Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How to: Grow Mangoes from seed

Mangoes come from a variety of species of trees in the Mangifera genus, the most common of these for commercial sale is the Mangifera indica. As far as germination and growth patterns, the mango is very much like an avocado. There is a pit in the middle of the fruit yielding only one seed, which should sprout just about a month after sowing. Mangoes come from trees, and often very large trees (over 100 ft tall in some cases) however growth is slow, so don't expect to be getting any fruit in the first five years.

There are so many ways to grow this beautiful tree from seed, and most that I have tried seem to work well. One thing is for certain, you should plant the pit/seed as soon as possible after eating the fruit, this will ensure the best chance for germination. Also during the spring or summer is a good time to start planting mango seeds.

Mango trees, and especially seedlings, are susceptible to frost damage and will be difficult to cultivate in any climate that receives annual freezing temperatures. You can circumvent this by growing indoors, or in a greenhouse, but in both situations the chances for fruit aren't too likely. You will likely need to have a greenhouse with a 12'+ height for any hope of actually yielding fruit.

The last paragraph may have been disheartening for mango lovers living in temperate climates. One may still grow mango seedlings in indoor or protected locations within such climates. Additionally, as mango trees age their ability to deal with slight frosts may improve slightly. These odd looking seedlings will surely attract some attention sitting on a window-sill, and they make great conversation pieces as few people realize that mango seeds can be so easily grown into trees from commercial fruits.

How to germinate a mango seed:

Firstly you must go buy a mango, at most grocery stores that I frequent they sell for between $.50 - $1.50+ depending on the season. To eat the fruit, remove the skin and either cut the flesh with a knife or simply eat around the inner pit as if you were eating an apple. You will notice a lot of fibrous strands coming from the pit, there is no need to remove these or any excess fruit remaining on the pit. You may either carefully crack open the very hard casing around the seed or you may leave the whole pit to dry out and simply plant the whole thing. Although the seed casing is very tough the seed within can grow a powerful tap root that will penetrate the casing and firmly establish itself in the soil before sending up the stem. Removing the seed from the casing will likely result in faster germination, but you will probably be waiting around a month either way. If you decide to break into the casing to remove the seed, you will need to carefully use a knife or a screwdriver to pry it open. This process reminds me of prying open clams, but be careful it can be pretty frustrating (and dangerous) trying to extract a mango seed.

This is a pit from a freshly eaten mango.

This is the same pit that has been dried out and pried open to recover the seed within.

Once you have the mango seed all that you have to do is plant it and wait. You will want to pick a well draining soil to plant the seed in, also avoid using shallow pots because they will inhibit the tap root's growth. I have found that mango seeds aren't too picky about how deep you sow them, but I would recommend around 1-2 inches (or 2-4 cm) deep.

Whether your mango will survive and grow into a tall and prosperous mango tree has a lot to do on how well the seedling grows during the first year. Sometimes seedlings will get too dry, too wet, or have some kind of environmental problem which will dramatically hamper their growth. Perhaps poor genetics also play a role in seedling survivability. You will notice that healthy mango seedlings will grow fast, put out a lot of new leaves but also preserve old leaves. Seedlings that are in poor health will lose lower leaves faster, grow slower, and show 'burning' signs on leaves especially near the tips. From my experience, some mango seedlings just do better than others.

Additional notes:

Mango trees enjoy warm summer temperatures with high humidity and dry winters. At the seedling stage there is no need for the use of fertilizer and pests shouldn't be much of a problem either. Overall, mangoes are fool proof plants for a greenhouse as they are easy to grow, widely available, and relatively pest free.

This is a 1.5 year old mango seedling that is in good health. It continuously puts out new sets of leaves on the top apex. Notice that there is still no branching.