Plinia Germination & Growing Guides
Plinia Germination & Growing Guides
Here are various versions depending on how much time you have:
The 10 Second Version:
Keep the soil pH between 4.0-6.5 by either using an acidic soil blend, low pH water, soil amendments, or ideally a combination of all three. Water the soil deeply at least once per day.
The Two Minute Version:
Soil - Use ProMixBX or other acidic blend, must drain well or the soil will become mucky after 6+ months and kill the plant.
Water - Use rain water or well water. If you must use municipal treated water then you must use low pH amendments such as Sulphur, iron, minor nutrients, etc. Water heavily 1-2X per day.
Sun - Full sun is fine even for germinating seedlings but part sun for plants under one year old is ideal. Part sun is also acceptable for the life of the tree.
Fertilizer- Use Espoma Hollytone or other slow release acidic blend every 4-10 weeks, stop fertilizing in the winter if you live where it freezes. Non-yellow Plinias can take temperatures down to the mid 20's Fahrenheit, mature trees even lower.
High pH is Your Plant's Enemy - This is what kills the majority of Plinias in Florida. If you use county/city water which is typically around 8.3pH and alkaline soil such as the sandy loam limestone soil found in South Florida with pH in the 8.0-8.5 range, you have a 90%+ chance of your tree dying within a year.
The 10 Minute Version:
The following information is specific to growing plants from the Plinia genus. It is based on my experience germinating and growing approximately 150 different Plinia species and cultivars at Farwell Fruit Farm since 2013 where we currently have thousands of happy Plinias in pots and in the ground. While we have found a successful preferred way to grow Plinias, there are many different ways to successfully grow them and you will may hear contradictory advice from other growers. I have seen some growers go against the "common rules" and have thriving trees which I simply cannot explain. That said, the majority of those who do not understand the growing requirements kill their trees eventually. Plinias are not easy to grow like a Mango tree. This is a post mortem on the 1,000+ Plinias that I have killed over the years and advice that I hope helps you kill less of them than me.
Seeds must be either planted immediately with the pulp left on them or be processed if being transported or stored. This means removing all pulp from the seeds, preferably (but not required) treating the seeds with hydrogen peroxide to keep the seeds free of pathogens (mold is your greatest enemy), and then stored with an adequate amount of moisture. It is much better to store seeds too dry than too moist which can cause mold. Even more important than the moisture level is storing the seeds in an airtight container or bag. Plinia seeds can survive remarkably dry for months as long as the very small amount of moisture in the container is not allowed to leave. Poor quality bags allow moisture to leave and will kill the seeds much quicker. I typically see 80%+ germination for both freshly planted seeds and processed seeds for at least 3 months without any notable loss in germination rates. I have planted many bags of seeds that were in the 3-7 month old range with very little drop in germination rate. A bag of Plinia sp. Malacacheta Jaboticabas was planted nearly 6 months from harvest with a 65% success rate. Germinating the seeds is easy and follows general germination instructions: keep the soil 65-90 degrees Farenheit, keep the soil moist but not saturated, and the seeds will begin to germinate in 2-12 weeks. If your seeds have not popped up by the 6 month mark, it is safe to assume they are dead. High quality seeds often arrive in the mail already germinating.
The First Year
Plinia seedlings will pop out of the ground and rise to a height of 2-6" tall with 4-16 leaves within 2-10 weeks. The plant will typically then stop as it runs out of energy from the seed and it will go through a lengthy period where the plant appears in a state of pronounced torpor for a period of 2-12 months while it transitions to getting its nutrients from the soil. Even under optimal conditions, seedlings stalling out for 6+ months is the norm. I recommend jumpstarting the seedlings by a mild feeding of fertilizer as soon as the plant slows down. This appears to have a mild catalyst effect on the plants to re-start their growth but it is not a surefire way to wake them up. It is common to have one year old plants that are just 3"-12" tall, mostly at the lower end of that range. The first year is super exciting when they germinate then frustrating for the next many months during the "Plinia death valley" phase. At some point the plant will start to push again (often with a change in the season) and will not stop from that point on as long as growing conditions are good. Here are some numbers that may vary widely from seed batch to seed batch. From 100 seeds planted, 85 germinate, 70 survive the Plinia death valley phase after 8 months, and 65 are alive at the 18 month mark at which point they are much less likely to die.
