An expensive fruit to buy due to the fact they do not store well, lychees are native to the lowlands of southern China and were brought to Australia more than 100 years ago by Chinese gold miners. In China, the lychee is a symbol of romance which is fairly logical, because when most people taste a freshly picked lychee for the first time, they fall in love with it. Lychees prefer tropical conditions but can grow in Western Australia’s south-west given the right conditions.
Trees are attractive with dense foliage and grow slowly to be less than 8m with a 5m spread and can be kept in big pots. Both male and female flowers occur on the same tree but planting more than one tree will improve fruit set. To become productive trees however, they need a week of cool night temperatures below around 20°C before flowering. Kwai May Pink also known as Bosworth Number Three is probably the best variety for home gardens as it fruits most years and has a small seed. Trees have oval to round fruits about 3cm across with leathery, scaly skin which is pink to red. The semi-translucent flesh is firm and jelly-like and covers a shiny, inedible brown seed.
If you have ever wondered how to grow lychees in Perth, WA then look no further. A relatively simple fruit to grow there are a few tricks to successfully growing lychee in Perth, but get these right and you will be laughing.
Varieties of lychees in Australia:
There is a large variety of lychees to choose from in Australia. However, lychees can be relatively hard to locate in nurseries so this can dictate what types of lychees you are able to plant in your region. Below is a list of popular lychee varieties in Australia.
- Souey Tung lychee – This is the first variety of lychee to be cultivated in Australia. It is becoming more readily available.
- Wai Chee lychee – Fruit has a deep red colour with a smooth thin skin. The fruit is round in shape and the size will vary as the fruit matures.
- Sah Keng lychee – This is a Thai variety that is a good eating fruit. It is also large and red with a smallish seed.
- Kaimana lychee – A relatively new variety that is in limited supply. It is a large red fruit with a small seed.
- Salathiel lychee – Developed in Australia, they are bright red with a smooth skin but are small with a very small seed.
- Tai So lychee – A pretty red colour when ripe, they are a lovely eating fruit with a similar taste to B3.
- Fay Zee Siu lychee – A large fruit with a sweet taste that is picked with some green mottling on the skin.
- Bengal lychee – A classic lychee with a bright red skin and large seed.
- Kwai May Pink lychee – A great eating lychee developed in Australia with a small to medium seed. They have a red skin with a slight orange hue and tend to be more round.
When to plant lychee:
Lychee plants prefer warm, humid summers and cool dry winters and need a position with full sun, or some afternoon shade in summer in a spot protected from the wind. You can erect wind barriers for the first few years but tress will not survive costal conditions. Young trees will not tolerate frost but mature trees are more robust, have some drought tolerance and can survive short periods of minus 4C. Lychees do not like waterlogging and soils must be improved with organic matter such as soil improver. Use a whole bag at planting time, improving the soil wider rather than deeper.
Tips for planting lychees:
- Plants are shallow rooted and must be mulched
- Young trees need regular moisture and grow quite slowly.
- Feed with slow-release fertiliser once a year.
- Older trees need fertiliser twice during their growing season.
When to harvest lychees:
It takes a bit of patience when growing a lychee tree because plants will remain dormant for about the first three years. Plants should bear a small amount of fruit in three or four years. Once a tree is around ten years old it is usually fully productive and can produce up to 200 kilos of lychees a season. Pick the scented, red-skinned fruits when fully ripe in autumn. Cut the fruits on a twig about 12cm from the fruits to give the tree a light prune. Once picked, the fruit does not continue to ripen and should be stored in the fridge where it will keep for up to a week.
Storing lychees at home:
Storing and handling lychees correctly is the key as they are a delicate fruit and only have a short shelf life.
- Keep lychees refrigerated at 5°C. To prevent moisture loss, maintain humidity at 90-98%.
- Keep lychees moist by spraying them with water regularly to maintain skin colour. This will stop the skin from drying out.
- Store lychees in a plastic bag or plastic containers.
- Lychees are best eaten fresh within 3 to 4 days from picking
If you have any tips on how to grow lychees please feel free to share them in the comments section below.
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