Coaxing fruit from the lychee in the north

stressbaby(z6 MO)April 17, 2011

Hey all,

I have a couple of lychees in my GH, Sweetheart and Brewster. I have struggled in a couple of ways to coax fruit from these babies, but finally this year I think I've learned enough to get a little consistency. I thought I'd post this year's experience for some feedback.

First, it has tough to get consistent blooms and to get them at the right time. Too often, the growth flushes were ill-timed, and either they were too late (it was into June and too hot) or non-existent. This year looked like another poorly timed year. So I went with some advice from Lychees Online and pruned that new growth back. Twice. Hard. Sure enough, lateral buds flushed bloom spikes. This revelation has me optimistic for consistent flushes each year going forward.

But the bigger struggle has been pollination. NTM has more patience with his brush than I do apparently. My problems have been 1) speed and 2) identifying and collection good pollen. Over the years I've tried many methods, and most had some issue. Brushing pollen directly from males and onto females (brush gets sticky, slow, but it works); making a pollen slurry with water, brushing that on females (faster but poor pollination rates); making solution and spraying on the blooms (fast but poor pollination rates); picking off individual males, testing for pollen, and brushing those flowers by hand, one at a time, directly on the females with tweezers (painfully slow, and poor pollination rates, believe it or not).

Finally 2/3 of the way through this year's bloom cycle, I think I found a way that is fast and effective. What I did was to tap the spikes with male flowers over a piece of black plastic (actually a Folgers plastic coffee can lid). The flowers fall onto the lid and I could immediately see if there was the yellowish dusting on the lid that signalled good pollen. Then I dragged a small paintbrush across the surface to pick up the pollen. With a nice yellow dusting on the tip of the brush, I just touched each flower. This seems to have given me much better pollination rates so far, results in the brush getting sticky much less often, and is pretty fast, too.

Thoughts? If and when this crop gets big enough to be sure the fruit will make it to maturity, I'll post some pics.

You guys in the south don't know how lucky you are.

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Thank you for sharing that, that's a good idea knocking the pollen off, I've ordered Brewster and Sweetheart Lychees and will remember your information when they produce flowers. What's your soil mix?


    Bookmark   April 17, 2011 at 4:03PM
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stressbaby(z6 MO)

I have mine planted permanently in the GH in raised beds, regular soil well amended with compost. They grow pretty well as long as they get enough sun.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 7:02PM
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hmhausman(FL 10B)

Yes, we guys in the south do know how lucky we are. I have to commend the dedication and determination of you northerners is trying to fruit your lychees. This year we had tremendous honey bee gatherings when the lychees were in bloom. I guess there is no feasible way to get insects into the GH in sufficient numbers to do all the work for you. I did notice moths at night gathering on the lychee pannicles and blooms. Not sure if they did anything on the pollination front. I wonder if air movement alone (fan generated) might be of any help in this process? Well......I hope you get some fruit to enjoy. I heard a rumor that you might be down for the Memorial Day weekend visit to my place. Any truth to that rumor? If not, let me know and I'll be happy to ship some fruit up to you.


    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 7:14PM
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Hey SB! The final method you described is the one I've used with great success; brushing the pollen onto plastic lids of dark color. The only two issues with this is static electricity (if using a natural haired brush), and the nectar stickiness, of course. If you can avoid those two, you are good to go. Sorry if I didn't make that clear enough in all of my previous posts. I also tend to pollinate flowers multiple times on different days to guarantee pollination. Usually I keep pollinating until I see the pistil start to turn brown/shrivel.

On the horizon, I see two problems for myself though. The first is the timing of the panicle growth. This issue may be easy to remedy since my trees are getting big now. I can prune them hard on a schedule to stimulate growth, as well as, giving them chilling hours.

The second issue is the true problem. I don't have a greenhouse; therefore, I believe, I am coming up short on heat units for the year to fully ripen the fruit. The first batch of Emperors ripened pretty well, but I always feel they could have been better. I would imagine your greenhouse will cook them thoroughly, but keep us apprised, nonetheless. I may try wrapping my fruit in clear, plastic bags to see if that helps least it'll keep that squirrel away.

@Harry- Send some of those bees up cherry trees are looking for them!

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 12:15AM
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My lychees are blooming this year so I'm very excited. My Mauritous has borage blooming all around it so thee are tons of bees and other flying insect filling the air. My other potted lychees are all huddled together trying to make it easy on the flying critters as possible. If I dont get any fruit this year I'll give your method a go Robert, I sounds like a good one.


    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 1:43AM
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Could you post a pic of the greenhouse set up you have? My HF greenhouse didn't cut it as the weight of snow from the crazy snowfall last year bent the metal roof frames, and we took it apart...

It's so worth it though(any fruits).


    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 4:26PM
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stressbaby(z6 MO)

NTM: I'm glad you saw the post and doubly glad we arrived at the same technique. And yes, as I said also, timing the chill and pruning and growth flushes has been tricky for me as well. But ruthless pruning this year did the trick and will be my favored technique going forward, I believe.

Tropicaliste: click the "My Page" link next to stressbaby for a couple of little pics of the GH.

Harry: Since first discussing Mem Day, I started a new job, believe it or not, and now I have a boss and PTO. :-/ I'm not going to make it down that weekend, unfortunately. July is still a maybe, awaiting the final dates, but very hopeful...

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 9:11PM
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murahilin(10 fl)

That's a lot of work you're putting into getting some lychee fruit. I think you should just give up and have Harry mail you boxes of lychee. It's what I would have done.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 9:40PM
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Wow your greenhouse is nice, and a lovely house too btw. :) Is your heater on 24/7 in the cold and snow?


    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 9:48AM
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@SB- Are you aiming for a specific month to have them flower?

Due to the chilling hours in Fall, my trees often like to put out panicles in November/December. If I can put that off until February, I figure The fruit will get plenty of summer heat for ripening in August/early September. I will be knee deep in fresh, fully ripened lychees for an extended season...a guy can dream.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 10:18AM
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stressbaby(z6 MO)


Yes, I aim for about February, and I've never really gotten them to flower earlier than that. My trees stay in the GH, they are in permanent raised beds. Therefore I can't get the chill hours as early as you can if you have yours outside in pots.

I have had them flower as late as May, when I got no fruit at all.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 7:27AM
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Mr Stressbaby:

Is there any way you can open your greenhouse permanently during the summer? If you can do that, then the ideal choice of pollinators would be the professionals: Honey Bees. If you install a hive next to the greenhouse, they would take care of all the work for you. And as an added benefit you would have free honey. :)


    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 8:41AM
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stressbaby(z6 MO)


The lychees need to be pollinated in Feb/March. Unfortunately that is still too cold here to open the GH.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 8:32PM
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