Mango Tree Maintenence


Ripe mangos in July

The mango, Mangifera indica, is the king of all tropical fruit.  No tree has touched
as many lives throughout the tropical world as the mango.  When one speaks of
the mango, thoughts of childhood, delicacy and happy times are evoked.  South
Florida makes a tremendous place to grow the mango because our climate is very
similar to the monsoon climate of India, the mango’s native land.  Our summer,
marked by heavy rains and ample sunlight, and our winter which brings multiple
cold fronts and dry weather is the perfect combination to grow the mango.  The
warm, wet summers allow the mango tree to grow steadily and the cold
temperatures and dry conditions of our winter initiate the bloom of the mango tree
which in turn brings the world’s most delicious fruit.  Very little care is needed to
successfully grow and produce mango fruit because the mango tree is beautifully
adapted to our soils, climate and rainfall patterns.  In order to have a small,
healthy, productive tree one should place the mango tree on a minimal fertilizer
schedule combined with low water input and minor selective pruning.

PLANTING AND PLANT SELECTION

It is best to plant a mango that is young, healthy and grafted.  A young and healthy
tree will quickly establish and should bear fruit in two to three years.  The tree
should be grafted and not from seed for several reasons.  A tree from seed is the
product of the mother tree which is one type of mango (a cultivar) and the
pollinating tree which is another cultivar.   Because of this combination, you never
know what type of fruit your seedling will produce.  A tree that has been grafted is
essentially a clone of the parent tree and is therefore sure to be the type of mango
you desire.  A grafted tree will also produce fruit several years ahead of a tree
from seed.  When planting your mango, a planting hole should be dug slightly
larger than the container of the mango tree. A good size to purchase is a two to
three gallon container.  If the soil is very rocky, try to break up the surrounding soil
so the roots have somewhere to grow.  The main thing to remember when planting
a mango is to plant the tree at the proper level.  The roots of the tree should all be
under ground and the trunk should be above ground.  Placing a trunk below the
soil line can cause the trunk to rot resulting in  severe nutrient deficiencies and
general poor growth.  Usually planting the tree at the same depth it was in the
container will suffice, but always check to make sure it wasn’t planted too low or
too high in the container.  It is not necessary to amend South Florida soil.

WATERING

Correct watering of a new mango is crucial.  The tree should be watered
immediately after it is planted.  This watering should be thorough, causing any air
pockets in the soil to collapse.  The soil should be tamped down gently at this time
to further insure the removal of air pockets.  Be careful not to water your mango
too often.  Over-watering a tree can be just as deadly as not watering a tree at all.
The best way to judge if a new mango needs water is to check the soil to see if it
is dry.  After the first few days of watering, the watering schedule should begin to
decrease at steady increments.  Switch to watering every other day, then every
three days and finally once a week until the tree is no longer dependent on your
watering.  Planting during the rainy season (June-August) is by far the best way to
easily establish new plantings.  Most mangos are established within three to six
months from time of planting.  One your mango is established, no supplemental
irrigation is needed.

MULCHING

After a mango has been planted and watered, mulch should be added to complete
the planting.  Mulch is highly beneficial.  It can beautify your planting, suppress
weeds, add nutrients to soil, alter pH, protect new plantings and retain water.  One
of the greatest benefits of using mulch is its ability to protect your new mango from
damage.  Public enemy number one of newly planted trees is the string trimmer.  If
you have a newly planted tree that is not growing well, check for nicks and cuts
around the base of the tree caused by accidental strikes from the string trimmer.
When a tree’s bark is damaged, the tree’s transportation system and food supply
are damaged.  The roots cannot get energy from the leaves and the tree may stop
growing or sicken and die.  A ring of mulch around a newly planted mango will
protect the tree from being mechanically damaged.

