From the Archives
of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia, inc.
by Dave Hodge, Cairns
Custard Apples in the Tropics
Scientific name: Annona sp.
article is about may own experience growing custard apples in Cairns.
Hopefully it may be of some practical use to our members.
I originally bought some trees of Gefner (an Atemoya hybrid) grafted onto Mexican Soncoya (Annona purpurea)
rootstock which I was assured was a good stock for wet tropic
conditions on the coastal areas of Far North Queensland. Gefner does
better on the coast than other varieties.
However, unfortunately, this rootstock turned out to be Bullocks Heart (Annona reticulata). All trees subsequently died due to infection with Bacterial Wilt (Pseudomonas solanacearum),
a common disease of custard apples which is prevalent in my garden. The
symptoms fitted perfectly the description and illustrations in that
excellent book on custard apples by the Queensland DPI. Infection could
perhaps have been aggravated by the heavy summer rainfall in this area
and frequently waterlogging, driving torrential downpours, weakening
Also, according to Sturrock's Fruits for Southern
California, page 69, the Bullocks Heart root system tends to develop
unevenly and trees topple over in windy conditions, and we get
cyclones! It has a rather shallow root system which is another
disadvantage for our conditions up here.
Thus, it would appear
the Bullocks Heart is totally unsuitable as a rootstock for Atemoya
varieties under our conditions and has proved beyond doubt to be highly
susceptible to Bacterial Wilt.
Be that as it may, I decided to persist with growing custard apples in my garden.
Having researched all available literature and phoned for advice from the D.P.I., it would appear that the Pond Apple (Annona glabra)
would be a more suitable rootstock. This species is tolerant of wet
feet as it grows in the Florida swamps, apparently. Whether it is
resistant to Bacterial Wilt is another matter. Nobody could confirm
this, but I decided to try it out anyway.
Compatibility was the
next problem. Atemoya hybrids such as Gefner are not compatible with
Pond Apple. However, Bullocks Heart is compatible with both so I have
used Bullocks Heart as an interstock.
This is contrary to the
compatibility chart on Page 26 in the D.P.I. book where it is indicated
that Atemoya is not compatible with Atemoya reticulata.
All I can say is that it seems to work with the strain of Bullocks
Heart we have here. I have seen mature trees of this combination
growing and cropping well in a well-drained and apparently wilt-free
site on the Tableland.
According to Popenoe, Page 188, Bullocks
Heart is compatible with Pond Apple so double grafting with these
species should be totally compatible.
In the D.P.l. compatibility chart, both the parents of Atemoya hybrids, Atemoya cherimola or Atemoya squamosa are compatible with Atemoya reticulata,
so why is the resulting hybrid indicated as not compatible? Practical
experience does not seem to bear this out. I would be interested to
hear other peoples' opinions on this. A reply to this article in the
"The Exotics" would be most helpful. Perhaps suggestions for
alternative interstock species could be included.
could well be a problem later on. Time will tell. An example of delayed
incompatibility is well illustrated on Page 24 of the D.P.I. book where
Cherimoya was used as an interstock between Pond Apple and African
Pride. Growth was weak and most of the trees died before they were five
(5) years old.
My tree is now into its third year and has grown
extremely vigorously right from planting. Graft unions appear smooth,
with the Pond Apple rootstock being slightly thicker than the Bullocks
Heart interstock. So far so good.
1998-99 A Testing Time
Photo of young Annona tree
tree is planted where five of the original trees died from Bacterial
Wilt infection. So, as the soil is heavily infected with the bacteria,
this should be a good test for wilt resistance.
We have just had
Cyclone 'Rona' followed by heavy monsoonal rains. Days and days of
torrential rain and severe waterlogging have been a good test for
resistance to 'wet feet' and we have had exceptionally wet weather
since then as well.
The tree pushed out a lot of fresh growth on
the branch ends, which may indicate it has come through alright. My
previous trees never grew as vigorously as this one.
Propagation - How Long Did It Take?
short answer is too long! From the winter of 1995 to planting the above
tree on 9.2.97. Double grafting takes a long time. I propagated several
trees originally. One grew very well and was the first to take all the
grafts. I put this down to the vigour of the rootstock. All grafting
was done using green wood material at peak vigour.
