Loading up on vitamin C is something a lot of us look forward to in the season of summer. Be it through soaking in the sun, or through eating tons of citrus fruits. One fruit that not only provides a lot of vitamin C but also tastes delicious is Barbados cherry. And what’s better is that you can grow a Barbados cherry tree at your home with a little care and maintenance.
What is a Barbados Cherry Tree?
Barbados cherry tree is a bushy, multi-trunked shrub or a small tree. It usually reaches a height of about 12 feet on maturity. Sometimes it can even grow up to a height of 20 feet depending on how it is cared for.
It blooms throughout the summer months and bears small five-petalled flowers which are pink-lavender in color. The flowers grow in clusters of three to six blossoms and have fringed petals. The pollinated flower blooms soon mature in bright red fruits which are known as Barbados cherries.
The Barbados cherry has many different names, like Acerola cherry, West Indies cherry, garden cherry, etc. It is highly rich in vitamin C and even vitamin A, while the tree is also rather easy to grow.
Bonus Read: Don’t have a garden to plant your Barbados cherry tree in yet? Read this article to find out if planting a garden is the right option for your back/front yard setting.
Planting a Barbados Cherry Tree
This plant can perfectly bloom through seeds, cuttings, grafting, and air layering. However, growing from seeds takes considerable time because they germinate slowly. Try using the seeds of completely ripe fruits. For better results, Dry the seeds completely before planting them.
If you are planting a seedling, make sure it is at least three inches tall before transplanting it to your garden. Ensure the area you plant at is frost-free, and the weather condition is warm. It is advisable to plant your seedling in early spring if you live anywhere in the southern United States.
Pot or Soil?
The first question that pops into our minds when planting a sapling is usually “Pot or Soil?” The best thing about a Barbados cherry tree is that it can be planted in both! These plants grow fast and require space. So, if you’re planting your tree on soil, make sure it is at least 10 feet away from the other plants. Moreover, ensure that the place the tree is planted gets enough amount of sunlight.
If you are growing your tree in a pot/container, it should be 18 – 24 inches in diameter, and at least 20 inches in height. You should have adequate draining holes in your pot/container to prevent the soil from getting waterlogged.
How To Plant A Barbados Cherry Tree?
For a seedling, make sure you dig a hole that is as deep as the hole in which it was planted earlier. Additionally, the depth of the hole should be twice as deep as the earlier hole. Add a lot of compost to the soil to ensure it is healthy.
- Clean the roots after extracting the seedling from the original tray and gently place it in the hole.
- Do not plant it too deep to prevent damage.
- Backfill the hole with prepared soil.
- Apply 3” – 4” of mulch but do not let it touch the trunk as that can cause fungal diseases.
Requirements for Growing a Barbados Cherry Tree
Barbados cherry trees grow well in the tropical and subtropical humid climate. It thrives in warmer temperatures, and a temperature of around 78.8 degrees (Fahrenheit) is ideal for growing it. They need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. However, getting 8-12 hours of direct sunlight will ensure their healthy growth.
While a mature tree can briefly bear a temperature ranging between 28 – 30 degrees (Fahrenheit), exposing seedlings to such temperatures will likely kill them.
Speaking of rainfall, the plant produces well when the annual rainfall is between 1200 – 1600 mm. They can even tolerate heavier rainfall patterns ranging between 1000 –3000 mm. As the plant grows and develops its deep root system, it becomes more resistant to drought conditions.
While the Barbados cherry tree is tolerant to a variety of soils, it grows best in well-draining soils. Sandy and sandy-loamy soils are the best to grow it in. However, it can tolerate loamy-clayey soil with well-draining qualities too. The primary reason for the soil preference is because water logging is detrimental to the growth of the Barbados cherry tree.
The soil’s pH value should range between 6.5 – 7.5. This plant prefers alkaline as compared to acidic soil. If the soil is acidic in nature, lime can be added to it to make it more alkaline. Remember, acidic soil does not encourage good growth and yield, which is why it is best to use alkaline soil.
Add lots of organic matter to the soil to improve its moisture retention capacity and to keep the soil healthy.
Bonus Read: Not sure if your soil conditions are right for planting a Barbados cherry tree? Test your soil and find out! Check out these 7 best soil test kits you can purchase for your gardening deeds.
Water and Humidity
The Barbados cherry tree requires regular irrigation. It becomes drought resistant as it grows, but a young tree needs a good amount of water. Soak the soil in water and wait till the top 2 inches are dry before watering it again.
Your irrigation pattern will depend on the type of climatic conditions your plant is growing in. You must refrain from overwatering the plant as it will lead the plant to decay. Well irrigated trees can produce up to 1-5 flowering peaks in a year. Therefore, it is important to focus on proper irrigation for your tree.
Taking Care of your Barbados Cherry Tree
Here are a few factors that must be executed properly for growing the Barbados cherry tree.
Opting for citrus fertilizers works best as compared to acidic fertilizers. It is advisable to only start using fertilizers once the gardener starts noticing the plant grow. Fertilize your tree once just before winter is ending, twice in the summer, and once in mid-fall. Most importantly, you can start reducing the amount you fertilize as the plants mature.
It is best to follow the fertilizer manufacturer’s instructions when deciding the amount and timing of applying the fertilizer. You can use 8-3-9 fertilizer in the growing season. You should even take the age of your tree into consideration when using fertilizer. Mature plants don’t need as much fertilizer as the younger ones do.
