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Thanks Eggo! Container growing Tropical Fruits

13 years ago

Eggo - While searching on how to grow cherimoyas in cooler climates, I came across your post. I found the artaicle it to be extremely helpful and informative. I think a lot of the members here (who grow their tropical fruits in container) will benefit as well. Thanks for posting this article!

Here's the article: UnderCover Crops - Mobile Tropical Fruit

Orchards By Ray Bayer Tropical Fruit World (March/April 1990

22-24; May/June 1990 58-59; September/October 1990 130; Nov/Dec

1990 163; Jan/Feb 1991 29;

Let me inspire you to discover a new kind of gardening pleasure.

My excitement is over the container growing of tropical fruit

plants, something I have now been doing for more than 13 years.

Each year proving more pleasurable than the last.

For the temperate climate gardener containerizing is the only

method available for growing tropical fruit trees.

I live in southwest Pennsylvania, and as I write this article

we're in the midst of a winter snow squall with a wind chill of

around 9F. My tropical fruit trees are completely unaware of

this miserable phenomenon known as an Arctic cold front and are

busily blooming and setting fruit.

After a summer outdoors, and before the first freeze, I simply

pick up my potted plants and plop them in a greenhouse under

fluorescent lights, where they spend their winter in the Tropic

of Pennsylvania. The ability of these plants to adapt to their

artificial environment and continual restrictive growing is

tremendous. As I write, my plants are setting such varied fruits

as jaboticaba, passionfruit, citrus, cherimoyas, feijoas and


Enthusiasm over this method of tropical fruit culture need not be

confined to northern gardeners. South Florida growers and others

in sub-tropical and mild winter areas should be exposed to the

joy of containerized growing. It opens up an entirely new area to

the rare fruit hobbyist. Fruit trees can be moved from one area

of the yard to another to take advantage of sun or shade.

Inspection of root systems can be done as needed by simply

tapping the tree out of the pot. Landscapes can be achieved by

sinking the potted trees into various locations, and later moving

them if a different garden scheme is desired. Exact watering and

fertilization schedules are easier because confined root systems

and nutrient deficiencies are taken care of more quickly. One of

the most exciting aspects of this type of gardening is that,

thanks to the portability of the plant, very tropical fruit

trees, such as the South Asian mangosteen and rambutan, can be

grown with little worry of frost or cold damage. In Florida this

advantage, of course applies to any cold sensitive species. When

the temperature threatens to plummet simply pick up the pot and

set it in a protected area, whether a Florida room or a garage.

Most trees will thrive for years in five to ten gallon pots

without any special care. As most tropicals fruit on new growth,

I usually top prune mine yearly to stimulate new fruiting growth,

sometimes taking up to a third of the growth off. This drastic

one-third reduction is done (if at all) every fourth or fifth

year, and is sometimes accompanied by root pruning, also a

one-third reduction. This is done by knocking the tree out of the

pot and reducing the root system on all four sides and bottom by

using a key hole saw or similar tool. The tree is then put back

in the pot and fresh potting medium is packed around it, along

with slow release fertilizer if desired. It is then set in a

semi-shaded location in the yard (or greenhouse) until new growth

is evident and the flowering/fruiting cycle will be revitalized.

This is only done to trees that are stressed due to extreme root

crowding and exhibit root bound symptoms by producing small or no

fruit crops, small leaves and little new growth. Of course this

stage of stunted growth is rarely ever reached, although newly

purchased plants may be in need of an immediate root cut. Fibrous

roots appearing on the top of the soil is the sign that it is now

time to prune or repot. Pot grown fruit trees usually have a

completely fibrous root system, being devoid of a tap root, so

this method of keeping the tree within bounds is not at all

detrimental. Think of it as having your hair styled; a little off

the top and sides always makes your hair grow better and look

fuller. So it is with containerized fruit trees.