Pond Apple is classed as a noxious weed up here by the D.P.I. and there
is a concerted campaign to get rid of it. I got my rootstock in
mid-1995 as seedlings coming up around a tree in the Flecker Botanic
Gardens in Cairns (don't panic, its been pulled out long ago).
seedling were started in 75-mm pots and potted on to 130-mm and finally
into 200-mm pots, culling out the weakest growers at each stage.
potting mix was just sieved garden compost plus an NPK fertilizer
comprised of Blood and Bone, Super, Sulphate of Potash and trace
elements. Side dressings of soluble fertilizer were applied regularly
to maintain vigour for grafting. When grafting, side dressings are most
important for both stock and scion to keep the cambium active.
my first lot of trees died the Bullocks Heart were grafted on, and
threw some water shoots below the graft. These I cut off and cleft
grafted the green terminal shoots into the tops of the Pond Apple
seedlings covering the grafts with. plastic bags. This was done on
22.2.96. All grafted trees were raised in my patio which is roofed with
green corrugated alsynite and shade cloth.
The Gefner Scion Variety
the Bullocks Heart interstocks were growing vigorously I cleft grafted
them with green shoots from the remaining Gefner trees which were stall
alive on 12.11.96.
The best tree was then planted on 9.2.97,
once the shoots had hardened off. This is the tree in Picture No. 1. By
this time the earlier bought trees had all died and were pulled out.
were three Gefner grafts on this tree, which produced three long
shoots. These were cut back at planting to about half their length and
the end two leaves removed to encourage shoots to form the beginnings
of scaffold limbs.
The tree was planted with NPK fertilizer plus
trace elements and kept watered and side dressed as required to
maintain maximum growth in the first year. A thick mulch of garden
compost is maintained year round.
In July, 1998, the tree was
shape pruned to develop secondary limbs and all flowers removed to
encourage maximum growth. Two leaves were removed at branch ends to
encourage rapid bud burst.
Picture 2. Pond Apple rootstock ready for chip budding. Pic. 3. Bullocks Heart shoot on a Pond Apple rootstock
the rootstocks fed each week with a balanced soluble fertilizer such as
Aquasol or Thrive, etc., to encourage vigorous growth from the chip
On no account remove the tape from around the chip buds.
This can be left on until winter once the tree has been planted and
staked. The budding tape expands as the graft grows, and deteriorates
in sunlight anyway.
The next step was to green wood approach graft the Bullocks Heart interstock shoots onto the Gefner tree planted on 9.2.97.
found that the Bullocks Heart shoots must be at least eight leaves or
more in length to allow sufficient length and thickness of shoot before
approach grafting can be accomplished. This took about three months.
gantry had to be erected around the Gefner tree on which to stand the
potted plants, so as to position the Bullocks Heart shoots close to the
Gefner shoots for ease of approach grafting.
It must be
emphasised that all shoots must be growing vigorously and the whole
operation timed to allow plenty of growing time left before dormancy
sets in to allow the graft shoots to unite properly. I found that this
did not always happen. A few late-grafted shoots of Gefner, although
appearing to unite, must have only just callused without the xylem and
phloem conducting tissues fully joining up. The Gefner and Bullocks
Heart wood, although appearing healthy, died right back to the Pond
Apple rootstock after the trees were detached and planted out.
However, the ones that were grafted earlier established successfully after planting. These were on the more vigorous rootstocks.
Picture 4 Gantry erected around the parent tree for holding the potted plants in position for approach grafting.
the gantry I found tomato stakes and scrap wood strong enough to hold
the pots in place. To maintain vigour so essential for the grafts to
unite quickly, both the pots and the parent tree must be fertilized
regularly. Two teaspoonfuls of soluble fertilizer spread on the surface
of a 200-mm pot and watered in each week does wonders. Water the pots
first, then apply the fertilizer, watering this in sufficiently to get
it into the root system but not out the bottom of the pot. Fertilize
the parent tree regularly with a complete NPK fertilizer plus trace
elements to maintain growth. Control fruit and Banana Spotting bugs as
they can devastate young shoots, which set the grafts back weeks.
other trees have been planted out around the main centre tree and their
shoots approach grafted onto its side branches. Once these are fully
established, hopefully, this should give stability to the main tree in
times of cyclonic winds. Time will tell.
The following picture
shows the tree after completing much of its summer growth in March,
1999. The butt diameter 30 cm from the ground is 132 mm (5.25 inches)
It is now just over two years old from planting, four years from the
start of propagation.
