Growing Tropical Fruits in California?

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Recently my friend Alex Silber had a “Climatic” encounter with a prospective customer who wanted to buy a papaya sapling in January.

Alex suggested re-considering because papaya saplings require full sun and warm weather to grow. But didn’t the board outside of his nursery say “Papaya Tree Nursery?” 

“Yes,” Alex mumbled under his breath. “Hmmm it should be read with a disclaimer, NOT in the WINTER.” His thoughts trailed on, “I really can’t write down everything on that board!” 

His troubles weren’t over, even though he tried to explain the vicissitudes of the cold weather on a little sapling, all the while struggling to maintain that charming smile of a perfect salesman.

The customer had a disarming argument which has divided scientists in our country in two camps: political and apolitical, and allowed the “politicians in denial” to win elections. 

“But isn’t the climate changing? We have bright sun in the month of January.” 

That’s when it dawned on Alex – the reason he chose to wear shorts on this winter morning in San Fernando Valley – Climate Change, darn it!

Lesson for salesmen: The customer is always right, and…. winter and shorts don’t go together!

But if you are serious about planting a Papaya sapling or any other tropical fruit tree, here is some advice on timing from Alex Silber:

  • When below and above ground, ambient temperatures drop below a threshold of approximately 52°F, the rate of growth for many tropical fruiting species significantly drops and active growth can temporarily stop altogether.
  • Many plants simply go to sleep, commonly referred to as a type of winter dormancy. However, for certain tropical species that lack of growth and vigor can make them vulnerable to the various soil-borne fungal pathogens so ubiquitous in most soils throughout California.
  • Taking that into consideration, I typically suggest waiting until March 1 at the earliest, to safely transplant tropical fruit trees such as mango, sapodilla (chiku/sapota) and yes, papaya.
  • I realize that when we experience relatively warm winter weather it can be easy to forget it is still winter (says the guy in shorts) so try not to let the weather fool you into planting the above mentioned during the winter months.
  • When transplanted properly, the rate of growth for papaya plants can be high reaching sexual maturity in just a few months.
  • I try to provide quality information to individuals who want to successfully grow either one tree or their own private, mini home orchard.
  • For the most part people seem appreciative of that help and I enjoy giving it willingly.

Vijay Rajvaidya is an avid gardener and he grew organic tomatoes, eggplants, green chiles, beans, cucumber, okra, squash and watermelon in his kitchen garden last summer. Vijay serves as Managing Director of India Currents Inc. 




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