Papaya Fruit Fly on Your Papaya Tree? Here’s What to Do!

papaya-image

Michael spotted a papaya fruit fly (AKA papaya wasp) on a green papaya and has well-founded concern for his fruit:

“Quick question about papaya wasps. I was checking out my plants this past weekend and spied what I believe was one of the adults on an immature fruit. How worried should I be? We live in Hillsborough County in the Forest Hills area. The cold is more tempered in this area due to several large lakes nearby, so I’m not worried about the plants freezing, but I am a little worried about the wasps now. I haven’t seen them before on my trees.”

The Strange Papaya Fruit Fly

Though they look like wasps, the papaya wasp is actually the papaya fruit fly. They don’t look like any fruit fly you’ve ever seen, however.

papaya fruit fly papaya wasp

Illustration from the Division of Plant Industry

You can see why they’re often called the “papaya wasp.”

They’re really an attractive insect for such a pain-in-the-neck pest.

Michael is correct to be concerned – these are a huge problem for papaya growers.

Why is it after green papaya?

If you see a papaya fruit fly near your immature fruit, chances are that fruit is going to be filled with maggots when ripe.

As UF states in an article on the papaya fruit fly:

“The female is capable of producing 100 or more eggs. The female fruit fly oviposits in the green immature fruit by thrusting her ovipositor through the flesh of the fruit. She then deposits a group of 10 or more long, slender eggs in the papaya’s central cavity where the young larvae feed on developing seeds and the interior parts of the fruit. As the larvae mature, they eat their way out of the fruit, drop to the ground beneath the plant, and pupate just below the soil surface. Flies emerge in about two to six weeks, depending upon humidity and temperature of the soil.

Eggs are usually laid in small fruit, about two to three inches in diameter, but they may be deposited in smaller or larger fruit. However, unripe papaya juice is fatal to the larvae so the fruit must be ripe before the larvae begin to eat their way out of the inner cavity. Eggs hatch approximately 12 days after oviposition and larval development in the fruit lasts about 15 to 16 days.”

In the southern part of the state and warmer regions along the coast, the papaya fruit fly is a serious pest. I never had trouble with them in the Ocala/Gainesville area due to the freezes, but in The Great South Florida Food Forest Project they are a repeating problem.

I remember the first time I picked a beautiful ripe papaya for mom and opened it up to find it squirming with papaya fruit fly maggots.

Nasty.

Papaya Fruit Fly Control

Though you could probably hire a crop-duster, a better approach is to manage papaya fruit flies without pesticides by being pro-active.

My advice: keep an eye on those fruit. If any fall off, burn or bury them deeply. If they ripen, be prepared for a maggot fest – and again, don’t just compost the fruit or toss it somewhere – kill those maggots! Sanitation is key to papaya fruit fly control. The last thing you want is hundreds more of them buzzing around your neighborhood.

If you have very young fruit you can bag them to prevent infection. For fruit that are already larger, just watch them. It’s probably too late to bag.

Good luck. I’m sorry they found you. Keep a close eye on your trees, destroy infected fruit without prejudice and bag the little ones – and pray these obnoxious pests don’t come back.

David-the-good-books-revised

Maintenance Pruning of Mulberry Trees

BabyMulberryFruit

Karen asks about maintenance pruning on mulberry trees:

“Hi David, Love your site!

I inherited my mom’s place in Citrus County Fl. She let her mulberry grow out of control and fruit really, so when I moved in August 2016, I wanted to salvage the tree if I could. Read that I could severely prune it to a height that I could reach and I did…holding my breath! The article said that severe pruning like that might delay fruiting for a season…BUT no! GOD had other plans. It fruited the most delicious and abundant (enough for me) crop I have ever had the privilege to eat!
 
So now this year I am wondering when to lob off the skinny branches. In July was I supposed to “pollard” to six leaves…I didn’t look up what that means…but I didn’t know to do it. It actually tried to put out fruit this week …weakly. But as you can see I cut the main trunk to leave the branches I could reach. And just now tied down 4 more limbs to reach next year… I know I should not prune limbs that are real low. But when to prune the ones that are reaching to heaven; like what happened to the original tree…very quickly became a giant!
 