Every spring I like to replace the top three or four inches of

soil with fresh medium. This gives the plant a growing boost and

aids in better fruit production. My fruit trees are grown in a

homemade potting mix of two-parts garden loam or packaged potting

soil, one-part perlite, one-part vermiculite and a half-part

peat. I also use a commercial soilless mix consisting of sphagnum

or peat moss, vermiculite, perlite and dolomite lime for a pH

buffer in which the trees seem to do as well as or better than in

the soil mixture, though it needs to be enhanced more often with

fertilizer. It should be noted that the reason I add lime to my

soil mix is that fertilizing containerized trees often tends to

lower the pH to the point where the nutrients are bound up in the

soil making them unavailable to the plant; adding a small amount

of dolomite lime simply keeps the pH in the neutral range. Of

course, some fruit trees enjoy being on the acidic side of the pH

tables as long as nutrients are available to them. Jaboticabas do

well in a pure peat, perlite, vermiculite mixture.

I usually use diluted amounts of fertilizer with every watering

and full strength dosages twice monthly or more depending on

rainfall. Due to the fact that the trees are raised in

containers, nutrient leaching can be a problem in areas or

seasons of heavy rain. I've found that Peter's 20-20-20

fertilizer mixture to be as close to ideal as any. I also

supplement many of my trees with triple super phosphate every

four to six weeks during the growing season along with a foliar

feeding of potassium nitrate. Spraying is done in early morning

and evening when the leaves are most receptive to this type of

feeding. Once or twice a season I also spray on trace elements to

round out their diet.

Chlorosis of certain containerized trees can be a problem, but

prudent applications of nitrogen corrects this problem as does

iron. Passifloras, for instance, are susceptible to chlorotic new

growth and require more nitrogen than either citrus or peach

trees. Care must be taken whenever iron or nitrogen is sprayed on

new growth to avoid burning. I have made the "more is better"

mistake in foliar feeding before and it is not a pleasant sight

to watch vigorous healthy new growth turn black almost overnight,

shrivel up and flake away. Healthy deep green growth inevitably

always appears but it sets back flower and fruit production

considerably. Following the manufacturer's dosage is the key to

successful chemical feeding.

Personally, I use water soluble fertilizer, as I feel I have much

more control over plant feeding with this method. Other growers

might prefer the longer lasting pellet-type feed.

There are various long lasting pellet fertilizers available that

provide up to three months of constant feeding. Osmocote 14-14-14

is one such product. Many opt for completely organic feed such as

bone meal, blood meal and green sand, but the percentage of

nutrients are so low that I don't think a heavy feeding tree

would benefit satisfactorily from them. The one organic I do use

is fish, especially those from the briny depths of the sea. The

trace elements and nitrogen these critters can supply to a potted

fruit tree is tremendous, and it's a long lasting supply too. A

few cubes of finny flesh will last a northern growing season and

then some.

Watering is, of course critical to all plants but especially to a

potted fruit tree. During the summer a healthy, fruiting

containerized tree drinks gallons of water. I've often had to

water mine every other day. Growers in sub-tropical areas such as

Florida who are used to growing in the ground may be watering

more than they're accustomed to. This can be remedied somewhat by

mulching the top of the pot with dried grass clippings, unmilled

sphagnum moss or pre-packaged mulch. During the summer most fruit

trees are holding a crop and dry soil can turn this year's pot

crop into this year's pot drop: those delicious lychees may be

this past year's history with only one soil drying. One of the

best methods of preventing evaporation is by sinking the pot in

the ground and mulching the top. Also, use plastic pots. Burying

the containers gives added wind protection to the trees. It's

frustrating to find a fruit laden tree toppled over and half of

its' crop knocked off. Even by sinking the pot one third of its

height into the ground will prevent this type of frustration.

There are many reliable nurseries and growers in the U.S. who

will ship tropical fruit trees. When visiting a nursery that has

a plant I am looking for, I provide them with a suitable box with

return postage and have them ship the plant to me. The tree is

simply knocked out of the pot and bare rooted with the roots

wrapped in damp newspaper and a trash bag to prevent leakage.

