Name: feijoa, pineapple guava, guavasteen (Feijoa sellowiana, syn. Acca sellowiana).
Plant type: moderately vigorous evergreen fruit tree.
Height: 2–5m but can be contained by pruning.
Foliage: thick, smooth leaves, light olive green on top and silver-grey beneath.
Climate: grows best in warm temperate to sub-tropical climates but can tolerate tropical and cold temperate climates with protection.
Soil: grows best in rich, free-draining soil but tolerant of clay and both dry and wet soil.
Position: full sun to part shade; very wind-tolerant even in coastal situations.
Flowering and fruiting: flowers in early summer; fruit ripens in late autumn to early winter.
Feeding: annual applications of controlled release fertiliser.
Watering: drought-tolerant but reliable watering is preferred during fruit development.
There’s no denying that some fruit trees take a lot of TLC to get them to perform at their best. The feijoa is not one of those trees. In fact it’s quite likely the easiest fruit tree you could grow, right up there with mulberries. Originally from South America, the feijoa wasn’t discovered by Europeans until the 1820s and it has seesawed in popularity ever since. Interestingly, the feijoa has been very popular in New Zealand for generations. It was a moderately common garden plant in the 1960s and over the last 10 or so years has been rediscovered by home gardeners and commercial fruit growers.
The natural form is widely spreading, with trees potentially as wide as they are high. With age and no pruning they can become very dense and twiggy, however feijoas take very well to pruning so are most often seen in neat, compact forms. Feijoas tend to be reasonably long lived and will remain productive for 30 years or more.
Their foliage is very distinctive – light olive-green above, silver-grey beneath – and oval-shaped with a thick, almost leathery texture.
The real beauty of the feijoa is in its hardiness and versatility. It’s an attractive and useful garden plant and it produces an abundance of mouth-wateringly delicious fruit. The taste of feijoas is described in different ways, with comparisons to pineapple, passionfruit, strawberry, lemon and guava!
Feijoa fruit are often quite irregular in shape, varying from rounded to oval or pear-shaped. The skin is waxy, sometimes rough other times smooth, and bluey-green to grey-green in colour. As the fruit ripens it takes on a slightly yellow hue and becomes very aromatic.
Fruit should be left to ripen on the tree. Wait until it falls and harvest immediately or pick when they come away at the lightest touch. Fruit picked early and ripened off-tree tend to have less flavour.
Many people don’t like the taste of the skin, just scooping out the juicy, jelly-like flesh. The fruit can also be made into a feijoa jam or chutney with many recipes using it in sweet cakes.
The best results will come from trees grown in fertile, free-draining soil, however they will grow in coarse, rocky soil or even quite heavy clay. They can tolerate wet conditions for short periods, provided they are not waterlogged for an extended time.
Feijoas take very well to growing in pots. Use a premium organic potting mix or a mix blended for fruiting and edible plants.
Unlike most fruit trees, feijoas will thrive in anything from full sun to part shade.
Feijoas tolerate virtually any position including coastal situations, however growth will be slower and fruiting may be reduced in exposed spots.
Feijoas like cool winters and long, warm summers. They will tolerate cold down to around –10˚C. In very hot conditions the fruit may split and flavour may be reduced. Ideally they need around 75 chill hours (time below around 8˚C) to set fruit well.
Feijoa are very resistant to pests and diseases but may be troubled by wax scales, leaf-rolling caterpillars and fruit fly. Use an appropriate organic treatment.
It’s not just the feijoa fruit that’s edible. The flowers are sweet and delicious too, but remember – eating a flower means one less fruit!
If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.
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