Mangoes come in different colours and sizes, have different flavours, and they ripen at slightly different times.
Depending on the variety mango trees can grow huge (to 35 m and 15 m across for seedling trees of older varieties). But you can keep a mango tree small by pruning it regularly.
A mango tree in full flower is a sight to behold.
Where Can You Grow Mangoes?
Mangoes are a strictly tropical fruit. They love the tropics. The best climate to grow mangoes is frost free, with cool, dry winters and steamy, hot summers.
Mangoes like growing in light and free draining soils, they don’t need rich soil. You actually get the best crops on soils of somewhat lower fertility.
Getting Started with Growing Mangoes
There are two ways to get started: you can buy mango trees at a nursery or you can grow your own from seed. The seed grown trees will take a lot longer to bear fruit. (Unless you know how to graft them or know someone who does.)
Mango trees that were grown in a nursery are usually grafted and should fruit within three to four years. Seedling trees may take five to eight years.
Seedling mango trees grow much bigger and stronger than the nursery trees and have an indestructible root system.
Grafted trees are of a more manageable size. Another advantage is that you know you will get a reliably bearing tree. If you grow mango from seed you need to know exactly which tree your mango seed came from or you won’t know what you are getting until eight years later…
If you buy mango trees in a nursery, you don’t look just for size and colour. Some of the commercial varieties are bred for shelf life, size and looks, but are barely edible.
Growing Mango Trees from Seed
Growing mangoes from seed is actually quite easy. Most of the seeds of the mangoes thrown out in the garden as mulch grow. The most important step is the seed selection! The seed needs to come from what is called a “polyembryonic” variety. What that means is that the seed will sprout several identical trees. And those seedling trees will be identical to the parent tree. They are clones.
Ideally you know the parent tree, it’s from your area, grows really well and gets a bumper crop every year! Get seed from a polyembryonic variety and at least you know that the fruit you harvest will taste the same.
You can plant those mango seeds individually. They should take about ten days to sprout. I like to sprout my seeds right where they are to grow.
Planting a Mango Tree
You plant a mango tree just like you plant any other fruit tree. The best time to plant your mango tree is the beginning of the wet season.
Make sure you select a place in full sun. (And make triple sure you really want a big tree there!)
The tree needs to be sun hardened. If your mango tree was grown in a shade house, gradually get it used to the sun first. Then dig a big enough hole. Carefully separate tree and pot without disturbing the roots. Put tree in hole, fill in, water.
Caring for a Mango Tree
Young mango trees do benefit from regular watering and a little fertilizing until they are established. But don’t love your mango tree to death. Overwatering can kill it, especially if your soil is a bit heavy. And too much nitrogen fertilizer will make it weak and sappy, all leaves and little fruit, susceptible to bugs and diseases.
The older the tree gets, the less nitrogen it needs. Phosphorus and potassium are more important.
Mulch your mango tree heavily and spread a bit of compost every now and then. If your soil is reasonable that should be all the tree needs.
If the compost is made with wood ash, all the better. For mulch use only rough stuff like hay or lucerne, nothing that may mat down and become all soggy like grass clippings.
Fertilize mango trees in spring and summer only, and only a little at a time.
A good way of helping the tree is foliar spraying with fish fertilizer or seaweed solution. It provides trace elements and avoids deficiencies, but it doesn’t overfeed.
But your best bet, even on very poor soil, is still lots of organic matter by way of compost and mulch.
When the tree is one metre high, cut it back by a third so it branches.
When those branches get to a metre, cut the tips off again.
That should give you a nice shaped tree.
Pruning A Mango Tree
Mangoes respond very well to pruning. And they are forgiving. Whatever you mess up, it will grow back…
Mangoes grow terminal flowers (they flower at the tip of a branch), so the more branches you have the better the crop. You can encourage lateral branching with tip pruning. (Only taking off the tips of branches.)
You should also aim for an open crown, taking out whole branches if the centre becomes too crowded, so that air and light can penetrate.
You can use pruning to keep your tree a manageable size and a nice shape. Mango tree growing too tall? Cut it down. Too wide? Cut it back.
Pruning mangoes is not a science. Usually mango pruning is done after harvest , though in some cooler areas the preferred time is just before flowering.
Ideally you prune only a little bit every year. If you let a mango tree grow much too big first, and then cut it back to a third of its size, the tree will likely skip the next crop.
Flowering, Fruit Set And Harvesting Mangoes
Mangoes flower profusely and self pollinate very well. The flowering is triggered by cool nights.
Initially you may see masses of tiny mangoes on your flower panicles, but the tree will shed a lot of them and keep only what it can handle. So don’t worry if you see a lot of them drop off.
The mangoes will grow bigger and plumper, and eventually they will start to change colour. How long that takes depends on your climate. The hotter the weather the faster the mangoes ripen.
If your mangoes get eaten (wild birds, bats, possums, the neighbour’s kids…) you can pick them half green. They will ripen at room temperature. Be careful when harvesting mangoes, don’t get any of the sap on you. The sap can spurt from the fruit stem when it snaps off and can cause burns, allergies and dermatitis.
It also burns the skin of the mango, which will go rotten at that spot.
The best way to harvest mangoes is to cut them off with a long section of stem still attached, and to handle them carefully so that the stem does not snap off.
Mango Pests And Diseases
The most serious mango disease is anthracnose, a fungus that can cause the flowers to go black and fall off. It also causes black spots on stem and small fruit, leaves may go brown.
Some varieties are more susceptible to it than others and it’s worse in wet weather. It is worst in areas where it rains during flowering and fruit set. In areas with dry winters anthracnose can often be seen only once the fruit ripens. It develops black patches that go rotten…
Unless you want to spray nasty stuff, like copper solution or fungicides, you may have to live with anthracnose and accept some losses. There are many newer mango varieties that show good resistance to anthracnose.