Many nurseries will spray the plants with evaporation retardants

to prevent water loss. The tree usually needs to be pruned back,

sometimes severely, and is then placed in the box surrounded by

newspaper to prevent too much movement in transit. It usually

takes three days to reach me from Florida. In this short period

of time the tree suffers very little damage, if any, and upon

arrival is immediately potted up and placed in a protected

location for a few days. Once acclimation is over it is placed in

full sun and within a couple of weeks begins to push out new

growth. I have been shipping plants for many years this way and I

have never lost one due to shipping damage or shock. I usually

request priority mail shipment through the U.S. postal service

because they deliver six days out of the week unlike United

Parcel Service which ships only five.

My trees don't really feel their first spring breeze until

mid-April when they are set outside. This is a critical time for

the plants, being the beginning of their summer reacclimation

period. They have been wintered over either in a greenhouse

(which happens to be plastic with light intensity much less than

glass) and under fluorescent lights. If they are exposed to

sunlight immediately, even the weak spring sum, the leaves will

be charred almost at once. I set them in a shaded location for a

few days, then to an area of dappled sunlight and eventually to

full sun. This entire process may take from two to three weeks

depending on how the trees are reacting. If I notice bleached

areas on the leaves, then they have been exposed to the sun too

quickly and will be placed in a semishaded area a while longer.

This acclimation period is not lost growing time because the

trees are actively sending out new growth. It's simply a period

of "hardening up" the leaves to the summer sun. The last years'

growth is rarely affected to the extent of the current seasons

growth; it usually stays green with no signs of scorching.

The nights during mid-April to mid-May can drop more than 40

degrees which means a 70°F day can be followed by a 30°F night.

This is a period of overwork for me because there is a likely

chance the trees will have to be sheltered in the garage from a

cold night. It doesn't happen nightly and rarely in May so the

only early-season backaches I suffer are in the last weeks of

April. After this initial yearly acclimating period, my trees

grow as well as the same trees in Florida.

The portability of my fruit orchard allows me to grow quite a

number of different tropical fruit trees, and to see them

flowering and fruiting in Pennsylvania is a definite sight to

behold. Next to a black oak may be a blooming carambola or beside

a sugar maple a jaboticaba crop will be ready to harvest.

Crawling skyward beside a clematis is a passionvine while my red

cattleya guava is ripening next to a dwarfing cherry. My summer

yard is a pleasing combination of temperate and tropical. This

infusion of tropical fruit trees among the standard zone

varieties adds a measure of curiosity and appeal to all who see

them. When viewing a Passiflora alata (Fragrant Granadilla) in

full bloom for the first time a neighbor was absolutely convinced

that the flowers were plastic because, as she stated," a flower

just doesn't look like that." The incredible complexity of the

passionflower certainly lends itself to be called the ultimate in

flora beauty just as containerizing is the pinnacle of tropical

fruit culture, at least for the temperate zone gardener.

I have found one of the finest trees suitable for potted fruit

culture to be the jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora). Flowering

and fruiting occur throughout the year but it's during winter,

spring and early summer that the trees become absolutely mobbed

with delicious, 1" deep purple fruit.

This small, bushy Brazilian tree develops a luxuriant deep green

canopy that literally shields the branches and trunk from the

sun. I've found that if the tree is kept from branching too much

and kept somewhat open by judicial pruning a larger crop will be


The jaboticaba grows beautifully here in Pennsylvania and looks a

bit like a large branchy privet. This is a plant that responds

well to a supplemental diet of triple superphosphate, potassium

nitrate as a foliar feed and constant water. It grows well in a

soilless mix (available commercially) or simply pure peat with

perlite and vermiculite added and a top mulch of rich humus.

The real delights in growing this small tree are the fruit, which

it so eagerly produces and tree's style of flowering and

fruiting. The jaboticaba is cauliflorus, which means the flowers

and fruit are borne directly on the trunk and larger branches. It

is a pleasantly shocking revelation to the uninitiated to see a

bumper crop of fruit for the first time covering the branches in

purple clusters from the trunk to the uppermost canopy. They're

even more amazed when told that it takes only 20 to 30 days for

the fruit to mature and that up to eight crops a year can be

harvested, making this tree an almost perpetual bearer.

