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Mango Tree Maintenance: Growing Tropical Treats

For many of us, mangos are thought to be an occasional luxury treat due to the price and availability of fruit. Luckily, growing a mango tree at home is not impossible. It is time to stop depriving yourself of this delicious tropical treat and grow your own mangos! Although they are tropical trees, mangos can be grown in the ground in zones 9-11 or in containers in zones 4-11.

Mango fruit is incredibly delicious to eat on its own but growing your own will allow you to get creative and enjoy them in different ways. The mango fruit can be used in smoothies, salsas, ice creams, and so much more. They can even be frozen or dehydrated so they can be enjoyed any time of the year.

Whether you have a large space or a small patio, there’s a mango variety fit for you. There are hundreds of mango varieties available throughout different parts of the world. Local nurseries will carry types that are well adapted to your growing conditions. This guide will cover all the basics of growing a mango tree and provide some information on great varieties.

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Quick Care Guide

Mango tree
Not only is a mango tree beautiful, it produces tasty tropical fruits. Source: sapienssolutions
Common Name(s)Mango
Scientific NameMangifera indica
Days to HarvestAnnually; 3-5 months after bloom
LightFull sun
WaterModerate
SoilWell-draining sandy loam
Fertilizer3x per year; low nitrogen blend
PestsMealybug, aphids, mites
DiseasesAnthracnose, powdery mildew

All About The Mango Tree

Mangifera indica, commonly known as the mango tree, originates from India and has been used in ayurvedic medicine for over 4,000 years. Different parts of the tree and fruits are used to treat hair loss, stomach pain, skin disorders, and wounds. 

This large tropical evergreen tree is known to grow up to 100 feet. The leaves are elliptic to lanceolate and spirally arranged on the branches. New leaves are a copper color and turn a shiny green once they mature. Mangifera indica produces small white flowers that grow in flower clusters. The flowers are either male or hermaphrodite and both types can be found in a single cluster. The produce ranges in size, shape, and color depending on the variety. Average mango fruit tends to be between 3-5 inches long and egg or kidney-shaped. Their colors include green, yellow, red, and orange with many varieties bearing multicolored produce.

Mangifera indica flowers in the winter through spring and are self-fertile. Fruit is ready in the spring and summer about 3-5 months after flowering. Tree size varies quite a bit depending on the cultivar and the growing environment. Some trees can grow up to 100 feet while container-grown trees can be kept at 6-8 feet.

Researchers are studying how mango trees can help mitigate climate change. Mango trees have an incredible ability to sequester carbon. Even though the United States grows mangos commercially in Florida, Hawaii, California, and Puerto Rico, more than 80% of the supply comes from Mexico. Fortunately, studies have shown that mango orchards sequester 2-2.5X the carbon produced by growing, harvesting, and transporting mangos from Mexico to the United States.

Types of Mango

Unripe mangos
Most mangos are a pretty green shade when unripe. Source: robert and fabienne

Honey’ or ‘Ataulfo’ is a yellow mango tree with a sweet and sour flavor. Mangoes produced by this variety are firm with no fibers and are ready to harvest and enjoy between March and July.

‘Francis’ is a green and yellow mango with a sweet fruity flavor. It ripens between May and June. The fruit is soft and fibrous.

Haden’ has a sweet and sour flavor. This mango is red with green and yellow accents. Mangoes produced by this tree cultivar are firm with fine fibers and ready for harvest between March and May.

Keitt’ is a green and pink mango with a sweet and fruity taste. It has a firm texture with limited fibers. A ‘Keitt’ tree has two harvesting windows: March-April and a late second window of August-September.

Kent’ has a sweet and sour flavor. These mangoes are dark green with red accents. The texture is soft with limited fibers.

‘Tommy Atkins’ has a tart flavor with notes of sweetness. The food produced by this tree is red with green and yellow accents. The texture is firm and fibrous. The harvesting window is March-July.

Ice Cream’ and ‘Cogshall’ are two excellent varieties for growing in containers. These two are both dwarf tree types with no fibers. ‘Ice Cream’ has a mango sherbet flavor while ‘Cogshall’ has a rich sweet taste.

Planting

The first step to growing a healthy mango fruit tree is choosing an optimal planting location. Mangos can be planted in the ground or in containers. Regardless if you are planting in the ground or container, mango trees require a warm sunny location and good drainage. The best time to plant is in the fall or spring when temperatures are cooler. Do not bury the graft union; it’s best to keep the graft union at least a few inches above the soil surface.

For in-ground planting, choose a location at least 15 feet from any structures or other trees to give enough room for a mature mango fruit tree. Dig a hole 2-3 times the size of the rootball, untangle any overlapping roots, and place the mango tree in the ground. Cover with loose soil and incorporate organic matter (optional).

