Article from The Master Gardening Bench, Manatee County Master Gardener Newsletter
by John Dawson

Loving Lychee

Laichi, leechi, litchi; however you want to pronounce it, if you try one fresh, you will beg for another. The lychee (Litchi chinensis) is a pretty subtropical fruit tree for the home garden which produces abundant beautiful and tasty pink-red fruit. The lychee or “Lee Chee” (Chinese for “Gift for a joyful life”) has been continuously cultivated and enjoyed by Asians as far back as 2000 BC.

The fresh fruit has an inedible pink-red, roughly-textured rind, while inside is a single seed covered with a sweet delicate flavored translucent white pulp. The delicate flavor is lost in canning, drying (a.k.a - lychee nuts) and freezing, so the fruit is usually enjoyed eaten fresh (a good reason to have your own tree). Lychee is high in vitamin C, potassium and several other essential minerals. The fruit will not ripen off the tree, so it must be picked ripe, when the pulp is at its optimum sweetness (trial and error tasting). Lychee is considered highly perishable. Left for more than a couple of days, the peel becomes brown and dry and the delicate flavor is lost.  This perishability makes it difficult to find fresh lychee in markets.

 Florida has been the leading commercial grower of lychee in the U.S. since 1940, with about 80% of the crop shipped out-of-state. The majority of lychee found in the U.S. is imported from Asia. The two main commercial varieties of lychee trees grown in Florida are the Mauritius and the Brewster. Other varieties of lychee include the Haak Yip, No Mai Tze, Shan Chi, Sweet Cliff, Sweet Heart and Emperor.

Lychee trees grow in recurring flushes of growth followed by periods of dormancy. Depending on the air temperature and availability of soil nutrients, the dormancy phase of the growth/dormancy cycle can be manipulated for an almost continuous growth phase (speeding fruit development). The new growth on a lychee tree consists of very delicate leaves which emerge as a wine red flush, becoming darker green as the growth hardens off. These delicate leaves are susceptible to wind damage (>15mph) and insect pests (moths, scale, mealy bugs, lychee webworm, citrus root weevil and just recently, the Sri Lankan weevil). There are no pesticides available for homeowners to combat weevils. Holding an inverted umbrella under the tree limbs and shaking the branches vigorously will cause the weevils to fall in the umbrella where they can be collected and disposed of in a bucket of soapy water. Mature trees can sustain most insect attacks.

 Lychee trees grow best when protected from prevailing easterly winds and when heavily mulched (preferably with compost to within six inches of the trunk) and provided with sufficient fertilizer. Lychee trees in the home landscape should be planted 25 to 30 feet or more away from structures and other trees. Trees planted too close to other trees or structures may not grow normally or produce much fruit due to shading. Lychee trees grow best in full sun and well-drained soils.

Propagation from air layering works best and grafting is possible; however, hybridized lychee trees usually do not come true to form when planted from seed (may take twenty years to bear fruit). Use the seed to develop root stock for grafting if you have the urge to plant seed.

Formative pruning during the first two years is desirable to encourage lateral branching and growth. After several years of production it is desirable to cut back the tops of the trees to less than 12 feet. Selectively removing a few upper limbs back to their origin (crotches) each year will help prevent the loss of the lower tree canopy due to shading by the upper canopy. Maintaining a smaller tree makes it easier to harvest fruit, spraying the tree, and reduce possible storm damage. Pruning should be carried out immediately after harvest to allow regrowth and maturating of new shoots and leaves before the onset of winter temperatures. Severe pruning does not injure lychee trees, but may reduce fruit production for one to several seasons.

For more detailed information on growing lychee trees, please refer to

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Dawson, John. "Loving Lychee." The Manatee County Master Gardener Newsletter. Apr. 2012. Volume 11, Issue 4. Web. 27 June 2017.

Published 27 June 2017 LR
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