Days to germination: 10 days
Days to harvest: At 5 years of age
Light requirements: Full sun
Soil: Well-drained soil
Container: Possible with dwarf varieties
Mangoes are exclusively a tropical tree, and you shouldn’t plan on growing them anywhere cooler than zone 9. The trees are fairly large and the dense canopy makes for an excellent shade tree.
Mango fruit is usually eaten fresh, and is a popular addition to smoothies as a sweet thickener due to the high fiber content of the fruit. They are also high in vitamins C, A and E. Mangoes are also a bit higher in calories than many other fruits as well.
Starting Your Tree
Though you can start a mango tree from seed, you can also buy seedlings or grafted saplings. The grafted trees have mango tree branches fused onto the roots of another tree. The grafted ones will produce fruit the soonest.
A mango tree can grow very large and wide, up to 70 feet tall with a spread of 40 feet, so plan your location with that in mind. The roots will also spread out quite far, so don’t plant too close to your house or any underground fixtures.
If you want to start from scratch with a mango seed, get some from a supplier rather than picking the seeds out of a supermarket fruit. They won’t likely sprout. It’s easiest to plant the seeds out where you want your trees to grow, and they will usually start to sprout in about 10 days.
Planting a tree isn’t much different. Choose a sunny location where you want your tree to be and dig a hole large enough to hold the roots of your seedling without having to break or fold them.
Early summer is the best time to plant, either seeds or trees. Unlike some other fruit trees, mangoes are completely self-fertile and will provide an abundant crop of fruit even if you only plant one tree.
For the first year or two, give your mango tree a good watering whenever there has been a dry period. After that, it should be fine on its own due to its extensive root system. Fertilizer during the first year is fine, but after that you should only use a low-nitrogen formula to keep your tree from getting overly leafy. Added potassium is best for mangoes.
To keep your tree a manageable size, you should do some pruning each year right after you’re done picking your fruit for the season. Cutting back some of the taller branches on top can keep the tree shorter and will encourage a wider spread.
Mangoes bloom and grow fruit at the ends of the branches, so the more branches means more mangoes. Snipping the ends off the branches will make the tree sprout more to the sides, leading to more fruit. But overall, if you decide to leave your mango tree alone, it will still grow fine and produce a lot of fruit. Pruning isn’t strictly necessary.
When the mangoes first start to grow, there will be far more than the tree can actually develop. Many tiny ones will drop off. It may seem frustrating to “lose” fruit, but that’s just how the mango grows and doesn’t reflect any problems with the tree.
Clearly a full-size mango tree can’t grow in a container, but there are several dwarf varieties that can. Look for Julie, Cogshell or Irwin for trees specifically bred for containers. Even so, you will still need a very large pot. At least 2 feet across and 3 feet deep, usually referred to as “half a barrel” would be enough.
Though dwarf trees will naturally stay short, a little extra pruning can help keep your mango a reasonable size for the pot.
Pests and Diseases
Very wet weather can lead to anthracnose fungus infection, which shouldn’t be a big danger to your tree as long as its healthy. Look for black spots on the leaves, and flowers that turn black and drop off the tree. Young trees can be sprayed with a copper-based fungicide, but mature trees should be fine on their own. Remove any effected leaves, branches or fruit and that includes material that has fallen from the tree. If you live in a humid area, consider planting mango varieties with resistance to athracnose.
Powdery mildew is another threat to your mango trees. Excessive cool weather can trigger it, and you will see a white dusting on the bottom side of new leaves and newly developing fruit. Effected leaves will soon fall off. Mature trees are usually fine, but you can treat mildew with a fungicide.
Fruit flies can be a problem for mangoes. They look a lot like the typical house fly, and they lay their eggs in your growing mangoes. The larvae hatch and will ruin your mangoes as they feed on the fruit. You should always clean up any dropped fruit from around the tree, to eliminate any new generations of flies from hatching. The usual way to protect against the flies is to hang liquid-filled traps in the tree.
Harvest and Storage
Your tree will usually start to produce fruit after around 5 years, though grafted trees can fruit sooner depending on their age when you plant them.
To help protect your mangoes from birds and rodents, you can pick the fruit before they are ripe. Keep them indoors at room temperature until the finish ripening. This should only be done if pests are a problem. The fruit will be sweeter if left to ripen naturally on the tree.
You can tell when they are ripe when they change color and start to get slightly soft to the touch.
Though it may be hot out, it’s a good idea to wear gloves and even a long-sleeved shirt when picking your mangoes. The tree’s sap can actually give you quite a rash if you get any of it on your skin. There is a chemical in the sap (not the fruit itself) that is similar to poison ivy.
Once picked, your fresh mangoes can be stored in the fridge for about 2 weeks. You can keep your fruit longer if you freeze it. Cubes of mango flesh can be frozen but will become quite soft when thawed.