I read some of your articles on the subject and want to grow a whole lot more trees!”
Mulberry-1 Mulberry-2
What a mess! Trees do what they want, don’t they? I’ve pruned back fruit trees before and been rather horrified by the insane amount of re-growth.
Fortunately, mulberries are very forgiving.
Check these out:

Those trees were chainsawed to the ground multiple times, then they came back and fruited.
Unlike many fruit trees which will skip making fruit after a pruning, mulberries are often stimulated to make fruit after a pruning. New growth regularly arrives with new berries.
Here’s my advice for Karen’s mulberry tree pruning problems.

Wait Until Dormancy and Assess

Mulberry trees go to sleep in the winter and drop their leaves. the form of a tree without leaves is much easier to assess than one laded with leaves.
Once you see how all the branches are growing, it’s easier to picture a better shape you can shoot for.

Cut and Bend

In North Florida I usually did my pruning in January/early February before my fruit trees awakened from their winter dormancy.
I would pick an uneven number of branches to save, then cut the rest. Cut weak branches, super-skinny branches and crossing branches to open up the space somewhat. Leave perhaps 5 – 7 decent branches behind to spread out and become the new canopy.
With peaches you’d normally leave 3, but mulberries will bear a lot of fruit and each branch is a potential source of berries.
Once I have my new leaders, I bend them sideways and tie cinderblocks to them to “festoon” them. I noted the cinderblock in one of your photos and wondered if you were already pursuing this tack.
Here’s a mulberry I pruned and tied in this fashion:
FestoonedMulberry1
And a peach tree I festooned similarly:
FestoonedPeach2
I like those long sideways branches. They produce more fruit than branches that head straight up, plus they are easier to pick.
Eventually, the branches harden up at the angle they are bent, then you can remove the cinderblocks – or you can pull them farther down and re-tie. I would take a few of your big branches and bend them out away from the large sideways branches you already have growing. That should add some balance to the shape.
Know that the tree will send up new shoots straight off the top of the bent branches. You can prune some of those, bend them, or just ignore them as you wish. Mulberries can be shaped up at any point during the year, though I leave severe pruning for winter.
Don’t worry too much – it’s hard to make a mulberry unproductive.
David-the-good-books-revised

Composting Storm Debris: 4 Easy Methods

Dangerous-tree-falling-on-house

TJ asks about composting storm debris:

“I’ve got a lot of debris from the storm still, plus I’ll be cutting down some trees soon. What do you think is the best way to avoid exporting those nutrients and to reincorporate them into the soil? I was thinking on doing some hugelkultur beds, but I’ve never done one and might have too much material. Any recommendations on the hugel beds and other ways to make use of these material?”

Yes – I certainly have some suggestions.

Method #1 for Composting Storm Debris: Throw it on the Ground

In Chapter 11 of Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting I wrote:

“My dad and I started a food forest in his shady and infertile south Florida backyard. One weekend we piled up palm tree trunks, branches, logs, hedge trimmings, leaves, grass clippings and whatever else the neighbors were throwing out. The resulting stack of biomass was probably two feet tall and covered over a hundred square feet. In the middle and around the edges we planted fruit trees and edible perennials. Within a couple of months you could dig into the pile and find rich black soil, worms, and a wide variety of insects working together to rapidly convert that pile of “waste” into soil.”

This was what that mass of plant debris did:

DirtBeforeAndAfter

Just piling up all the trunks and leaves and debris will eventually give you rich results.

Stack them someplace out of the way or put them in rough piles right around trees or anywhere.

This pile broke down wonderfully in a little more than a year.

StickPile

When the sticks got brittle, I stomped on them. Just don’t do that if you’re in poisonous snake country.

Method #2 for Composting Storm Debris: Use Logs for Boundaries

I’ve also taken felled trees and chunks of trunk and used them to delineate paths in food forests.

growing sweet potatoes in the food forest

SouthFLFoodForest7-122

It’s not always the prettiest method, but those hunks of logs keep the ground moist beneath them, harbor a variety of useful species, plus host fungi, which are an integral part of forest life.

Mushroom13

A year after throwing down piles of tree trunks and shredded tree company mulch, I was so amazed to see the many varieties of mushrooms which appeared that I did a post with 39 pictures documenting them.

Method #3 for Composting Storm Debris: Hugelkultur

TJ also asked about hugelkultur as a method for composting storm debris.

