Growing Tropical Fruit in the Pacific Northwest — Winter Update

Gardening

I was at the grocery store yesterday, shopping for some vegetables, when I glimpsed a small stack of cherimoyas, or custard apples, in the tropical fruit section of the produce department.  This reminded me of my own cherimoya plants that I started last year as an experiment in growing tropical fruit in the Pacific Northwest.

Last August, I posted a description with many photos of the process of planting seeds taken from the fruit.

Let me summarize the events of growing cherimoyas from seed.

Timeline

  • May 3, 2010: Extracted seeds
  • May 3, 2010: Soaked seeds for 3 days
  • May 5, 2010: Planted seeds
  • June 20, 2010: First sprouts.  Move plants outside
  • July, 2010: Transplant healthy seedlings into single pots
  • August 11, 2010: All seeds sprouted; plants were healthy and at least 5″ tall
  • August 20, 2010: Begin moving plants inside
  • September 10, 2010: All plants are moved inside
  • Novemeber, 2010: Plants began wilting and drying
  • January, 2011: 2 plants lose all or most of their leaves

What Was Sort of Going through My Mind

Because this has always been a casual experiment, I decided to introduce variables into the pots, in each of which were 2 plants.  I assumed, from experiences with my outdoor gardening, that the most important factors were exposure to light, watering and temperature.

As soon as the seedlings were sturdy enough, I transplanted the healthiest ones into larger pots.  This gave me 5 pots with 6 plants.

Regulating Light Exposure

During the summer, I kept all the pots outside.  The days were long and hot, temperatures steadily around 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit.  Nights dipped as low as 50 degrees toward the end of summer.  By late August, it appeared that the plants were no longer growing.

So I moved a couple inside and placed them on the windowsill in the kitchen, a west-facing spot that receives the most sunlight in my apartment.

By late September, I had moved all the plants inside, as the autumn showers were beginning to discourage the plants from growing, it seemed.

Watering

Before they sprouted, I watered the pots of soil once a week. I intended to keep the soil moist but not to drown the seeds. Cherimoyas need well-draining pots and will suffer from over-watering. As soon as they sprouted, I moved them outside.  In addition to watering them once a week, when it rained, I allowed the plants to soak up all the precipitation.  During the hottest peak of summer, while temperatures reached the 90s, I watered them twice a week.

The primary variable in watering occurred during the transition of moving the plants inside.  The first batch to come in received less water, protected from the Pacific Northwest rains that marked last summer’s mild August.  They remained healthy while those outside receiving more water lost leaves or began to fade.

After moving all of them inside, I watered them less. By autumn, I was watering them once every two-and-a-half weeks. By winter, I was watering them once every couple months. Since November, I have watered them twice.

Temperature Variables

In the beginning, all the plants remained in the same climate, so temperatures were even for all.  As Seattle warmed, the outside temperature–and thus the inside temperature–became less polarized.

During July and August, the plants were just as warm as my peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, squash and other summer plants.  It was during these two months the plants grew best.

When I brought a few inside, I decided to create a greenhouse for two of the pots.  For one, I turned a plastic juice container upside-down.  For another, I cut the bottom off a two-liter bottle, removed the label and covered the plant with it.

By far, creating these two greenhouses had the most noticeable effect on the stamina and health of the plants.  The juice container was fogged, thick and see-through white, while the two-liter bottle was transparent, thin and clear.  Of the two, the plant under the two-liter bottle was the healthiest and greenest of all the plants.  In fact, it remained green all through the winter, the only one to do so.

The plant underneath the juice container, on the other hand, eventually dried.  I decided to remove it entirely in December.  The plant still looks as it did then.

As autumn and winter passed, the temperature in my apartment has been more polarized, marked by cold nights and warm days.  The plants have showed little to no change since autumn, having slowly browned and hardened, except for the one under the two-liter bottle.

The cherimoya inside the bottle is strikingly different from the uncovered others.

The LEFT was under one type of cover; the RIGHT was under the bottle.

The leaves of the plant under the juice container have remnants of green.

The State of the Plants in the Winter

The plants look dead, as all the deciduous trees do around here.  One remains green and vibrant, though.  I am curious to see how this affects its growth this spring.  Maintaining a more even temperature, as I’ve done with the two-liter greenhouse, has made such a difference that I ought to try to make sense of it.

Chermimoyas are native to the Andes.  Looking at the annual weather pattern of the area, I see an average high of mid-70s in the summer and an average of upper-50s in the winter.  In other words, there is little variance in the temperature throughout the year.  Independent references informed me that cherimoyas need a cool period, but will suffer from frost, which is why they are always grown commercially in frost-free zones (e.g., southern California, southern Spain, Mexico).

In addition to the stable but varying temperatures, the greenhouse provides some moisture in the otherwise dry air of my apartment.  Being so green, the added humidity no doubt contributes to keeping the leaves full of chlorophyll.

Yet, none of the plants have been exposed to frost and all of them are clearly dormant.  I will have to wait for spring to see what happens next.

If I could go back and start all over again, I would have another two-liter bottle and remove it as the other plants began shedding their leaves.  I have some seeds from last year.  Perhaps I may germinate some more and try it again.

The other cherimoya plants appear dead; one has even lost all its leaves.

Resources

This has entirely been a new experience for me.  Most of my information has come from the Center for New Crops & Plant Products at Purdue University.

The California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc., page on cherimoyas is another great resource.

There’s a very helpful page about growing cherimoyas in The Encyclopedia of Fruits & Nuts available on Google Books.

My cherimoya plant, about 8 months old.

