Planting a tree is one of the noblest things you can do for the environment. How about one that provides that laidback tropical atmosphere while bearing nutritious fruit that tastes like heaven? Name’s graviola, what you may know as soursop – or guanabana to our Spanish friends.
This is an evergreen tropical plant grown for its spiny, edible fruit whose taste has been likened to a cross between the pineapple, banana and peaches. A fully grown graviola tree can reach heights of between 20-30 feet in approximately six years, although it can start producing fruit from Year 3 to 5.
Just as their close cousin the papaya, graviola trees do well in warmer tropical climates. You are likely to find them in abundance across Central and Southern America (their place of origin), as well as the Hawaiian Islands, the Caribbean and the warmer southernmost regions of Florida.
The big question, however, seems to be whether they can do well in non-tropical climates.
In a way, they can.
But (there was bound to be a but), they will need extra care and patience on your part if they are to flourish. The thing with graviola trees or any tropical plant for that matter is that they don’t really like it cold. You biggest headache therefore will be to maintain the warmth and humidity the trees need to thrive.
If you live in a climate where temperatures often dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you will need to cultivate them in a sheltered area. For graviola trees and frost don’t mix, and they will die even if they are well established or mature. They yield best at temperatures averaging 78 degrees Fahrenheit, with humidity near the 70-80 percent level.
Graviola trees also appreciate a stint of dry weather as this stresses them to the point of stimulating flowering.
As for the soil, well-drained sandy to sandy loam types are most ideal for growing soursops. However, they can tolerate a variety of soil types provided the soil has good drainage. Loamy clay, for example. Adding compost fertilizer should help in the growth process. And while the tree is growing, remember to keep the base of the tree heavily mulched. Reason is because it has shallow roots and this ensures the soil stays damp.
Something else worth noting is that the trees do well within a pH range of between 5 and 6.5.
The majority of graviola trees are usually grown from seeds. Generally, this is not the most ideal way when it comes to propagating trees for several reasons including dormancy and the case of sterile seeds.
Seeds for germinating soursop don’t need to be overly special though, and you can easily get them from the fruit you fetch from the market.
Grafting is an alternative, and although lesser used, it has been springing a comeback recently. Seed-grown graviola trees usually assume their own characteristics unlike the grafted type that takes on the mother tree.
The flower of the graviola tree is hermaphrodite, what is deemed in these circles to be the perfect flower.
Steps to Growing a Graviola Tree
Choose a location where you would like to grow your graviola tree. Ideally, a good location should be exposed to at least six hours of direct sunlight in a day. The tree also needs to be about 20 feet away from buildings or other plantings.
With the location set, time to roll up your sleeves, grab the shovel and get down to the gardening. Assuming you are planting a germinated seedling, dig a hole twice the root ball of the tree, but no deeper. Place it smack in the middle of the hole and backfill the soil until it evens with the top of the root ball.
The seedling will need water as all seedlings do, so make sure to water twice a week, preferably in the morning (a depth of 12 inches should be good).
When new shoots start sprouting, choose the one that is most vertical to be the central leader. Once grown, this will be your tree. Leave three or four other shoots around the trunk to serve as the branches, and you can manually force them to spread out horizontally.
Apply organic fertilizer twice a year, first in early spring and the second application in early fall. Limit the amount to 0.25 pounds (1/4) per application during the first year, then bump it up to 0.5 pounds per application during the second and from thereon 1.5 pounds per application should suffice.
Speaking of years. During the tree’s second year, cut the central shoot by about a third. New shoots will emerge beneath the cut. Select the very best of them and form another set of horizontal branches right above the first. Overly dry or cold conditions cause the leaves to wilt so avoid such extremes if possible.
Between the third to fifth year, you may start to notice greenish-yellow blossoms appearing anywhere on the branches or trunk. For best production, you can play an agent of pollination and pollinate the flowers by hand.
Then it’s waiting for the harvesting season. Graviola fruit is best picked when it turns from dark to yellowish green. The fruits lose their shine when they are ready for picking, with the spines also sticking up.
Graviola fruit, tastiest within five to six days of picking, is as versatile as the next one. You can eat it on its own, use it in fruit salads or sherbets, blend as a smoothie, or use it to make fruit jam or gelatin. Refrigeration will turn it black (just like bananas), but the flesh should all be good for consumption.
Follow these tips and growing tropical plants such as graviola shouldn’t pose much trouble.