Growing Stone Fruit in the Tropics: How To Do It


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So many people come to the tropics looking for tasty exotic fruit to sink their teeth into.  Pineapple.  Mangoes.  Papaya.  Umm.  So good.  But to the people of Hawai’i and the rest of the tropics, exotic fruit comes in the form of Peaches, Plums and Apricots.  Lucky for us, they can grow in the tropics!

Growing stone fruit in the tropics successfully depends on a few factors, choosing a low chill variety, elevation, and total rainfall.  If you have the right combination, then you can enjoy fresh peaches and plums from your own backyard.  You may even create a competitive edge at the market.

The abundance of the tropics seems to know no bounds.  Stone fruit! Really!!  If you are one of the lucky ones that live in the right climate, then you have the ability to provide local produce that would be considered exotic, fetching a premium price as well as filling a valuable niche in ensuring Hawai’i’s overall food security.


Related: There is a lot of thinning of fruit required to grow healthy, pest free stone fruit in the tropics. Why not get the best tool for the job. My favorite hand pruners straight from Amazon to your door.

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What Are Stone Fruit?

Stone fruit are a group of fruits that all share in having a single large seed, or pit in the middle of the fruit.  Typically these fruits are thinned skinned and tend not to ripen off the tree, so they are picked at the peak of ripeness.  This makes them difficult to ship.

Common temperate stone fruits that can grow in the tropics are:

  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Apricots
  • Nectarine
  • Cherries

Different varieties of stone fruit ripen at different times.  Expect the spring months to be filled with cherries and apricots, followed by peaches, nectarines and plums by mid summer.  The plum marks the end of the stone fruit season in the fall.

Now let’s find out how to succeed in growing these temperate stone fruits in our tropical climate.

3 Factors That Will Ensure Success

Many of us who live in the tropics know that there tends to be a variety of microclimates. It’s not just hot and sunny everywhere with the random squall of rain every now and then.  Some spots in the tropics can get downright cold.  

Temperature isn’t the only thing you will need to ensure success in growing stone fruits in the tropics.  There are a few more factors at play.  

GROW THE RIGHT VARIETY FOR THE TROPICS

Many dog lovers know, there isn’t just one type of dog.  There are Lab Retrievers, huskies, bull dogs and more.  And just like dogs, plants such as a peach can have many varieties that thrive in different environments.  I wouldn’t want to have a Siberean Husky in Hawai’i, nor would I want a hairless chihuahua in Alaska.

Ensuring you select the right variety of tree will be one of the keys to your success.  Below are the best varieties of temperate stone fruits that have been known to do well in the tropics.

FRUITVARIETY
ApricotEarligold, Floragold, Gold Kist
CherryMinnie Royal, Royal Lee*
NectarineArctic Star, Panamint, Snow Queen
PeachTropic Snow, Flordaprince, Bonita, August Pride, Earlygrande, Donut
PlumsBeauty, Burgundy, Santa Rosa, Chuo Ume (grows on Kona Coast)!
*Requires both varieties for cross-pollination

Each one of these trees has a chilling requirement of 250 hours or less.  Remember, I said 250 hours OR LESS.  Experiments are under way to see if some of these varieties can get by without any chilling hours at all, and many do.

What is a Chilling Requirement?  Some fruit trees need a certain amount of hours between the range of 32 – 45 degrees in order to set fruit.  Stone fruits are trees that require chilling hours.

The tree does not want to be too cold, nor does it want to get too hot. Temperate stone fruit trees want to be in that sweet spot and many of the higher elevations in the tropics provide that perfect range of temperatures just long enough for the trees to be able to fruit.

Success starts here, so be sure to choose the right variety when you make your tree purchase.  

BEST ELEVATION FOR STONE FRUIT

Hawaii is blessed with a variety of microclimates, and with it, the chance to grow food crops from all over the world.  Down by the sea, coconuts, mangoes and papaya thrive.  A little higher up, peaches, plums and apricots are the ones thriving.

Thanks to the advances of genetic variety, we now have a wider range of elevations that we can begin experimenting with.  The best elevations in Hawai’i tend to be between 2000 – 4000 ft.  However it is possible to go much lower these days, even as far down as 500’!  Trees at higher elevations can also be found.

There are varieties of peach and plum that are fruiting down to the level of 500’ on the Kona coast in Hawai’i.  An experimental farm on Molokai has had good success growing peaches with zero chill hours using the varieties listed above! 

Imagine sitting by the warm tropical beach biting into a fresh peach, now that sounds exotic.

Where stone fruit does thrive in the tropics are in the upper elevations.  Between 2000’ to 4000’ seems to be the sweet spot.  Here the temperatures come down to our desired range, but not too far.  There are many upper elevation experimental farms operated by the University of Hawai’i that grow stone fruit, and results have been good.

Towns like Volcano and Waimea on Hawai’i Island or Makawao are perfect examples of locations where stones do thrive.  I visited an experimental farm just outside Waimea and was excited to sink my teeth into one of the sweetest peaches I have ever tasted.  I didn’t know it was possible out here!

Elevation fits our chilling hour requirements, but it’s all for nothing if you are unable to satisfy this last requirement.