Bonus Read: If you aren’t sure what fertilizer you should use, click here to get suggestions for a few of the best fertilizers.
Mulch helps in retaining moisture in the soil, preventing the growth of weed, and keeping the soil cool. It is advisable to spread mulch on the soil where you’ve planted your tree to get healthy soil. You can spread around 2 inches of mulch in a 3 feet diameter from the tree.
One can also use shredded or chipped bark, grass clippings, pine needles, and shredded leaves for this purpose. Be sure to keep the mulch at least two inches away from the trunk to prevent any decaying.
Pruning is the process of removing selective branches from a tree to give it structure and promote healthy growth. While pruning can be done any time of the year, it is best to do it when the tree has stopped fruiting. One can prune it in the fall after harvesting. However, if one notices dead or decaying branches, it is best to remove them instantly.
It is best not to prune in spring since it reduces the number of blooms and the number of fruits.
Since a Barbados cherry tree can grow as a shrub, you can trim excess vertical growth just below the leaf or stem node to promote new branch growth.
To train it as a tree, remove low-growing horizontal branches. This will ultimately lead to a single growing branch with a canopy on top. You can even reduce thick growth by pruning, to get a better fruit yield.
As a Barbados cherry tree grows, it becomes more prone to pest infestation. Factors like location, weather, and maintenance make a substantial difference in a tree’s chances of getting infested.
Aphids are tiny insects that cluster under leaves and on stems, eventually sucking on plant juices. Cherry trees are highly prone to get infested by aphids. A symptom of an aphid infestation is the yellowing and thickening of leaves. Using neem and horticultural is one efficient way to get rid of aphids. Gardeners can even use fruit tree sprays and insecticidal soaps to help with the situation.
Cherry fruit flies are another destructive category of pests that feast on Barbados cherries. They are like houseflies in appearance, but slightly smaller in size. A symptom of fruit fly infestation is small sting marks visible on the fruit surface. To prevent them from spreading, clear all fallen cherries, leaves, and debris from the surroundings of the tree. You can even use some fruit tree spray to get rid of the flies.
Some people may even experience moth infestation on their trees. A symptom of this would be damage to vegetative growth, and larvae tunneling in through stems. The larvae have a pinkish-white appearance and are around ½ inches long. You could try using a pheromone trap to control moth infestation or consider getting a horticultural spray oil.
Most people trying to grow a Barbados cherry tree face the problem of a root-knot nematode. These pests directly attack the root system of the tree. They can cause the root system to decay and rot. Applying beneficial nematodes to your soil will help in canceling out the harmful nematodes. This will help in keeping your plant safe and healthy.
Bonus Read: Are your plants suffering from aphid infestation? Read this article on effective ways to get rid of aphids.
Cherry Trees mostly get rot or spot diseases. Anthracnose is one of the most reported diseases when it comes to a Barbados cherry tree. Anthracnose is a fungal disease that tends to attack plants in spring when the weather is cool and wet. Symptoms include spots, lesions, and some infections on the twig and branches.
The best way to control Anthracnose is by destroying the infected leaves to prevent the infection from spreading further. You can entirely prevent this by planting in well-drained soil and buying healthy transplants.
Brown rot is another fungal disease that commonly affects these trees. It affects the fruits and flowers but is not fatal. Some symptoms are withering of the flowers. Small sunken spots may appear on the blossoms or the twigs too. You can control this by regularly pruning your tree. Even try to remove any debris, fruits, or leaves fallen on the ground.
Copper fungicide is another effective way to control both these diseases. However, it can build up to toxic levels in the soil for earthworms and microbes.
The fruits can be harvested after the third year of planting the tree. However, it takes 7-8 years for the tree to come into a full-bearing stage. After it reaches stability, the plant continues to yield for almost 40 years.
You should harvest the fruits once they turn red and are slightly soft to touch. It is best to harvest the fruits timely to prevent them from falling. Gently pluck the fruits from the trees, and preferably wear a glove to avoid skin irritation.
The fruits need to be picked twice to thrice a week, or daily, depending on the productivity of your plant.
You can pluck the cherries when they’re green if you are planning to make pickles out of them. It ultimately depends on how you want to consume the cherries.
The shelf life of Barbados cherries is poor, and they tend to decay rapidly after they’ve been plucked from the tree. They start fermenting within 3-4 days after they have been harvested. It is best to consume them fast and to store them in a cool place to prevent damage.
Try to avoid any physical damage to the cherries while harvesting because a damaged cherry will last much shorter than an intact one.
You can even create juice or jam out of the cherries to make them last much longer.
Follow these bonus tips in combination with what we’ve discussed above, and you will have a healthy Barbados cherry tree growing in your garden.
- Ensure that there are pollinators present around the location where you’ve planted your tree.
- If your tree is in a location that does not drain rainwater easily, consider relocating it as soon as possible.
- If you’re in an area that experiences strong winds, ensure upright growth for your tree by using stakes.
Taking added care of your plant will ensure a healthy tree and a heavy yield.
These trees are not only a rich source of vitamin C but also look aesthetically pleasing in your garden. One tree yields about 1.5-2 kgs after the third year and 4-5 kgs after the fifth year. Growing and taking care of your tree is a rewarding job in terms of nutritional benefits and backyard aesthetics. Most importantly, with a little care, you can grow your own tree at home.