If you like the taste of fresh, juicy lychee fruit, you should probably be growing a tree of your own. The good news is, it’s pretty easy to grow a lychee tree from seed. The bad news is it takes a long time for these trees to grow and bear fruit.

Air layering or grafting are more common ways to grow a lychee tree than by growing from a seed, and to be frank, they are faster methods, too. But, if you don’t mind waiting a decade or so, you can grow your own trees from seed. 

Letʻs get into the nitty gritty of how itʻs done, because if we wait to long, we might be around to see our trees get to fruit!!

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Lychee Cultivars

While you may not be able to tell a difference between one lychee fruit and another, not all lychees are the same, and not all of them grow well in every part of the tropics.

For example, a common variety imported from China is called No Mai Tsze. And while it might be the sweetest-tasting lychee of them all, it is difficult to grow these trees anywhere outside of China. 

The tried-and-true varieties of lychees that grow best in Hawai’i are Groff and Kaimana types. They don’t require as much of a cool period to trigger flowering (which is essential for fruits, later on) and they do well in various elevations, too. 

The Kaimana variety, in particular has an earlier harvest (May and June), while the Groff harvest is usually seen closer to August.

Lychee Is Not True To Seed

It must be told that while planting a seed from one of these cultivars will grow you a Lychee tree, it will not be genetically the same as the parent tree. 

Lycheeʻs do not grow true to seed, you never know what you are going to get when you plant one.  You can get a total dud or you can have the worldʻs next best Lychee tree variety that everyone will want to propagate from.

When people do propagate Lychee trees, it is normally thru airlayering.  This ensures the new plant will be identical to the parent plant and it also has the benefit of producing fruit faster than if you grow the tree by seed.

Growing A Lychee Tree By Seed

One thing to know about lychees trees is that they love water. Now, don’t go drowning your plants, but keep in mind that the plant should be well-hydrated at all parts of the process, starting from the very beginning with germination.

  1. Clean your seed by removing the juicy outer fruit (go ahead and eat it!). Peel off any little bits of fruit remaining and then soak the seed in a bowl of room-temperature (not warm) water for 4-5 hours. (I say seed, but I soaked 8 seeds at once, you decide how many trees you want to grow).
  2. Then, take your seeds out of the water and wrap them up in a damp paper towel. Again – not soaking, just damp.
  3. Place the wrapped up seeds in a plastic bag or other air-tight container (a friend of mine uses aluminum foil – hey, why not? It works!) and simulate the warm, humid conditions lychee seeds are used to.
  4. Put the package aside for 12-25 days to allow it to germinate.
  5. When you begin to see initial sprouting, you can plant your lychee trees in pots (I do recommend planting in pots, and I’ll share why, below).
  6. Plant your seeds horizontally, in about 1- 1 ½ inches deep, in moist soil.

Lychee trees like well-draining, slightly acidic soil, and most of the soil throughout Hawai’i is ideal. So go ahead and use soil from your back yard,but make sure you mix it with black cinder or sand, so that it can drain well.

Don’t over-water your lychees and drown them, but remember not to let them dry out, either. Keep the soil around your seeds moist.

Lychee may not grow true to seed, but there are other fruit trees that do, like cacao. To learn more about growing Cacao by seed, be sure to check out this post.

Growing Lychee By Air Layering

This is my favorite way to grow Lychee.  I just think itʻs pretty cool how you can make trees this way.

You can take Air Layers anytime of year, but itʻs best to do when the tree is actively growing.  Choosing wood with high vigor would be ideal, which would mean choosing branches from the top of a tree.  This is not always feasible so do your best.

  1. With your chosen branch, score the wood with a sharp knife all the way around the branch.  Make 2 cuts 2” away from each other.
  2. Carefully peel off the 2” section of bark.
  3. Scrape the cut with your knife in a methodical manner to get rid of any of the cambium that might be remaining.
  4. Apply Rooting Hormone to the cut with a brush.
  5. Place some dripping moist peat moss or spagnum moss into some aluminum foil and wrap the cut completely as best you can with the moss surrounding the cut on all sides.
  6. Secure the aluminum foil completely and twist off the ends.  If any of the moss is exposed, use more foil to cover.
  7. Wait 3 months to a year so until roots develop.  When they do cut from the parent plant and pot the airlayer up in a pot twice the size of the airlayer to develop further.

