By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer
Lychee trees are subtropical broadleaf evergreens that produce a sweet, exotic edible fruit. Although lychee is grown commercially in Florida, it is a rare plant to find in the United States where they are considered high maintenance and inconsistent in fruit production. However, lychee has been grown and cultivated for thousands of years in subtropical regions of Asia and is becoming popular in suitable areas in the U.S. Continue reading to learn to cut back a lychee tree.
When grown from seed, lychee trees reach mature size at about four years old and do not produce fruit until they are about five. While they are still young, lychee trees are pruned regularly to promote a full, rounded shape. Select branches are pruned from the center of young trees to open up the canopy to good air flow and reduce wind damage. When pruning a lychee tree, always use clean, sharp tools to avoid the spread of disease.
Heavy lychee tree pruning is only ever done on young, immature trees to shape, or old mature trees to rejuvenate. As lychee trees get up there in age, they may begin to produce less and less fruit. Many growers have found that they can get a few more fruit bearing years from old lychee trees from doing some rejuvenation pruning. This is pruning usually done around harvest. Lychee growers recommend sealing large open cuts with pruning sealer or latex paint to avoid the risk of pests.
Annual lychee tree pruning is done as the fruit is being harvested, or shortly thereafter. As the clusters of ripened fruits are harvested, lychee growers simply snip off about 4 inches (10 cm.) of the branch tip that bore the fruit. This pruning practice on lychee trees ensures that a new fruiting branch tip will form in the same spot for the next crop.
When to prune lychee is important for ensuring a good crop. In controlled tests, growers determined that pruning a lychee tree at harvest or within two weeks of harvest will create a perfectly timed, excellent crop. In this test, when lychee tree pruning was done several weeks after harvesting the fruit, the next crop bore fruit inconsistently.
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Read more about Lychee Tree
Native to the sub-tropical regions of China, the lychee tree is a member of the Sapindaceae, or “soap berry,” family that produces a sweet and delicious fruit know by the same name. Lychee trees can grow quite tall, with some wild trees growing upwards of 100 feet and producing as much as 800 lbs of fruit per year! Your backyard variety, however, will produce smaller quantities, usually between 15 to 350 pounds. The lychee tree originally made its way from China to the US via ships to Hawaii and can be found growing there, as well as along the Gulf Coast and in parts of southern California, today. Although fruit may come in different shapes, colors, and sizes depending on the varietal, most are either round or oval and have a pink, green, or red shell protecting the sweet, white flesh inside.
The Emperor varietal is a lychee-lover’s dream come true as it produces the largest fruit out of all the tree types, sometimes generating lychees the size of golf balls! Considering how large its berries can grow, the Emperor tree is surprisingly compact and is great for growing in a greenhouse or in a container, which for most folks will be necessary unless you live in the south of Florida or southern California. Emperor trees are reliable producers and growers can expect fruit most years, but should not be surprised if every four years or so, their trees don’t produce. This is a normal occurrence, so just care for your trees as usual and you will likely be blessed with a fresh lychee crop again the following season!
The lychee tree (Litchi chinensis) is a tropical evergreen that produces a sweet, juicy fruit which can be eaten fresh or dried. The plant grows best in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 and 11, but some growers recommend it for zone 9b as well. Lychee trees require frost protection whenever the temperature is expected to dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Trees can be damaged at temperatures between 28 and 32 F and mortally wounded at temperatures between 24 and 25 F. Even warmer temperatures can be lethal if they last for extended periods, with lychees exposed to 30 degree temperatures dying after 8 hours of exposure. Preventing frost damage on lychees is important because, unfortunately, there is little you can do for a frozen lychee.
Create a mound soil around the base of the tree, piling it as high as you can before the temperature drops. Acquire the soil from a reputable source to reduce the risk of introducing fungi and insects to your tree. Leave the soil banked around the tree until all danger of frost has passed for the season.
Build a wooden frame around the tree and hang a blanket or insulating fabric over the frame so that it covers the tree. Stake the blanket or fabric to the ground to allow heat from the ground to warm the covered area. If the cold spell is expected to last for several days, purchase special frost protection fabric this fabric is lightweight, insulates well and allows some sunlight to reach the tree while it is covered. Place lamps under the fabric to add more heat.
Place sprinklers around the lychee tree and turn them on when the temperature nears freezing. Leave the sprinkler running, allowing a layer of ice to form over the entire plant. Keep the sprinklers running to keep the ice wet during the cold spell and turn them off only when the temperature has risen above 32 F and all of the ice on the plant has melted.
Avoid pruning your lychee tree after a frost. Wait until the middle of spring to do your pruning. Prune away dead limbs and those severely wounded by the frost, cutting all the way back into healthy wood to ensure all the damage is removed. Look for symptoms of frost damage, including leaf drop, dead leaves, splitting bark and dieback of limbs.
Fertilize the damaged tree in the spring after pruning, adjusting the amount of fertilizer you use based on the amount of tree damage. Give less fertilizer to trees that have lost most of their canopy to the frost trees with healthy limbs but dead leaves will need a bit more fertilizer than normal.
Lychee (Litchi chinensis) trees are subtropical fruit trees that make handsome as well as delicious additions to consistently warm landscapes. The tree is originally native to southern portions of China, and in Chinese, the word “Lee Chee” means “gifts for a joyful life.” The strawberry-like fruits are high in vitamin C and have an aroma resembling a rose, and some say taste like a cross between a pear and grape.
Lychee trees are native to the lower elevations of Kwangtung and Fukien provinces of southern China, where it thrives along the rivers and coastal areas. The earliest known record of lychees is from 1059 A.D. in Chinese literature, so the fruit tree has a long history. Over the years, its cultivation spread throughout Southeast Asia and the surrounding islands.
In the 17 th Century, the lychee made it to Burma and by the 18 th Century, it continued its travels making it to India and the West Indies. By the 1800s, the fruit tree arrived in England, France and the East Indies, and in the late 1800s, it arrived in Hawaii, Florida and California, where it’s still cultivated today.
In the United States, lychee trees grow well in USDA zones 10a through 11b. However, those living in the warmest regions of zone 9b can grow a lychee tree provided the tree gets protection during an unexpected freeze. Those in a bit cooler climates can grow it in large containers and bring indoors to a protected location during winter.
Expert Tip: Protect an outdoor lychee tree during an unexpected freeze by covering it with sheets or burlap. Water the root system thoroughly the day before cold weather arrives, as it helps insulate the root system.
In tropical climates, lychee trees do not fruit well when grown at sea level locales. It’s best adapted to growing in warm to cool subtropical locations with the following conditions:
Temperatures ranging between 28°F and 32°F (-2° to 0°C) damage young lychee trees. Whereas, temperatures ranging between 24°F to 25°F (-3° to -4°C) can damage mature trees, especially if the low temperatures remain for several hours.
Symptoms of cold damage include:
Expert Tips: Wait until new growth appears in springtime before pruning areas thought to be injured by cold weather. Many times areas that might look dead spring back to life.
Grow a lychee tree in a wind-protected site located in full sun for the majority of the day. It tolerates a wide range of soils provided they drain well. However, if the selected area has a tendency to flood occasionally, plant the lychee tree on a 4-foot high mound to lift the roots out of the soggy conditions. Irrigate the tree weekly.
Consider when selecting a site that an unpruned lychee tree can grow quite large, averaging 30 feet tall and wide. Therefore, plant away from structures or power lines. To help conserve soil moisture and cut down on unwanted vegetation, apply a 4-inch layer of mulch around the planting site, keeping it pulled back several inches from the trunk.