FERTILIZING

Mangos benefit from a regular fertilizer schedule but do not need to be fed in great
amounts.  A standard fertilizer tag lists the macro elements nitrogen, phosphorus
and potassium or N-P-K as a number sequence.  So a 6-6-6 fertilizer would have
equal parts of all three elements.  Nitrogen is responsible for the vigor of the tree
and leaf production while potassium works to enhance flowering and fruiting. Until
recently, it was thought that nitrogen should be added to mangos in a granular
form.  New research indicates that simply mulching your mango tree will provide it
with enough organic matter to supply the tree’s nitrogen needs.  Applying extra
nitrogen will result in strong vegetative growth and poor fruit quality and is not
recommended.  The second number on a fertilizer tag, phosphorus, does not need
to be added to you mango either, as it is supplied by nature.  The last number in a
fertilizer ratio is potassium and should be added to South Florida Soils to help your
mango.  It should be applied in granular form with a ratio of 0-0-51.  This should be
done three times a year:  after the fruit come off in August, going into the dry
season in November and again when the flowers begin to bloom in February.
When the phosphorus is delivered it should be evenly spread around the drip line
at a rate of one handful of fertilizer for every inch of diameter of the tree.  Much
needed minor elements such as zinc and manganese cannot be delivered in
granular form because they will bind to the highly alkaline soil found in South
Florida.  These elements should be applied in a foliar spray and
should be done
twice during the rainy season:  June and August. The minor element spray should
be mixed according to the directions on the package and sprayed on the leaves to
the point of runoff.  Liquid Green or Ferra-grow are recommended minor element
mixes.  Iron is another essential minor element that mangos benefit from receiving.
Iron should be applied as a liquid drench in the form of Sequestrene 138.  This is a
chelated iron that is specially formulated for South Florida soils.  The application
rate is three tablespoons per five gallons of water.  The mix should be poured
evenly over the drip line at a rate of about three gallons per inch of tree diameter.
This application can be done at the same time as the foliar feedings.
These
fertilizer products can be purchased at Atlantic Fertilizer and Chemical in
Homestead.

HARVESTING

Mangos in South Florida generally ripen from June to September depending on
the cultivar.  For optimum taste, mangos should be picked before they ripen on the
tree and left to ripen in the house.  A mango is ready to pick when it has reached
maturity and is full size.  A mature mango has full shoulders and exhibits what is
known as a color break.  A color break takes place when the mango begins to
ripen and a portion of the mango turns a bright color such as yellow, orange or
red.  This color break coupled with the mango reaching full size, lets you know it is
time to pick your mango.  Once the mango has been removed from the tree, it
should be placed at room temperature inside the home and left to ripen.  When the
mango becomes slightly soft to the touch, it is ready to be eaten.  Temperature in
the home plays a roll in ripening with low temperatures slowing the process and
higher temperatures speeding it up.

PRUNING

When pruning mango trees, you are trying to maintain height and to improve
flowering and fruiting.  A well managed mango tree is generally below fifteen feet
in height, has a complex structure of branches and has all portions of the tree
open to sunlight.  It is crucial to maintain the height of your mango tree to allow for
ease of fruit harvest and overall management of the tree.  Height can be
maintained through annual pruning as well as cultivar choice.  Many small stature
varieties of mango have become available to homeowners.  They have a tendency
towards profuse branching and smaller internodes (the distance between groups
of leaves) which facilitate maintaining a smaller tree and heavy fruiting.  Pruning to
maintain height begins when the fruit tree is very young.  A heading cut should be
made at approximately 3’.  This cut will cause the tree to develop three to four
branches which will eventually become the scaffolding of the tree.  Heading cuts
should be applied to the resulting branches when they reach approximately 20”.
This will again cause branching and should be repeated each time a branch
reaches 20”.  Strong vertical branches should always be removed in favor of
horizontal branches.  The horizontal branches will help the tree to maintain its
height.  This type of pruning continues until the tree is about 2-4 years old.  Once
the tree has reached the desired height, one to two thinning cuts a year should be
made to help control the height.  Major woody branches are not helping the tree to
fruit and can be removed one by one over a period of several years.  This will
result in the rejuvenation of the overall canopy of the fruit tree as well as help to
control the height.

Written by Jeff Wasielewski
ISA Certified Arborist  FL-5773A

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jeff@southfloridahorticulture.com