HOME FRUIT PRODUCTION-GUAVA
Julian W. Sauls
Professor & Extension Horticulturist
Guava is a small tree with a spreading, broad top that develops from a short trunk. It is native to the American tropics but has become naturalized in practically all tropical and subtropical climates of the world. Despite severe freezes of the 1980's, guavas continue to thrive in yards across the Lower Rio Grande Valley. While it has little commercial potential, a small planting is being tried in Cameron County it can be successfully grown, with adequate cold protection, in other areas of South Texas.
Because it is of tropical origin, guava grows best in tropical and subtropical areas that are frost-free. While young trees can be killed by temperatures in the middle to upper 20's, older trees can tolerate slightly colder temperatures without much damage. Even if killed to the ground by freezing weather, the tree will usually regrow from underground portions.
Although of primary interest in the Valley, guava should grow nearly everywhere in Texas that oranges or grapefruit thrive, provided that the trees receive adequate cold protection for their size.
SOIL AND SITE SELECTION
Guava is adapted to a wide variety of soils and should thrive in any soil that has good internal and surface drainage. Soil salinity is not a major concern, although the leaves will commonly exhibit tipburn and perhaps marginal necrosis during the summer months because of salt accumulation in the affected tissue.
The planting site should be chosen with cold protection in mind. Generally, the south side of the house is the warmest location in a residential site.
Probably all of the guavas grown locally are unnamed seedlings, although there are superior varieties being grown in Florida . 'Supreme' is white-fleshed, 'Blitch' and 'Patillo' are pink-fleshed and 'Ruby' is red-fleshed. Other varieties and unnamed hybrids also exist and most are probably superior to the local seedlings. Yellow-fleshed types also exist.
Guava fruit shape ranges from round or ovoid to pear-shaped. Size varies from little more than an ounce to nearly a pound. The skin is usually pale yellow at maturity and may range from thin to thick. Seediness varies from few to many. Flavor may be sweet to highly acid, with a very distinctive aroma which ranges from strong and penetrating to mild and pleasant. While some fruit may be borne almost year-round, especially following very warm winters, most fruit matures in the summer.
Although guava does not reproduce true-to-type from seed, seedlings are commonly used. Seeds should be planted immediately upon extraction from mature fruit.
Air layering is probably the easiest way to propagate a limited number of plants. Both veneer grafting and chip budding are successful, given young, vigorous, seedling rootstocks and scion wood that comes from terminal growth which is still green and quadrangular (in cross-section). Leafy cuttings will root well under mist propagation.
PLANTING AND ESTABLISHMENT
Guava trees may not achieve maximum potential size in Texas, so a spacing of 10 to 12 feet from adjacent trees should be adequate. Newly planted guavas should be watered at planting and once or twice weekly as needed for several weeks. Watering is most easily accomplished by constructing a water ring several inches high and thick atop the soil around the tree. The water ring will gradually erode away over the next several months, at which time the tree can be considered established.
Delay fertilization until new growth commences, then apply monthly into September. Simply scatter the fertilizer on the ground and water thoroughly. With ammonium sulfate (21-0-0), use one-half cup monthly in the first year, one cup monthly in the second year and two cups monthly in the third year. For other fertilizer analyses, adjust the rate accordingly based upon the relative content of nitrogen.
The soil underneath and around the young tree should be maintained completely free of all weeds and grasses, since the young tree cannot compete well for water and nutrients until it is much larger. Organic mulches are excellent for use under guava trees to eliminate weeds and to conserve moisture.
Cold protection is essential for survival of young guava trees. Soil banks are excellent for freeze protection for several years--put them up in late November and remove them in early March. Protection of the top can be achieved using covers such as blankets or tarps--just drape the cover over the tree, pull the corners outward and anchor them to the ground. It is neither necessary nor desirable that the cover reach the ground. In very severe cold, any additional, practical heat source under the tented tree will provide almost complete freeze protection.
MATURE TREE CARE
Cultural practices are conducted to maintain good growth and production. Irrigation, nutrition, weed/grass control and cold protection are the major cultural practices. Essentially, these practices are the same as for other established fruit trees.
Irrigate slowly and deeply as needed based on soil type and prevailing weather. Weekly to biweekly soakings during the summer should be adequate.
Fertilization should be at the rate of one to two cups of 21-0-0 per inch of trunk diameter annually, split into equal applications in February, May and August. Simply scatter the fertilizer on the ground and water thoroughly. Other nutrient elements are rarely necessary under Texas conditions.
Maintain weed and grass control with a systemic herbicide or with organic mulches that should be replenished as necessary. Cold protection may also be necessary as described above.
Pruning should be unnecessary except to remove dead or damaged branches or to thin out branches that overlap with others. Pruning of freeze damage should be delayed until the extent of the damage can be ascertained in the spring following the damage.
PRODUCTION, MATURITY AND USE
Vegetatively propagated trees will bear within three years, seedlings shouldn't take any longer. Larger fruit are primarily produced on vigorous shoots of two to three years of age. The primary season of maturity is summer, although some fruit may mature at other times of the year. Since fruit maturity is variable during the summer, mature fruit will be available every couple of days. Maturity is characterized by a change of the skin color from greenish to yellow and a concomitant softening of the fruit.
Vigorously growing young guava trees can produce half a bushel of fruit in the third season, increasing to several bushels on mature trees.
Guava is an outstanding source of Vitamin C, which probably exceeds that of orange juice. Fruit can be readily frozen and it is well suited to processing. The sweeter selections are more commonly eaten fresh, while the stronger flavored selections are more commonly used in jam, jelly, paste and other products.
While a number of pests affect guavas in Florida, none have been documented in the Valley. Root-knot nematodes can cause serious damage to the roots of young guava trees, but their effect can be lessened by good cultural care and heavy organic mulching.
Tip burn and marginal necrosis (browning) of the leaves are caused by saline soil and water conditions common in South Texas, even though guava trees are generally considered to be salt tolerant. Symptoms are more severe on older leaves and during the summer months.
The Mexican fruit fly could infest the fruit, but the overall suppression program in the Valley should help to keep this pest to a minimum.
In addition to the common guava (Psidium guajava L.) there are other species which produce edible fruit, the most notable of which is the Cattley or strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum Sabine). The plant is more of a large, bushy shrub and it is slightly more cold hardy than common guava. The fruit of Cattley guava is round, rarely longer than 1.5 inches, with a red to reddish purple color and contains numerous small, hard seeds. The yellow Cattley guava is considered to be slightly sweeter than the red types. Both kinds have whitish, juicy pulp that is mildly sub-acid and slightly aromatic.
There are no apparent varieties of either of the Cattley guavas, but selections of either type come fairly true from seed. Production usually commences in the second or third year, with heavy fruiting occurring in five or six years. Aside from the differences noted here, Cattley or strawberry guava should be treated the same as common guava.
Other species include the Brazilian guava, (Psidium guineense Sw.) the Costa Rican guava [Psidium friedrichsthalianum (Beng.) Nied.] and Psidium araca Raddi, but they have not achieved any prominence outside their place of origin except in arboretums and private collections.
It should be noted that the feijoa or pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana Berg) is not a guava at all, despite the similarity of its fruit to those of the various species of guavas.
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