Delicious and exotic, tropical fruits like mangoes, guavas, passionfruit, kiwifruit and lychees are easy to grow and cultivate, making them the ideal crop for the home gardener wanting a taste of paradise in the backyard.
True to their origins, these fruits thrive in a tropical or semi-tropical location but it is possible to grow them in cooler areas of Australia.
‘To grow exotic fruit you’ll need a protected, north-facing area with a wall behind it so the space can heat up,’ says Aymon Gow, manager of Tropical Fruit World in northern NSW.
‘This will provide a warmer microclimate similar to the tropics.
‘I’ve seen bananas growing in New Zealand and mangoes growing in Melbourne this way.
‘As long as they’re protected from frost, wind and temperature extremes, the plants will be fine.’
Aymon says it’s also possible to grow tropical fruit in cooler and temperate areas in a hothouse.
Most of the 15,000 different types of tropical fruits can be cultivated this way in Australia.
‘The best places for growing tropical fruit in Australia is Far North Queensland, from Innisfail to Port Douglas,’ Aymon says.
‘Northwards from Coffs Harbour you can grow all subtropical and tropical fruit along the coastline, as we have really good soil there.’
Australia’s west coast, on the other hand, is climatically not suitable for growing tropical fruit.
‘In WA it’s dry, you have the winds and there’s an issue with too much temperature variance.
‘You often have really hot days then a really cold night with a range of about 13 degrees, so most tropical plants really suffer.’
If you can provide a suitable location, tropical plants are very easy for home gardeners to cultivate, prune and harvest.
The key to growing healthy, high-yielding tropical fruit is having well-drained and friable soil.
‘They’re fast-growing plants so they need a lot of water and food for energy,’ says Aymon.
For best results, he suggests adding manure, using a specific fruit fertiliser and mulching with organic matter.
‘All-in-one fertilisers are great as they have all the trace elements needed for trees to produce fruit.’
TIP Keep plants well pruned so you can always reach the fruit at the top.
Choosing the right plants
Lychees were introduced Down Under by Chinese gold fossickers in the 1870s and Australia now boasts the longest growing and production season of lychees in the world.
GROW the Kwai Mai Pink variety, which thrives in most warm areas, but be aware that it takes three or four years for a tree to produce fruit.
Lychees were introduced Down Under by Chinese gold fossickers in the 1870s
Sapodilla is also known as chiku and has a sugar content of up to 60, making it one of the sweetest fruits. It tastes like pear in brown sugar.
GROW in the Northern Territory or tropical north Queensland in well-drained soil with regular water. Young trees like shade protection but older plants need full sun.
Sapodilla is also known as chiku and has a sugar content of up to 60
Kiwifruit are generally ready to pick in early winter but can hang on the vine for weeks. The ripe fruit have an intensely floral, wine-like smell. Eat fresh or use for sorbet.
GROW on a trellis built for the vine and prune well during winter. They are susceptible to cold and frost damage so protect young plants.
Kiwifruit are generally ready to pick in early winter but can hang on the vine for weeks
Guavas are ripe when they still feel slightly firm but give a bit under pressure. The pulp and juice can be eaten fresh or used to make syrups, preserves, ice-creams or jellies.
GROW these shrubby trees for their evergreen form. The pineapple guava bears colourful flowers and fruits well in temperate climates.
Guavas are ripe when they still feel slightly firm but give a bit under pressure
Five-star fruit are green skinned when immature and ripen to orange, although the Haitian variety develops to a rich purple. The flesh is sweet, smooth and highly aromatic.
GROW the tree for eating and for landscaping as the underside of the leaves is a beautiful bronze, making it ideal for backyard colour.
Five-star fruit are green skinned when immature and ripen to orange
Custard apples have a delicious flavour and rich, creamy texture. Eat them raw like regular apples in fruit salads or use for ice-cream.
GROW in a hot area with high humidity as they are sensitive to cold and wind. The African Pride variety is a small tree with small fruit, while Pink Mammoth produces large fruit.
Custard apples have a delicious flavour and rich, creamy texture
This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Australian Handyman magazine