IT ALL DEPENDS ON RAINFALL

You may be at the perfect elevation.  You have a cook stove for those cold winter nights, even though you live in the tropics.  But if you also have too much rain where you live, stone fruit may not produce very well.

In fact, locations that are dry, but able to afford supplemental irrigation would be the ideal locations for stone fruit to thrive.  

The rain is just too much for the stone fruit.  It has a tendency to break loose young flower buds and increases the chances of the trees contracting disease.  Less than 80” of rainfall per year should be ok, with less rain being better.

But don’t give up if you do live in a rainy climate.  Some years may not work for you, but other years may provide a decent crop.  With a little extra care and attention, you can help your stone fruit to thrive.

Related: Growing Apples in the TropicsOpens in a new tab.

Pruning For Abundance

A little trick of the trade when it comes to harvesting quality stone fruit lies in the pruning of the tree.

During the cooler months, it is good to prune your stone fruit trees.  Peaches and Nectarines can be pruned down by as much as 50% each year while plums and apricots should only be pruned down by as much as 20%.

I like to do 2 types of pruning cuts, heading cuts and thinning cuts.  A heading cut keeps the tree down to the size you want.  Thinning cuts help open up the tree by cutting any crossing branches or thinning the upper branches to allow more light for the lower branches.

Cutting vertical branches helps open up the tree for light and increases vegetative growth necessary for healthy tree growth.  Horizontal branches are where the fruit growth occurs.  Topping these branches is done to renew fruiting wood and thin off excess fruit.

Thinning the fruit is good practice as well.  Leave too many on and you are left with a lot of small, not so tasty fruit.  Thin the fruit so they are not touching.  This will allow them to grow larger and increase their flavor.

All Gardeners Deal With Crop Failure

A lot of people will try and talk you out of growing temperate climate fruits in the tropics.  They’ll tell you it can’t be done.  They may not be aware of the recent advances in low chill varieties of our favorite stone fruits.  Or they may just be those types of people that resist anything new. 

Either way, it’s something every tropical gardener should try if they have space.  Don’t be afraid of failure.  All gardeners, all farmers deal with crop loss.  Maybe there was a flood or late season frost.  Crops get lost all the time.  That shouldn’t stop you.

I have been trying to grow tomatoes at my place for years.  I always lose the plants to powdery mildew.  I could’ve given up and told everyone I met that tomatoes just don’t grow in Puna.  Instead, I found a new variety, created a better growing environment and now I am growing tomatoes!

One peach tree may fail miserably out in the open field exposed to the elements, but that other peach that you placed on the forest edge is thriving.  Sometimes all it takes is a simple tweak to get plants to grow well.

Pests and How to Deal With Them

There are many pests in the tropics that want to threaten the fruit of your temperate fruit tree.  Birds will try and take them from above, pigs will try and root them from below, but the worst of them all is the fruit fly.

There is no one way to deal with fruit flies.  A multi-pronged approach must be used.

DEALING WITH FRUIT FLIES

  1. Prevention – Prevention is key.  Eliminate possible sources of breeding.  Discard old fruit.  Keep everything clean.  I accomplish this by having free range chickens that clean up EVERYTHING!
  2. Monitoring – Ensure you don’t have a problem by utilizing bait traps to record the local population.  This will also help you identify which fruit fly species you are dealing with so you can take the proper approach towards eradicating it.
  3. Control – Utilize proper control measures if it is determined that you have a surplus population of fruit flies.  Bait traps, lures, and poisons are effective in controlling fruit fly populations.

There are four types of fruit flies in Hawai’i, each taking up a pretty specialized niche in our environment.

FRUIT FLY SPECIES OF HAWAII

MELON FLYBACKYARD VEGETABLE GARDENS/LOWER ELEVATION
MEDITERRANEAN FRUIT FLYUPPER ELEVATIONS TO 8000’
ORIENTAL FRUIT FLYALMOST EVERYWHERE
SOLANACEOUS FRUIT FLYDRY AREAS, HOT & COLD

One way growers have found to control the fruit fly is by applying a protein bait insecticide on nearby hedgerows or other non edible crops.  This will attract and kill the fruit flies away from the crop that you wish to harvest.

There is an organic product called azatin which is a neem based product that attacks fruit fly larvae in the soil, leaving many beneficial insects unharmed.

Typically though, fruit flies are managed by placing a lure inside a trap.  The lure is an attractant that is poisonous to fruit flies and it is housed in a trap such as a 2 liter bottle with holes drilled in, where the fruit flies can come in, but they can’t get out.

Related: 4 Easy Ways To Grow Mushrooms In The TropicsOpens in a new tab.

Start Growing Stone Fruit In The Tropics

So what are you waiting for?  Are you convinced yet that it might just be possible to grow a peach in Hawai’i or a plum in Guatamala?  Following a few simple tips will almost ensure you’ll be harvesting stone fruit in a few short years.

I wish I planted a peach years ago.  I know I’m going to start keeping an eye out at the local nurseries for my next stone fruit tree.  

If you are unable to locate a stone fruit tree, try checking in with Dave Wilson Fruit Tree Nursery Opens in a new tab.in CA.  They are where most local nurseries would be getting their stone fruit trees from anyway.

Get Growing! Aloha!


References

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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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