The final treat comes when they bite into a ripe fruit. The

flavor is deliciously sweet with just the right amount of

subacidity and plenty of Jaboticaba tree and fruit juice encased

in a chewy outer skin. The result is invariably, "mmmmm.... that

was delicious! How about another one?" This is a fruit that the

novice fruit-taster likes immediately.

An added incentive to growing the jaboticaba is that it is

practically pest free. The only drawback is that it is primarily

grown from seed and takes from seven to fifteen years to start


I also grow Myciaria glomerata, which produces fuzzy yellow fruit

of smaller size than the jaboticaba. The fruit is composed

practically entirely of a single seed surrounded by a small

amount of pleasantly sweet pulp. I am also growing M. vexator and

M. jaboticaba but they are seedlings and still quite small.

In my opinion, the jaboticaba is a prime candidate for commercial

exploitation due to its overall taste appeal. My evidence for

this is that during cropping, people I haven't seen for weeks

will stroll into my yard, casually look around and walk away with

jaboticaba breath.

The passionvine (Passiflora spp.) is another fruiting plant that

is well suited to container culture. I have over fifty different

species and grow them not only for the fruit but also for their

stunning flowers. I grow all of them around galvanized hoops

pushed into the pots and wrap the rambling shoots around them. I

have unraveled vines up to 15' in length from the hoops when

trimming them back for their winter rest.

Passiflora not only rewards the grower with delicious fruit but

also with one of the most delicate and complex flowers in the

plant kingdom. With over 400 species known (mostly native to the

American tropics) I grow only a small fraction of what could be

container grown. I'm constantly adding to my collection and grow

them with fruiting almost as an afterthought! This is how much

reverence I place in the flower. Passifloras are vines and they

definitely like to ramble, so I raise most of them in 13" to 15"

pots to keep their root systems happy. As mentioned earlier,

these plants go chlorotic rather quickly and are also heavy

feeders. They require more nitrogen than citrus and also iron

supplements during the growing season. I feed them nitrogen and

iron monthly during the summer, or whenever I notice the new

growth turning chlorotic. As with all of my other fruit trees, I

use diluted fertilizer almost every time I water.

There are many fruiting passionvines that the tropical fruit

gardener can grow but two species should definitely be mandatory.

These are the purple granadilla (Passiflora edulis) and the giant

granadilla (Passiflora quadrangularis). There are many others

that produce fruit as good or possibly better, but due to

difficulties such as pollination they have been omitted. The

purple granadilla is an extremely easy plant to fruit in a

container and during the growing season is loaded with fruit. The

flowers of this species will usually pollinate themselves,

although I usually cross pollinate with other clones for maximum

fruit set and size. It is not unusual for clones of P. edulis to

produce nearly tennis ball sized fruit. The purple and white

flower opens in the morning and usually closes in the evening,

pollinating itself in the process. The result is usually

noticeable in three to five days with the swelling of the fruit.

Maturation is fairly rapid in my geographic area, taking from

three to four months. Fruits that are evident in April are edible

by July or August. Fruits of the purple granadilla are, as the

name implies, dark I purple and fall from the vine when I ripe.

The shell of this passionfruit is hard, so the fall doesn't

bruise it. A gentle tug will also dislodge ripe fruit. I Once off

the plant I usually let it ripen another two to three days until

wrinkled and enhanced by a delightful ambrosial aroma. The fruit

is I then halved and the pulp is scooped out and eaten, seeds

included. Delicious! There is nothing quite like a juicy, fully

ripened passionfruit to conjure up tropical visions of verdant

lowland rainforests, raucous early morning fruit markets and the

soothing lull of evening trade winds.

The fruit of the giant granadilla also coats the palate with the

same delectable tropical flavor but on a much larger scale. The

fruit can be as large as a football and weigh up to six pounds!

