Lychee trees (pronounced LEE-CHEE) are native to the provinces of China but have been cultivated all over the world. These are typically found outdoors in the tropical growing zones but have been successfully grown in containers as well. Their unique looking fruit is protected by a coarse textured, pink-ish/red rind that is easily removed. Lychee fruit is used in multiple dessert dishes due to their translucent, sweet white flesh. They are especially popular in Southern Asia, China and parts of South Africa.
Choosing a location: Young lychee trees are sometimes difficult to establish in windy sites, and exposure to constant winds may result in tattered leaves, stunted shoot growth, and stem dieback. If possible, trees should be planted in wind-protected sites or protected from wind by surrounding trees with light shade cloth which has been attached to wire fencing. Avoid areas that may retain excess moisture.
Planting directions (in ground): Select an area of the landscape that does not flood, lychees grow best in well-drained soils. Sandy soils with low-organic-matter content are suitable if sufficient fertilizers are supplied.
1) Your planting area should receive full sun for the best tree growth and fruit production.
2) Make your hole twice the size of the root ball and just as deep. A large hole loosens the soil making it easy for the roots to expand into the adjacent soil.
3) Gently comb the root ball to free up the feeder roots and position them downward into the hole. Try to mimic the natural soil habitat for the tree for the backfilling. Amend the soil with some organic matter/compost at a 50-50 ratio of dirt removed from the hole.
Tip: Mycorrhizal fungi is highly recommended as a soil additive when backfilling your planting site. Keep the tree as straight as possible and begin to backfill the hole. Put several shovels of amended soil in and gently pat down with your hands. Add a few more scoops repeating the procedure until the hole is filled.
Planting directions (potted): There are a couple of basic steps to follow when keeping your lychee tree containerized. This will help maintain the health and integrity of the tree.
1) Sunlight is a major requirement for a healthy potted lychee so be sure you have a good full sun location indoors while the cold season is present.
2) Select a pot 1-2 sizes larger than what the lychee came in (Example: Came in a 1 gallon pot, go up to a 3 gallon).
3) Lychees tend to like a more moistened soil so use a good moisture controlled soil or even an automatic watering pot to keep a steady flow of water going to the roots. Avoid over saturating the soil. (Some of the best results with potting were from a mixture of equal parts compost and topsoil with partially decomposed mulch).
4) Container grown lychees need to have the nutrients in their soil replenished, adding Mycorrhizal fungi will increase the root growth and their ability to distribute/absorb nutrients and water.
Tip: Remove your lychee from its container once a year and trim back the roots a little. You can also do this when it is time for the tree to be re-potted into a larger container. Uncontrolled root growth can be very unhealthy for the tree since they cannot absorb water or take in oxygen as needed.
5) If your tree is indoors during the flowering time you may need to assist the tree with spreading the pollen around. Nature typically takes care of this for you with bees and other insects providing the flowers emerge during the warmer seasons. If the tree is indoors you can mimic the pollinating by using a small, fine tipped paint brush or cotton swab. Just collect the pollen from each flower and go back and forth to all of the blooms. Do not rinse the brush off! This defeats the purpose of collecting the pollen.
Watering: Lychee trees are moderately drought tolerant. However, newly planted lychee trees should be irrigated regularly during establishment. In the home landscape, trees will perform well without supplemental irrigation after the trees are established. For more consistent cropping of mature trees, withholding irrigation during the fall and winter until bloom may enhance the amount of flowering. Water a container grown lychee every day. In the summer, missing even a single day of watering can cause major leaf drop on the tree.
Tip: Applying a thin layer of well cured compost from the drip-line to within 6 inches of the trunk may be beneficial for the fibrous roots of lychee trees. In addition, mulching lychee trees in the home landscape helps retain soil moisture, reduces weed problems adjacent to the tree trunk, and improves the soil near the surface. Mulch with a 2 to 6 inch (5-15 cm) layer of bark, wood chips, or similar mulch material. Keep mulch 8 to 12 inches (20-30 cm) from the trunk to prevent rotting of the base of the trunk.
Pruning: Occasional thinning/pruning of the lychee is encouraged for protection from wind damage and builds a strong structure. The density of the lychee makes it susceptible to powerful wind gusts which might cause it to blow over. Younger lychees need to maintain a round shape so be sure to thin them out annually. This will also help with the sunlight exposure and better air circulation for the canopy. When the tree gets to about 4-5 years old it should be near its full maturity and a yearly trimming of the fruit should be sufficient in terms of pruning the tree.
A potted lychee will not require any pruning for at least 2-3 years and even then, it’s a minor thinning to open crotch angles.
Fertilizing: After the first flush of growth hardens, when the leaves start to turn a darker green and the shoots harden off is when you will want to feed your tree. Refrain from using any type of artificial fertilizers, these can kill many beneficial organisms in your soil’s ecosystem. Use organic fertilizers to feed your lychee tree such as kelp, compost extracts or seaweed. Using fertilizer formulas containing Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium can easily lead to burning of the tree’s roots.
Cease fertilizing in the third year to get the tree fully prepared to enter its fruit bearing stage. After the harvest of fruit, fertilize with half the amount and do not feed again until fruit has set for the second harvest.
Container grown lychees do not require fertilizer but will benefit greatly by spraying liquid phosphorous on the leaves. Do this during times of transplantation and annually around September or October. This will promote flowering and the fruiting of your tree, pollinated flowers are after all what brings that delicious fruit!