How to Grow the Cherimoya Tree

The interesting tropical fruit of the Cherimoya tree.

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Chilled pineapple banana custard sounds delicious, right? That is the flavor and the texture profile that many people are reminded of when they first taste the fruit of the tropical evergreen tree commonly known and the Cherimoya (Annona cherimola). Native to South America, but quickly naturalized throughout the world to other tropic and sub-tropic regions, it has become quite legendary.

Unfortunately, growing the Cherimoya tree to produce this delicious fruit can be done only in one select region of the United States, and it will not grow well in containers. For those who live in the magical Goldilocks zone, Zone 10, it's not all smooth sailing. It will take quite a bit of tending to this tree to produce fruit, but Mark Twain once called the fruit "the most delicious fruit known to men," so it might just be worth the effort.

Common Name Cherimoya, Custard Apple
Botanical Name Annona cherimola
Family Annonaceae
Plant Type  Tropical evergreen
Mature Size 30 ft. tall, 30 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Compost-rich, Loamy soil 
Soil pH 6.5 to 7.6
Bloom Time May to October
Flower Color Green, Pink
Hardiness Zones USDA 10-11 (Will only fruit in 10)
Native Area  Ecuador, Colombia, and Bolivia

Cherimoya Care

Other than requiring a particular climate, the overall care of the tree is pretty painless. If you are lucky enough to live in an area that supports the cherimoya, it can be planted by transplant or direct seedling with the knowledge that fruiting will not happen until 3 to 5 years after maturity. Patience is always a virtue when planting fruit trees. Until the tree matures, you'll be learning about hand pollinating from experience: If you want fruit, you will have to learn how to hand pollinate its flowers. The beetle known to pollinate the cherimoya tree is not native to the United States, so hand-pollinating is how it has to be accomplished.

If you have geographic luck, some patience, a little knowledge, and some paintbrushes for hand pollinating, there shouldn't be too much trouble when it comes to caring for your tree, unless you want to get fancy it. The cherimoya does not have very much ornamental value, so aesthetic pruning is not a huge concern unless you are interested in training it into an espalier, which it handles quite nicely.

If you want to take on planting this tree so that you can grow your own delicious "ice cream" fruit, then look below for all the specifics on how to get the most out of your tree.

Light

The cherimoya tree requires full sun but is prone to having its leaves burn. To prevent this, think about placing your tree in a spot where it gets a good amount of bright morning sunlight followed by afternoon shade.

Soil

Testing your soil before planting your tree is a good idea. The cherimoya likes rich loamy soil with good drainage that falls into a pH range of 6.5-7.6. If you use an easy test on your soil and the results show that the soil you have does not match up with these requirements, then you know you can amend it, so it does. Adding in some good compost or manure can help increase the soil's richness, and amending it with perlite can increase the soil's ability to drain water.

Water

While the tree is in its growing season, you will want to keep the Cherimoya tree's soil moist but not wet. Cherimoyas are susceptible to root rot in soil that stays soaked, so overwatering needs to be avoided, and soil consistency is key.

Temperature and Humidity

Though the cherimoya is a tropical tree, it does not enjoy hot, dry climates but prefers cool summers that you expect along coastlines. If you are planting for fruit, and really that is the only reason you would plant the cherimoya, you should plant it in an area that would chill during the winter to allow for fruiting. It will not set fruit without 100 or so hours below 43 degrees but above 25 degrees. The tree will suffer damage at temperatures below 25 degrees.

Fertilizer

During the growing season, it is a good idea to fertilize your plant often. Every three months is about right, with a general-purpose 10-10-10 fertilizer at the dripline.

Pollinating Cherimoya

The only reason people will look to growing the cherimoya is for its delicious fruit. Unfortunately, it takes some effort to get the tree to actually produce the fruit since the tree isn't pollinated by insects that are native locally. That is where you become the pollinator!

You will be collecting and dispersing the pollen with a regular old paintbrush. Cherimoya trees are monoecious, meaning it has both male and female flowers. The first step is to collect the pollen from the anthers of the male flowers and disperse it onto the open female flowers.

Occasionally the female flowers and male flowers do not open at the same time. If this is the case, collect the pollen and store it in an airtight, watertight container in the refrigerator and pollinate the female flowers when they open. Repeat the process often while the tree is in bloom to ensure pollination, and you will enjoy the fruit of your labor in no time.