Avocado - Casimiroa - Cherimoya - Feijoa - Fig - Loquat - Passionfruit - Persimmon - Tamarillo
Sub-tropical fruit includes avocados, feijoas, tamarillos, and passionfruit. As the group name suggests, they prefer a warm climate. Once established, feijoas tolerate some cold frosts, while avocados and passionfruit only light frosts. Tamarillos do not like any frosts at all.
All except feijoas require free-draining soil as they are susceptible to root rots. Plant on a mound as described in Brief Advice on Soils. Feijoas prefer good drainage but will tolerate heavier soil.
Avocados require very good drainage in a frost-free area. They will tolerate some frost when established.
If the soil does not drain well, it must be modified to improve the drainage by mixing in large amounts of compost and raising the planting area 20–30cm above the surrounding soil.
If the soil isn't draining well due to a high clay content, work though the How to improve clay soil blog.
Avocados grow into large trees – 4m high and 6m wide in 10 years – however, they can be pruned to maintain a manageable size. Growing them in pots to control size is also becoming popular. Avocados, especially the Hass variety, are attacked by the fungal disease anthracnose, which appears as black patches on the skin, but also moves into the flesh, causing patches of rot, which affects the fruit when it ripens.
There are a number of dwarf varieties such as 'Cleopatra' that are coming more readily available and only grow to approximately 3m x 3m. These will be more manageable sized avocados for those with minimal section/space.
A native of the Mexican highlands, Casimiroa is a member of the citrus family. It is used to flavour other foods such as milk, ice cream, and home baking rather than eaten fresh.
Casimiroa grows into a 4m x 4m tree (some varieties larger) but can be trained to hedges or espalier forms.
It tolerates clay soils but prefers free-draining soils. It requires less fertiliser than citrus; too much creates vigorous growth at the expense of fruit.
All varieties are self-fertile, with fruit maturing in May–August depending on variety, of which there are five listed as available in New Zealand. ‘Pike’ and ‘Platt’ are the preferred varieties.
Because fruit has a thin skin which is easily damaged, it is preferable to pick from the tree as fruit changes colour from green. Once picked, fruit ripens quickly and will keep for one–two weeks.
A native of Peru and Ecuador, cherimoya is a member of the Annonaceae family. It is eaten fresh.
Cherimoya grows into a 5m x 5m tree but is ideally suited to training as espalier forms and growing in pots which maintains a small size.
Like avocado, it is susceptible to root rots and must have a free-draining soil. Protect from wind and salt spray. Protect from frost when young.
A simple form of hand pollination is required for reliable fruit set. In South America there is a native beetle that would normally pollinate the Cherimoya, but obviously in NZ we do not have these.
A cherimoya tree has both male and female flowers, but the two are not open at the same time. Female flowers open first for about 36 hours; the male flowers open after.
To hand pollenate, collect pollen from the tan-coloured anthers of male flowers with a small artist’s brush, then apply the pollen to open female flowers (literally get in there with the brush and brush it around). If no female flowers are open, save the pollen in a closed container in the refrigerator. Hand-pollinate every two days during flowering to ensure pollination. Pollination by insects is unlikely; few insects visit the flowers.
Click here for more information on flower anatomy.
Trees will set fruit when 3–4 years old. Fruit matures Sept–Nov. If you pick a Cherimoya from the tree and there is no give when pressing lightly on the fruit, ripen at room temperature. Fruit is ripe when fruit changes colour slightly and softens to touch, usually a week after picking. Once fruit is ripe it should be kept in the fridge and eaten within a day or two. If your Cherimoya has started to brown, then it is overripe.
Feijoas are the hardiest of the fruits classified as sub-tropical. They tolerate high temperatures but at the same time tolerate light to moderate frosts. In addition, they require chilling at less than 7˚C for 100–200 hours in winter for bud initiation.
Feijoas prefer a free-draining soil. They will tolerate heavier clay soils if planted on raised mounds and do not get ‘wet feet’.
Feijoas prefer full sun and will tolerate some shade but at reduced yield. New Zealand rainfall is usually sufficient, but long periods without rain at critical times will significantly affect yield and quality. Critical times where irrigation may be required are planting time, during flowering in early summer, fruit swelling in autumn and post-harvest to aid recovery.
Feijoas are self-fertile, but yields will be greater if there is more than one variety to provide cross-pollination. There are many varieties of feijoa ranging in size and taste, but the most distinctive feature is the time of fruiting during the Feijoa season. Birds are the main pollinators for Feijoas rather than bees.