Unlike the leaves of P. edulis, which are deeply three lobed with

serrated edges, the giant granadilla's leaves are oval, unlobed

and up to eight inches long, with ten to twelve pronounced

lateral veins running through them. The flowers are also

larger-up to three inches in diameter - and pendulous; they hang

downward instead of being held upright. There are actually two

forms of P. quadrangularis, one with eight inch long fruit and

one producing twelve inch long melon size meals! There is some

self-compatibility in both forms, although some growers recommend

cross-pollination with the larger form. Hand pollination will

assure a good fruit set. The outer shell is not hard like the

purple granadilla but somewhat soft and bruisable. When ripe the

color turns to yellow-green with some clones exhibiting a slight

pinkish blush at one end. Cut lengthwise the fruit opens to a

mass of pulp covered seeds nestled in a cavity surrounded by a

thick white melon-like rind. The rind can be eaten much the same

way a melon is eaten, but it is not as aromatic. The pulp again

is the main attraction and it's eaten straight from the shell

along with the large soft seeds. It's very juicy, pleasantly

sub-acid and aromatic. The green, immature fruits of this species

can also be boiled and eaten as a vegetable, and in Jamaica the

tuberous roots are said to be used as a substitute for yams.

Quite a versatile plant!

Most passifloras will begin to produce within a year to sixteen

months when being grown from seed, and almost immediately when

grown from cuttings. I have found that unrooted cuttings sent

through the mail survive their journey nicely when dampened and

sent in zip lock bags. I have received cuttings by this method

from as far away as Honduras and have had them root within three

weeks. There are many other passionvines that produce delicious

fruit, but due to a number of problems with pollination, climatic

requirements, poor flower production and other difficulties,

these have been omitted. A few of the "best of the difficult" are

P. ligularis (sweet granadilla), P. laurifolia (yellow

granadilla), P. maliformis (sweet calabash) and P. antioquiensis

(banana passionfruit).

Cherimoya of Pennsylvania

Mark Twain knew much about much and when biting into a particular

fruit described it as 'Deliciousness itself! He was raving about

the cherimoya (Annona cherimola) and the taste description still

applies. I grow two varieties: 'Booth' and 'Pierce', and I

couldn't agree more. Both flower freely for me but the 'Booth' is

the only variety old enough to let a crop set. The cherimoya

originated in the mountains of Ecuador and Peru, and since its'

introduction into the gardening community many named cultivars

have been produced. Mine are both grafted and grown in 18" pots.

The cherimoya is a knobby looking fruit. The skin is smooth,

light green and from lumpy to almost scale-like in appearance. My

'Booth' is more on the lumpy side. Cherimoyas may weigh up to a

few pounds, with the fruit shape ranging from heart-shaped to

oval. But no matter what shape or size, the true test of a fruit

of legendary stature is decided by the palate and the cherimoya

lives up to expectations. People are at first taken aback by the

appearance of the fruit hanging from their thick stems on my tree

and I have even been asked if it was a new avocado-pear hybrid!

The cherimoya goes through a short deciduous period and the

flowering takes place during this defoliated stage which adds

even more to the peculiarity of the tree. The leaf drop is due to

the formation of buds (flower and/or vegetative) beneath the

petiole juncture. They first appear as small knobby protuberances

encased in a fuzzy brown sheath. As they grow this sheath splits

and the new growth presents itself along with the flowers. The

flowers are fairly unattractive but produced in abundance. They

are about l" long, greenish-yellow in color and very fleshy,

exuding a wonderfully fruity fragrance. Once you detect this

aroma the one major problem of the is at hand: hand-pollination.

