Growing Tropical Fruits
Growing Tropical Fruits
Tropical delights you may not think possible
Many of us have started off seeds from an unusual fruit we’ve eaten just to see what grows and I’m sure the windowsills of most households have had a bonsai date, mango, litchi, custard apple or tamarind decorating them at some time. All, especially the tamarind, make very attractive houseplants.
But some of these plants can be encouraged to fruit with just a bit more attention. For instance, the Swiss cheese plant, given a big pot and more light, produces large arum-like flowers which ripen into banana-size cerimans which are delicious once ripe — the skin flakes off in little plates. If you want an impressive house plant that also crops, try ‘Eddoes’ or ‘Taro’, these are Colocasias and the ‘tubers’ are eaten, especially in West Indian cookery. Watch out for the tubers though, because they have an irritant skin.
With only a plastic tent inside a plastic tunnel, a soil warming cable and a household fan heater, I have grown and fruited all the following with surprising ease here in the UK.
Capeand other Physalis species are surprisingly easy. The seed is best ripened in the fruit till the pulp wrinkles up. The plant is perennial under cover, which flowers and fruits better the second year. It will produce prolifically throughout the summer and autumn. They can be hard pruned in late winter or early spring. They need a lot of water!
Peanuts are for the kids, of all ages. You stick them in the soil, not pots, and get compact soft-leaved little plants with yellowish leaves. When you dig them up at the end of the season you have peanuts — simple as that.
Passionfruits are equally easy, but don’t survive long, cold, damp winters well even under cover. They are so quick to grow and fruit that von can often have fruits the first winter after an early spring sowing.
Guavas surprised me. The hard object from the supermarket, hardly fit for jam, produced an attractive compact shrub that cropped in its second year with the most lusciously perfumed and succulent fruit I could imagine, as have its sisters. Try these!
Lemon grass is essential to much Eastern cuisine and is expensive to buy, yet grows like a weed in its native habitat. Look for fresh stock in the supermarket which hasn’t been cut too close to the stem leaving a tiny bit of the root crown. These will root easily if potted up and given a little bottom heat, or even in a glass of water in summer. Once growing, lemon grass makes magnificent mounds of lemon-scented grass. But beware, it can cut the fingers if mishandled – detach and trim plump new side shoots to use for flavouring.
Ginger is also expensive to buy, yet almost any part of the fresh root with a bud will grow if detached, potted and given some warmth. I grow ginger on in the warm in big buckets which, by winter, produce several pounds of root each.
However, they will flower and fruit given the time, bottom heat and a bucket-sized pot of rich, well-drained compost. Choose a good healthy crowned pineapple, cut off the crown immediately above the fruit and let it dry for several days. Then peel away the lower decaying leaves, usually you will see the first roots already there. Pot up, arrange a little bottom heat and a hot sunny position and keep the centre dry in winter. Be patient, the reward will be worth it!
Bananas are easy but only if you grow the dwarf Musa acuminata ‘Chinensis’ or ‘Cavendishif, and have the roof height because these still need about 10 feet to open their leaves. To guarantee tasty fruits, grow from an offset, not seed – the ‘bulb’ can be brought into the UK from the Canary Islands, where they are widely grown. Pot it up, until it is large enough to plant in the ground under cover, then keep it warm. In a year or two it will fruit – honest! After fruiting, cut down the ‘tree’ and allow the biggest replacement shoot to stay, removing all others.