I must confess, I have never built a proper hugelkultur bed. I know it’s one of those super-popular things that permaculture gardeners do but I haven’t done one.

I did bury tree chunks and plant a jaboticaba on top:

composting storm debris

That led to sinking soil and the need to replant the tree within a year.

I honestly don’t know how hugelkultur beds will work in Florida overall. Organic material deteriorates at a frightening rate and sandy soil is likely to wash away from the top of the mounds. It’s probably worth building one as an experiment but I wouldn’t bet heavily on a method which comes from a cold climate with clay soils.

And hugelkultur may not even be what many think it is.

As Jack Spirko writes in a very interesting article for Permaculture News:

“The purpose of this mound is twofold.

1. Break down organic matter and build soil

2. Grow annual production while number one happens and/or growing short term perennials and nurse trees for later planting in other locations.

How do I know this? When I met Sepp in Montana in 2012 and watched him build about 4 linear kilometers of hugels, he told me so and I believed him.

I hear cries of heresy and blasphemy, but I am just telling you the way this system is actually used successfully. So strap in if you are upset now, indeed it gets worse from here. The big shocker is what happens next. One of them you may have a hard time believing…

1. The mounds over time sort of flatten and are left. At this point, the succession proceeds into long term perennial production. The key though is that a few seasons of annual cropping and short term perennials are used first. Generally in this case they remain bush, shrub, small tree, herbaceous and annual crop producers.

2. More often than above, gasp! The mound is at some point spread out and full on perennial systems are established or even grazing systems are boosted. This can produce astounding amounts of soil, the value of which if trucked in would be measured in 10’s of thousands of dollars per acre.

The primary purpose of hugels is building soil, production is of secondary concern. Getting production out of hugels makes the method practical but none the less, still secondary to the original intent. Very few edicts to the concept are even aware of why Sepp Holzer did hugels in the first place. Quite simply it was done because he had a ton of low value trees around and removing them was more costly than their value.”

If the primary purpose is building soil, the same can be done with much less labor than digging mounds requires. Throw the material in big piles and let it rot, then later spread it around. Florida’s hot and humid climate chews through most fallen trees in a couple of years, turning them into crumbly humus. If you build mounds, they are going to sink. Fast.

Method #4 for Composting Storm Debris: Biochar

Biochar is just charcoal making.

Charcoal has the capacity to hold onto nutrition and potentially act like humus in the ground. In sandy soils with high leaching, this is powerful. Humus disappears very quickly in Florida, and less quickly in colder climates, but charcoal is practically immortal.

I now add it to many of my compost piles for that very reason:

Simple_compost_pile_adding_biochar_to_compost

It will sit in the pile and soak up the good stuff, then later be spread around my gardens and trees.

If you have a lot of storm debris, just do something like this:

Then use that charcoal everywhere. Just don’t burn the trees into nothing – be sure you quench the fire and get the charcoal, as most of the good material will leave your property for the atmosphere if you let the fire go too long.

So – to answer the question “what’s the best method for composting storm debris?”

Any way that keeps the material on your land. Don’t give in to the convenience of letting the county take it or just burning it to ashes.

Trees are rich in carbon and other minerals that they’ve produced and mined from the soil, sometimes for generations. Don’t waste them. Even making islands of trunk chunks, leaves and branches around your fruit trees will greatly benefit the trees.

As has been said before “forests grow on the remains of forests.”

Use fallen trees to feed living ones and you’ll be surprised how they respond.

David-the-good-books-revised

How Long Does a Pawpaw Tree Take to Produce Fruit from Seed?

how-long-does-it-take-pawpaw-to-fruit-from-seed

Maria has questions about how long it takes a pawpaw tree to produce fruit from seed (note that she is asking about Asimina triloba, not the tropical “pawpaw” Carica papaya):

“I read with interest how to grow pawpaw from seeds. Nowhere is mentioned how long does it take to produce fruit. I live in southern Ontario and don’t know any place with pawpaw fruit, we never eat it either. Local nursery is selling a plant about 3 ft tall ($40), must be 2 to 3 years old. They told me it will take another 6 to 10 years to produce fruit. We may not be around in 10 years therefore I was reluctant to buy the plant. The plant is common pawpaw and they suggested to get another variety from somewhere else as 2 trees are need it. It’s disappointing that knowledge of such a big nursery is so limited to a fruit tree common to southern Ontario. Should I buy the plant and when it blooms (how many years?) try to cross pollinate as suggested in your article. Can I pollinate from bloom to bloom or I need another tree?”

