How To Grow Mango Trees

17 Jun

Here’s a short briefing:
Mango trees have been cultivated and grafted for hundreds of years. Grafting was a ‘secret’ in many cultures and tasty mangoes were status symbols for the royalty only. Ancient kings would steal limbs off each others’ mango trees and bribe and kidnap the other kings’ gardeners. Peasants were beheaded for possession of mango fruit or unauthorized cultivation of mango fruit trees. Royalty would try to surpass each other with lavish mango parties and huge gifts of  perfect, ripe, delicious mango fruits. Some of today’s Indochinese awesome varieties existed many, many years ago exactly as we have them now.

Mango trees are evergreens. Their leaves make superior mulch.

The civilized grafted mango trees we have now are nothing like the ancient, wild trees whose small fruit tasted like turpentine and had the texture of nylon yarn. The old test of a mango fruit was it’s stringiness, it’s fiber content. You used to judge a mango by how much dental floss it had. The advent of the science of grafting changed all that.

Mango fruit from seeds is never the same as the mother tree’s fruit. So the seed out of a great tasting fruit will likely produce a tree yielding horrible tasting fibrous fruit. The only certain way to be sure you’ll have tasty fruit is to propagate (by grafting, and in some cases cloning) an existing particular, individual tree (DNA-wise) whose quality is proven.

The odds of a seed producing worthwhile fruit are very, very small.

All mango trees grown from any seed are properly called “Wild Mango Trees”.

All good tasting mango varieties are grafted. It’s easy with younger trees to see the graft…just look near the base of the trunk and you can see a scar that circles all the way around the trunk. Older trees have the scar too if they are grafted, it’s just harder to see.

Watch out for grafted trees that have been frozen back to the stump and all the top (good) part of the graft (scion) has died of the freeze and only the rootstock has survived and branched…such trees, if they do live and re-grow, produce very inferior fruit. It is a good citizen’s duty to kill these “fruiting wounded” so that people sampling mangoes for the first time will not taste their unpleasant “free” fruits and form an aversion to all mangoes.

Grafting Is When You Artificially Attach a Tiny Proto-Limb (Bud) of a Desirable Tree to the Lower Trunk of a Similar Tree, Usually a Sapling, Thereby Prolonging the Life and Fruiting Ability of the Desirable Tree. THIS CAN RESULT IN A SINGLE DESIRABLE TREE’S DNA BEING USED FOR AN INDEFINITELY LONG TIME! Like possibly thousands of years!

Sometimes young trees sprout limbs from BELOW the graft’s scar, always kill these limbs because they will produce bad tasting fruits and weaken the good scion above the graft.

Grafting occurs in nature, for example, when two trees growing too close together constantly rub limbs in the wind scraping them both bare at one spot and they both ‘bleed’ sap and when the windy season ends they are still pressed together and grow ‘joined’ together over months into one tree. Grafted. There is this type of ‘joining’ in root systems too.

Most of the mango varieties you find in the supermarket are not ancient. (The best mangoes never make it to a grocery store.) These modern varieties taste great and are resistant to some problems. The newest varieties are often ‘designed’ to taste like other fruits such as coconuts, lemons, vanilla, ice cream etc.

Generally, modern mango tree varieties are superior in every way to the ancient ones.

Except the Nam Doc Mai, a treasured survivor from ancient Siam (Thailand), which politely delivers indescribably delicious fruit, one limb-full at a time, over the course of the year, thus providing a long, manageable supply rather than bestowing a few hundred pounds of mangoes during about six weeks time as is usual with most varieties.

Here are some APPROXIMATE dates of recognition:
Haden……….1898
Tommy Adkins………..1915
Kent………………1925
Zill…………………..1940

Temperature is very important with mango trees. Cold weather is a major health factor. They die or suffer great damage at 32 F. They go temporarily dormant at about 40 F. So you must learn the normal yearly temperature pattern for where the tree will be.

