The Japanese plum tree (Eriobotrya japonica), or “loquat” as it is commonly referred to, is a low maintenance, self-pollinating fruit tree native to the colder regions of China to South central China. Reaching a mature height/width of about 10-20 feet, it’s grown for the small, plum sized yellow fruit, its whorls of glossy, dark green foliage and naturally attractive shape. The loquat performs best when grown in USDA zones 7-10 and is quite adaptable but will not tolerate being grown in areas prone to standing water/poor drainage.
Choosing a location: Select a spot where the tree will be in full sun and has plenty of open space. Allow at least 25 feet from structures, sidewalks and driveways unless you plan to control the size of the tree by pruning regularly. It’s always good to be sure your area has a well draining soil.
1) Make the hole three times wider than the root ball and three times as deep. Keep the removed native soil next to the planting site.
2) Carefully remove the young tree from its pot and run the root ball under water to help free up the dirt a bit. This will help free the roots making it easier to adapt to its new home.
3) Place the tree in the hole, and hold it straight as you back fill with the native soil that was removed. Fill in the hole half way, tamping down with your hands as you fill and stop when the hole is half full.
4) Water the soil to settle it properly which eliminates the possibility of air pockets forming and then continue to fill the hole. Water again once it has been completely filled to further settle the soil and give the tree its first initial watering.
5) Spread a 2-3 inch layer of mulch to keep the soil moist and combat competing weed growth.
Watering: Your new loquat will benefit from a watering every other day for the first week and then 1-2 times a week for the first two months. After the initial couple of months, during its first three years, make sure to water once a week and more during extended periods of drought. During the rainy season you should not have the need to water the tree at all.
Pruning: During its first couple of years, the loquat will benefit from a bi-monthly trimming of the branch tips. Keeping them shorter than 3 feet forces the loquat to sprout more branches which in turn makes more growth surfaces for the fruit. ALWAYS sterilize your cutting tool(s) to ensure a clean cut to avoid any plant-transmitted diseases. Remove dead twigs, branches and leaves as early as possible. Dead organic matter left on a tree can encourage a host of other problems like rot, disease and fungus. More mature loquat trees need pruning once yearly after the fruiting season. DO NOT prune before or during the flowering time because it can reduce, or even eliminate, your chances for fruit harvesting that year. Although the loquat can get to be quite tall, people have successfully grown them and pruned them to a maintainable height of 6-12 feet tall.
Fertilizing: Your loquat will require a feeding three times yearly with a non-weed killing lawn fertilizer. Use one cup of the fertilizer divided into three applications over the growing season. For the second and third years, increase the amount to 2 cups, spread the fertilizer on the ground and then water.
If you’d rather use an organic method of feeding the tree, then use 2-3 lbs. of aged manure, 2 tablespoons of greensand (a green-ish type of sandstone) and a tablespoon of rock phosphate will work just as well.