Great questions, Maria.

So How Long Does it Take for a Seedling PawPaw Tree to Bear Fruit?

According to a presentation by Patrick Byers at the University of Missouri:

“Seedling trees take longer to come into production (5 – 7 years) than grafted trees (3 – 4 years).”
I have read in multiple locations that a seedling pawpaw will bear fruit in 4 – 8 years, which lines up pretty closely with Byers’ 5 – 7 years. 10 years would be quite long.
Grafted trees already think they’re a mature specimen, so if you want to take some of the time off your wait for fruit, plus take the guesswork out of what kind of fruit the tree will bear – buy a grafted tree. I enjoy growing pawpaws from seed, as I share in my popular how-to post here, but if you have a source for improved pawpaw tree varieties, go for it.

Getting Your PawPaw to Fruit Faster

As pawpaw trees usually start to bear fruit at around 6′ in height, if you want a pawpaw to fruit faster, take better care of it. This goes for most fruit trees. Regular water, feeding, mulching – these are what get them established and growing.
For pollination, you should really have two pawpaw trees. It’s even better to plant three as it gives you a little redundancy in case you lose one. Some pawpaw trees can pollinate themselves from pollen from one flower to the next on the same tree; however, you cannot count on this tendency.
You can hand-pollinate pawpaw trees. I have not done it myself as the local insects did a fine job for me. The California Rare Fruit Growers have a very good guide to growing pawpaws and in it they cover pollination:

“Poor pollination has always plagued the pawpaw in nature, and the problem has followed them into domestication. Pawpaw flowers are perfect, in that they have both male and female reproduction parts, but they are not self-pollinating. The flowers are also protogynaus, i.e., the female stigma matures and is no longer receptive when the male pollen is shed. In addition pawpaws are self-incompatible, requiring cross pollination from another unrelated pawpaw tree.Bees show no interest in pawpaw flowers. The task of pollenization is left to unenthusiastic species of flies and beetles. A better solution for the home gardener is to hand pollinate, using a small, soft artist’s brush to transfer pollen to the stigma. Pollen is ripe for gathering when the ball of anthers is brownish in color, loose and friable. Pollen grains should appear as small beige-colored particles on the brush hairs. The stigma is receptive when the tips of the pistils are green, glossy and sticky, and the anther ball is firm and greenish to light yellow in color.”

I had a Florida pawpaw variety (Asimina parviflora) bloom and set fruit at the young age of three, but that isn’t all that common for the common pawpaw.

If you want to “create your own luck,” get a few grafted trees, take great care of them and throw in a few more seedling trees at the same time. The trees don’t take up a lot of space and can fit in around larger trees such as oak and hickory due to their shade tolerance.
Good luck – may you get much fruit!
*Original image at top by Wendell Smith. Creative Commons license.
David-the-good-books-revised

Getting Papaya To Ripen Before Frost?

papaya-image

Kate from Chiefland writes:

“I have grown huge papaya trees, this year the fruit came very early and now I have at least two dozen fruit, the largest almost 10 inches. My fear is (like many times before) the fruit will not ripen on the tree before the first frost. One year I had boatloads of huge green papaya that I picked due to frost and they just rotted. My question is are there any tricks I can use to get the fruit to ripen on the tree in the next month/before the first frost?”

Fruiting papaya trees getting hit by frost at just the wrong time? Yeah, I’ve been there.

PapayaMeltedLoRes

Note the Christmas lights. That’s an old zone-pushing trick, but even that AND the trees being planted by a south-facing wall was not enough to save the fruit.

Papaya really can’t take the cold. And though they’re fast-growing “trees” and will start fruiting within a year of planting, they often start bearing in the summer and the fruit are still green as the fall comes.

And because they like warm weather and refuse to grow on cool days, their growth and the ripening of fruit slows and even stops in the fall.

Papaya4web

And then comes winter – and frosts – and you lose the fruit. The trees will sometimes freeze back and regrow the next year but unless you have a mild winter the next season, you get the same problem again. The trees start to set fruit in summer, then fall comes and they slow down, then they lose their fruit in the winter.

