Growing Bananas and Other Tropical Delights Beyond the Tropics


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.


Can You Grow Coffee in Florida?


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


Persimmon Dropping Fruit Early?


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?


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?



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.


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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The Incredible, Edible Pindo Palm


A friend asks if a beautiful palm has edible fruit:

“There is a palm tree in the front yard of a house we bought in Ocala about 18 months ago. This year, it produced large clumps of a yellow-orange fruit that has a tough skin and a large seed inside each one. Pictures are attached.


Can you tell us what this is, and how to protect and use it? (The fruits spoil almost a quickly as they ripen.)”

I wrote back:

“That’s a pindo palm! Great fruit. We stew them into an absolutely delicious jelly with sugar to taste and jar them. Best flavor ever. Also makes a great pancake syrup. You can also eat the fruit fresh. In the past, people have made wine from them as well. Butia capitata is the Latin name.”

They really are delicious.

I planted two in my North Florida food forest because I was so impressed with the flavor of the fruit. You can see one of them here:


Pindo palm fruit are not great off the tree, but the jelly… incredible. Coconut, pineapple, passion fruit – you taste notes of different tropical delights in it. Very, very good.

I once harvested about 50lbs from the Ocala agricultural extension offices and made jelly with them. They often just fall on the ground unused and are available for the asking.

And the aroma of the fruit is intoxicating.

As Wendy Kiang-Spray writes:

“On the short walk from the pool to the house we rent in the “low country” in South Carolina, Winter picked a berry from the tons of these little palm trees in the community and said, “Mom, smell this.” Well, I’ve played that game before and it’s not always fun. I was cautious at first, but then quickly began oohing and aahhing over the fragrance that in an instant transports you to the warm sunny place of your dreams. You cannot prevent the immediate inclination to hold in your hand a drink blended with ice and topped with a frilly paper umbrella.”

You’ll also find a recipe for pindo palm jelly in her post.

Pindo palms are often sold in ornamental nurseries. Their silvery foliage and cold-hardiness makes them very popular. I got my two trees from Home Depot and have encouraged many food forest enthusiasts to add a few to their plans. You won’t regret it.


Bananas in Tacoma? Good Zone-Pushing!


Matt writes:

“I thought this might interest or, at least amuse you.

Yes, that’s a banana flowering in Tacoma WA! If you look real close you can see some bunches of tiny bananas behind the flower pod. My dad tells me these never mature to edibility.
This plant is on the south facing side of the house.”
Though you might think Tacoma, Washington would be quite cold due to how far north it is on the map, it’s actually only USDA Zone 8a thanks to the thermal mass of the ocean.
That still isn’t tropical, though! Overnight lows in the 10-15F range are to be expected.
That’s more than cold enough to kill a banana tree. Fortunately, these bananas are sheltered by the amazing power of a south-facing wall. Just the fact that they’re alive is amazing, even if they don’t get to keep their fruit. That micro-climate likely puts them solidly into USDA Zone 9.
I have a lot of good ideas on pushing tropical plants beyond their range in Push the Zone: The Good Guide to Growing Tropical Plants Beyond the Tropics. We even managed to grow coffee outdoors in North Florida, where it sailed through nights that hit the low 20s!
Sometimes it’s just a matter of “try and see!” Matt’s Dad went for it and has a little piece of the tropics far, far from the banana plantations of Central America.
Bravo – I salute you, zone-pusher!

