Lychee can thrive in your own yard
By Jari Sugano
By Jari Sugano
Each lychee season — which starts this month and runs through September — my auntie in Hilo mails us a box of fresh lychee picked from her neighbor's yard. The postage costs more than the enclosed fruit. But, really, those fruits are priceless.
If you have sufficient space, consider planting a lychee tree (Litchi chinensis). The backyard favorite is an evergreen tree that produces those familiar red, egg-shaped, rough-skinned fruits. The sweet translucent flesh is what we wait for each year.
Lychee varieties suitable for Hawai'i backyards include Kwai Mi, Groff, and Kaimana.
Kwai Mi, a Chinese variety, was the first lychee introduced into Hawai'i. Researchers at the University of Hawai'i College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources selected Groff and Kaimana from the Hak Ip collection of seedlings because they are more consistent fruit-bearers than other varieties.
Lychee trees thrive in well-drained, slightly acidic soils with pH levels of 5.0 to 6.5. and need to be spaced at least 30 to 40 feet apart. Rarely grown from seeds, lychee is typically air-layered. Trees take three to five years to bear fruit.
It's not easy to find lychee grown commercially here because it behaves erratically in Hawai'i. There are several growth flushes throughout the year. Flowering flushes typically occur in the winter months during the early part of the year. The best condition for growing lychee is a warm summer season followed by a cool, dry winter. When conditions are ideal, flowering typically takes place from February to April. Fruits mature three to five months after flowering. Excessively wet weather during flowering can cause increased flower drop and affect pollination and fruit set.
For the home garden, a fertilizer such as 10-20-20 can be used throughout the year. Apply a complete fertilizer at planting and after the hardening of each growth flush at a rate of 1 pound for each inch in tree diameter annually. Split into two to three fertilizer applications. After fruit set, trees should be fertilized again to enhance fruit development.
Fruit trees should be pruned at the end of harvest and properly maintained for best results.
The most noticeable pest of the lychee is the erinose mite, which creates wartlike galls on the upper surface of leaves. For more information about this pest and about lychee production, see www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/freepubs, and click on "fruits and nuts."