It’s terrible!

I have picked the green papaya and eaten them (and shared some recipes here) but I like the ripe fruit better. Getting that fruit requires some planning, though, and so far as I know you can’t get the trees to ripen their fruit any earlier without keeping them warm in the fall.

Push-the-Zone-cover-web

There are some tricks that will work for getting papaya to bear out of their range – as you can read here – but you might have to get used to eating green papaya if a frost is on its way and the trees are loaded.

One possibility: if the trees are short enough, put 55-gallon drums of water at their bases before frost events, then cover the tree and the barrel with blankets through the night to trap in the heat. This is a trick I used on delicate trees in the past and got them to carry fruit through outside of their range. If it stays below for freezing for too long it won’t work, but for overnight freezes it works quite well.

Good luck.

Get my book Push the Zone if you want a bunch of other ideas on keeping tropical plants alive outside their “natural” range.

 

David-the-good-books-revised

Two Seeds and Lots of Promise

seeds-planted

I apologize for the late post today. I had a paperwork issue that needed clearing up this morning, which led to me visiting a hardware store and getting some PVC for a sound isolation booth I’m building, which led to giving one of my farmer neighbors and a pile of produce a ride home after his car died at the end of my road.

Though I was irritated at having to deal with paperwork this morning, it ended up well. Because I helped out my farmer friend, he invited me to have a drink with him at his house. As we were sitting there, he asked if I knew what a couple packages of seeds were – and handed me two little envelopes of seeds he’d been sent. One read “pitanga,” the other, “jaboticaba.”

I’ve been looking for both of these species since moving here. I showed him what they were on my smart phone and told him to plant them fast as they may not keep long in this hot and humid climate. He said he would, then gave me one of each.

Which I brought home with much thanks and planted directly:

I hope at least one of them grow. Both are highly productive and useful small fruits.

David-the-good-books-revised

Growing Bananas and Other Tropical Delights Beyond the Tropics

bananas

In yesterday’s video, I dive into zone-pushing bananas and other tropical edibles:

It’s truly amazing what can be done with a little ingenuity.

The experiments I did for years before releasing Push the Zone really opened my eyes to the zone-pushing possibilities. I grew things that other people said were “impossible” to grow in my climate.

A master gardener walked past a group of papayas behind my house once. They were loaded with fruit. Then she literally said:

“Ah, papayas. Too bad you can grow them here!”

And she meant it. The fruit were ripening on the trees and they were very much alive. Yet the official story is “nope – you can’ grow those!”

I laughed over that and I’m still laughing over it.

David-the-good-books-revised

Can You Grow Coffee in Florida?

Coffee-shoots

Zori asks if you can grow coffee in Florida:

“Hello David Good hope all is well. Why can’t I grow coffee here in Florida? I mean, Florida is subtropical right? The coffee belt has somewhat of the same whether, all though it’s mountainous in some places, also it’s either rainy, cold, or hot and dry. Florida is all of those things except the mountains lol.”

It’s a good question. Let’s dive in.

Where To Grow Coffee in Florida

First of all, Florida is not a monolithic state. I’ve had people express surprise when I told them I couldn’t grow mangoes, coconuts or even Key Limes out in the open at my old North Florida homestead. It’s simply too cold. We’re talking 12 degrees overnight cold on occasion. Sure, it’s warm most of the time, but most of the time isn’t enough.

One night of freezing weather and coffee dies. Take a look at this USDA zone map:

grow coffee in florida zone map

The dark orange area is where you can grow coffee outdoors without protecting it, except for on very rare frost events. 10b.

In 10a, you can still grow coffee but you will need to protect it occasionally.

How To Grow Coffee in Florida Beyond Zone 10

Push-the-Zone-cover-webIn 9a and 9b, you can grow coffee in Florida against a south-facing wall as I describe in detail in my book Push the Zone: The Good Guide to Growing Tropical Plants Beyond the Tropics.

I lived in what they’re now calling 9a, but it was really more zone 8 for multiple winters. My coffee survived against a south-facing wall but only because freezing conditions were always mercifully short, lasting only a few hours or a single night.

There have been times in the Ocala area when temperatures stayed below 32 for longer than overnight and on through the next day.

