Sally Scalera: Love mangos? Here's how to plant and care for trees for lots of fruit

·6 min read

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Have you noticed any mango trees blooming yet? The trees will produce multiple flushes of blooms from December through April, depending upon weather conditions and variety.

Sadly, if we receive temperatures of 45 degrees or below (since we are only in the middle of winter, that could still happen), the flowers will be damaged and won’t set any fruit. The good news is that even if a flush is hurt by cold temperatures, other flushes could still set fruit. If you already have a mango tree, or plan to plant one, here are some tips for how to care for them.

When planting a new mango tree (and all trees for that matter), here are some tips.

Mango trees have started blooming. Give your trees extra TLC to produce plenty of fruit.
Mango trees have started blooming. Give your trees extra TLC to produce plenty of fruit.

How to plant a mango tree

How high can you go? Consider the mature height and spread of the tree when deciding where to plant it. In the case of a mango tree, they can become huge trees (up to 100 feet tall and 50 feet wide) if you choose a vigorous cultivar. To check out the different mango varieties and their tree vigor rating, refer to page 8 in our bulletin, Mango Growing in the Florida Home Landscape, at edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

Location, location, location. Choose a location that has well-draining soil and plenty of room for the tree to grow both tall and wide and the root system to spread.

Smaller is better. Purchase a smaller tree (like a one to three-gallon pot) because they will establish their new root system faster and require less water during the establishment period.

Soak the roots. Right before planting your new tree, place it in a tray or bucket of water for an hour, or longer if needed, so when it’s planted the root ball is heavy and dripping wet.

Dig it right. Dig the planting hole as close to the same diameter and depth, or slightly shallower, than the root ball.

Prep before you plant. Scatter a variety of endo- and ectomycorrhizae in the planting hole. For more information on how to add life to your dirt and other recommendations mentioned in this article, email me at sasc@ufl.edu.

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Check the roots. After removing the plant from the container, look for large, circling roots visible on the outside of the root ball. If circling roots are present, the tree is root bound, and the circling roots will need to be removed. The roots must be cut at a location inside the root ball before the root turns because it is stopped by the side of the container and continued growing around the outside of the root ball. Slice off four sections of the root ball with a small flat shovel, creating a square. Place the tree in the planting hole, with the mycorrhizal inoculum, and make sure the top of the root ball is at least at the same level as the surrounding soil, or a little bit above.

Loosen surrounding soil. Next, use the shovel to loosen the soil around the planting hole. Push the shovel into the ground and pull the handle back, so the shovel is pushed up and forward, “fluffing” the soil. Repeat this around the planting hole, in multiple places.

Fill hole and water. Fill in the space around the root ball by putting some of the dirt, that was dug out of the hole, back around the root ball. Press the down and water it to eliminate air pockets. To get your tree off to its best possible start, don’t just use plain water, but obtain some freshly brewed aerated compost tea (A.C.T.) and pour that in as you begin filling up the hole. Also, be sure not to place any of the extra dirt over the root ball, but instead scatter it around the outside of the planting hole.

Water some more. When the planting hole is filled, water the root ball and the surrounding area with 1 inch of water. A sprinkler attached to a hose is an easy way to get the tree established. Scatter tuna fish or cat food cans (all the same diameter) around the tree, to see how long the sprinkler must run to collect 1 inch of water in all the cans. Run the sprinkler every two to three days until the tree begins to produce new foliage, which signals that the root system is established. At this point the tree won’t require the frequent watering anymore.

How to care for a mango tree

Here are suggestions for established mango trees and newly planted trees.

Inoculate the soil. Inoculate the soil underneath the tree canopy with a liquid product that contains a variety of beneficial bacteria and mycorrhizae (i.e., Bushdoctor Kangaroots, Microbe Brew, etc.) for the easiest way to add life to the soil around established plants.

Re-mineralize the soil. To give your mango tree (vegetable plants, ornamental plants, lawn, etc.) a quick boost while the soil food web is getting established, it would also be very beneficial to re-mineralize the soil. Apply granular Azomite at a rate of 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet. We have some local sources of Azomite, or you can check online. The trace elements will help improve the health of the tree and the nutritional content of the fruit.

Spray liquid seaweed. Begin spraying a liquid seaweed solution (i.e., Maxicrop, Liquid Kelp, etc.) on the mango foliage weekly. Liquid seaweed contains more than 60 trace elements and growth hormones, which has been shown to help plants through stresses such as flood, drought and cold. Every two weeks, add some aspirin to the liquid seaweed to help boost the plant’s “immune” system, called a Systemic Acquired Resistance, to give the tree extra protection against insect pests, diseases, and abiotic stresses. Plants produce salicylic acid for protection, but they don’t produce as much as can be applied with a foliar spray that is absorbed through the leaf cuticle. I discovered this information from research done at the University of Rhode Island. Dissolve 3 chewable aspirin in hot water and then add more water until you have a gallon. The liquid seaweed can be added to that same gallon so both can be sprayed together. If weekly sprays of liquid seaweed will be difficult, spray the aspirin and seaweed combination every other week instead.

Add low-growing perennials. Consider planting low-growing, woody perennial shrubs around the tree, out near the dripline, to provide more living roots to support the soil food web. Two Florida native plants that come to mind are blue porterweed, Stachytarpheta jamaicensis; and quailberry, Crossopetalum ilicifolium. And be sure to inoculate the planting holes with a variety of granular mycorrhizae also. For more suggestions of ground covers, request a copy of Ground Covers — protect the soil and improve soil health.

Growing your own food is fun and delicious. By harnessing the power of the soil microbes and giving your tree extra tender loving care, you will be able to grow a healthy tree that produces nutritious fruit.

Now, let’s just hope the flowers don’t suffer from a cold snap.

Sally Scalera is an urban horticulture agent and master gardener coordinator for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences. Email sasc@ufl.edu.

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This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Do some research and prep work before planting a new mango tree