The flower is perfect, containing both stigmas and stamens (male

and female reproductive organs) but herein lies the problem. The

male is not ready when the female is - a botanical reversal of

'not to night, I have a headache' syndrome. She is usually ready

the day before he is. That is, the pistils are receptive from 12

to 24 hours before the pollen is shed. There is a simple, though

time consuming, remedy for this situation. Collect pollen from a

male flower (the petals will be wide open) and place it in an

empty 35mm film canister or a similar container. Next, find the

receptive female. She'll be easy to spot because her petals will

only be partially opened. Spread the three thick petals carefully

with one hand and with a pollen laden paint brush (which has been

dipped in the canister) gently stroke back and forth across the

receptive pistils. Voila! a baby cherimoya will be born! There

really can be no mistake in choosing the correct flower because

they are either closed tightly, partially opened or completely

spread apart.

The success rate using this method is very high. Once fruit set

is complete, maturation takes from five to ten months. During

this time the tree will have adorned itself with new foliage and

have become a very attractive member of the container orchard.

The leaves are large, from 8" to 10" long, medium green on top

with the brownish green underside exhibiting a velvety texture.

Here in Pennsylvania, my cherimoyas shed their leaves in

November-December, with flower buds evidenced towards the end of

December. Actual pollination and fruit set doesn't take place

until mid-February. My 'Booth' is a very precocious bloomer,

producing at least some flowers throughout the summer and fall.

It's very easy to get carried away with pollination so I

selectively pollinate to be assured of four or five good sized

fruit as opposed to a dozen smaller ones. The fruit is mature

when a yellowish cast appears on the skin. It is now that they

should be clipped, not picked off the tree. If they are pulled

off, the core may remain attached to the stem. I usually let mine

ripen from three to five days off the tree at room temperature.

Once a ripe fruit is in your possession, have a pen and paper

handy, because once one is eaten, you definitely have something

to write home about! Cut it lengthwise and spoon out the white

custard-like flesh. Get ready for an oral explosion as it melts

in your mouth, releasing a juicy blend of tropical flavors -

subacid and delicate, with taste tones of banana, papaya and

pineapple is one way to describe it. As was so aptly stated by

one Dr. Seemann more than 70 years ago, "Many people feel that

the taste of the cherimoya surpasses every other fruit. That it

is the masterpiece of nature." That fellow certainly knew what he

was talking about. The best way to grow cherimoyas is to purchase

one or more of the many grafted varieties available, which

include 'White', 'Ott', 'Honeyhart' and 'Bays'. They can also be

grown from seed and come into bearing after four years, but

probably will not be true to type. Like the feijoa, a cherimoya

requires a certain amount of chilling to flower, estimated at

between 50 to 100 hours at 35°F to 45°F*.

*[Editor's note: in southern Florida the cherimoya set flowers

several times a year. Anything that causes defoliation sets the

stage for a fresh batch of flowers. Though cold weather is

certainly effective in this regard, so is dry-wet cycle,

fertilizer shock, manual leaf stripping and pruning - Har


Again, the warmer sections of the nation lose out but in this

case a few substitute annonas can be grown. One is the sugar

apple or sweetsop (Annona squamosa) which is a dependable bearer

in the south Florida climate. The fruit is much knobbier and

smaller than the cherimoya but the flesh exhibits a similar taste

quality. The soursop or guanabana (Annona muricata) is another

cherimoya relative and is the most tropical of the annonas. The

fruit is the largest of the family, being 6" to 9" long, and is

covered with soft fleshy spines. The flesh is juicy and more

sub-acid in flavor and some people claim that the aftertaste is

reminiscent of mango. The atemoya is a hybrid between the sugar

apple and cherimoya and is the perfect marriage. Traits of both

are blended together perfectly-the sweetsop's tolerance of humid,

warm climates and the cherimoya's exquisite taste. The atemoya

was hybridized between 1908 and 1910 in Miami, and continues to

be the most reliable producer for that subtropical climate.