We use PromixHP or ProMixBX. I buy it in bulk for around $30 per 3.8 cubic foot bale from a large distributor, Diamond R Fertilizer. Local garden store pricing is around $45 and it may be hard to find. If you need to make your own soil, a common Plinia growers recipe is 90% sphagnum peat and 10% perlite. The problem is that sphagnum peat is extremely hydrophobic and you may have to water the plant 50+ times to get the soil to soak up the water. You may consider soaking the peat in a bucket of water for a few days to let it soak in. Once the peat begins to soak up the water, a new problem arises where after 6+ months the soil can get mucky and start causing problems for the roots. This why I buy the ProMix - it has a wetting agent to deal with the hydrophobic problem and various draining mediums to keep it from getting mucky. Consider how much time and frustration you may create for yourself by saving 25% by "doing it yourself" and getting an inferior product. My advice is to find some ProMix.
Do not waste your money on cheap soil testing devices, they are inaccurate. I purchased 3 different devices from Amazon in the $10 - $80 range - none of them were accurate. Even the $100+ devices on Amazon are worthless. Contact your local university extension office, USDA, state department of agriculture, etc. and have real lab test done. It is often free or <$20. Make sure that you get a large sample of the soil at least 3" below the surface where the organic matter is. Shake up the sample in a bucket to mix as thoroughly as possible. Beware of growers who tell you that their Jaboticaba is in the ground in south Florida and doing just fine. Oh, they forgot to mention its only been there for a few weeks. Those same growers invariably panic when their tree starts to decline after 2-8 months in the high pH ground. I recommend you keep your trees in pots until the 30 gallon or 6 year old mark. You will not see a noticeable reduction in growth rate, you will have more control over the soil conditions, less exposure to pathogens and nematodes, better control over fertilizer absorption, you can sell your tree at any time and make a good return on your investment, and if you have to move houses, no tears. The only reason to put it in the ground is if the tree is bursting from a 30 gallon pot and you want to see some serious fruit set.
Amending Native Soil
I have 35+ large Plinias of about 15 different species/cultivars in the native soil which is sandy loam 8.3 pH. To fight the high pH, I top dress the entire drip line 3-4X per year with 1-4 cups of sulphur pellets. It is almost impossible to overdo the sulphur but you can easily under do it and kill your tree with high pH. I apply a Southern Ag brand liquid chelated iron drench to the soil with a garden hose and a cheap liquid chemical mixer from Amazon 2X per year or anytime the leaves start looking yellow.
The following comments apply to growing Plinias in native soil or potting soil. I use Espoma Hollytone but I know plenty of growers who use other slow release fertilizers with success. I top dress every 4-10 weeks even through the winter. If you live where there is a risk or frost you should consider stopping the fertilizer for a few months, in the northern hemisphere from around November - February. The key is to use mild slow release fertilizer and not over do it. You do not have to buy Hollytone off Amazon but if you do you will have no doubt that you are using a product that absolutely works well.
We use water from a reverse osmosis system and tapped in right before the "post filter" that adds calcite to get the pH up to 8.4. Our water is around 6.5-7.2pH which is optimal. Well water must be tested but will almost certainly be better that municipal (county/city) water. The biggest enemy with well water in South Florida is salt. In other places it can be any other number of things. A moderate mount of Sulphur and iron in the water is not necessarily a bad thing for Plinias. Rainwater is probably ideal but time consuming to collect and apply. If you must use municipal water, then make sure you are using acidic soil and acidic amendments (sulphur, iron, Hollytone, etc.). Any acidic product labelled for blueberries or Gardenias is a good bet. You can get away with high pH soil or high pH water but not both for very long. Figure out your plan to keep the pH down for the long term. The only people who get away without doing work here are those lucky folks who live somewhere in USDA zone 9a or higher who have native low pH soil. My trees get 15 minutes of micro drip irrigation 2X per day and love it. You cannot overwater any Plinias that I am aware of. Now you can get mucky soil that causes problems but as long as your soil is draining well, go ahead and water away, you are only likely to hurt your tree by under watering.
1.Yellow Leaves - I apply chelated iron drench and top dress minor nutrients. This usually starts to clear the problem up after 3-8 weeks.
2. Leaf tip burn - Water the tree more frequently. If that doesn't fix the problem you may have salt build up in your pot or need to lower the pH with amendments.
3. Mysterious decline - If you have tried various fixes and your tree is still nearly ready to die, its time for CPR. Take the tree out of the pot and remove all of the soil by soaking it in a large bucket. Gently shake off all of the soil in the bucket of water and repot with fresh potting soil. Put the plant in full shade for at least 6 weeks to recover. Do not pplace back in full sun as soon as buds start to push, give in several more months in partial shade. This is the best chance to save a plant on death's door.