The Barbados Cherry Tree (Malpighia glabra) or “Acerola” is a fast growing shrub (or tree depending on how it is pruned) with fruit that resembles a large cherry but has more of an apple taste with a slight sourness to it. They tend to differ from normal cherries in their appearance as well as their seeds. The fruit contains four (sometimes more) seeds but is very rich in antioxidants and vitamin C. The barbados is a warm weather lover and is only planted outdoors if within growing zones 9-11 but can be potted and brought indoors during the cold seasons for zones 4-11. These trees can flourish in limestone soil and prefer a pH range 5.5 to 6.5 (more alkaline).
Choosing a location: Barbados cherry trees like space to be able to stretch out so select a spot that is at least ten feet away from other trees. Make sure the spot is in full sun and the soil will not retain moisture for any extended period of time. Soil testing is always recommended when planting any new tree or shrub. Since Barbados cherry trees like their soil to be more alkaline, you may need to amend the soil if it is overly acidic. You can amend horticultural lime into the soil to about 8 inches in depth. Be sure to follow the directions for the lime when working into the soil
Planting Directions (in ground):
1) Make your hole twice as wide as the root ball and just as deep.
2) Remove the tree from its pot and gently knock some of the soil off of the root system.
3) Place the tree into the hole and carefully spread the roots out. You can amend some organic material or compost into the native soil if there is a lack of nutrients.
4) Carefully begin back filling the hole tamping lightly to avoid air pockets. When you have filled it half way, stop and add water to settle the soil then finish back filling.
5) Water the planting area deeply to completely settle the soil and then spread a 3 inch layer of mulch around to conserve moisture. Don’t let the mulch touch the trunk of the tree to avoid rot and fungal issues.
*Tip* If planting more than one tree, space them at least 12 feet apart from one another.
Planting directions (potted):
1) Start your Barbados off in a larger pot to allow ample room for root development. Be sure there is adequate drainage and try to avoid pots that are overly porous such as terracotta pots. A thin layer of gravel on the bottom of the pot will guarantee good drainage.
2) Your pot should be about 18-24 inches (15-25 gallon pot) and around 20 inches in height. Use a regular potting soil and amend it slightly with lime if it is too acidic. Be sure to check the contents and acidity of the potting soil as you may not need to amend it at all.
3) Hold the tree straight and upright. Fill in the potting soil around the root system tamping slightly as you fill to avoid air pockets.
4) Place the tree next to a south facing window to ensure it will get the proper full sun exposure it needs.
Watering: Young trees will need to be watered regularly. More mature trees will not require as much attention but Barbados cherries do require a constantly moistened soil. During the fruit development, it may need even more watering. A good way to get an idea for how often you need to water is by using your index finger. Stick it into the soil to a depth of a couple inches and feel around for moisture. If there is still a dampness then leave it be. If it feels like it is beginning to dry then give the tree a good watering. Barbados roots are fairly shallow and are closer to the surface so be sure to monitor your soil carefully in the warmer seasons or in periods of drought. Potted Barbados can be just as easily monitored by using your index finger.
Pruning: The barbados is technically a shrub but through pruning you can actually form this into a lovely dwarf tree. The Barbados, if left unchecked, will get quite “leggy” and branches will become crowded. Prune the tree in the late fall after harvesting to form it into a desired shape. Damaged, diseased or dead branches can be removed at any time. Be sure to sterilize your cutting tool(s) with rubbing alcohol to ensure a nice clean cut.
Fertilizing: Feed the Barbados with a time released 8-3-9 fertilizer formula when you begin to see growth starting on the tree in the spring. The cherry tree is a moderate feeder and may need multiple feedings during the growing season to produce a substantial crop. Be very careful to follow the application instructions on the fertilizer package to ensure you do not burn the root system. The potted Barbados will benefit from a bi-yearly feeding with a mineral fertilizer with a gradual release of nutrients. Try to avoid using anything with an excessive amount of nitrogen.
*TIP* Periodically check the soil pH for your potted tree to ensure it is not becoming too acidic. A soil testing kit can be found at your local Home Depot or Lowe’s and is fairly inexpensive.