Not much can compare to the distinct, delicious flavor of tropical fruits. Although most hail from rainforests in faraway places, you don’t actually have to live in the jungle to grow them. Luckily, our hot, humid climate allows us to grow many exotic crops right here in Florida! Here are some of our favorite tropical fruits worth growing yourself:
Native to South Asia, mangoes flourish along the shores of warm regions like southern Florida. One taste of these sweet, juicy fruits, and you’ll understand why they’re considered one of the finest fruits in the world.
Like most fruit trees, you can start mangoes from seed, but it will take a lot longer to bear fruit and you never truly know what kind of fruit you will get from the seed you plant. Instead, we recommend growing from grafts – where a piece of a mature, fruit-bearing tree has been joined to a seedling tree to allow the plant to grow and harvest much faster.
Plant your grafted mango tree early in the summer, allowing the wet season to quench their young, thirsty roots. Mangoes thrive in a variety of soil types, as long as there’s adequate drainage and mulch to retain moisture and deter pesky weeds. Young trees may benefit from a small amount of fertilizer, but organic material is the best nourishment it can get. Mangoes are ready to harvest any time from May to September depending on the variety.
For those who haven’t tried it, papaya has a unique, buttery flavor and a soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture. However, it is slightly less sweet than other fruits, which is why many people don’t particularly like it. While it’s certainly something to get used to, the trick to enjoying papaya is to try it when it’s perfectly ripe! Ripe papaya is deep yellow (not orange), firm (but not hard), and smooth, with no bruising.
Papaya trees can grow in partial shade, but that doesn’t mean they should. For a luscious tree bearing lots of fruit, you’ll need to plant in ample sunshine in a nutrient-rich soil supplemented with organic matter and regular fertilization. Like other fruit trees, make sure they have good drainage and avoid overwatering.
The best thing about papaya trees is that they produce fruits all year long! Young trees are most productive, partly due to how short-lived they are. As they get older, they become more susceptible to disease and damage, so it’s wise to add a few new trees to your garden every year for a continuous supply of papaya.
Originating from South America, pineapples grow as herbaceous perennials rather than on trees. They first produce masses of individual, red bracts that join and mature into the pineapple fruit. The fruit itself sits like royalty on top of a whorl of long, thin leaves that make up the rest of the plant.
Pineapples love to soak up the sun – which shouldn’t come as a surprise since they’re a popular icon of summer! Choose a site with sandy or loamy soils, with good drainage and minimal risk of flooding. They prefer moderately fertile soil, so organic matter and occasional fertilization is welcome. Since they are slow growers, you might not see any blooming or fruiting for a couple of years, but be patient – the sweet tartness of pineapple is well worth the wait!
Also known as dragon eye trees, longans offer beautiful pale flowers and reddish growths that are stunning in a landscape. Perhaps their best feature, though, is the deliciously musky and juicy fruit that, as the name implies, resembles a dragon’s eye inside – with translucent flesh and a large black pit.
Longans should be planted in a sunny spot in well-drained and slightly acidic soil a fair distance from other trees and buildings. These trees are known for growing quite large and will need plenty of space to grow. After planting, water deeply and apply a generous layer of mulch, and water regularly throughout the fruiting season.
Dragon eye fruits, unlike many of our tropical favorites, will not continue to ripen after harvesting, so picking them at the right time is key. You’ll know they are ready when fruits turn from yellow-green to tan in color. To be certain they are ready, though, we recommend picking just one and sampling the fruit before continuing. If it’s not quite there yet, leave the remaining fruit on the tree and continue the process until the taste is just right – then harvest your entire bounty!
While you may not know it by the name “carambola”, chances are you’ve heard of this fruit for its signature shape when cut. Star fruits are known for their sweet and tart flavor that certainly tastes as delightful as the stars in the sky. High in vitamin C and entirely edible, they are jam-packed not only with flavor, but nutritional benefits that are sure to be a hit in any home.
Here in Florida, we are fortunate enough to have similar growing conditions year-round to those in Sri Lanka, the native home of carambolas. This means we can plant them just about any time of year so long as we are giving them plenty of sun and a well-drained, rich soil to grow in.
Water your carambola regularly while it is first establishing, but only when the soil is dry later in life. The same rule can be applied to fertilizer – more when they are young, but less so as they age. While it may take a couple of years for your plant to begin fruiting, the payoff is well worth it and you’ll know your star fruits are ready for harvest as they transform to a golden yellow hue.
Possibly one of the most popular fruits on the market, bananas are renowned for their delicious, soft flesh and sunny yellow disposition that is irresistible both raw and cooked.
To grow your own, you’ll need to plant your banana plant in full sun and a rich, fertile, and evenly moist soil with plenty of mulch and organic matter. As rich in potassium as they are, they will need plenty to feed on, so look for an organic material rich in both potassium and nitrogen to fuel their growth and supplement with monthly fertilization.
As it grows, remove any suckers to keep it flowering and fruiting, and consider wrapping your fruit with plastic as it grows to keep pests away. You’ll know your bananas are ready for harvesting when the flowers begin to die.
Though we may not feel like it sometimes, we’re fortunate to live in the tropical climate that we do. The cooler climates of the rest of our country aren’t nearly as friendly for growing tropical fruits, while we get to enjoy their fresh flavors all year long!