Carambola: Star of Pennsylvania By Ray Bayer

The star fruit or carambola (Averrhoa carambola) can be the

centerpiece of any tropical fruit orchard, not only for its crisp

sweet taste, but also because of the unusual structure of the

fruit. The carambola has 4 to 6 prominently raised ribs traveling

the length of the fruit and when cut horizontally, voila, a star

is born! The cut fruit looks distinctly starlike, the number of

ribs determining the number of points on the star. If the shape

of the fruit isn't unusual enough, its coloration and skin

texture add even more to the fruit's pleasing strangeness. The

mature fruit is a beautiful bright yellow, and due to a heavy

coating of natural wax, the skin shines as though it's been

painted with enamel lacquer. For all of its uniqueness and exotic

eye appeal though, the carambola is a pleasure to grow in a

container and very easy to bring into fruiting. I grow two

varieties, the 'Arkin' and 'Fwang Tung, and both provide me with

stellar fruiting performances every year. My trees are grown in

17" pots and the soil is kept on the acidic side. I use ammonia

sulfate on the carambolas several times during the growing season

(as I do with several other trees) and they simply revel in this

treatment. Beginning in late winter, flowers appear in seemingly

constant flushes. They appear as inflorescences from the leaf

axils (where the leaf attaches to the tree) on young growth or

where the leaves have fallen away on old growth. The small

flowers are beautifully lilac, pleasantly fragrant and perfect,

although, again, I assist pollination with my ever-present brush.

Fruit maturation takes from 3 to 5 months depending on the

weather and the time of the season in which the tree is holding


The carambola is such an exuberant producer that I have had two

foot high airlayers holding six fruit. Vegetatively propagated

plants are the only reliable method of growing this tree because

fruit taste ranges from sour to very sweet, with the fruit

produced by seedlings almost guaranteed to be poor. Another

interesting point about the star fruit is that the compound

leaves have the ability to fold back at night only to open again

in the morning. When I first started growing the trees I was

unaware of this trait. It was in the evening on the day after

they arrived from Florida that I first noticed the folded leaves

and it was right after I had fertilized them. Of course I

immediately thought I had done them in. However, the morning

brought with it not only unfurled leaves but the awareness that

this ability was just another distinctive characteristic of the

carambola. The one minor problem in growing this tree that could

eventually become very bothersome is that the trees attracts

spider mites. I'm sure for Florida growers this problem is

nonexistent but to greenhouse gardeners it could easily get out

of control. This problem only becomes evident in the winter when

the trees are quartered to the hothouse and is quickly remedied

by soapy water or other means, usually chemical. Other than this

one inconvenience, the carambola is certainly one of my top picks

for its ease of culture and abundance of fruit it produces so


Psidium of Pennsylvania

For the grower who can't be bothered with such tedious tasks as

hand pollination or laying awake at night worrying about whether

his beloved flowers are going to be male or female, the tropical

guava (Psidium guajava) is the tree to grow. This small Central

American tree is not overly concerned with the care it receives

and is very tolerant of a neglectful owner.

This is not to say that it can be thrown in a closet and be

expected to produce fruit, but it is quite flexible in its

growing requirements. I have raised a number of different

varieties over the years and all have borne fruit without the

slightest hesitation.

At present, I am growing the 'Supreme', 'Redland', 'Beaumont',

and 'Mexican Cream' varieties. All perform beautifully in 13 in.

to 15 in. pots with a minimum of care.

The guava is a fast grower and to keep it in bounds I prune it

heavily (every other year drastically) immediately after the

fruit has ripened, which for me happens to be in late fall to

early winter. I usually take off nearly all of the current

season's new growth, clipping it as close as possible to a

dormant leaf bud. Due to the fact that the leaves are produced

opposite one another, this single cut institutes a double

response from the plant in that it produces two new growing

shoots. This "two for one" effect is very beneficial to the plant

and grower because flowers are produced on new growth and the

trimming also revitalizes the plant, resulting in larger fruit.

The new growth will appear as day length increases, which for me

is mid-January.

The flowers, which are produced along with the new growth, open

up in May and are completely self-pollinating, although

cross-pollination will produce more fruit. You can smell a

flowering guava from a distance, the pleasing scent blanketing

the growing area, inviting bees and other buzzing creatures to

grab a free tropical meal. During this period of accelerated

growth, I ply my trees with heavy doses of fertilized water which

they imbibe gratefully, the extra dosage helping the nurturing of

the plants' fruit.