Where to Find Sand Pear Trees


Mary wonders where to find sand pear trees like the ones she enjoyed as a child:

“I am in Central Florida (Orlando / Ocoee area) and I currently have Apple, Pear, Mango, Avocado, Lemon, Lime, Tangelo, Red Grapefruit, Starfruit, Blueberries, Grapes (muscadine and seedless), Raspberries, Blackberries, Strawberry, Pineapples, Miracle Fruit, Red and White Mulberries, Fig, Banana, Apricot, Loquat, Florida Peach, Surinam Cherry, Barbados Cherry, Red Navel Orange, Passion Fruit. I’ve had Jackfruit and Goji berry, but I’m afraid they didn’t make it last drought that I didn’t baby them. Most of mine are in containers. I want to get a good Sand Pear like my childhood neighbor had. They were really crisp and crunchy and made the best pear pies and cakes. I can’t seem to find it locally and I don’t know what else to look for. The neighbor called it a Sand Pear or Sandpaper pear. The skin was rough, with a greenish/brown base color with brown spots. Any idea what else it might be called or where I can get a few of these? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.”

Hey… that’s a GREAT selection of fruits, Mary!

Now let’s hunt down some pears for you.

Sand Pear Tree Varieties

Pineapple, Hood, Baldwin, Flordahome and Orient are common pears. In my opinion, Pineapple is the best sand pear of the lot.

There is a very good report here on sand pears in Florida.

Little seems to have changed over the decades.

I planted a range of low-chill Florida pear varieties in my North Florida food forest, including Hood, Baldwin, Orient, Flordahome, Pineapple and Kieffer. All were doing well when I sold the property. I was also trying to figure out where to pack in a Le Conte but never got around to it.

In addition to these named varieties, you can also sometimes find mature, productive pear trees growing on old farms and homesteads.

I once got some scion wood in the spring from a venerable old pear, then grafted it onto one of my named types.

I also grafted pears onto hawthorns.

sand pear trees can be grafted onto other pears and hawthorns

Pears are really easy to graft, so if you ever come across old sand pear trees growing somewhere – fear not – you can take pieces home with you and add those varieties to your own orchard. Most people are happy to share a branch and will be fascinated with your desire to graft their tree onto one of yours. It sounds like mad science stuff, but grafting is easy.

Good sources for sand pear trees in the northern part of the state include Chestnut Hill Tree Farm near Gainesville, Blue Star Nursery in Hawthorne, and Just Fruits and Exotics, located south of Tallahassee in Crawfordville.

Finally, I did a full post not too long ago on pear varieties for the south – check that out here.

And for more ideas on what to plant in a Florida orchard, check out this post.


How to Germinate Jackfruit Seeds


Today we’ll cover how to germinate jackfruit seeds.

First – here’s my video on jackfruit germination:

About Jackfruit

Jackfruit are a very productive tropical tree and a relative of mulberries, breadfruit and figs.

They also are capable of bearing the largest fruit on the planet.

Look at this one!

germinate jackfruit

Image from Sin Chew Daily

The guy on the left is like “TAKE THE PICTURE ALREADY!”

Inside the jackfruit and around the seeds is a delicious, tropical-sweet flesh like nothing else on earth.

sprout jackfruit seed

The trees bear abundantly and require little care to cover you in Jackfruit. Even in South Florida, somewhat outside their normal range, jackfruit can do excellently – as my friends Chuck and Sarah can attest.


But how do you grow your own jackfruit tree?


Let’s germinate some jackfruit seeds, shall we?

How to Germinate Jackfruit Seeds

Germinating jackfruit seeds isn’t hard but you do need to start with fresh seed as the seeds dry out and die quickly.

Obtaining Jackfruit Seeds

You’ll have to find for an ethnic market to obtain jackfruit unless you’re lucky enough to live someplace where jackfruit are regularly grown.

Now you know my favorite source for rare edible plants. Go and hunt.

Open that jackfruit up and save those seeds.

Here’s how my wife opens jackfruit now:

After you’re done munching on delicious jackfruit and cleaning the latex off everything in the kitchen, it’s time to plant the jackfruit seeds.

Jackfruit seeds look like fat beans. If you don’t have time to plant them right away, just set them aside on the counter – they’ll keep for a few days.

Don’t put them in the fridge!

Jackfruit have very little tolerance for cold and you may kill the seeds. If you need to keep them for a week or more, put the seeds in some moist soil or with a damp paper towel. They may rot or sprout if you leave them for too long, so it’s better to plant quickly.