The idea that there is a “coldhardy” rootstock or cultivar is absurd. All mango trees behave exactly the same way as regards 32 F. They die or suffer great damage.

Here are some cold weather ideas. In some places the threat of frost or freeze is normal only at night for a few nights each year. You can either keep the tree in a container and drag it inside during the hours of frost or freeze or plant it in the ground where you will have to cover it up for only the duration of the frost or freeze. If you cover it be sure to fasten the ‘skirt’ to the ground all around with sod staples so as to trap the ground warmth radiating upward, you can add a light bulb for added warmth or even a little electric space heater…just watch out for rain. Also where the covering tarp/plastic touches the tree the freeze will ‘burn’ it, no big deal usually, but you can get elaborate and build a skeleton frame to stretch the cover over, just remember the wind. Remember to open a vent hole or uncover the mango tree in the morning after temperatures get back above 40 F. You could ‘cook’ it if you forget.

In Northern Florida they used to plant mango trees right up against the South side of the house where the hot water heater was, so the tree kept warm at night. During cold weather, even if there was a killer freeze and some limbs died, the trunk above the graft was still warm and would sprout new limbs and yield delicious fruit in the Spring.

In an emergency, you can heat just the trunk, (it will save the graft and the tree), you will be sacrificing all but one of the scion’s branches. But it will save the life of a grafted tree.

There are several ways to heat it: put hot wet towels, electric heating pads, an electric blanket, or hot water bottles, etc. wrapped around the trunk clear up to a few inches ABOVE the first branch. And put some warm water on the ground near the base of the trunk. Remember you must save at least one limb (small is OK) ABOVE the graft or else the tree is worthless.

It is possible to use sprinklers to spray water onto a tree to save it. BUT you must not stop spraying until the temperature is up to 36 F. Don’t just stop the water at dawn. You can try to divert the flowing water away from the base of the tree and the roots with plastic sheeting, (mango trees like dry winters).

In places where it freezes all night and all day you must keep the tree inside the house near a big South facing window (for light) until the frost threat is over. Lots of light is the main concern. You can phone your local NOAA weather station and they will read you the historically earliest and latest freeze dates in your area so you know about what date to drag it inside. Of course a sunny, heated greenhouse or pool house is nice!

Mango trees like a dry spell for a couple months in the winter.

Water the tree every 3 days for the first month if you plant it in the earth. Then every week for the next 2 months. Then don’t water it any more except for dry spells.

When it’s mature, don’t water very much or fertilize at all during the time when fruit are forming or ripening, you’ll burst the fruit or dilute the flavor.

Don’t let small trees have fruit for 2-4 years. Keep sniping the fruits off when they are golf ball size…fruiting drains the vigor and growth.

Have you ever seen a mango tree with more weight in flowers than tree? Yes, it happens. The excess weight of flowers or fruits can break off limbs and really ruin a tree. You may have to support young trees and trees that have a bumper crop with lumber or ropes. Be creative and over-engineer everything. Don’t ding up the bark, wrap old water hose or panty hose so it’s cushioned where the support touches the tree.

Pruning to remove dangerous excess weight of inflorescences or fruits is OK. Otherwise forget it. You can really mess up the life of a tree fast with just a few uneducated cuts.

Any needed cuts to the tree should be made with sharp clean tools.

Some growers use a hand held one quart propane torch (hardware store) to quickly sterilize the knife or scissors after each cut so as to not spread virus disease.

Don’t burn mango leaves or cuttings, the smoke is toxic. Also don’t allow animals to eat the leaves.

For the first 3 years apply about one level tablespoon of 12-5-9 (scattered) per foot of tree height in fall after all the fruit have been picked. After the tree is three years old start using 4-4-8 with trace elements, apply about 1/4 cup once yearly after all fruit are picked. Fertilizer is mixed with a gallon of warm water and applied to the DAMP soil, not dry, not wet. Apply about a quart daily for four days. Mango trees need less fertilizer than the same area of lawn grass!

