Choose the Right Location for Your Lucuma Tree
Lucuma trees require a subtropical climate, with little chance of frost. Plant in a spot with full sun and fertile, well-drained soil with a slightly acidic pH. The ideal temperature range for lucuma trees is 64 to 82 F. During the first few years of growth, young trees should be protected if temperatures drop below 30 F.
The location you choose should provide shelter from strong winds, as lucuma trees can suffer wind damage. Planting on a slight slope can also help prevent frost damage. The soil should be sandy and loamy, with good drainage and aeration. Before planting, till the soil to a depth of at least 2 to 3 feet and mix in compost or manure to achieve the proper soil pH of 5 to 7. The soil must retain some moisture but not become waterlogged.
Test your soil to determine the levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium as well as pH and make any necessary adjustments. Lucuma trees have moderate nutrient requirements, so maintaining a proper balance of nutrients in the soil will help your tree establish itself and produce high yields of quality fruit. With the right location and care, a lucuma tree can thrive for 50-100 years and produce abundant harvests.
Prepare the Soil Before Planting Lucuma
To ensure your lucuma tree thrives, preparing the soil before planting is essential. Lucuma trees prefer sandy, loamy soil that is rich in organic matter. The soil should be well-draining but able to retain some moisture. It should have a slightly acidic pH between 5 to 7.
Before planting a lucuma tree, till the soil to a depth of at least 2 to 3 feet. This will loosen the soil and allow for better root growth. Next, mix in compost or manure to enrich the soil with organic matter. For every 100 square feet of planting area, incorporate:
- 6 to 8 cubic feet of compost or
- 3 to 4 cubic feet of well-rotted manure.
The enriched soil should have the following characteristics:
|Nitrogen (N)||65 to 135 ppm|
|Phosphorus (P)||10 to 30 ppm|
|Potassium (K)||200 to 300 ppm|
|pH||5 to 7|
To test your soil, you can use an inexpensive soil testing kit. These kits can check pH levels as well as nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK). It’s best to test in multiple areas of your planting site and create a composite sample for the most accurate results. If the results show a deficiency or if the pH needs adjustment, you can amend the soil as needed.
About two to four weeks before planting, treat the soil with slow-release fertilizer to provide nutrients for at least the first growing season. For new plantings, use a fertilizer with equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (10-10-10 is a good ratio to start with). Follow the directions on the product packaging to determine how much to apply based on the age of your tree. With the proper soil preparation, your lucuma tree will have the best start for healthy growth and fruit production.
Watering and Fertilizing Your Lucuma Tree
Proper watering and fertilization are essential for the health and fruit production of a lucuma tree. For the first 3 years after planting, water young lucuma trees regularly, especially during hot or dry weather. Water about 2-3 inches per week for the first year, and slightly less for years 2 and 3. After the tree is established, lucuma trees can tolerate some drought, but the fruit requires adequate moisture to develop. Never let the soil completely dry out.
During the growing season, the most important times to water are:
- When the tree is flowering and producing new shoots
- As the fruit is developing and ripening
The soil around a mature lucuma tree should be moist but not soggy. Test the soil before watering to determine if it needs irrigation. Insert a finger up to the second knuckle into the soil. If it feels dry, it’s probably time to water.
Lucuma trees require fertile soil and balanced nutrients to produce high yields of quality fruit. Fertilize lucuma trees in early spring before new growth starts and again in midsummer. Use a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer with equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (10-10-10 is a good ratio for lucuma trees). Follow the directions on the product packaging to determine how much to apply based on the age and size of your tree.
Here is a suggested fertilizing schedule for lucuma trees:
|Tree Age||Amount of Fertilizer||Frequency|
|1-3 years||4-6 ounces||Every 4-6 weeks|
|4-8 years||0.5-1 pound||Every 4-6 weeks|
|Mature (over 8 years)||1-2 pounds||Every 4-6 weeks|
With the proper irrigation and fertilization, your lucuma tree will produce abundant harvests of delicious fruit for many years. Be consistent but do not overwater or overfertilize, as this can stress the tree and reduce yields.
