Did you know that one of the most prolific fruit trees is the jackfruit? Not only are these massive fruits the largest that grow on trees, but a single tree can produce over 150 fruits each year! With such an abundance of fruit, it is certainly worth it to grow your own jackfruit.
To grow jackfruit, it is important to regularly prune the tree during the first 3-4 years of life in order to form a strong trunk, this is so that it can support the weight of the heavy jackfruit once the tree matures.
Regular pruning and tree training are essential during the early years of the jackfruit tree’s life, but that hard work pays off: if you give this tree proper attention early on, you may be rewarded with hundreds of jackfruit every year.
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Ideal Soil for a Jackfruit Tree
The best soil for a jackfruit tree is well-draining, but not sandy. Trees planted in sandy soil won’t grow as thick (leaner, slimmer trees). If you want shorter, sturdier jackfruit trees (which, believe me, you do!), add small bits of gravel, not sand to make it drain better.
When choosing the right soil for your jackfruit, you should be aware of two things:
Jackfruit trees have finicky roots and they have a complicated relationship in regards to water.
You should only relocate a jackfruit tree once: when it is a small seedling. After this, leave it alone or you risk killing your tree, because of the sensitive roots. The jackfruit’s roots cannot tolerate either drought or too much water, so you have to choose a good location with well-draining soil for your trees.
Jackfruit trees like warmth, full sun, and lots of moisture (good thing Hawai’i has a great climate just for that!), but they don’t like their roots to get wet. Yes, these trees like moisture, but not soaked roots. You should not plant a jackfruit anywhere on your property that has pooling or soggy ground, because the jackfruit will not thrive, or even survive.
Jackfruits are one of many uncommon fruit trees that grow great in the tropics. There are more, and you should learn about them by reading this post that introduces 12 uncommon fruit trees to grow in Hawaii.
Growing a Jackfruit from Seed
If you’ve got access to fresh jackfruit, just keep several seeds and soak them in water overnight, but no longer than 24 hours. Don’t use seeds that are older than four weeks old. The fresher, the better.
After an overnight soak, plant the seed in well-draining soil, either directly into the ground, or in a pot. Keep the soil moist, but not soaked with water.
If you start with a pot (which is a good idea so that you can better control the moisture level), you can move the jackfruit seedling when it is big enough. But you need to do so when you see 2-3 leaves on the plant. If you have over 4 leaves, then you risk damaging the plant as the main “tap root” will have begun establishing itself by that time.
You can grow jackfruit from cuttings, grafting or air layering, but because of the sensitive roots of this tree such approaches usually require root hormones.
Given how easy it is to obtain a fresh seed, I prefer to grow mine from seed.
Tending a Young Jackfruit Tree
Jackfruit is unique because it grows not on the end of branches, but on the actual trunk of the tree. Because of this, it’s important to establish a strong trunk to support the weight of the fruits.
As your tree is young, it’s a good idea to encourage a ‘central leader’ and trim away some smaller, off-shoot branches in order to encourage more nourishment to the center. This will help a sturdy, thick trunk develop and ensure your tree will be shorter and stronger, not long and lean. This type of regular, planned pruning is known as tree training.
Training your Jackfruit
If you decided to graft your jackfruit tree for earlier growth, then you will probably need to do a great deal more pruning than a tree grown from seed.
With other fruit trees, grafting encourages more branches to develop, which, in the case of citrus or other types of fruit trees, ends up producing more places for fruits to grow. But remember, jackfruit doesn’t grow on branches, it grows on the trunk, therefore excess branches just get in the way.
Prune away unnecessary branches and encourage a bigger, stronger trunk instead.
Trees from Seed
Jackfruit trees which have been grown from seed need to be trained, too, in order to shorten their growth and get the ideal tree form.
Once your tree is growing well, you can ‘top it’ at approximately 7 or 8 feet, this means cutting off the top of the main trunk. Be careful to not cut off the side branches, but just the ‘head’ of the center of the tree.
Only top a jackfruit when you have 4-6 main horizontal branches at the lower levels which are creating a good canopy. Cutting the topmost trunk will encourage horizontal growth of upper branches and produce more fruits, later on.
For both grafted trees and trees planted from seedlings, jackfruits need adequate light to get through.
The ideal form of a jackfruit tree is as a wide triangle shape, with a thin canopy of leaves. This allows the most amount of sunlight to get to the base of the tree.
Therefore, you should be regularly removing branches that do not suit this shape, and cutting away overlapping branches that block sunlight.
Pruning a Jackfruit
You shouldn’t need to prune your jackfruit tree in the first year of growth, but the second and third years, you should trim away new growth below the first set of horizontal branches.
Once your tree is ready to bear fruit (3-4 years old, usually), then you will need to consistently prune the tree for optimal fruit growth.
You will need to prune a jackfruit for three major things:
- Light penetration.
Thick foliage from the canopy can stop light from reaching the trunk. Prune away excessive leaves and smaller, vertical branches to allow sufficient light. If you’ve done a good job of training your tree to get that wide triangle shape from the crown, then your work to prune for light penetration will be much easier.
- Removal of overlapping, dead leaves and branches.
This is partly for light penetration, but it also reduces risk of disease and decay when you remove dead leaves and branches early on.
- Fruits and shoots
For younger trees, you may want to limit the number of fruits growing at any time on the trunk. This reduces the overall weight the tree must bear, and encourages better-tasting, although fewer in number, fruits.
There will probably be flowering shoots that never develop into fruits. When you harvest your jackfruit, remove any shoots (cutting off close to the trunk) that were unsuccessful, to allow for new growth.
Jackfruit can be enjoyed ripe or unripe, but you will need to wait 5-7 days after harvesting before you can consume a ripe jackfruit.
Jackfruit grows year-round in tropical climates, like Hawai’i.
An unripe jackfruit is typically treated more like a vegetable and cooked before it is eaten (it has the texture of shredded meat, and sometimes used in stews).
An unripe jackfruit will be a large, odd-shaped fruit with a thick, bumpy skin that is green in color. When knocked, it will sound solid and firm. Wait approximately 10-14 weeks after initial growth before harvesting an unripe jackfruit for cooking purposes.
A ripe jackfruit will change from green to a lighter, not-quite-yellow color and the bumps will smooth out a little (but not become entirely flat). You may also notice a sweet smell coming from a ripe jackfruit and it will sound softer when the fruit is knocked.
When harvesting either the ripe or unripe jackfruit you must take precautions to avoid touching the sticky, glue-like substance that comes from both the skin and the stem. The latex-type sap from the jackfruit isn’t dangerous, but it can stain clothing and cause a mess.
Cut the stem of the fruit with shears or clippers, and use gloves, too. Place the fruit on its side, in the shade, until the goo-ey white sap stops flowing from the stem.
Wait a few days (up to a week) after harvesting the jackfruit before cutting it for eating. I’d advise wearing gloves when you cut it, because the skin emits the same white sap. Also, if you oil your knife (veggie or olive oil) it will make washing the knife easier, too.
Jackfruits are the largest fruits that grow on trees. One fruit can weigh over 80 pounds! So, you can understand why the trunk needs to be strong.
When you plant a jackfruit, you must give it attention during the first years to establish a strong trunk, and then regularly prune the tree for optimal fruit growth. If you follow these guidelines, you’ll be enjoying loads of jackfruit for many years ahead.
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