I’m from Orlando, Florida, so it’s safe to say that I grew up in a tropical climate (or at least subtropical). Growing up, I’d pass orchard after orchard of citrus trees and we even grew a few trees at home. Occasionally, we also grew banana trees. Now, even though I live in Austin, Texas, I see myself moving back to a tropical area (due to its year-round growing season) and wanted to know my options when it comes to fruit. So, I did some research and put together this guide for the best fruits to grow in tropical climates.
The best fruits to grow in tropical climates are those native to the tropics. Generally, these tropical and subtropical fruits include citrus, avocados, mangoes, bananas, pineapples, and kiwis. Most of these fruits are easy to grow in the tropics as they naturally get plenty of sunlight, water, and well-draining soil.
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So, while there are many fruits that you can grow in the tropics, growing fruits that are native to the tropics is a great start. Tropical fruits already benefit from all of the aspects of tropical climates, including a strong sun, heavy rains, and sandy soil, so it should make your time gardening easier.
These fruits are some of the best, most popular, and easiest to grow in tropical climates. But which fruit is for you? Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of each.
As mentioned, I grew up with citrus trees, so I’m a little biased here.
Citrus trees are normally thorny and can grow to more than 20 feet tall. There are many varieties, all with different flavors, uses, and hardiness.
Some of the most popular citrus trees include:
- Lemons (Meyer, Eureka)
- Limes (Persian, Mexican, Kaffir)
- Oranges (Mandarin, Blood)
Of course, there are many others. I grew up with lemon/orange hybrids, along with limes, tangerines, grapefruits, and kumquats. My family currently has several citrus trees, with the recent addition of a Kaffir lime tree (I got one after attending a cooking class in Thailand and seeing how they use the leaves in their dishes).
Citrus trees are also relatively easy to grow. Generally, once they have well-draining soil and enough sunlight, you just need to make sure to water them enough and keep them protected from any frost. Other than that, you can apply a fertilizer every now and then (I like using a 1-2 inch layer of compost every couple of months). You can also use homemade fertilizer made from things such as coffee grounds and grass clippings.
Some cons that I’ve seen with citrus trees is that they can get some pests such as aphids and diseases such as root rot. However, the biggest one has to be how long they take to grow.
Citrus trees grown from seed can take up to 7 years to fruit, and even then, there’s no guarantee of it! Because of this, it’s best to get grafted citrus trees. They start fruiting with 2-3 years and are generally hardier than those grown from seeds.
If you don’t already know, I LOVE avocados. Most fruits don’t contain a lot of healthy fats, but avocados do. They’re also incredibly creamy and versatile (I make “healthy” ice cream with avocados and bananas).
While avocado trees are great once you get them going, they are notoriously more sensitive than other tropical fruit trees on this list. They can commonly get issues such as drooping, yellow, or brown leaves.
But, once they do get established, and are in well-draining soil, they’ll grow and fruit nicely.
Keep in mind that even though avocado trees are technically self-pollinating, they do require another avocado tree of a different type (type A or B). If you’d like to see more about the different avocado types, you can check out my recent post on why avocado trees won’t flower or fruit.
Mangoes are a super sugary and tasty fruit and are best when frozen and then blended into sorbet or smoothies—making it a perfect fruit while living in the tropics.
Mango trees have similar requirements and growing time to citrus trees, so while they can take several years to fruit, they don’t require much after a few years. Like citrus and other fruiting trees, mango trees benefit from being grafted as opposed to being grown from seed. Grafted mango trees can start fruiting in as little as 3 years.
It’s also common for mango trees (and most other tropical trees) to get flooded with heavy rains. Because of this, consider planting your trees on elevated soil, such as a mound, raised bed, or using Hugelkultur.
Banana trees are an interesting one and different than the rest of the fruits on this list.
The only problem with this crazy growth is that banana trees die after only fruiting once.
However, the base will have many pups (also called suckers), which will then grow into another banana tree. So, while the mother trees are short-lived, their pups will grow into a new tree within 9 months, giving you a steady supply of bananas.
Fun fact: pineapples are actually a cluster of berries that are fused together.
Pineapples take 2-3 years to grow and only fruit once (and I thought banana trees were bad!).
While this might not seem like a big deal at first, they also require a minimum of 5 feet from other plants. I don’t know about you, but I eat more than one pineapple every 2-3 years. While I could have a small field of pineapples, I prefer other tropical fruits due to the heavy fruiting from their trees.
I did the math (to the best of my ability)—if I wanted a homegrown pineapple once a month continuously, I would need a pineapple patch with a size of about 180 feet. I’ll consider growing pineapples, but that’s a lot of fruit trees (and other plants) I could have in that space instead.
However, if you love pineapples, and you have space, then by all means—try growing pineapples! I heard they’re fairly easy to grow and establish suckers at the base of the plant that you can use to plant more of them.
Okay, okay. I know tomatoes aren’t really a tropical fruit (they’re a temperate one), but I had to give them an honorable mention. Even though some people don’t like the whole tomato fruit, almost everyone I know LOVES tomatoes in the form of tomato sauce, salsa, and ketchup.
As you can imagine, one of the main issues that temperate fruits such as tomatoes have growing in a tropical or subtropical climate is that they’re not as resistant to pests and the harsh sun.
If you’re growing tomatoes in the tropics, to help deal with the sun, consider providing your tomato plants with some afternoon shade (during the hottest part of the day).
Other than that, tomatoes are super easy to grow and indeterminate tomatoes (the longer-lasting, vining varieties) grow nicely since there’s little to no frost in the tropics. Of course, determine varieties (such as cherry tomatoes), can still grow well. They’ll just die quicker after fruiting.
Kiwis are fairly easy to grow and are a vining fruit. This makes them perfect for permaculture gardens as they can grow along trellises and provide shade for you and your other tropical fruit trees.
They also take about 1-3 years to fruit, which is one of the quickest fruiting times on this list.
However, unlike citrus and some other tropical fruits, kiwis do require both a male and female plant to pollinate. As a general rule, 1 male vine for every 3-8 female vines is a good ratio to have.
If you live in colder climates, know that there are two cold-hardy kiwi varieties. They’re so cold hardy that they can even survive in USDA hardiness zones of down to 3! They’re simply named Hardy kiwi (their scientific names are Actinidia arguta and Actinidia kolomikta).
Even though we currently have citrus, avocado, and tomato plants, I’m looking forward to growing the rest of the tropical fruits on this list. I have a major sweet tooth and try to get my sugar from just fruit when I can. Fortunately (or unfortunately), tropical fruits are chock full of sugar, and I’m very much looking forward to growing (and eating) them!
While there are many non-tropical fruits you can grow in the tropics, growing fruits that are native to the tropics is a great way to make your gardening experience easier and more fruitful. The plants on this list (except for tomatoes) simply evolved and survived in the tropics, so they’re best suited for this climate.
Trying to grow non-tropical fruits in the tropics can be similar to using a plate for soup. While it’s technically doable, it will most likely make it more challenging. So, when you can, make your job easier and let nature do the work.