The loquat tree is a popular choice for gardeners that want an attractive, fruit-bearing tree in their garden.
The loquat is a distant relative to the rose. The plant produces small fruits that taste like a blend of citrus, peach, and mango – and are utterly delicious. Some gardeners describe the fruits taste as somewhat like honey, and it’s a great choice for preserves or fruit shakes.
However, the loquat remains a relatively unknown fruit, and not many gardeners even consider it as an addition to their flowerbeds. The tree grows readily in the right climate conditions and the tree fruits every year. The perennial nature of this shrub makes it ideal for planting in a year-round garden.
The Loquat Tree
The loquat also goes by the moniker of the “Japanese Plum Tree.” This evergreen variety grows to heights of 30-feet, making it a tall tree for the yard that takes up a significant amount of floor space in the yard.
Most commercial growers keep the height to around 15-feet to make it more manageable to pick the fruit during harvest season. For those gardeners that keep the tree under 10-feet in height, it starts to take on the appearance of a shrub more than it does a tree.
Currently, there are more than 800-cultivars of this species available through online seed banks and local nurseries. Other names that the loquat goes by include the Japanese plum or medlar, as well as the Chinese plum. The Chinese refer to the fruit as “pipa.”
You also get white or yellow-flesh varieties, with some of the most popular being the following;
- The Gold Nugget – This variety produces fruit that is round or oblong, and have orange flesh. The plants are self-pollinating, and the fruit has a sweet taste.
- The Vista White – This variety produces round fruit with yellow skin and white flesh. The fruits are medium-sized, and they require the use of a second tree for pollination.
- The Champagne – This variety bears medium to large fruit, with either a yellowish or white flesh and a yellow-orange skin.
- The Early Red – This self-pollinating tree produces medium to large fruit with an orange-red skin, and an orange-colored flesh.
- The Big Jim – A variety that produces large, round fruit with orange flesh, and features an orange-yellow skin.
Both traditional Japanese and Chinese medicine include remedies using the fruit and foliage of the loquat tree. There are many different uses in traditional medicine for the fruit, and it comes packed with polyphenol antioxidants.
Towards the end of the summer, the loquat tree will start to produce flowers. The flowers form on the tips of the branches that are younger than 6-months, producing the flowers in clusters or pannicles.
The flowers give off a sweet fragrance, and you’ll notice the scent spread around your yard in the late summer afternoons when the wind is low. A single pannicle can bear as many as 100-flowers, but that’s no indication of the fruit the tree will produce at the end of the season.
You can expect an average of 60-flowers on each pannicle, and between 10 to 12-fruits. If you find that your loquat tree starts to produce lots of smaller fruits, remove half of the crop to allow the other fruits to get larger.
As the individual flowers start to form into fruit, it’s vital that you keep the tree warm. If you get a cold snap at the beginning or end of the fall season, it will cause the fruit to drop from your tree.
Therefore, when the fall arrives, it’s best to cover the tree with a burlap net to keep it warm. You can also cover the ground around the base of the tree with burlap or mulch to keep the roots warm as well.
Avoid planting the tree if you live in a region of the United States where temperatures fall below 30F.
Let the fruit ripen on the tree, as it develops its flavor profile and sweetness during the last few days of ripening. When it’s ripe, the fruit softens, and you’ll find that the entire tree ripens at once rather than in stages.
After you harvest your tree, the loquat takes the winter and early spring to recover from the stress of the growing season. After the winter subsides, the tree begins to form new shoots from the spring into the summer. Flowering and fruiting may differ from year to year, depending on environmental conditions.
Caring for Your Loquat Tree
Loquat plum trees prefer warm climates, and they do best in USDA zones 8 to 10. After they establish themselves in your garden, your loquat only requires minimal maintenance throughout the growing season.
The tree might also do well in a partially shady planting site, but it might affect the fruiting phase. Most of California provides the ideal growing environment for loquats, and they also do well in the southeastern and southern states as well.
Humidity and Temperature
Loquat trees are sensitive to dramatic changes in temperature. Therefore, they don’t suit environments across the United States that receive harsh winter temperatures. However, if you only want to grow the loquat for ornamental purposes, then the temperature difference doesn’t make a difference in the health of the plant.
The plant itself can stand drops in temperature as low as 10F. However, the tree won’t bear any flowers or fruit if the outside air temperature drops below 30F. The loquat also doesn’t enjoy hot climates and temperatures over 95F result in problems with flowering and fruiting.
During the first year after planting your loquat, you’ll need to water it heavily to ensure the roots grow as fast as possible. However, you’ll also need to ensure that your soil drains well. Loquats don’t like getting “wet feet,” and if the roots are continuously soggy, you can expect the onset of root rot.
Water the plant 3 to 4-times a week in the first year, especially during the summer months when temperatures peak. After the first year, you can cut back on your watering by half.
The loquat tree prefers growing in soil that has a loamy texture and drains well. The tree is not sensitive to differences in pH levels and grows well in acidic or alkaline soil. If you’re growing the loquat near the coastline, then make sure your soil has no salination.
When planting your loquat, loosen the soil in a three to four-foot circle around the planting site. Make sure you dig to a depth of at least 18-inches to accommodate the rapid root growth in the first year. At a few handfuls of organic compost to the soil, and mix it in well.
The loquat doesn’t need much feeding throughout the growing season. Using a handful of granular fertilizer at the start of spring is all the plant needs to get the nutrients it needs to flower and bear fruit.
We recommend that you look at fertilizer products that are suitable for use with fruit trees – Jobe’s Organic is perfect for Loquat trees.
If you grow your loquat tree in the ground, then you’ll need to trim during the summer and prune after the fall. Pruning helps the tree sprout more pannicles the following spring and avoid dead pannicles taking up the plant’s energy. Pruning also helps light get through the canopy to the lower branches, ensuring you maximize the fruiting period.
Pests and Diseases Affecting Your Loquat Tree
Loquat trees don’t have to deal with many pests or diseases. However, you need to be on the lookout for the following.
The two insects that cause the majority of problems with loquat trees are black scale and fruit flies. Aphids can also be an issue during the growing season, but they’re not as significant a problem as the black scale. You can use neem oil to keep both of these pests away from your tree.
Fruit fly larvae can cause severe problems with your tree if you don’t identify and remove them in time. The maggots bore into the fruit, causing it to rot and fall from your tree. If you do get a fruit fly infestation, make sure you clean up any fallen fruit each day to reduce the larva’s ability to emerge as flies from the fruit.
Another pest to watch out for is the codling moth. This caterpillar might also try to infest your tree. The only way to keep it away from the fruit is to use an insecticide or an exclusion bag. An exclusion bag wraps around the fruit, preventing fruit flies and caterpillars from accessing the bounty.
Spraying bacillus thurigiensis onto the plants will also keep pests at bay as well.
Birds and deer can also prevent problems for your loquat, as both of them enjoy feasting on the fruit.
The loquat tree is at risk of developing diseases such as fire blight and pear blight. In regions where there is plenty of rain in the early summer and high humidity levels, you might have to watch out for the onset of fire blight.
Bees transfer the blight to the trees, killing the leaves while turning young shoots brown. Pear blight is similar, but it only occurs in California.