Growing Rambutan: How To Guide


One of my ongoing goals is to reduce how much food I buy and increase how much I grow. One of the best investments you can make on your homestead is planting fruit trees. There are so many options of fruits to grow in tropical locations and one of the more interesting-looking ones is rambutan. 

You can grow rambutan trees from seeds or seedling trees, but to get a good mix of male and female plants, you may want to consider growing rambutans from seedlings or planting several trees in one location.

Rambutan, a member of the lychee family, originated in Southeast Asia. To get the maximum harvest, you want to have a mix of male and female (or hermaphroditic) trees, in order for cross pollination to occur. 

If you want to grow rambutan trees from seed or as seedlings, it is a good idea to plant at least four, to give you a good chance of having both types of trees. This will ensure you yield larger harvests in years to come.

Rambutan Fruits

Rambutan fruits are small and round, covered in pink, hairy-looking skin. Yes, they look like a fruit out of a Dr Suess book, but underneath that strange-looking skin is soft, white flesh covering a large woody seed. 

The white flesh has a nice, mild sweet flavor. They are not very juicy and it’s easy to eat even a dozen fruits because the edible part is quite small.

Don’t eat the pit or seed of a rambutan, they contain trace amounts of toxins. Don’t let your animals eat the seeds, either: add them to compost but not food scraps animals will be consuming.

Growing Rambutan from seeds

If you have access to fresh rambutan then you can plant a tree from seed. You need a fresh seed for planting: just remove the outer skin and the white flesh (or, rather, eat the white part!) and clean off the woody seed to make it ready for planting.

Don’t let the seed dry out, and be sure to plant it within seven days. Plant it in well-draining soil, mixed with compost or fertilizer. Cover the seed with dirt, but don’t pack it down (just lightly cover it).

For the appropriate humidity for the plant to thrive, think “tropical rainforest” not a dry zone, but not overly wet, either; keep it nice and moist without allowing water to pool around the seed.
It can take 2-3 weeks for the seed to germinate, but that’s just the start. You’ll need to wait around five years for the tree to begin producing fruits.

I recommend planting a rambutan seed in a pot, with some sand or black cinderincluded in the soil for added drainage.  This makes it easier for you to protect your fragile seedling until it is big enough to plant outdoors – which could take 18 months or longer.

Growing Rambutan from a Seedling

Rambutan trees are enormous – a mature tree can reach up to 80 feet in height. This means that you should plant seedlings a good distance apart from one another, and don’t plant them close to your home or other buildings on your property. They will spread out and provide plenty of shade.

If you’re planting several rambutan trees, it’s a good idea to give 30 feet of room between each one. However, you may want to start with planting seedlings in large pots to help care for them until they reach a size with a strong enough base and root system to plant independently.

I felt confident about moving my rambutan trees out of their pots and into the ground when they were two feet in height (about 18 months old). To ensure the roots have plenty of room, dig a hole 6 or 7 feet deep and approximately 2 ½ feet wide.

Whether you are growing rambutan trees in a pot or outdoors, be sure to give them plenty of sunlight. If you live in a tropical location, aim for 12 or more hours of indirect sunlight – this will keep the soil from drying out from direct sunlight. If you don’t have strong sun or very warm temperatures, try to give your trees 6-7 hours of direct sunlight.

Rambutans also benefit greatly from fertilizer. You can use your own compost  or purchase fertilizer. My favorite fruit tree fertilizer is a couple handfuls of BloodMeal.  Apply approximately every 6 months for the best results.

How long does it take to bear fruit?

If you grow a Rambutan tree from seed and you are in a tropical climate, it can take 5 or more years until your tree produces fruit. If you grow from a seedling, you can usually shave about two years off of that time and hope to see fruits after only three years of growth.

However, if you live in a cooler environment and you bring your rambutan trees indoors during colder weather, the time it takes to produce fruit will be affected.

Do you need to prune a Rambutan tree?

They say that Rambutan trees require only a little regular pruning, but since you have to harvest all these tiny fruits by hand, I like to keep the tree at a manageable size.  

I prune every year after the tree fruits so that it can stay within reach of me on a ladder, I suggest you do the same for you.

How to know when Rambutan is ready to eat?

Rambutan season in Hawaii is between February and March and sometimes again in August and September. This is when most rambutans are ripe and delicious.

You’ll know your rambutan fruit is ready when a ‘bunch’ of it turns the signature pinkish-red color. Unripe rambutans are green and then change to yellow as they start to ripen. It’s alright to pick a cluster of rambutans growing together if most of them are red but one or two are still yellow.

There is a yellow rambutan variety that is ready when yellow.  These fruits are much sweeter than their red counterparts, but the flesh is difficult to pull away from the seed, leaving you wanting more with each bite.  Itʻs kind of frustrating actually.

Don’t wait for any rambutans to turn black, this means they have passed their prime and are no longer good to eat.

I love eating rambutan fruits and I feel ever better consuming them when I know they’ve been grown right on my own homestead, here in the tropics.

Sean Jennings

Sean has been living simply Off-Grid in Hawai'i for over 18 years. He lives debt free on Hawai'i Island with his family and over 40 chickens. When he's not tinkering around the homestead, he's off exploring the shorelines for fish & surf.

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