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What subtropical fruits can you get away with?

Altogether, a dozen subtropical fruits are displayed in these photographs, taken in a San Diego home garden. How many of the 12 can grow in northern California, where winters are colder? At least 10 and perhaps 11 can be grown here--some demand a mild climate and special siting and care.

We list all 12, with descriptions of their fruits and a brief summary on how each adapts to northern California's climates. several of the plants are available in nurseries. Some are rather hard to find; two groups that can help guide you to sources are listed at bottom right.

Avocado. It's widely grown in gardens in lower elevations of northern California. Many trees are seedlings that grew from seeds of market-bought fruit, started in glasses of water on kitchen windowsills.

A better way to start is with a tree from a nursery. If all conditions are favorable, an avocado will become a dense, broadleafed evergreen tree 30 feet high and even wider.

Banana. Gossip has it that some dedicated gardeners north of the Tehachapi Mountains have grown bananas outdoors and harvested edible fruit from them. One belief is that to do it you should get a variety that bears in late fall, and wrap aluminum foil around the heart-shaped swelling of the unopened flower bracts at the bottom of the stalk. One way or the other, if you have witnessed satisfactory bananas grown on outdoor plants in this area, please let us know.

Barbados cherry or acerola (Malpighia glabra). Its marble-size fruit has a berry flavor and, whole or juiced, contains much more vitamin C than oranges.

The plant that bears the berries is a 10-foot evergree shrub. Because 30[deg.] air kills it, it's almost impossible to grow in northern California. Sunset would like to hear from anyone who is growing or has grown this plant outdoors in northern California.

Cherimoya (Annon cherimola). The inside of the fruit is white with numerous black bean-like seeds. You spoon out and eat the pulp between the seeds. The taste is a combination of many tropical fruit flavors. Mark Twain called the fruit "deliciousness itself."

The plant that bears the fruit is a large shrub or small tree. It grows better in areas with some coastal influence than in hot interior valleys. It is hardy to 26[deg.].

Tropical guava (Psidium guajava). Very fragrant fruit has a pleasantly sweet flavor, sprightly and tart in some varieties. Interior color varies by type: white, pink, or red. You can eat the skin but it's not as tasty as the flesh. Tiny seeds are edible.

The plant becomes a 10-foot-high multitrunked shrub. Chancy at best in northern California, it's hardy to 26[deg.]. Best climates are coast, bay, and coastal valleys. Give it as much sun heat as possible.

Strawberry guava (P. littorale longipes). Fruits in the photograph at left are too green to be ripe; they are a deep maroon red when edible. Eat the fruit skin and all; flesh is pulpy and sweet a hint of strawberry taste.

The plant is an attractive evergreen 8- to 10-foot shrub. It grows successfully in all but the coldest spots in all low elevations of northern California.

Kiwi (Actinidia chinensis). Supermarkets have made the fruit familiar to all.

California horticulturists are still learning about its climatic needs. Varieties with high-chill requirements (600 to 800 hours below 40[deg.]) are 'Chico' and 'Hayward'. Those that need very little chill (100 hours or less of 40[deg.] or lower) are 'Vincent' and 'Tewi'. Female plants are hardy to 10[deg.], makes to about 15[deg.]; plant both sexes for pollination. The vines are deciduous and can cover a large frame or garden structure.

Oriental persimmon. That's 'Hachiya' in the bowl at left. For other varieties, see the November 1983 Sunset, page 126.

Persimmons make good-looking garden shrubs and trees, and are hardy enough for anywhere in northern California below the ponderosa pine level.

Pomegranate. Very easy to grow, it can take winters anywhere in northern California below the ponderosa pine level. Unless carefully pruned and managed, the plants that produce the fruit become dense, stickery shrubs (to 10 feet).

White sapote (Casimiroa edulis). Pick the fruit when it's firm to the touch and looks like the ones in the photograph. Keep at room temperature for several days until it gets as soft as a ripe papaya. Eat it skin and all. It has a sweet pear-banana-peach flavor.

The tree is tall (to 50 fett) and evergreen or briefly deciduous. It grows and produces in warm climates within 25 miles of the coast. Trees can withstand 25[deg.] but not for long periods.

Tangerine or mandarin. This just happens to be the citrus in the basket; many other kinds bear in early to midwinter, some all year. It's good in all low-elevation northern California climates. Nurseries offer it as both a standard and dwarf.

Tree tomato (Cyphomandra betacea). You cut the fruits open and spoon out the tart flesh, which has a slight tomato flavor. The evergreen plant reaches 12 feet high. It's most reliable on the coast and in coastal valleys. Two rare fruit clubs in northern California

You're welcome to join California Rare Fruit Growers, a group that makes new, unusual, or hard-to-find fruits available to home gardeners. Meetings, held every other month at Emma Prusch Park in San Jose, include a plant exchange. The $10 annual fee brings you four newsletters, a yearbook, and the chance to get plants and seeds from other members. Write to Brent Thompson, 1171 Clayburn Lane, San Jose 95121.

Another group, the Indoor Citrus and Rare Fruit Society (176 Coronado Ave., Los Altos 94002), publishes a quarterly newsletter on rare fruits, naming plant and seed sources. Annual dues are $10.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Jul 1, 1984
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