Lychee, The Divine Fruit
I think angels eat lychees in heaven. If you haven’t ever tried a fresh lychee, don’t turn it down at your next opportunity. It’s lychee (Litchi chinensis) season in Southwest Florida and we are stuffing ourselves with them while we can. When lychees are ripe, you have about 2 weeks to pick them off the tree. The good news is that they freeze really well. If you don’t peel them or break the skin and you put them in a freezer bag, they will taste just as good in 3 months as they do now.
There are many different varieties of lychee. The best tasting is a variety called “No Mai Tze”, but it only fruits every 4-5 years. Most other varieties will give you fruit year after year if the tree is mature. The younger trees are not as reliable. There are several mature lychee trees growing in Immokalee, Florida that are about 60 years old and are loaded with fruit year after year.
The best way to tell if the fruit is ripe is to taste it. If it’s really sweet, it’s ripe. That may sound silly, but color isn’t always indicative of ripeness. There’s a variety that stays green when ripe.
Grayson had never tasted a fresh lychee before and could hardly wait to try one. Our little lychee tree in our yard is too young to give us fruit so I took him to the home of the best lychees in America… Pine Island, Florida.
The Treehouse Nursery on Pine Island has over 20 different varieties of lychees (and 80 different types of mangos). The nursery has a small team of experts that have extensive and unsurpassed knowledge about growing lychee and mango. If you’re ever in the area, be sure to check out their exotic fruit stand. It’s open on the weekends during the summer season. We tasted 5 different types of their lychees.
A lychee tree that is planted from seed will take about 10-20 years to give you fruit. Most of the trees at The Treehouse Nursery are air-layered by expert grafters. This is the best way to start a backyard lychee tree.
Lychee trees need quite a bit of water for the fruit to ripen. When you see flowers, make sure it gets plenty of irrigation until after the fruit is all picked. The tree doesn’t need as much water after that, but still needs it. It isn’t drought tolerant. They also need fertilizer on a monthly basis when growing the tree to the desired height. Once the height is achieved, the tree should be fertilized monthly from the day you see flowers on it until the last fruit is picked. After that, you can stop feeding it until you see flowers again.
A lychee tree is best kept pruned at the desired height, which is usually about twelve feet. The more you prune it, the less brittle the branches become. It is also important to add about 6-7 inches of mulch around the base of the tree. This insulates the surface roots. Don’t put the mulch right up against the trunk though because it could harm the tree.
Great news about growing lychee in Florida… they’re not affected by nematodes. The nematodes in Florida are a huge problem for growers.
If you do happen to make it to Pine Island, make sure you visit “Great Licks Ice Cream Shop”. They’re right on Pine Island Road (in Matlacha) and they have the best homemade ice cream ever! They’re open seven days a week until 8 p.m. The fresh lychee shouldn’t be hard to find, they seem to be everywhere on Pine Island this time of year.
Come grow with us!