Gardeners living in frost-free climates who are looking for a handsome tropical fruit tree should consider growing a mango tree (Mangifera indica). The large fruits taste similar to a peach and one tree produces enough mangos you'll be sharing them with everyone you know.
Basic Fruit and Tree Description
Mangos are large evergreen trees that grow approximately 90 feet tall and wide at maturity, so they need a large space in the landscape for proper growth. They are long-lived trees with specimens living as long as 300 years and still producing fruit. Large leaves grow over a foot in length and while young are reddish and green, turning completely green at maturity.
- Fruits - The fruits, classified as drupes, come in various colors, sizes and shapes, depending on type and cultivar and are oval, round, or oblong. They weigh as little as several ounces up to five pounds. The fruit's various colors include green, yellowish-green, orange, red, purple or a combination of several colors.
- Seeds - Each mango contains one seed, which is either monoembryonic or polyembryonic. Poyembryonic seeds produce an offspring that is identical to the mother tree and monoembryonic seeds produce hybrids, carrying traits of both parent trees.
There are two basic types of mango trees, the Indochinese and Indian. The basic differences between the two are the type of seed and coloration of fruit.
- Indian types produce the most colorful fruits and monoembryonic seeds.
- Indochinese types produce green to yellowish fruits and polyembryonic seeds.
Selecting a Tree
Mangos are fast-growers, and nurseries commonly sell the tree in three-gallon containers and averaging around four feet tall, when the tree is about six months old. Mango trees around a year old and averaging around seven feet tall grow in five- to seven-gallon containers so the root system doesn't become root bound. Avoid selecting a tree that is outgrowing its container because it might never grow properly once planted.
Check the foliage for signs of pests or diseases. The foliage should be healthy without blemishes, discoloration or curling, as they could be signs of a serious health problem or the presence of pests.
Required Growing Conditions
Mangos grown in their preferred conditions are abundant fruit producers. Consider the tree's large size at maturity when selecting a site. Select a location that is at least 30 feet away from any structures, trees or electrical wires, which allows the tree to obtain its natural size and shape without interference.
Preferred Climate and Frost Protection
Mango trees are hardy growing in tropical and subtropical climates located in USDA zones 10 through 11 and in the southern portions of zone 9 given winter protection. Mature mango trees suffer foliage damage at 25 degrees Fahrenheit, and flowers and fruits die when temperatures dip to 40 degrees F. However, a young mango tree can suffer death when winter temperatures dip to 30 degrees F.
Due to the tree's large size at maturity, it's almost impossible to cover the tree in the event of an unexpected frost or freeze, which is a rarity in zones 10 and 11. When smaller, gardeners can hang holiday lights throughout the tree to keep it warm or cover with sheets or burlap. Before the cold-snap hits, water the root system well to help it retain heat.
For the best growth and production of flowers and fruit, grow mango trees in a full-sun site. If growing young trees in a greenhouse before transplanting in a location outdoors, make sure it receives high-light either artificially or through natural light. Mango trees do not make suitable indoor plants due to their size and requirements for growth and fruiting. However, if you are attempting to propagate the seed indoors and keeping the sapling indoors until it reaches approximately 1-foot tall, make sure to locate where it receives full-sun or bright light through artificial lighting.
Mango trees are not particular about the type of soil as long as it drains well, is loose and deep, and doesn't have a tendency to become boggy. They perform best in soils with a pH of 5.5 to 7.5.
Adding topsoil or fertilizer to the native soil isn't necessary when planting a mango into the landscape and adding either straight into the planting hole isn't advised and can impede the tree's growth. If you desire to amend the planting site with topsoil or compost, work the organic material into the native soil, making sure the ratio is 50-50.
If the planting site has a tendency to flood due to heavy rainfall, grow the mango on a mound to raise the root system out of the saturated conditions. Create a mound out of the native soil that is approximately three feet high and ten feet wide.
If growing a mango tree from seed, use a three-gallon container so you won't have to disturb the root system until you plant it into the ground when it's around two to four feet in height. It takes the fast-growing tree approximately four to six months for it to achieve this height. Make sure the container has bottom drainage so the sapling and seed don't rot. Use a well-drained potting mix in the container.
Steps for Planting Developed Trees
After selecting an appropriate planting site with the preferred conditions, planting a mango tree is relatively basic.
- Remove any grass or weeds from the planting site, creating a vegetation-free area approximately four feet in diameter. Keep the area free of growth as this lessens the chance of damaged to the trunk and roots from the use of lawn equipment and digging.
- Dig a hole that is three times as deep and wide of the container holding the mango tree. Creating a large hole loosens the soil so the mango's deep taproot has an easier time spreading throughout the area.