Planting Jackfruit Seeds


You can plant jackfruit seeds in pots, but direct-seeding jackfruit also works quite well.

If you use pots, make sure you pick deeper ones. Jackfruit like to send roots down fast and deep and will rapidly outgrow a small pot.

Here’s a video where I plant jackfruit seeds right in the ground:

They grew well, then I thinned the cluster of sprouts down to one tree. It’s been less than a year and that tree is about 3′ tall now.

Plant your seeds 2″ deep and wait. It will take a month or two for them to come up. Be patient and keep them watered. Before planting, I often soak seeds in water overnight in case they’ve dried out a bit. It seems to help.

Jackfruit come up with long, thin green shoots that resolve into two little leaves at the top.

My friend Amanda had this one come up in her compost heap – it’s a good example:

Jackfruit seed sprout

Remember: jackfruit do much better in the ground than they do in pots. Get them in the ground once they’re a decent size and get them growing with lots of compost.

How Long Does it Take a Jackfruit to Bear from Seed?

Some sites will say it takes years and years for a jackfruit to bear from seed but this isn’t necessarily correct. The tree in our yard apparently started bearing at about 5 years of age. Your mileage may vary.

Jackfruit grow quickly and like water, fertile soil and plenty of sun. Light frosts may kill young trees but older trees can take some cold.

I cover the potential for growing jackfruit outside their range in my book Push the Zone: The Good Guide to Growing Tropical Plants Beyond the Tropics.

So – what are you waiting for? Go ye out and germinate jackfruit seeds!


Lethal Yellowing


After much scientific chopping with a machete, I believe this tree was dying from lethal yellowing.

There are weevils that lay eggs in the center of palm trees, then the developing larvae tunnel the tree to death. In this case, there were no weevils. The symptoms also look to me like the dreaded lethal yellowing.

Lethal Yellowing

Lethal yellowing is a disease of palms which swept through South Florida decades ago and took out many of the iconic palms lining roads and parks.

According to Infogalactic:

“There is a direct connection between green lawns and the spread of lethal yellowing in Florida. Even so-called ‘resistant cultivars’ such as the Malayan Dwarf or the Maypan hybrid between that dwarf and the Panama Tall were never claimed to have a 100% immunity.The nymphs of the planthoppers develop on roots of grasses, hence the areas of grass in the vicinity of palm trees is connected with the spread of this phytoplasma disease. The problem arose as a direct result of using coconut and date palms for ornamental and landscaping purposes in lawns, golf courses and gardens together with these grasses. When these two important food palms were grown in traditional ways (without grasses) in plantations and along the shores, the palm groves weren’t noticeably affected by lethal yellowing. There is no evidence that disease can be spread when instruments used to cut an infected palm are then used to cut or trim a healthy one. Seed transmission has never been demonstrated, although the phytoplasma can be found in coconut seednuts, but phytosanitary quarantine procedures that prevent movement of coconut seed, seedlings and mature palms out of an LY epidemic area should be applied to grasses and other plants that may be carrying infected vectors.”

See – there’s another reason not to keep your yard nice!

The symptoms exhibited by this unfortunately coconut palm mesh with what I read at UF about lethal yellowing disease:

“As foliage discoloration advances up through the crown (canopy), the spear (youngest) leaf collapses and hangs down in the crown. This indicates the apical meristem (bud or growing point of the palm) has died.

For most palm species, including coconuts, death of the apical meristem usually occurs when one-half to two-thirds of the crown has become yellow or brown. However, for Phoenix species and Borassus flabellifer, spear leaf collapse and death of the apical meristem occurs when one-third or less of the crown has become discolored (Figure 15). For Adonidia and Veitchia, the spear is usually unaffected until after all other leaves have died.

Once this spear leaf breaks off or falls from the crown, it is not readily apparent that the apical meristem (bud) has died.