Pruning and Training Your Lucuma Tree
Pruning a lucuma tree serves several important purposes. It helps the tree develop a strong structure and open canopy, allowing for better air circulation and sunlight exposure. Pruning also removes any dead or damaged branches. Once the tree begins producing fruit, pruning will improve fruit quality and increase yields.
For the first 3-4 years, prune the lucuma tree to establish a sturdy framework of main branches. Remove any shoots growing inward or crossing over the center of the tree. Also remove any dead or damaged branches. After the framework is established, prune to thin out branches and open the canopy. Remove about 15-20% of the branches each year by cutting them back to their point of origin.
When pruning a mature lucuma tree, aim for an open center with scaffold branches that are at least 6 feet apart. Thin out shoots and small branches in the center of the tree, especially any that are shaded or rub against each other. Remove any shoots growing downward as well. After significant pruning, apply a wound sealant paste to any cuts larger than 1 inch in diameter.
<img src=”https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/2d/Lucuma_Tree_Pruning.jpg/440px-Lucuma_Tree_Pruning.jpg” width=”440″ height=”330″ />
Lucuma trees can also be trained to certain shapes through pruning and using trellises or stakes. Espaliering is a method of training lucuma trees or shrubs to grow in a flat plane against a structure such as a wall, fence, or trellis. This technique helps maximize space and allows for easy harvesting and maintenance. To espalier a lucuma tree, prune the tree to a central leader or modified central leader shape. Then attach horizontal supports to anchor two opposite scaffold branches to force them to grow in a flat plane. Continue training the side shoots to the supports.
Pruning and training a lucuma tree requires time and patience but will reward you with healthy trees that produce high yields of quality fruit. Be sure to prune your lucuma tree at least once a year to maintain its shape and open structure. With regular pruning and occasional more significant corrective pruning, a lucuma tree can continue producing abundant fruit for 50 years or more.
Harvesting and Storing Lucuma Fruits
Once your lucuma tree starts producing fruit, it’s important to harvest at the proper time and store the fruit correctly to enjoy its flavor and health benefits. Lucuma fruits typically ripen on the tree, though some cultivars can be picked once fully colored and left to soften slightly.
The best way to tell if lucuma fruits are ripe is by gently squeezing them. Ripe fruits will yield slightly but still feel firm, similar to an avocado. Gently twist or cut the fruits from the tree once they reach this mature but still firm stage. Allow any picked fruits to continue ripening at room temperature until the exterior skin becomes slightly wrinkled and the fruit emits a sweet fragrance.
Fresh lucuma fruits will last up to 1 week when stored at room temperature, and up to 2 weeks when refrigerated. Here are some tips for storing fresh lucuma fruits:
• Leave the stems on until ready to eat. Stems help slow moisture loss from the fruit.
• Do not stack lucuma fruits on top of each other. Place them in a single layer on a table, counter, or in the refrigerator.
• Aerate by turning the fruits occasionally so they ripen evenly.
• Use a dehumidifier or fan to improve air circulation in the ripening room temperature area. Too much humidity can speed spoilage.
• Check fruits daily and remove any that are overripe or damaged.
The soft, butterscotch-like flesh of ripe lucuma fruits is delicious eaten raw, as is, or in yogurt or smoothies. However, the pulp oxidizes quickly once exposed to air, so eat cut fruits right away. You can also scrape the pulp from the fruit, dehydrate it, and grind it into a powder known as lucuma flour or lucuma powder. Lucuma powder has a shelf life of 6-12 months when properly stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer. It adds a maple-like sweetness to many foods and beverages and provides various vitamins and nutrients.
With regular annual harvests, a mature lucuma tree can produce fruit for 50-100 years or more. Timely harvesting and proper storage of the fresh or dried fruits will allow you to enjoy the fruits of your labor for many months of the year. Lucuma fruits and powder also make wonderful gifts!