Once I am able to pot up my airlayers, I like to leave them in the shade so that they can work on their root systems a bit.  When the leaves begin to exhibit new growth I will slowly introduce those pots to the sun.  Remember to keep them watered, they like water!

Lychee arenʻt the only fruit trees that can be airlayered. To learn which fruit trees you can use this method on check out this post that introduces over 30 fruit trees that can be airlayered!

Soil and Sun Requirements For Lychee

Lychee trees do pretty well in Hawaiian soil as long as it is moist, well-draining and doesn’t have chemicals. Therefore, it’s not advised to use any commercial fertilizers with lychee trees.

You could put some organic compost from your own home, if you want to mix it in (50/50 or a lower ratio) with regular soil, but as the trees get older theyʻll actually fruit better with less nitrogen.

It is essential that the soil around a lychee seedling be kept moist. Adult trees might be able to withstand short dry periods, but young trees or seedlings will easily die. However – don’t allow water to pool around your tree’s roots, either: there is a balance.

Keep the soil around the tree out to the drip line well covered with mulch.  This will keep the soil moist and help keep it fed at the same time.

Partial sunlight is best for my lychees, especially for seedlings. Young lychee trees need warm temperatures, but not direct sunlight for germination and early growth. Consider planting trees in a slightly shaded area.

Do You Need To Prune A Lychee Tree?

Only if you want to harvest the fruit!!

Lychee fruit is harvested off of the tree, not when they fall to the ground.  Some trees are HUGE, over 60ʻ to 80ʻ tall.  There is no way you are harvesting lychee fruit off of that thing.

To keep Lychee trees manageable and harvestable, it is best to prune them during the early years (2-4 years of age) to help control the shape and size.  Keep them to a reachable height for harvest and you should do well.

I wrote a post that goes deeper into pruning tropical fruit trees. Many of the tips in that post will apply to pruning Lychee Trees.

How Long Does It Take For A Lychee Tree To Grow?


It can take 10 years, sometimes up to 20 years for a lychee tree to grow from seed. You may get some fruits sooner, but the first few harvests will be pretty small.  A lychee tree isn’t considered ‘mature’ until it’s closer to ten years old when if youʻre lucky, you might get as much as 100 pounds of lychee from 1 tree!


It can take up to a year for a Lychee airlayer to take and 3-5 years for a Lychee tree made from an Airlayer to begin fruiting.  You may not get much fruit in the early years, but as the tree ages, the fruiting becomes more prolific.

Tips For Lychee Trees

  • I suggest planting lychees in pots, because young trees are fragile and are especially susceptible to damage from wind. A pot allows you to easily move the young tree to a location where it will be protected from strong winds.
  • If you experience strong ocean winds, you should especially make sure to plant your trees with some wind protection. This could be from natural wind breakers like shrubs or bushes, or plant the trees at an angle where a structure, like a shed or house, provides protection from direct wind.
  • An odd thing about lychee trees is that, while they are a tropical plant and love warm, wet weather, they actually need a brief cold spell to trigger flowering buds which will later produce fruits.

    Once your tree is mature, don’t worry if the weather drops below 20C for several nights, this actually should do the trick to help you get fruit!

Are Lychee Trees Self-Pollinating?

Lychee trees are self-pollinating, which means even a single tree contains both male and female buds necessary to get fruit. You do not need multiple lychee trees in order to get a harvest of fruit – just one is enough.

Growing your own trees is a rewarding experience.  There is nothing like harvesting fruit from a tree that you knew from birth.  

Whether you grow a Lychee from Seed or Airlayer, youʻll be excited when that tree begins to produce and feed you and your family fresh fruit for years to come.

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