For container planting, use a high-quality potting mix and at least a 20-gallon container. Young mango trees can be planted in smaller containers and later transplanted into a 20-gallon container.

Care

Looking up into mango tree
A view up into a mango tree. Source: el_finco

Mango trees have specific requirements to grow healthy and produce quality fruits. Follow the guide below to give your mango fruit tree everything it needs to thrive.

Sun and Temperature

A mango tree requires full sun. The absolute minimum requirement is 6 hours of direct sunlight. However, 8-10 hours of direct sun is optimal.

Mangos are accustomed to tropical climates so they thrive in the heat but do not like temperatures below 40°F. Trees can be grown in USDA zones 9-11. Ideal locations in the continental US include warm, frost-free parts of Florida or California. Frost protection is required when temperatures drop below freezing. A potted mango tree can be grown in zones 4-11 if it is brought inside and placed near a sunny window when temperatures drop below freezing. Most varieties can tolerate temperatures as low as 30°F for a short period, but damage may occur to the foliage and flowers. The ideal temperature during the summer is between 80-100°F.

Water and Humidity

Mango trees grow best when watered using a wet/dry cycle. This means irrigating until the soil is fully saturated, then waiting until the soil is relatively dry before watering again. Mangos do not tolerate constantly wet conditions, so allowing the soil to dry down will keep the mango tree healthy. The best way to confirm if the soil is dry enough is by digging a couple of inches into the soil to check for moisture. The soil should be dry before the next irrigation. Irrigation during the winter may not be necessary if the soil does not dry out.

As mango trees thrive in a humid environment, watering during the day will be beneficial in drier climates to increase the humidity surrounding the fruit tree. Since trees should be fully saturated during each irrigation, it’s best to use soaker hoses, micro-sprinklers, or drip irrigation to prevent excessive water runoff.

Soil

Mango trees prefer slightly acidic, well-draining soils high in organic matter. The pH should remain between 5.5 and 7.5. Trees will generally survive without the addition of organic matter but adding extra will greatly benefit the tree.

Fertilizing

Fertilizing mango trees can be a little tricky. Young trees require nitrogen, but they are sensitive to excessive nitrogen and are prone to burning. Tropical tree and citrus blends work well for mangos, but do not use a blend with more than 6% nitrogen. Apply a balanced fertilizer in the spring, summer, and fall during the first few years until the mango tree becomes established.

An established fruiting mango tree requires little to no additional nitrogen. Applying too much nitrogen will cause more vegetative growth and lowered quality. When selecting a fertilizer, choose a blend with a higher phosphorus and potassium ratio to enhance flower production and fruiting as well as healthy root development. Fertilize every 2-3 months from flower set through the end of harvest.

Pruning

Mango trees need to be pruned to remove dead or diseased wood, keep an open canopy, and control the size of the tree. For the first few years after planting, pruning is required twice a year in the winter (before flowering) and the summer (after harvest). Creating a good tree structure in the first few years will eliminate the need to prune every year.

Removing dead or diseased branches is crucial to reduce the chance of carrying disease problems into the following season. Old fruit must also be removed to prevent both disease and insect pests. When removing diseased material, it’s important to remove all tissue that was infected and discard it away from the mango tree. Do not leave diseased or fallen material on the ground.

To create an open canopy, select 3-4 main scaffold branches to provide the base structure of the mango tree. Scaffold branches must not overlap and should have a minimum of a 45° angle from the main trunk. Remove any vertical branching wood in the center of the canopy. Maintaining an open canopy will allow for optimal sunlight and airflow throughout the entire mango tree. Proper airflow is crucial to preventing disease and pest problems.

To control the size of the tree, it’s generally best to allow the mango tree to spread more horizontally. A mango tree with a wider spread is much easier to maintain and harvest. Prune any vertical branches to the desired height of the tree. It’s also important to prune any low-hanging branches to keep all leaves and fruit from touching the soil.

Propagation

Mango trees can be propagated by seed or through grafting.

Seed propagation is not recommended because it takes roughly 5-8 years to bear fruit and the mango tree may or may not have the desired characteristics from the mother tree. Still, for the patient home gardener, germinating a mango seed is relatively easy. The first step is to remove the seed from the pit or husk found inside the middle of the fruit. Germinating the seed can be done by wrapping it in a moist paper towel and placing it in a plastic ziplock bag. Keep the bag in a warm location above 70°F until the seed germinates. Once germinated, plant the growing seedling in a pot.

Grafting is the best method for propagating a mango tree. Grafted trees allow home gardeners to choose the desired variety with the added benefit of an extensive root system provided by the rootstock. Grafted mango trees produce fruit within 2-3 years significantly cutting the wait time. Rootstocks are grown from seed while the scions are removed from the mother plant. Grafting must be done when the weather is warm, and the trees are actively growing. Before grafting, scions are cut to a length of a few inches and all leaves are removed. Scions are grafted onto the rootstock using the cleft graft method.