Eventually, the entire crown of the palm withers and topples, leaving a bare trunk standing. Infected palms usually die within 3 to 5 months after the first appearance of symptoms.”


Yep. That’s what happens.

How I Plan to Deal with Lethal Yellowing

Unfortunately, there’s not a foolproof cure for the disease. UF admits as much, even in giving a treatment plan:

“Chemical control of LY is achieved by application of the antibiotic oxytetracycline HCl (often referred to as OTC) administered to palms by liquid injection into the trunk

As a therapeutic measure, systemic treatment on a 4-month treatment schedule should begin as early in symptom expression as possible. Symptomatic palms with >25% discolored leaves should be removed, since they are unlikely to respond to OTC treatment. For susceptible Phoenix species, if the apical meristem (bud) is already dead, the palm will not respond to OTC treatment.

The antibiotic can also be used preventively to protect palms when LY is known to occur in the area. The amount recommended depends on the size of the treated palm. Always follow directions for use on the label.

The one question often asked regarding OTC injections concerns the length of time one must continue to inject. Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer. The antibiotic does not necessarily kill the phytoplasma but simply reduces or suppresses the phytoplasma population in the palm to a level that is no longer harmful, allowing resumption of normal growth of the palm. If injections are stopped, it is possible the phytoplasma will begin to increase once again and symptoms will reappear on the palm. Alternatively, if the disease is still active in the area, the unprotected palm could be re-infected with the phytoplasma.

Disease management via control of planthopper populations is insufficient to justify repeated insecticide applications in landscapes. Planthoppers are flying insects, and they also can be blown around by wind.

Use of host palm resistance represents the most practical long-term solution for LY control.”

There are varieties here in Central America that are being tested for lethal yellowing resistance.

For now, I am cutting down infected specimens…


…and I am planting more coconuts around this property. Coconuts out in the wild and on the beaches don’t seem to be dying all that much, even as the ones around houses are.

Hollywood Blvd in Hollywood, Florida, used to be lined with Jamaican King palm trees – a large, beautiful coconut palm.

Lethal yellowing killed many of them and then, in 1989, the news went out that the trees would be replaced with a hybrid royal palm:

“On Wednesday, city commissioners agreed to spend $247,000 to plant 233 Maypan palms on the beach and 30 royal palms on Hollywood Boulevard.

“If we`re going to have a Hollywood, we`ve got to have royal palms on Hollywood Boulevard,“ City Commissioner John Williams said.

Hundreds of Jamaican tall coconut palms already are planted on the beach, and about 200 royal palms line Hollywood Boulevard from Young Circle to the Intracoastal Waterway.

But some of the existing trees have been harmed by fungus and lethal yellowing disease, as well as improper pruning by city employees, said Jerry Behrmann, who owns Key Lime Landscape Nursery and was hired to plant the new palms.

Behrmann said he expected to begin the beach plantings within two weeks, but was not sure how soon the trees would be planted on the boulevard.

The Maypans, a hybrid created to resist lethal yellowing, will stand about 20 feet high, or about 10 feet shorter than the Jamaican talls on the beach. The new royal palms, about 20 feet tall, will be dwarfed by the old 60- to 70-foot palms that dot the boulevard.”

The Boulevard is beautiful now thanks to those palms, but I can imagine how much more tropical it would have looked with those towering coconut palms.

All gone, thanks to lethal yellowing.

“Blight comes at you fast,” as the insurance company says, right?


Gardening in Shells and Mango Propagation


I’ve got two questions from a reader I’ll answer today today: gardening in shells and mango propagation. Let’s jump in!

Deniz writes:

Hope you and your family feel much better since the car accident. It has finally rained today after weeks of drought, I hope it rains in the tropics soon too. I had questions about starting my own mango trees. What do you things is the easiest method to start from seed and can mangoes also be grown from cuttings? I am also planning on making a food forest with mango as the main large tree, the only problem is that that soil was infilled with shells to about a depth of two feet, what would be a easier method to grow trees in this substrate then digging it all up and replacing? The sediment that it produces is white and does not retain water and contain any organic matter. In the summer weeds grow all of the garden except for this area, and this area is the only area large enough to make a food forest as I have a small yard.”