That is the end for a coffee tree, unless you wrap it in sheets and Christmas lights or put a big barrel of water next to it, like I did for my loquat tree.

Why DON’T People Grow Coffee in Florida?

Florida is a land of extremes. It gets both colder and hotter than coffee prefers, plus the humidity fluctuates between summer and winter.

As UF writes:

“Coffee is usually grown under shaded conditions but may be grown in full sun. Optimum growing conditions include temperatures from 59 to 75°F (15-24°C), high humidity, and protection from windy conditions. Temperatures above 77°F (25°C) slow growth, and leaves are damaged at temperatures above 86°F (30°C). Constant, large fluctua- tions in daily temperatures, and constant temperatures at or below 41°F (5°C) may cause leaf drop and tree decline. Coffee plants may be damaged or killed by freezing temperatures.

In the tropics or warm subtropics, coffee is grown at high altitudes (up to about 3,500 ft; 1,100 m) where temperatures are moderate and never freezing.”

Florida’s hot and sandy conditions aren’t the best.

Where I live in Central America, you can grow coffee without even working at it. Just stick plants in the ground and they’ll be fine. The soil is rich and the temperatures are not too hot or too cold. The humidity is high year-round as well, and coffee loves that.

TheSurvivalGuidetoGrowingCaffeineFIXsmIn Florida, the winters are dry and the soil is poor. Coffee likes to be well-fed. I’ve written in the past about how far you can grow a coffee tree – even the feasibility of growing coffee indoors way up north in places like Canada – yet for enough production of beans to be anything more than a curiosity, you need a decent climate.

In my booklet on growing coffee and other caffeine plants, there’s a complete interview I did with Gary Strawn, a Kona coffee farmer in Hawaii.

He explains that there are very solid reasons why Hawaii is known for its coffee and Florida is not, despite the southern portion of the Sunshine State being technically warm enough for the plant. It’s a very good interview. There is a lot more to growing and producing quality coffee than just keeping the plant alive through the winter.

So Should You Grow Coffee in Florida?

Yes. Come on – if you CAN grow something as awesome as coffee, even marginally, why wouldn’t you? Don’t be a wuss! It’s COFFEEEEEEE!!!

I would absolutely plant coffee – lots of coffee – if I lived in Ft. Lauderdale or Naples or Homestead or any place where I could start a little outdoor plantation.

Tucking coffee trees under some canopy trees works well as coffee can tolerate some shade and still produce. Doing that also moderates the heat of the day and the cold of the winter.

Put them under some mangoes and you get two crops in the same space!

grow coffee in florida under mangoes

I’ve dreamed for years of starting a little coffee plantation in South Florida and selling the green beans as “locally produced!” in nice paper bags bearing the outline of Florida.

“Dave’s 100% Florida Coffee!”

How awesome would that be? Though the flavor wouldn’t be as good as something from Hawaii or Jamaica, it would be local and you can bet people would support that and pay well to have Florida coffee. It’s a great idea. Maybe one of you guys can do it.

My bet is that Coffea liberica would do well in Florida and maybe better than Coffea arabica. That’s what I currently have growing on my property here. It tastes great, too.

I bought my first plant at a rare plant booth at a gardening show, then planted the seeds from that. Sometimes you can also get fresh seeds but they’re hard to find. If you can’t find coffee seeds that are fresh enough to germinate, you can also get coffee plants on Amazon for a decent price. Gotta love Amazon.

Coffee is worth trying to grow if you live in Florida. Just for the bragging rights.

Additional coffee resources:

How to Germinate Coffee Beans

How to Process Coffee at Home in 7 Easy Steps

Growing Coffee in North Florida and Where to Buy Coffee Plants

Push the Zone: The Good Guide to Growing Tropical Plants Beyond the Tropics

The Survival Gardener’s Guide to Growing Your Own Caffeine: Coffee, Tea and the Black Drink

David-the-good-books-revised

Persimmon Dropping Fruit Early?

persimmon-fruit-drop-why

Amanda asks about a persimmon dropping fruit:

persimmon dropping fruit

“I’m visiting my family in PA and my Mom says ‘ask David The Good why my persimmons are dropping’, so here I am. These aren’t tomatoes but green persimmons. There’s not a single one left on the tree and probably 15-20 on the ground. Some are rotting. Some are perfect like these except unripe. She says they did the same thing last year. It’s a beautiful healthy looking tree, so we thought you might have an answer.”