After flowering is completed, mature fruit delivery takes from

four to six months. Growth slows considerably during this period,

the plants' abundant energy now being funneled into the

development of its fruit. It is during this holding stage that I

lightly prune the trees, snipping back the more vigorous

non-fruiting shoots or simply cutting off undesired branches.

Watering during this time is very critical to the maturing guavas

(as it is with all developing fruit) and prolonged dryness can

lead to dry pulpless fruit. Four to six months is a too long a

time to wait for fruit to ripen into worthless, dried out shells.

My guavas ripen from September to November, with a slight color

change in the yellow skin indicating maturation. Ripe fruit is

also soft to the touch. Taste varies considerably among my

varieties, ranging from the deliciously sweet dessert type

('Supreme') to the acidic processing type ('Beaumont'). Seediness

also varies from extreme to minimal, with some fruit varieties

being practically seed free. Flesh is either reddish or white in

all varieties. Guavas are an excellent source of vitamin C and A,

both higher in the red fleshed variety. For you health-conscious

growers out there, this is the fruit for you! It has a remarkable

number of uses ranging from medicinal (the leaves when chewed

alleviate toothaches) to recreational (a fine wine can be made

from the fermented fruit). When the leaves are boiled and the

resulting broth drunk, diarrhea can be remedied; and as a

mouthwash it helps cure swollen gums. These folk remedies are

used in third world countries where the availability of Bayer

aspirin or Pepto-Bismol is non-existent. In some cultures I'm

sure that the tropical guava is quite an indispensable plant, one

that's usefulness far exceeds simply a ripe fruit.

The red cattley or strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum) is

another one of those ego-boosting subtropicals that makes the

transition from temperate gardening to tropical fruit container

gardening so successful. I state 'ego-boosting' because this

plant is assured of producing fruit for the novice. It's the

perfect crossover fruit to choose for the grower who would like

to begin a tropical container orchard. The red cattley has always

been one of my favorites and like the tropical guava doesn't

require an abundance of care.

I grow two red cattleys and one yellow or lemon cattley, this

yellow variety bearing much larger fruit. The red strawberry

guava is usually grown from seed because it produces true by this

method. There's no noticeable variation in fruit quality from the

parent tree. I have found that the only variation in seedling

plants is in size and production, and not fruit taste. Two

seedlings I have grown in particular have turned out to be

exceptional producers, one in the extra large fruit it produces

and the other in the quantity it bears. These cattleys both came

from the same parent tree but from different fruit. Seedling

trees can start bearing within two years and within twelve months

when grown from cutting. This is a very attractive plant to grow,

the glossy deep green leaves beautifully offsetting the red


The flowers are abundantly produced on new growth which begins to

appear in late winter. They begin to open in late March and my

trees continue to flush throughout the summer. The flowers appear

almost as small white, sweetly scented powder puffs, enhanced by

the backdrop of deep green. They are completely self pollinating

(although I use my trusty watercolor brush as I do on all my

trees). The ripe fruit is ready for picking 90 days later. The

small green guavas grow up to an inch and begin to blush red

towards maturation, eventually turning a deep crimson and soft

when fully ripe. These soft red fruits are deliciously sub-acid

in flavor, with a slight hint of strawberry to entice the palate.

The fruit has many hard seeds embedded in the pulp but I either

grind them up when eating the fruit or simply swallow them whole.

After harvest, my cattleys receive a light pruning to promote

fruiting shoots and also to reshape the plant. My plants have a

habit of producing both upright and horizontal branches and to

keep the shape pleasing, I snip off and reshape, many times

bending and tying horizontal branches vertically to produce the

desired form I want to attain.

The yellow or lemon cattley produces much larger yellow fruit,

being definitely sweeter with absolutely no hint of sub-acidity.

It's a good fruit, but to my taste buds some acidity must be

present in a fruit to be truly savory. It also grows in a more

open habit, being not as vigorous as the red cattley.

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