Tropical Gardening: Mango and papaya thrive in the heat

  • Courtesy photo Often referred to as the king of fruits, along with several others depending on taste, you can have delicious fresh mango from May to November. The remainder of the time, the fruit is imported and not as delicious as locally grown.

We usually think of lush tropical gardens when Hawaii comes to mind, but much of our land especially on the leeward side is desert. There are many delectable fruits that actually do best where conditions are hot and dry. Figs, pomegranates, papaya and dates are just a few that come to mind, but mangoes are by far the most popular.

Mango trees will grow almost anywhere on the island from sea level to 2500 feet elevation, but where conditions are too wet the fruit is often damaged by fungus diseases. There are literally scores of varieties that can produce delicious fruit from early spring to late fall.

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If you already have one or more mango trees in your garden, you may have noticed some things that reduce the quantity or quality of your fruit. Here are some tips. If we have wet weather when the trees begin to flower in December, the blossoms will abort due to one or more fungus diseases. If this happens, the trees will tend to flower again, but most commercial growers will apply a recommended fungicide to keep the flower set and get an early crop.

As the fruit matures we may have wet weather that will make ideal conditions for anthracnose fungus to streak the fruit. This may also be avoided by applying a fungicide. The main insect that damages fruit is the mango seed borer. This causes the flesh to be mushy around the seed. Sanitation is the key by removing rotting fruit from the ground. Another cause of mushy flesh is calcium deficiency in our volcanic acid soils. Addition of dolomitic lime with the fertilizer schedule will avoid this problem. Trees may be fertilized two to three times per year with a formula low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus and potassium.

Another easy fruit for dryer or well drained soils is actually not a tree but a big herbaceous plant. Papaya plants are a natural for almost any garden.

Your garden can supply a generous amount of these delicious fruits. By following modern methods, you may grow many other tropical fruits as well. But one of the best is papaya.

There are several varieties, from the big watermelon fruit to the small Solo types. Most folks prefer the bisexual or Solo strain of papaya. This type produces a high percentage of top quality fruit. Seeds from the large watermelon types produce male, female and bisexual trees. Most of the male trees must be eliminated as soon as they are detected. They are identified by means of their bloom stems. These are sometimes up to more than a foot in length and have many flowers. Female blooms are produced close to the stem but have no pollen bearing stamen. Bisexual flowers have both ovary and stamen, thus can self pollinate.

Occasionally, garden shops and nurseries offer Solo papaya plants for sale, and the gardener who needs a few plants will do well so buy his plants rather than to attempt to grow them from seed. For larger numbers of plants, you may grow seed from selected fruit. Seed order forms are available from the University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service.

Here are some tips for successful papaya production. Select seeds from a fruit that you like or purchase UHCTAHR seed. Plant three of four seeds in individual containers, preferably those from which the plants and soil can be removed without injury to roots. Paper potting cups are okay for planting, as long as they have good drainage.

When seeds begin to sprout, fertilize with a soluble fertilizer once a week, mixing according to the manufacturer’s direction. It takes six to eight weeks to raise plants large enough to set out in permanent locations.

Set plants in permanent sunny locations at least eight feet apart. Put about three plants to a hill, one foot apart in the hill. Keep them there until you determine the sex, then remove the males and weak females.

Soil also must be free of nematodes causing root knot damage in papaya.

Fertilize newly set out plants once a week with soluble fertilizer for the first month. Then begin fertilizing with a regular dry garden fertilizer, applying once a month.

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A papaya plant won’t thrive in soil that is too dry or poorly drained. Mulching will help to conserve moisture. In wetter areas of the island, irrigation will only be necessary during drought periods.

With little effort your papaya plants should reward you with abundance.

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