Picture 5. The tree in March, 1999
Propagation - A Short Cut?
a Pond Apple rootstock is required, then double grafting is necessary
for compatibility reasons with Atemoya varieties as described above.
took me two years, but can the process be shortened? I think it can. I
have never tried this but I would suggest the following procedure:
Pond Apple and Gefner plants from cuttings in a propagation frame and
Bullocks Heart from seedlings (this cannot be grown from cuttings).
Gefner, or whatever variety, to be raised from semi-hardwood cuttings
just before bud break, as described in the D.P.I. book, Pond Apple to
be raised from tip cuttings as described later.
Sketch of how to plant 3 small trees for approach grafting
three to be raised initially in small 75 mm tubes or 'Easyout' root
trainers. When potting up the rooted cuttings and seedlings, be sure to
place each of them so that they are against the side of the tube. Not
in the centre.
Once they are established and require potting on,
place each of the three in a 250 mm pot so that their stems are all as
close together as possible. This will be easier if at first they were
originally raised against the sides of the 75 mm tubes or root
trainers. See Diagram 1.
Being planted close together as in the
above diagram will make it easier to approach graft the Bullocks Heart
to the Pond Apple and the Gefner, or other Atemoya variety, to the
Bullocks Heart all at the same time in the one operation. This can be
done once the three plants are well-developed with stems of around
Sketch of the completed double graft.
the grafts have taken and are well joined together, cut through the
stems of the Bullocks Heart and Gefner below the grafts, thus isolating
them from their own roots and leaving them on the Pond Apple rootstock.
Remove the Pond Apple and Bullocks heart tops above the grafts. The
remaining Gefner shoot should now grow away vigorously supported by the
rootstock as per Diagram 2.
Grow on in the 250 mm pots in a
nursery until the Gefner, or whatever variety, is well-established on
the rootstock, and plant out the following winter.
This procedure is just a suggestion. It might not work, but it could be worth trying as it cuts out a whole year in the nursery.
The following are some observations I've made which may be of interest and some unknowns:
Pond Apple Rootstock
is essential horticultural practice and will always result in more even
tree development in commercial orchards if a Pond Apple CLONE (a
selected seedling) of the required vigour is identified first and then
vegetatively propagated from cuttings. The growth of seedlings is
tremendously variable in Pond Apple and cannot be relied on. Graft
failure is far more prevalent with seedlings. The weaker the seedling
the more likelihood of graft failure.
I have found the best
plants are raised from cuttings taken from the growing tips of the
shoots (not nodal cuttings) from a selected vigorous grown seedling.
Commercially this would necessitate growing stock plants of the clonal
rootstock kept hard pruned to produce vigorous vegetative shoots and
not allowed to flower. Cuttings from strong terminal growth, root and
grow quickly in a propagation frame using Perlite as the rooting medium
and once grafted are quick to take the graft resulting in stronger
growth both from the interstock and the scion variety.
years of experience, trees on clonal rootstocks are far more responsive
to irrigation and fertilizing than on seedling stocks of variable
vigour and I have no reason to believe that Custard Apples are any
I would strongly suggest that in areas of poorer soil, a selected Pond Apple clone would give better results than seedlings.
Pond Apple give better anchorage with its stronger root system in wind
prone areas? Don't know. Is it resistant to Bacterial Wilt? Time will
Bullocks Heart Interstock
Bullocks Heart I used were seedlings from one particular tree. I don't
know whether there are variations in graft compatibility or perhaps
complete incompatibility depending on the provenance of the seedlings.
my limited experience so far, the graft unions with Gefner look good
with no signs of incompatibility. I also don't know whether seedlings
of variable vigour would affect scion growth. My observation is that it
is the rootstock that controls vigour, not the interstock.
unknown is the effect of varying lengths of rootstock and interstock
stems on scion variety vigour. Would other Atemoya varieties behave
differently with this graft combination?
double grafting using the above combination of species is ultimately
going to result in a high-yielding, regular-cropping tree without
incompatibility problems remains to be seen. But I think it is worth
trying, all the same, for the sake of being able to grow custard apples
down here on the coast of far North Queensland. Custard Apples are
somewhat rare in backyards around Cairns due to the vagaries of our
weather and high incidence of Bacterial Wilt.
So, if anybody has
similar problems to us in far North Queensland and wants to have a go
at double grafting, I hope this article will be of some help and I wish
them the best of luck!!
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