Tammy Weiss is a Master Gardener living with her husband and son and six rescued dogs, where she regularly writes about her trials and mistrials in the garden and life.

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Growing Tropical Fruit in the Midwest
by Tammy Weiss       #Edibles   #Fruit   #Trees

Small oranges can grow in abundance with the right conditions.

With the cold winter behind and the warm, humid summer just about here, I begin to dream of the tropics, and with that, the full-flavored, juicy fruit whose sweet fragrances fill outdoor markets and lone fruit stands on the side roads. Sadly though, with the economy not cooperating and the present fashion to have stay-cations, I have decided I could and would have both. Thus began my search for the ever-elusive tropical fruits that I could grow in my backyard garden.

After searching through the Internet, surfing, visiting chat groups and blogs, I decided to visit and call upon some of the best garden nurseries in my area. What I walked away with after a week of investigation was simply that I still knew very little of what would grow in my area. With that said, I decided to go to a knowledgeable source and drove to the Krohn Conservatory in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Once at the Krohn, I met with Mark House, the green space manager and resident expert on tropical fruits, and Andrea Schepmann, the general manager of the Krohn Conservatory, who was equally excited to share her knowledge and interest in growing tropical fruit.

Mark explained to me that while the Midwest is not the ideal zone for tropical fruits and plants, many people grow tropical plants with great success. With application of the correct information there is no reason why interested gardeners cannot have a limitless selection of tropical fruits in their gardens to enjoy.

There is no getting around that when looking for a tropical fruit plant, our homework truly needs to be done. There are a number of forums available online that can answer just about every question you have. We need to be educated and informed as there are unscrupulous vendors that will sell you a plant that might not really be what they say it is. For instance, you thought you were buying a “dwarf” plant and now you have a small redwood-sized fig growing on your back porch, or that your plant was “self pollinating” and it wasn’t, and now two years later you still do not have any fruit. So, arming yourself with as much information as possible is your best course of action.

With the exclusion of the pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba), which is happily a native to 26 states, and provides a sweet, healthy creamy fruit reminiscent of banana cream pie, gardeners have a number of other tropical fruit choices, listed below. These plants will produce fruit in the right setting with correct lighting, temperatures, and fertilization types and schedules.

Tropical fruits are most always preceeded by equally beautiful and fragrant flowers, as seen here with these ‘Improved Meyer’ lemon flowers.

Although Key limes are a favorite, many other varieties of limes should not be overlooked.

Rose apples (Syzygium jambos)
This plant is usually sold as a seed although it only takes about three years for seedlings to start to flower and shortly thereafter produce fruit. These plants are slow growers and may be kept in a container and trained either as a small tree or kept as a shrub. The fruit has a taste and consistency of apple with a sweet aftertaste and smell of roses. 

Dwarf common fig (Ficus carica) 
Fig trees can grow quite happily in containers that are moved indoors once the outside temperatures reach below 40 F. These trees are self-pollinating and prolific producers twice a year.

Lemon and citrus trees most often recommended are: ‘Improved Meyer’ lemon tree, believed to be a lemon and mandarin hybrid; Key lime (Citrus aurantifolia), a perennial favorite; and navel oranges (Citrus sinensis ‘Washington’). All of these plants can be kept in containers  and pruned easily into the shape and habit you desire. When fertilizing, use only one specified for citrus. If you cannot find this kind of fertilizer, purchase one that has two times the amount of nitrogen than phosphorus and potassium. Note: At the present time, citrus cannot be acquired from Florida sources as it is presently being quarantined for citrus canker disease.

Strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum)
This is a small tree, which makes this a great addition to any container garden. It produces a fruit with a strawberry flavor with aftertones of spice. The strawberry guava is hardy to 22 F, and has glossy, evergreen leaves and attractive fragrant flowers. 

Starfruit (Averrhoa carambola) 
Can be container grown and pruned into a workable size, although that may affect the amount of fruit you will harvest.

Persimmon (Diospyros kaki)
Available in a dwarf size, the fruit is available in a large color selection of reds and oranges. This plant needs to be cared for on a regular basis with use of a balanced fertilizer such as a 10-10-10, and pruning if it is to be expected to fruit. Note: Too much nitrogen will cause fruit drop.

Coffee (Coffea arabica)
The coffee plant actually produces a fruit and it is the stone or “bean” in the center from which we derive the beverage “coffee.” This is a plant that not only is attractive and easy to grow, it contains a diverse and relatively unknown history, such as its contribution to the Industrial Age and how “coffee breaks” really came about. The coffee plant can be considered a fairly “needy” plant since it needs to be placed in a wind-free, temperature stable, indirect lighted area. The reward is in three to five years the plant will first set fragrant flowers, which will then be followed by the fruit bean.


The above are only a small but interesting list of possibilities that await the Midwest gardener.

(Photos by Tammy Weiss)


Posted: 06/15/11   RSS | Print


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