Let’s attack mango propagation first:

Mango Propagation

Growing Mangoes from Seed

Mangoes are very easy to grow from seed.

Take seeds right from fresh fruit and don’t allow them to dry out. Plant them an inch or two deep in potting soil or compost and keep them watered. It usually takes about a month from them to germinate. Years ago when I started my first mango from seed, I read that if the pit sends up multiple sprouts, it will produce “true to type.” If it sends up a single shoot, it’s a wildcard.

Some sites recommend cutting open the husk of a mango seed and just planting the embryo. This may increase your germination rates but I haven’t found it necessary. If you do open it up, you can see whether it’s polyembryonic or monoembyronic, i.e. a multiple or single-shoot type. The polyembryonic seeds have multiple sections inside them.

If it’s a single-shoot seedling you get, don’t worry. It will likely give you fruit, but if you want a specific type of fruit, you’ll have to graft to make sure you get that.

Fortunately, mangoes are very easy to graft. My grafting video demonstrates multiple easy methods, and there are more online.

This page has a lot on mango propagation, plus grafting.

Growing Mangoes from Cuttings

Mangoes are not normally grown from cuttings.

Seedlings or grafting would be my recommendation, though from rumors on the ‘net some people have apparently rooted them from cuttings.

I tried air-layering my Grandpa’s mango tree without luck and eventually gave up. That’s a more forgiving method than cuttings and if it didn’t work, well, I just don’t want to bother. Seeds it is!

Gardening on Shells

The shell fill sounds like the problem with many gardens in the Florida Keys. High pH, no water retention, almost zero organic matter.

According to UF:

“On our type of lime rock fill soils, with high pH, minor elements will become insoluble in water. This is of concern since unless something is dissolved in water, it cannot be absorbed by plant roots, even though it may be present in the soil in high levels. With the addition of organic matter such as composted plant materials, mulch or leaf litter, the soil pH can be lowered. Over time, the area with added organic matter can be fertilized with minor elements. The elements will stay soluble and plants will produce healthy vigorous growth and happiness for you.”

I’m a member of Steve Solomon’s Soils and Health Group on Yahoo so I sent your question on gardening in shells by them for more insight.

Russel Lopez wrote back:

“I’m not familiar with mango trees, but I don’t think I would go to all the trouble of digging out substrate, unless you have access to heavy equipment and lots of good fill to replace it with. You would essentially be making a pot in the ground.”

He then linked to this article, which notes:

“Early studies of tree roots from the 1930s, often working in easy-to-dig loess soils, presented an image of trees with deep roots and root architecture that mimicked the structure of the top of the tree. The idea of a deeply-rooted tree became embedded as the typical root system for all trees. Later work on urban trees that were planted in more compacted soils more often found very shallow, horizontal root systems. Urban foresters have successfully spent a lot of energy trying to make people understand that tree roots have a basically horizontal orientation, to the point that even many tree professionals now believe that deep roots in trees are a myth. The truth lies somewhere in between deep roots and shallow roots.”

I have read that gardeners in the Keys will hack holes right into the compacted lime rock and shell mix, fill with some soil, then plant. The trees survive and thrive.
I would make a hole a few times the size of the root ball, put in some local earth, then plant. Mulch, keep it watered, and see what happens. Trees are very resilient. If you don’t have rock beneath, the roots should find what they need. Watch for pH issues, though. If the leaves yellow, I recommend adding some sulfur as well.
You can also foliar feed with compost tea and/or a balanced fertilizer containing micronutrients. Steve Solomon recommended Dyna-Gro to me but I haven’t had the chance to try it yet.
Good luck and send me updates! I would love to hear how your mangoes grow.
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