Sapodilla Problems: Fruit Dropping From Sapodilla Plant

Image by Sujay_Govindaraj

By Amy Grant

If you live in the warmer latitudes, you may have a sapodilla tree in your yard. After waiting patiently for the tree to blossom and set fruit, you go to check its progress only to find that the fruit is dropping from the sapodilla plant. Why do the baby sapodillas fall from the tree and what sapodilla tree care might prevent this in the future?

Why Baby Sapodillas Fall

Quite probably a Yucatan native, sapodilla is a slow growing, upright, long-living evergreen tree. Tropical specimens can grow to 100 feet, but grafted cultivars are much smaller at 30-50 feet in height. Its foliage is medium green, glossy and alternate, and makes a lovely ornamental addition to the landscape, not to mention its delicious fruit.

The tree blooms with small, bell-shaped flowers several times per year, although it will only yield fruit twice a year. A milky latex, known as chicle, exudes from the branches and trunk. This latex sap is used to make chewing gum.

The fruit, actually a large ellipsoid berry, is round to oval and about 2-4 inches across with a brown, grainy skin. The flesh is yellow to brown or reddish-brown with a sweet, malty flavor and often containing anywhere from three to 12 black, flattened seeds.

Sapodilla fruit drop is not a common problem with the trees if they are healthy. In fact, sapodilla problems are minimal provided the tree is in a warm location, although sapodillas are not strictly tropical. Mature trees can handle temperature of 26-28 F. (-3 to -2 C.) for a short time. Young trees are obviously less established and will be damaged or killed at 30 F. (-1 C.). So a sudden cold snap might be one reason for fruit dropping from a sapodilla plant.

Sapodilla Tree Care

Proper care of a sapodilla tree will ensure a nice long life of bearing fruit. Keep in mind that a sapodilla will take anywhere from five to eight years to bear fruit. Young trees may flower, but not set fruit.

Sapodillas are remarkably tolerant trees. Ideally, they prefer a sunny, warm, frost free location. They do well in both humid and arid environments, although consistent irrigation will help the tree to flower and fruit. This specimen also does well as a container plant.

Sapodillas are wind tolerant, adapted to many types of soil, are drought resistant, and soil salinity tolerant.

Young trees should be fed in the first year every two to three months with ¼ pound of fertilizer, increasing gradually to a full pound. Fertilizers should contain 6-8 percent nitrogen, 2-4 percent phosphoric acid, and 6-8 percent potash. After the first year, apply fertilizer two to three times per year.

Sapodilla problems are generally few. All in all, this is an easy tree to care for. Cold stress or “wet feet” can adversely affect the sapodilla, potentially resulting in not only sapodilla fruit drop but also death of the tree. Also, although the tree likes sun, it can, especially immature trees, get sunburned so it might be necessary to move it under cover or provide a shade cloth.

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