Let’s see if we can figure out why these persimmons are dropping. I know a few things about persimmons, though I’m not a persimmon expert. They’re usually a a very easy-to-grow tree with few problems – yet no tree is perfect!

A few problems may be causing this fruit drop. I’ll give a few options and maybe Amanda will be able to help her parents.

Is This a Young Persimmon Tree?

BabyGeorgiaPersimmon

Young persimmon trees will often drop fruit for the first few years as they get established. I saw this in my persimmon trees back in North Florida.

As Stark Bro’s Nursery writes:

“Young trees are more prone to drop fruit, whereas older, established, developed trees tend to more regularly store and make use of their reserve food. This food is stored while a tree is dormant and is used in the production of fruiting buds that swell and bloom in the spring. If a tree has not developed a system to properly store reserve food, the fruit that forms will compete for nutrients to feed them.

If there is too much fruit forming, ‘survival of the fittest’ kicks in, and the tree drops fruit. If the competition for nutrients is between the young fruit and the tree itself, your tree will sacrifice the lot so that it can live to fruit another year.”

It’s good for young trees to drop fruit. I recommend you don’t even let young trees produce any fruit as it’s better for them to grow strong roots and branches first. Nip off young fruit before they get bigger than a marble and the tree will spend its energy growing bigger and stronger instead of ripening fruit.

Yet what if this isn’t a a young tree? Could there be another reason this persimmon drops fruit?

Yep.

Parthenocarpy

The purpose of a fruit is to carry seeds. Fruits are designed to be carried away from the tree and eaten, spreading the seeds to new places where they can grow into trees. If there are no seeds in the fruit, the tree sometimes “knows” and will get rid of the fruit.

GreenPersimmon

As Joshua Siskin writes in the LA Daily News:

“The reason persimmons fall from the tree before they ripen is the result of parthenocarpy, which a fascinating botanical phenomenon.

Parthenocarpy (a word that combines “parthenos,” meaning virgin, and “karpos” meaning fruit) is the production of fruit without fertilization. In certain persimmon varieties, parthenocarpically produced fruit is highly susceptible to dropping from the tree before it matures.

In general, what we call a fruit is actually a fully developed plant ovary. The ovary is a female flower part that grows in response to pollination and fertilization of the ovum or egg. Fertilization occurs after pollination — that is, after a male pollen grain from one flower is transferred to the female stigma of another flower — occurs.

A tube grows out from the male pollen grain into the female stigma and then continues to grow down through a filament called a style. At the base of the style, male genetic material from the pollen grain unites with female genetic material that is located there in the ovule (egg). 

This mixing of male and female genetic material is known as fertilization, from which a seed is produced.

In most plants, hormone exuded by a developing seed stimulates growth of the ovary into a fruit. But in a few select plants — such as bananas, persimmons, figs, navel oranges, and Satsuma plums — fruits may grow without the benefit of seed formation. In the case of persimmons, although fruit can develop without seeds, larger crops will result and fruit will stay on the tree until ripe when pollination/fertilization and seed development occurs. 

The most popular persimmon variety is ‘Fuyu,’ whose fruit often drops when it develops parthenocarpically. To ensure a crop, plant a pollinator variety such as ‘Gailey’ next to your ‘Fuyu.’”

Japanese persimmons do indeed produce fruit – often fine – without pollination… but not always! This could be another cause of these persimmons dropping fruit.

Too Much or Too Little

Finally, another problem with many fruit trees, persimmons included, is too much or too little fertilizer or water as the fruit is ripening.

If the ground is flooded it can cause fruit drop. Likewise, if the ground is too dry the tree will go into survival mode and start dropping fruit.

If you give a fruit tree too much nitrogen it may also decide to chuck its fruit in favor of a flush of new leaves.

A Persimmon Dropping Fruit Every Other Year

Finally, some persimmon trees lean towards alternate bearing. One year they might do great and carry lots of fruit to term – the next year they may decide to take a break. Remember, growing fruit is a resource-intensive process for a tree, expending lots of valuable energy. Sometimes they just can’t quite pull it off.

I hope this has been some help. Good luck with the persimmons and I hope you get a good crop next year.

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