A ‘citrus’ type all purpose spray (lots of different brands, but we recommend Exxon 435 soluble oil) is good to spray every month with the Kocide (copper sulfate).

And get yourself a decent sprayer that makes a fine mist.

And get some ‘Kocide’ (brand name for copper sulfate) from a garden shop and spray the trees thoroughly in humid/warm conditions twice a week! Follow the directions on the bag. Add a teaspoonful of dish detergent in each sprayer load to make it stick.

Anthracnose is the condition that spoils the fruit. Look for black dots on the fruit and leaves and the growing tips die curling black. Spray Kocide. Spray twice a week. In Florida or other humid places spray twice a week all year. Don’t let the copper sulfate drip on to the roots, use plastic and rags or paper towels to keep it off the soil over the roots. It is good for the above ground parts only.

Mango trees come from  poor, sandy soil with alternating monsoons and droughts. Lots of hot sun. Few nutrients. Since it survives under very harsh conditions you need only keep it from freezing. It’s close cousin is the cashew nut tree.

If your mango tree’s in a pot, check the moisture every week. Stick your finger into the soil, is it damp? Stick your finger into one of the holes around the bottom of the pot, is there moisture at all? Water thoroughly only if dry. The soil should go from very wet to very dry, then back to very wet. And so forth.

DO NOT TRY TO KEEP THE SOIL IN ANY POTTED PLANT OR TREE SLIGHTLY DAMP ALL THE TIME.
Go back and forth from real wet to real dry.
REASON: BECAUSE THE VARIOUS PATHOGENS CANNOT ADAPT TO THE EXTREME CHANGES IN MOISTURE AND IT KILLS LOTS OF THEM. And with no chemicals and no labor!

Roots need air just like they need water.

It’s always good to “spin” a potted plant halfway around every month so as to give it sunlight equally all around and help it grow straight.

FOR PLANTS, SUNLIGHT IS FOOD.
Not enough means less growth, less flowering and less fruiting.
The more hours of daily direct sunlight…the more tree growth, flowering and fruiting. Also if you reposition the potted tree suddenly, sunburn and leaf dropping can occur  because of any change in the amount of light. Sometimes a little leaf dropping isn’t too bad. Acclimation to lighting changes takes weeks and months.

If you want to keep a non-dwarf mango tree small, don’t up-pot it. Make it pot bound.

Just like Bonsai?

Yes, Mango trees are perfect for Bonsai. They were some of the first subjects for the art form. Imagine a six inch tall mango tree that’s 30 years old and has a ripe 3 lb. fruit on it!

(“Julie” is the true dwarf and will get only 8 ft. high. “Cogshall” is the semi-dwarf mango tree and can reach 12 ft. Also there is a new “Hawaiian Dwarf Mango” to try!)

If you are serious about mangoes, then you’ll want to know about proper spacing in a grove.  Plant “Keitt” variety, space them about 35 ft. apart in long rows running North and South. Space the rows about 45 ft. apart so as to leave space to drive a tractor pulling a big grove sprayer. “Keitt” fruits get to 4 lbs., ship well, taste terrific, have no fiber at all, are resistant to anthracnose, it’s a huge tall tree, rave, rave.

Go to the library and look up “Mangifera Indica L.” in the card catalogue and in the Reader’s Guide. Join the local Garden Club.

Visit plantations in India, China, Mexico, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand, Nigeria, Brazil, Philippines, Haiti and South Africa. Even the Bahamas Islands are now exporting!

Mango fruits cost $1.00 or more each in the supermarkets.

Excuse us, but it needs to be said: there is no such thing as a “mango poop”; they are not a laxative.

In many places the mango fruit is prepared and cooked while green and eaten as a carbohydrate.

More mangos are sold on Earth than any other fruit. Any other fruit. Think about it.

2 Responses to “How To Grow Mango Trees”

  1. Saige December 7, 2010 at 2:48 pm #

    that was a lot of good information. worth reading over again!

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