Most references say that cherimoyas can be transplanted outside once they’re about two years old.  Doing that in this climate would surely kill them.  I still don’t know if they’ll make it another year.  Whether they do, it’s hard to imagine, at least now, that they will even flower.

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9 thoughts on “Growing Tropical Fruit in the Pacific Northwest — Winter Update

  1. Hi, i’ve run into your blog looking precisely for info on growing cherimoyas from seeds. I’m from Portugal and was curious about the name of you blog. You happen to be a Portuguese descendent?
    I have access to the fruit almost daily and I’ve tried a couple of time to grow anonas, that’s what we call them here, but without success. This time I’ll follow your tips and see how it goes. I’ll also be interested to know how did it go for you survivors.

    1. Hi, Someone from Portugal.

      I apologize for taking so long to reply, but I hope you have had time to try growing the anonas again. I should tell you that they took some time to germinate. When and in what conditions did you plant them? All but one plant died. The one that did not die had a tiny greenhouse over it. Now it does not. It sits near a kitchen window and does well. In the winter it remains dormant, but in the spring and summer it grows well.

      As for my blog’s name, it comes from my affinity for Galicia. I have traveled there a couple times and find the land, much like my own, inspiring. I am not Portuguese by descent. However, I do find inspiration from northern Portugal too.

      Feel free to e-mail me.

      Respectfully,

      Brian

  2. What does it look like nowadays? Is it taller than 8 inches? I want to give this a try! I live in Portland.

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Lina,

      It is now taller than 8 inches. I’ll take a couple photos for you, one with a tape measure, when I get a chance! Please try it yourself! Now is a great time to start germinating the seeds!

      Let me know how it turns out,

      Brian

  3. Update! I was able to sprout two cherimoyas. I basically had to soak them for a good week until I saw two seeds crack open. When the weather got warmer I took them outside… But still had nothing. Last month I was convinced they were dead so I uncovered the seeds, but saw a little green tail poking out! So I covered it and waited some more. I’m glad I was patient… In the amount of time that has passed I’ve already successfully sprouted two lychee seeds (for fun – since it would take decades to bear fruit) and ginger and turmeric (definitely not difficult but I have a history of killing plants).

    Anywho since I don’t have a blog but have an Instagram that I don’t use, below are pics of my successful cherimoyas thanks to your blog!

    http://instagram.com/p/c-mgvUq8lU/ this one was taken two weeks ago.

    Now I’m trying grow a coffee plant from green bean. I’ve read that the flowers smell nice. However, the sprouts keep rotting in the dirt. 😀

  4. Hi, I’ve also been experimenting with growing cherimoyas from seed and came across your blog. I’m in San Jose, CA, which stays pretty temperate throughout the year. When I read your blog, I was amazed at how little you watered your seedlings. Because cherimoyas have such broad leaves, they transpire out the water in the soil very fast, especially in a container. Compound that with the very dry air during your winters and the dry air your heater blows, your plants would obviously dry out from under-watering. That’s why the only one to survive was under your mini-greenhouse, which compensated for the lack of water by keeping the humidity level high and preventing water loss.

    The key to keeping container plants alive is not to stick to any watering schedule, but to check the soil and water when you see it is dry. During heat waves, some people have to water their plants twice in one day, or at least every day! And even though some plants go dormant in winter and require less watering, that might not always be the case if you take them indoors where the temperature is warm and dry (which imitates summer). So watering them only once every two months in the winter is way too little!

    The rule of thumb for container plants is to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Whether that is by reducing transpiration (and building your mini-greenhouse), or by watering more frequently as needed, you’ll have better success with them staying alive.

  5. Hi! I’m absolutely overjoyed to find your post. I’m trying to grow Atemoya and Cherimoya trees from the seed in Vancouver, BC, so your experiences are invaluable to me. Thank you so much for sharing!

    I’m definitely going to have to try the bottle trick for the coming winter – we almost never get subzero temperatures (in Celsius), certainly not in my apartment, but it does get rather cool and very cloudy. I have a full-spectrum lightbulb that I’ve been using to help edge along the seedlings on cloudy days, and I plan on buying more, but my biggest concern has been not over-watering the young plants, since I know they’re especially sensitive, as you mention. I may even be under-watering them, for all I know. I’m going to have to pay attention to the variability in temperature now, too.

    If by any chance you’d be able to provide a small update on how things ultimately turned out, I’d be super grateful. I’m hoping that, if my plants survive the winter, I’ll be able to write up some comprehensive results of my experiment and share with the world, like you did.

    Cheers for taking on this seemingly tricky task!

  6. I want to share my experience (although I don’t know is it cherimoyas or soursops I have)
    I just poured seeds in a pot and forgot, it took a year or so to sprout (indoors, as here in Lithuania -20C is common in winter once or twice)
    I divided them into seperate pots, and ran out of pots so I just used old jars and cups that has no drainage! some pots are with perlite some without. It seems those without grows better.
    As it is tropical tree I just asumed it needs water and I think I was overwatering them all the time, and kept soil humid all the time in case of pots without drainage I just flooded up until the endge, BUT all sprouts are alive and growing, room humidity is between 40-60% and here’s not much sun in the winter, it’s already 9 months, some tree tips got frost bite and withered as it is close to window, but after some time resumed groving. Some seeds that was dormant sprouted this winter. Looking forward to summer as there will be more sun.

    intresting that they have different shapes from regular big leaves to irregular small like bonzai 🙂
    the leaves are covered in short hair and it looks matt so as I search for images, soursop looks like have no hair and appears to be gloss, does your cherimoeya has those? 🙂

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