Figs are relatively easy to grow and a favourite with many people. Raiding birds continue to be a major challenge, but gardeners continue to take up the challenge – some years getting a harvest, and some years the birds win. Netting the tree as soon as fruit begins to ripen is the only way to be sure of picking a good crop in most home gardens. To make netting easier, follow a pruning regime that maintains a smaller tree. Maintaining a smaller tree is easier when growing in pots or Evergrow root restriction bags
All figs are self-fertile and do not require a pollinator. Some varieties have a small early crop in December–January on last-year’s wood, followed by a main autumn crop from March to May, depending on the variety.
A tree native to south-east China which is relatively hardy but crops much better in a warmer sub-tropical situation.
The fruit which ripens in Nov–Dec can be eaten fresh but is more commonly used to flavour both sweet and savoury dishes.
Grown as a small tree, it can also be espaliered. It tolerates most soils but prefers a free-draining soil and regular feeding. Young trees require protection from frost.
Passionfruit are a short-term crop, with vines only remaining fully productive for 2 or 3 years. The short life is often due to fungal root rots, prevalent in many home-garden soils.
They love warmth and sun and are frost tender. Above all, passionfruit require a free-draining soil rich in humus to retain moisture. Poorly drained, heavy clay soils or waterlogged soils are unsuited, and plants are likely to die before reaching cropping stage. To grow passionfruit where the soil is unsuitable (clay), it will be necessary to modify the soil by adding two barrow loads of compost, working this into the soil and raising the planting area at least 20cm above the surrounding soil. An alternative is to grow passionfruit in a 40cm diameter pot of potting mix. See our blog about improving clay soil.
When plants die or need replacing, it is wise to replace at least a barrow load of soil/compost in the immediate area, or in the case of pot-grown plants, use new potting mix.
Passionfruit are a climber and require a fence or trellis support. As they grow, they will need assistance with soft ties to stay attached to the support structure.
Passionfruit carry fruit on current-season’s growth. In early–mid-spring, cut off approximately half of last-year’s growth but leaving a framework of laterals that will produce new growth.
Persimmons are an attractive small tree with large glossy leaves, stunning autumn foliage colours and delicious fruit that holds on the tree into winter.
Persimmons require a long and warm season to mature. Preferring heat, they will tolerate cold to -2⁰C and in cold temperatures they go dormant.
Whilst persimmons will tolerate most soils, they perform best in a free-draining soil with lots of humus. Plant persimmons in a sunny spot in free-draining, fertile soil, protected from cold, harsh winds. Avoid planting in areas with late spring and early autumn frosts.
Until well established, the wood is thin and weak. Providing a supporting framework is often necessary in the early years. Alternatively, they can easily be trained as espalier systems.
There are two different types of persimmon – astringent and non-astringent varieties. Astringent varieties are heart-shaped and are harvested when the fruit has turned fully orange but is still firm. Leave the fruit at room temperature for a few days for the fruit to soften. The more common flat-shaped non-astringent varieties such as Fuyu can be harvested firm or left to ripen on the tree (but beware as birds love them). If picked firm, the fruit will ripen if stored with other fruit like bananas, apples or pears.
Fuyu is the most popular variety of persimmon and currently the only variety available. A small spreading ornamental tree which has year-round beauty, handsome glossy leaves turn vibrant red, orange and yellow in autumn. Bare branches reveal large, smooth, round orange coloured, flattened fruit which remains on the branches for weeks. Ripens May–June.
It is best to pick persimmons using secateurs to cut the fruit off, keeping the stem and calyx attached to the fruit. Persimmons can be eaten fresh like an apple or sliced with the skin removed, dried (whole or sliced), or made into delicious jam or chutney. Persimmons start fruiting after about 4 years.
Tamarillos, native to the Andean region of Bolivia, are the most cold-averse of the sub-tropical fruits.
Tamarillos love heat. Whilst they tolerate lowish night temperatures for a period, they prefer a minimum day temperature of 15⁰C. They are sensitive to any frost. In addition, they prefer a free-draining soil rich in humus. Heavy clay soils will require modification by adding copious amounts of compost and planting on raised mounds. See our blog about improving clay soil.
Tamarillos are fast growing and have their first crop in the second winter from planting.
Growing 3m high x 2m wide, they should be pruned following picking to promote new growth which carries the following season’s crop. Tamarillos benefit from regular feeding and watering in dry periods.
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