Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Fruit & Nut Trees

Meet Babaco (page 2 of 2)

by David and Tina Silber

How to Grow Babaco

The ideal babaco climate approximates Ecuador's highlands: cool summers and frost-free winters, with an average winter temperature of 43&degF and a minimum of about 35&degF. In southern California, babaco grows best in full sun, near the oceans. In these areas, daytime temperatures rarely exceed 80&degF. Given partial shade, however, it thrives in hotter, inland climates. I get excellent results here in Granada Hills (northwestern San Fernando Valley) by shading plants with 50 percent shade cloth supported by a frame. A site that provides dappled shade would be a near equivalent.

Start with plants from mail-order nurseries. Depending upon size, cost is $15 to $40 each. Choose a site that offers sun or light shade, protection from strong winds and excellent soil drainage. An otherwise hardy and robust plant, bab-co is susceptible to root rot disease. If your soil is poorly drained or heavy clay, or has a caliche layer blocking drainage, build a four- by four-foot raised bed and fill it with a container soil mix.

Condition the native soil by spading in a couple of two-cubic-foot bags of good planting mix; or use your own compost. At planting time, apply a controlled-release fertilizer such as 14-14-14 (one teaspoon per gallon of soil). Underfertilized plants produce small fruits. To ensure an adequate supply of calcium, add two cups of gypsum in alkaline western soils, or two to four cups of ground limestone in acidic eastern soils. Mulch is important. Babaco roots will grow up into a thick layer of organic mulch for nutrients and air.

Place a five-foot support stake adjacent to the stem at planting time. This may seem unnecessary because young plants stand straight. Soon, however, the trunk will be straining under the load of developing fruit.

Water sparingly after planting. Roots are especially sensitive to excess soil moisture just after transplanting. Thereafter, the soil should be allowed to dry partially between watering. If you suspect you are underwatering, watch for premature yellowing of the older leaves and fruit drop.

Revitalize a tall, straggly plant by cutting it off about six to 12 inches above the ground in spring. It will promptly resprout. Leave one or two sprouts to develop into new fruiting trunks and remove the rest. Use the old trunk (except for the top several inches) for cuttings. Make each about 12 inches long, and use rooting hormone and bottom heat to get them started.

Where It's Too Cold in Winter, Too Hot in Summer

Babaco's small size makes it ideal for indoor and container culture. In cold areas, move container-grown plants to a sunny window in winter, then back outside in summer. (NG's horticulturist grew--and fruited--babaco in Vermont!) Likewise, where summers are hot and humid, move the container to a cooler, drier location from April to September. Because it is self-fruitful, babaco can set fruits indoors as well as outdoors.

A 15-gallon pot or whiskey barrel planter is just the right size for long-term growing. Choose a container mix that has a large portion of coarse material such as perlite or ground bark (1/4-inch size). Avoid peat moss; it's too water retentive. To avoid overheating the roots, never allow the sunlight to fall on the side of container-grown plants.

Given its compact size and precocious fruiting habit, babaco can find a home anywhere. Give it a try.

David Silber grows babaco papaya and other exotic fruits around their home in Granada Hills, California.

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