Harvesting and Storing

Ripe mangos
These ripe mangos are ready to pick and consume. Source: Prof. Mortel

Mango fruits are incredibly easy to harvest because they can be ripened on or off the mango tree. There are also plenty of options to store mangos for short-term and long-term consumption.

Harvesting

Mangos can be eaten unripe or ripe. To harvest ripe, check for the size and color development. Another tip is to cut into a piece of fruit and check for yellow flesh. If the flesh is green, they are not ripe. If the flesh is partially yellow, the fruit can be picked and ripened at room temperature. Remove fruit by pulling or cutting off the tree. Ripe fruit will be easier to pull off the mango tree.

Storing

Unripe fruit should be stored at room temperature until ripe. Ripened fruit can be kept in the fridge for about 5 days.

Long-term storage options include freezing, dehydrating, freeze-drying, and canning. Fruit can be stored for up to a year using these methods.

Troubleshooting

Tree loaded with mangos
One mango tree can produce between 100-200 mangos per year. Source: nutrilover

Occasionally, mango trees will have some minor growing problems. Below are the most common issues and how to resolve them. 

Growing Problems

Cold temperatures are a major concern when growing a mango tree. Cold temperatures can lead to flower abortion, fruit drop, and tree damage. In extreme cases, cold temperatures can cause the death of the mango tree. During the winter and early spring, it’s extremely important to check the weather forecast and be prepared to protect the mango tree using frost fabric or bring the mango tree inside overnight.

Mango trees that are brought inside during the winter may have problems producing fruit or may produce very little fruit due to lack of sunlight. Placing the tree near a sunny window is important, but still may not provide enough sunlight. If weather permits, place the mango tree outside during the day or add supplemental lighting.

Mangos are sensitive to excessive fertilizer. Young trees are prone to fertilizer burn when they are overfed. Excessive nitrogen in mature trees will cause an abundance of vegetative growth and low fruit yield. Reduce the amount of fertilizer or switch blends if you suspect your mango tree is being overfed. 

Pests

Mealybugs are soft-bodied insects covered in white wax. They are often found in clusters in the crevices of branches and leaves. Mealybugs feed on the sap and produce sugary excrement called honeydew. The presence of honeydew encourages the development of sooty mold which covers the foliage inhibiting photosynthesis. Extreme cases lead to reduced plant vigor. Although it is uncommon for mealybugs to become out of control, horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps can be used to knock down populations.

Aphids are soft-bodied insects that feed on the sap of tender plant tissue. They come in a range of colors such as yellow, orange, green, and black. Aphids can cause some deformation in leaves. They also produce honeydew which can lead to other problems like sooty mold. Aphids are usually controlled by natural predators; however, populations can still become off-balance and damaging. Aphids can be controlled by manually removing leaves with heavy infestations and by hosing them off with water. Horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps are also effective in controlling aphids.

Mites are arachnids that feed on the foliage causing stippling damage. Heavy infestations will cause leaf drop. Mites are extremely small and difficult to see. Generally, the damage is noticed before the mites. All adult mites have eight legs and tend to stay in clusters on the undersides of leaves. Some mites make webbing while others don’t. Colors range from creamy yellow to dark red. Mites are attracted to water-stressed or over-fertilized plants. Keeping a healthy mango tree is the most important defense against mites because they often have a good balance between pest mites and predatory insects to keep the populations under control. If mite populations get out of control, use horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps to knock down heavy infestations.

Diseases

Anthracnose is a common fungal disease that occurs during rainy and humid conditions. This disease causes black and brown spots on the twigs, foliage, flowers, and fruit. Infections commonly kill flowers and cause early fruit drop effectively reducing the amount of harvestable fruit. This pathogen survives between seasons on infected branches and mature foliage so annual pruning of infected areas is critical to preventing future infection. Copper sprays can be used to prevent and treat infections.

Powdery mildew is a fungal pathogen that infects flowers, young fruit, and tender new growth. Infected areas become covered in white powdery spores eventually turning brown and dying. Powdery mildew is most prevalent in warm humid environments. Severe infection causes a significant reduction in yield. Powdery mildew can be prevented with adequate pruning to promote airflow and by avoiding wet foliage. If cultural practices are not enough, copper sprays can be used preventatively when conditions favor disease development.

Frequently Asked Questions

Mango fruit
Mango fruit can be easily harvested when ripe. Source: Andy Howell

Q: How long does it take for a mango tree to bear fruit?

A: Grafted trees will take 2-3 years to bear fruit while trees propagated from seed will take 5-8 years.

Q: Where do mango trees grow best?

A: Mangos grow best in tropical and subtropical climates. They love warm temperatures and humidity above 50%.

Q: Do you need two mango trees to produce fruit?

A: No, mango trees are self-fertile.


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