If you live in Hawaii, then you’ve probably seen the evergreen bushes with white blossoms, and you’ve likely seen these tiny ‘pumpkin shaped’ sweet-and-sour tasting fruits. These small red fruits go by many names: Pitanga, Pumpkin Cherries, Florida Cherries or Surinam Cherries.
Surinam cherries grow well in Hawaii and it is easy to grow them from seeds or cuttings. Both propagation methods are successful ways to grow Surinam Cherries, but growing from cuttings has faster results.
Surinam cherries are actually misnamed (they aren’t a cherry at all), they are a delicious fruit that makes a sweet jam or cordial. They’ve likely been grown throughout Hawai’i for over 100 years, here’s how to start growing them on your homestead.
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How To Grow Surinam Cherries
The process is pretty straightforward:
- Plant seeds in a pot with well draining potting soil.
- Occasionally water seeds.
- The seeds should pop up within 3-4 weeks.
- In 6-8 months they should be ready to transplant from pot to your garden.
- 3-5 years later you should be enjoying the fruit.
Okay, I’ll be a bit more specific, keep reading.
How To Grow From Seed
Growing these fruits from seed takes a bit longer than growing from cuttings, but it’s incredibly easy and might even be free!
Just get some fresh, ripe fruits (ask a neighbor, or you might even find some growing at a park), eat the fruit and reserve the seeds. Every fruit should have a single, round seed inside.
Clean the seed and plant it in a pot with moist (not wet) soil. Water regularly, but don’t it does not have to be daily. Surinam cherries can tolerate dryspells, so don’t be too persistent with moisture in this case.
It usually takes between 20 – 30 days for the seeds to germinate.
Surinam Cherry shrubs grow a long root, which allows them to do well even during dry spells. Because of that, you shouldn’t let this plant stay too long in a pot.
I advise moving your plant outside, into a location where it’s roots can go down deep (you’ll eventually get more fruits with a deep root system) before the plant reaches 1 ½ feet high.
Transplant your Surinam Cherry plant out of the pot and into your garden before it reaches 18 inches in height.
You can plant several Surinam Cherry bushes as few as 5-6 feet apart from one another, if you want to create a hedge. If you plant together with other fruit trees, give a wider area (something like 8 – 10 feet) for shade as well as pest control.
Surinam cherries are great for growing under larger fruit trees such as coconut or avocado.
How To Grow From A Cutting
Growing a plant from cuttings is a bit more involved than growing from seed, but you will have fruits in a much shorter amont of time.
First, you need to start with a cut from a healthy, Surinam Cherry plant, one that has new growth since a recent harvest and with limbs that are flexible. The best time of year to do this is during summer months.
Next, you need to manipulate the cutting to produce roots:
- Prepare rooting hormone in a small bowl;
- Remove the leaves along the lower portion of the cutting and dip them in warm water and then the rooting hormone.
Ensure all cut areas have contact with rooting hormone!
- Plant the cuttings in well-draining soil. You can use a combination of soil, sand and compost, if you want.
Do NOT use beach sand, as the natural salt in it will likely kill your Surinam Cherry plant. Salt is the enemy of this plant.
Finally, wait 3-4 weeks and then check to see if roots are forming. If you have roots – replant each cutting into a larger pot and water occasionally. Move your plants outside to your garden before they reach 18 inches in height.
Can You Air Layer Surinam Cherries?
Yes, Surinam Cherries have been successfully air layered. I have a whole post about that, if you’re interested check it out.
When To Expect Fruit
If you live in a location with lots of warmth and rain – you might be in luck and get year-round fruits from your Surinam Cherriy shrub.
If you have a little bit less rain, but plenty of warm weather, you can expect to see fruit harvests at least twice a year: from March to May and again from September to early November.
You’ll probably see your first crop of Surinam cherries 5-6 years after planting your seeds.
If you start from cuttings, you can hope for these Pumpkin Cherries after approximately two years.
Are Surinam Cherries Real Cherries?
No, Surinam cherries are not cherries. Cherries are in the family of stone fruits and will not grow well in Hawai’i’s tropical weather because they require a season of cold to help them flower and grow fruits.
The actual botanical term for Surinam Cherries is “Eugenia uniflora” they are related to Mountain Apples, Jaboticaba and guavas, not cherries. They technically grow on an evergreen shrub, not a tree, but, the fruits are small and have a similar color to cherries, so I can understand the confusion.
I don’t think they taste like cherries, either, but I do like their sweet-and-sour flavor. I especially love them prepared as jams, or just to eat ripe and fresh from the garden.
Can You Grow Surinam Cherries Near The Ocean?
Typically, you cannot grow Surinam Cherries near the ocean. Although they love warm, tropical weather, the roots cannot handle any salt. The salt content of soil close to the ocean makes ocean-front shrubs a bad idea.
Instead, plant your Eugenia Uniflora further inland, or at higher altitudes. They are actually pretty hardy plants and will tolerate moderate droughts, and don’t mind shade, too. So planting these guys within a fruit forest on your homestead is a great option.
This plant is hardy and does great in Hawai’i’s weather, but one issue you might face is pests. One of the biggest ones is fruit flies – they love Surinam cherries!
I’ve found that one of the best remedies is to use neem oil on the shrub’s leaves to help keep these annoying insects away. And also – don’t plant too close to other trees, or the fruit fly issue can be exacerbated. Aim for 8-10 feet between this shrub and other fruit trees.
Root rot can also be an issue (especially during the wet seasons in Hawaii), so make sure your soil has excellent drainage as a preventative measure.
To learn more about these pests and others you should check out this post introducing common garden pests of Hawaii.
Once your Surinam Cherry plant reaches maturity (after the first good harvest), I recommend pruning it. You should prune it at least once a year, after harvest to help limit the height of the plant and make it easier to pick the ripe fruits.
Also, this type of light, regular pruning will make your bushes expand, and over time you should get more fruits per plant.
There you have it: how to grow a Surinam Cherry plant from seed or cuttings. Which is better? I’m not sure – but either way, the fruit is delicious!
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