 o’clock on your circle. If you stick a bunch of sweet potato cuttings in your newly planted mound, this will hold, protect and improve the soil below.

    The ongoing management of the stand is important too. You want to encourage the plants to walk around in a clockwise circle. Each of the original suckers you plant should eventually consist of a Grandma (full size plant with fruit formed) A Mother (medium sized plant which will take Granny’s place, as you must hack her down once she’s fruited, adding her body to the pile in the centre) and a Baby (one new sucker, again in a clockwise direction). All other suckers should be removed and replanted elsewhere or thrown into the centre if you’re already up to your eyeballs in bananas.

    As Jan mentioned, you should always keep the pile in the centre heaped. If you follow these simple steps, you will have some very productive bananas on your hands (much more so than the sad looking bunch in he photo by the way)

  4. a drawing or photo of the process would be helpful.
    great idea, though. I am going to give it a try. Hopefully I have understood the directions. (ie which ‘rim’ are you talking about? the rim of the mound or the rim of the inner dugout circle? )

    If i have understood the directions, then it sounds like you plant the bananas on the mound of soil around the hole in the middle.
    Wouldn’t that mean that when you water the bananas, the water would run off away from their roots?

  5. I like the idea of a banana circle partially because it will help to provide a micro-climate in Melbourne that will increase my chances of obtaining fruit. However I’m concerned about unwanted pest (mice, rats, or snakes) building a home in the pit. Can anyone provide advice on how this might be prevented? I was thinking of using a large compost bin in the circle so I can throw my garden waste into it and close it with a lid.

  6. I would like to adapt this idea of gray water treatment to the highlands of Guatemala… where the climate is temperate. What plants would you suggest to use instead of Banana trees?

    1. I live in Sydney, Australia, which is warm temperate. Many people grow bananas here. Is Guatemala cool or warm temperate?

  7. It is nice to find this idea written somewhere. This is a scheme that I have been using for my bananas, though without the complimentary plants.
    I throw my scraps in the middle and let my chickens work the scraps. The chickens then break down most of the scraps and add their manure to the mix. It grows very well.
    When the suckers are comming I need to remove the chickens otherwise they strip them bare.
    The only issue that I sometimes have is getting my new sucker to come up exactly where I want it for my circle to keep walking. If I sacrifice enough suckers eventually I get one where I want it.
    I also think, and am told, that it looks great. People say that they always thought bananas were messy. Using this system maintains good appearance because there is no overcrowding. I also ensure that I remove all but the top 6 or so leaves which opens up the system, keeps it tidy and and I read puts energy back into fruiting.

  8. When is the best time to remove the banana flower? Is it good to remove the dead leaves or does it matter except for appearances?

  9. hello there…very good information..actually,i’m a university student from malaysia,equator group decided to work on banana circle as our biosociety project..but,the problem is, as a leader, i do not know how to start it..the really way to do it..what is the best type of banana should i use? is it i have to make several circle around the rim? is it the center should be fill with water or what?
    please help me on this..

  10. Hi Tyra – this answer is a year too late i know!
    You want a banana that doesnt grow too big. 2-3m.
    You can use any size banana but the size of the circle will increase proportionately. you can plan it on paper using mathematics. if the reccomendation is to plant bananas 2.5m apart in a grid pattern. then you use pi to determine size of circle so that bananas are about 2.5m apart.
    u use circumference =2 pi r. so 3m diameter circle would have nearly 10m circumference fitting 4 clumps in area 3 x 3m. planting at clock position 11. 2. 5. 8. it gives a central point for addition/ recycling of banana trash, application of fertilizer and a central point of watering
    the soil is excavated from the centre out to form a crater. the centre of the pit is filled with weeds, banana trash, coconut waste, ash, charcoal – any mix of organic and mineral matter you can find. especially things that are fibrous and cannot be easily composted.
    these feed an ecology of beneficial wood decaying fungi, earthworms and insects that slowly turn it to soil humus. It acts like a water sponge to reduce effects of drought.
    Woody debris supports growth of fungi like trichoderma which is a natural biocontrol agent of banana diseases like Fusarium (panama disease)
    when banana stem is cut it is thrown to the centre to recycle nutrients. it is good way to keep the areas outside the banana circle free of debris so traffic is easier.
    Banana pests do build up in soil over time and eventually the bananas will have to be replaced/ rotated with another variety or another crop. this could be papaya for example.
    The banana circle becomes a site for concentrating soil fertility that can be used later by other crops.
    I dont think sweet potato is the best plant to mix in. To harvest sweet potato needs excavating soil which disturbs banana roots. I think a better mix is Pinto peanut (Arachis pintoi) for nitrogen fixation, or beans like Lablab (dolichos lablab). Pumpkin (Cucurbita moschata) is a good plant to encourage in the middle.

  11. I am going to give this a go in Sydney. Do Papaya’s grow well when fed greywater from the shower? From what i have read they do not have a high tolerance for salt. In our greywater will be liquid shower soap, shampoo, toothpaste and urine.

    I was thinking of trying babaco in the mix as they seem better suited to Sydney’s ‘warm temperate’ climate.

  12. Hello, this question is for Jan Buckley if he’s around: if you remove the exces grease from a fry pan with a paper bag or piece of fabric, is it okay to throw that in the pit? If you bring kitchen sink water(water that contains grease, fat oils)onto the pit, does water need to pass through a grease trap before it reaches the pit? Hope you see these questions. Thanks!!

  13. Good Day to all,
    I’m in the philippines and like it.
    Its good for rural areas and coastal area.
    To protect the Eco System around and for the future.
    More power to all / God bless

  14. I have since planted about 15 banana trees around the fences of my house.Like to try the banana circle as it makes it easier to dump my kitchen waste into it. Also the excess rain water can flow into the pit!

  15. Joshua D Reynolds, Aussies call the yellow papaya “pawpaws”. You may be thinking of the American pawpaw, which is, I gather, a large tree, and completely different from the papaya.

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