Many tropical fruits do well in the Keys

KeysNet contributorMay 26, 2008 

The warm ocean currents surrounding the southern tip of Florida create a climate ideal for growing nutritious, delicious tropical fruits. Many of these fruits cannot be grown anywhere else in the continental United States.

Ron van Gageldonk, from Pine Island Nursery in Miami, cautions his customers not to plant their trees too deeply. The top of the soil in the container should be exactly the same level as the ground around it. He also advises them not to add any special garden soils around the roots, but to plant them directly in the ground where they will be growing — even in the Keys, where the soil is often poor.

When choosing a site for your tree, be sure that they will get full sun, so the mature height of the tree and the width of its canopy are important considerations. The height can vary from about 8 feet for some dwarf varieties to about 30 feet for some other trees. A safe rule would be to leave a circle of direct sunlight about 15 feet in diameter around the tree, though some small varieties could require less. So think of your space availability when selecting a tree. The experts at the fiesta will be able to answer all your questions to aid in the selection process.

After you plant your tree, it is important to water every one or two days for the first two months, if there are no heavy rains. (However, with water restrictions in place, new plantings are only exempt from the rules for 30 days.) After the first two months, you can reduce the watering to two days a week, then to one day a week. After a year or so, the tree will be mature enough to thrive without watering except in times of severe drought.

According to Kim Gabel, Environmental Horticulture Agent for the Monroe County Extension, many tropical fruits do well in the Keys. As a starter, she recommends mango, avocado, bananas, sugar apple, Barbados cherry, canistel, dragon fruit, guava, jaboticaba, pineapple and passion fruit.

In addition to proper planting and watering, she stresses the need for regular fertilization with a slow-release granular fertilizer, micronutrient foliar spray and chelated iron.

Many tropical fruits such as bananas, pineapple, and papayas ripen year-round; others only at specific times, such as avocados in July and jaboticaba in April. So with good planning, you can have fresh fruit all the time.

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