Tropical Fruit Trees

You might remember a year ago Don visited Mick and Anna Perri at their home on Sydney’s northern beaches. Mick is an expert gardener who has been growing fruit and vegetables on his property for 24 years. Don and Mick planted some tropical and subtropical fruit trees, to see if they would also do well in a temperate, frost-free area.

Before planting, Mick used a rotary hoe to dig over the soil, and to incorporate a load of horse manure (horse manure is an excellent soil conditioner). After planting, the trees were watered in well, and then a 50/50 mixture of Seasol and Nitrosol was applied. 

Tree update

On this week’s program, Don checked on the progress of the trees. Overall the trial was a great success. Not one tree died, all had grown reasonably well, most were thriving and some had produced bumper crops. These fruit trees are definitely worth a try in temperate areas, providing you prepare the soil well before planting and keep the nitrogenous fertiliser up to them in their first year. The varieties planted in Mick’s garden include:

Cherry guavas (Psidium spp.)

Don was particularly please with the cherry guavas, which were fruiting their heads off!

Guavas come from Central and South America. They are hardy, cold tolerant and compact. Don planted two different kinds: the red cherry (P. littorale var longpipes) has red fruit and grows about 2m (6′) tall, and the yellow cherry (P. littorale var littorale) has yellow fruit and only grows around 1.5m (4′) tall. Cherry guavas grow everywhere in Australia, except for cold mountain districts.

Feijoa (Feijoa sellowiana ‘Duffy’)

The feijoa hadn’t thickened up much, probably because it had produced a heavy crop at the expense of growth. Don thought that perhaps a fertiliser high in nitrogen may have been beneficial in the first year.

Feijoas have green leaves with a silvery reverse. In spring, pretty red flowers are followed by fruit with a pineapple-strawberry flavour. Feijoas like a well-drained soil with added organic matter, and protection from wind as the stems can be brittle. They will grow in all areas of Australia. (Note: specialist fruit tree nurseries stock the best fruiting varieties.)

West Indian lime (Citrus aurantifolia)

Although the West Indian lime was doing nicely, some of the new growth was yellowing. Don suggested giving it a feed of citrus food or chook manure.

The most frost tender of the citrus, the West Indian lime does best in tropical climates. It is also worth a try in warm temperate, frost-free zones, although Tahitian lime may be a better variety for many areas. West Indian lime grows to around 4m (12′) tall and bears small, round, green fruit which are full of flavour.

Coffee (Coffea arabica ‘KM35’)

The dwarf coffee was growing strongly and still producing lots of coffee beans.

A compact, evergreen, dwarf variety, ‘KM35′ only grows to about 2m (6’) tall. It has clusters of fragrant, white flowers in spring, followed by dark red fruit. Each coffee berry has two beans, which you can use to make your own coffee. The dwarf coffee makes an ideal screen or understorey tree, and likes a warm climate.

Pomegranate (Punica granatum)

The pomegranate was thriving, and Mick said it produced a very large crop. On the day of our visit, the tree was just starting to drop its leaves before winter.

Pomegranates are large, multi-stemmed erect shrubs to around 4m (12′) tall. In late spring to summer single scarlet/orange flowers with crepe-like petals appear. The fruit develops from late summer to early winter. It is yellow with heavy red shading, and has a thick rind surrounding many seeds in a reddish, jelly-like pulp. The bright, glossy green leaves turn yellow in autumn.

Miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum)

The growth of the miracle fruit was disappointing, which made Don think that perhaps Brisbane is about its southern limit. It likes a warm, humid climate and is cold and frost sensitive.

A native of West Africa, this plant produces bright red fruit with sweet white flesh. Amazingly, after eating miracle fruit any sour foods consumed over the next couple of hours will taste sweet.

Jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora)

For slow growing trees, the jaboticabas had done surprisingly well.

Jaboticabas are Brazilian natives, which grow slowly to around 4m (12′). They produce large, grape-like fruit on the main stem. Plants grown from seed take about 8 years to fruit, so it is best to buy a grafted plant. This fruit tree is best in the subtropics or tropics.

Further information

Tropical and subtropical fruit trees are readily available from local nurseries in warm climates or from fruit tree specialists, or ask your local nursery to order plants for you. Approximate retail prices for the plants used in our segment:

Red and yellow cherry guavas (Psidium spp.) – 125mm (5″) pot $18
Feijoa (Feijoa sellowiana ‘Duffy’) – 125mm (5″) pot $28, 300mm (12″) pot $66
West Indian lime (Citrus aurantifolia) – 15L bag $30
Coffee (Coffea arabica ‘KM35’)- 125mm (5″) pot $18, 300mm (12″) pot $50
Pomegranate (Punica granatum) – 150mm (6″) pot $10, 200mm (8″) pot $12.50, 300mm (12″) pot $22.50 
Miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum) – 5L bag $25
Jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora) – 125mm (5″) pot $20, 300mm (12″) pot $56

Seasol costs about $20 for 1 litre and Nitrosol is about $16 for 1 litre. Both are available at garden centres, nurseries and hardware stores.

Horse manure can be obtained from a horse stud or stable, or use cow manure ($53m3 from landscape suppliers).