- Backfill the hole with enough of the excavated soil so the mango sits at the same level it was growing inside the nursery container. You do not want to plant the tree deeper than it was growing in its container as it puts undue stress on the tree.
- Fill the hole halfway with soil and tamp it down around the roots and water to help remove air pockets. Fill the remainder of the hole with soil.
- Water the planting site, thoroughly saturating the root system.
Steps for Planting Mango Seeds
When attempting to propagate a mango tree from seed, it's best to use a fresh mango that hasn't been purchased from the grocery store. Due to cold storage temperatures and sterilization processes, grocery store seeds aren't always viable. Mangos grown from seed usually flower and begin bearing fruit in three years.
- Fill a 3 gallon draining container with a well-drained potting mix and place the seed pointy side down into the center of the container. Plant the seed at soil level and not too deep.
- Water the container after planting and keep the soil moist through weekly water applications.
- Place the container in a sunny location and the seed should sprout in about one month.
Continued Growth Requirements
Mango trees have some continued requirements for healthy growth. Trees with their growth requirements met will begin to flower and produce fruit in approximately three years.
Newly planted mango trees require water several times weekly until the tree's root system establishes itself into the planting site, which generally takes eight weeks. Thereafter, and unless conditions are rainy, continue watering the tree weekly. Reduce water amounts to once to twice a month during fall and winter.
Mango trees benefit from regular applications of fertilizer, but do not over-fertilize to keep from burning the tree. Use a product designed for fruit trees or with an analysis of 6-6-6 or 21-0-0 and follow product instructions on amounts. Divide the applications into three to four applications applied every other month through late summer. Spread the fertilizer evenly under the canopy and scratch into the soil, being sure not to butt the product against the tree's trunk. Water the fertilizer into the soil.
Pruning a young mango tree's lateral branches during the first year creates a bushier tree with a stronger frame that produces more flowers and fruits. Mature trees do not require additional pruning other than to remove dead, damaged or diseased branches. Trim off the damaged section just into live wood. If a frost or freeze damages the tree, wait until spring to trim off the affected areas. If the tree requires pruning to control its shape or size, wait until the tree has flowered and fruited. Heavily pruned mango trees can take an entire season before flowering and fruiting again.
Disease and Pest Problems
Several pests and diseases can infect mango trees. The best prevention is to grow in preferred conditions and keep the area underneath the tree free of fallen leaves and debris
Mangos are susceptible to the soil-borne diseases anthracnose and verticillium wilt, along with the common diseases powdery mildew and red rust. Anthracnose can be treated with a copper spray but those with verticillium wilt will experience the foliage browning and wilting, leading the mango's eventual death. Powdery mildew and red rust can both be treated with a copper fungicide.
Over-fertilizing mango trees with too much nitrogen causes the condition soft nose. Fruits affected by the condition will shrivel at their top. Control the condition by applying the correct amount of fertilizer and not overdoing it by applying too much.
Sooty mold is a fungal problem associated with the presence of sap-sucking insects such as thrips, mealybugs and scale as they secrete honeydew. A thick black substance covers the foliage and usually isn't life threatening. If the mold infestation is heavy, remove by washing the foliage off with a strong blast of water or by using a weak solution of dish soap and water.
Common pests infesting mango trees include scale, mealybugs, thrips and mites. The insects suck sap from the tree's foliage and bark. A close inspection of the foliage and branches will usually show the insects attached to the area. If the infestation isn't large, blast them off the tree using water. Use an insecticidal soap or oil to control the insects if the infestation is heavy and follow label directions for mixing and applying. To keep from burning the mango's foliage, apply the insecticide in the early morning or late in the afternoon when conditions aren't sunny.
Mango fruits are ready for harvesting anywhere from three to five months after flowering. Allowing the fruit to ripen on the tree guarantees the best taste. However, you can pick the fruit right as it begins to ripen and allow it to ripen at room temperature. The flesh changes from white to yellow and the top of the mango starts to change color when it's ready for harvesting. Once picked, it takes several days to a week for the fruit to ripen.
Some people are allergic to the sap so wear gloves when harvesting the fruit and snip the fruit from the tree with hand pruners instead of pulling it off. Mangos bruise easily, so handle the picked fruits with care and wash the sap off the fruit to keep it from spotting and rotting. If you can't use all the fruits at once, they will hold on the tree for several months in the ripe stage without going bad. Depending on the tree's age, a mature mango tree around 10 years old can produce over 200 fruits yearly, with the crop increasing each year.
A Tropical and Tasty Delight
With a little attention and care, your mango tree should be a healthy and attractive addition to the landscape for years to come and give you a bounty of fruits. Bring the topics to the table by eating the fruit fresh, use in drinks, desserts, jellies, jams or in chutney.