4 Tropical Fruits You Can Grow Right in Your Backyard
The Valley boasts ideal conditions for growing exotic fruit well beyond the typical citrus. To cultivate your own tropical fruit salad, try these selections recommended by Alex Peña of Tropica Mango Nursery in Apache Junction. (tropicamango.com)
By Lori A. Johnson
Ice Cream Banana
(Musa acuminata x balbisiana ‘Blue Java’)
• Herbaceous perennial • White blooms; spring and summer • 10′-15’H by 8′-10’W • Well-drained, sandy soil • Zones 8-11 • Full sun • Frequent water; low maintenance
Technically an herbaceous perennial, bananas spread via underground rhizomes. These cold-hardy plants do best in full sun and need frequent watering every few days in summer. They will flower within two years of planting, followed by first harvest in 3-5 months.
Why we like it: “Regarded as one of the best-tasting bananas for its custardlike consistency and flavor reminiscent of vanilla ice cream, the skin of this banana is distinctively silvery-blue before turning the familiar yellow when ripe,” Peña tells us. They are a unique addition to a variety of recipes, such as smoothies or banana bread, but they can also be cooked like a plantain.
• Tree • White blooms; spring • 10′-32’H by 8′-32’W • Well-drained organic soil • Zones 9-12 • Full sun • Moderate water; low maintenance • Attracts honeybees
Guava trees are easy to grow in the Valley and have maintenance needs similar to citrus in terms of shaping, pruning and removal of suckers. However, they are susceptible to frost and should be protected. There are many named cultivars, each with its own distinctive shape, color and flavor.
Why we like it: “Guava ripens in the late summer and has a very short shelf life, so fresh fruit is rarely available outside of regions where it’s locally grown,” says Peña. “Ripe guava is delightfully perfume-scented and makes a delicious addition to a fruit salad, punch or just eaten fresh. It also makes a wonderful preserve.”
• Tree • White blooms; late fall • 10′-25’H by 10′-25’W • Well-drained loamy soil • Zones 8-10 • Full sun to partial shade • Moderate water; low maintenance • Attracts bees
Loquat is prized for its compact size, attractive foliage, fragrant flowers that bloom throughout late fall and early winter, as well as its small, oval to pear-shaped, edible fruit that ripen in spring. Several cultivars are available that are somewhat drought-tolerant once established.
Why we like it: “Loquat fruit has the texture of a pear and tastes like a blend of apricot with tropical overtones. Fruit is typically eaten fresh but produces so heavily you might want to consider canning the surplus. It also makes wonderful turnovers and pies,” Peña notes.
• Tree • White blooms; spring and fall • 8′-20’H by 8′-20’W • Well-drained organic soil • Zones 9B-11 • Full to partial sun • Moderate water; low maintenance • Attracts bees, birds
A subtropical fruit from Central America that resembles a Chinese lantern, this eight-ribbed botanical berry is unrelated to the more commonly known cherry from the Prunus genus. This plant tolerates temperatures down to the low 30s and does well in the Valley’s sun and heat once established.
Why we like it: “The fruit is juicy with a liquorlike flavor similar to a pickled or maraschino cherry,” Peña says. The berries range from 0.5 to 2 inches in diameter depending on the amount of water the plant receives, and taste the sweetest when allowed to ripen to dark red, almost black, in color.