The 2014 Lychee season turned out to be a very disappointing one, compared to prior years. It seems that every year gets progressively worse. The primary reason is a growing succession of warm winters. Statistically, this situation cannot go on forever and next year could prove to be a great season if we get some sustained winter chilling. What little lychee crop that did emerge this season came from areas further north, in particular Loxahatchee (West Palm Beach) and Sebring.
It is interesting to note that if one reads old copies of the long defunct Florida Lychee Growers Association journal you realize that most of the lychee cultivation in Florida, during the 30s, 40s, and 50s was in the Sarasota and Highlands County area. A succession of hard freezes in the 1960s caused most all of the lychee tree plantings to move into Miami-Dade county (Homestead). A very similar situation happened to the Florida citrus industry, where a succession of hard freezes drove much of the citrus industry from central Florida further south. There was a point in time , many years ago, where citrus was grown as far north as Tallahassee. The collapse of the South Florida real estate market and the low prices paid for lychees were two major factors responsible for the disappearance of many small groves in Miami-Dade and Broward County.
With the growing popularity of lychee fruit and the corresponding increase in demand for the product, prices paid to growers are improving and we expect this will lead to more extensive plantings in agricultural zones that are changing. Many areas where field landscape or citrus groves were planted are adaptible to lychee cultivation. With vacant land prices low again it is our hope that more serious growers will emerge.
One of the major chalenges facing anyone who wants to start a lychee grove is the capital investment and relatively long time required to reach financially sustainable production levels. It takes at least seven (7) years before the trees come into full production. This is Florida and seven years is a lifetime when one considers the various kinds of natural disasters that can occur. Hurricanes, hard freezes, floods, pestilence, low prices, accidents etc. are among some of the natural challenges that present themselves to prospective growers. Still, when your first crop materializes it is a great day and all of the years of waiting are worth it.
The upshot of all this is that if you plan to grow lychee fruit you really need to have more than one tree. Even in some of the bigger northern groves there was only about 20% fruit set. I usually recommend that prospective growers plant out two of each fruit variety to insure production throughout the 6 – 7 week season and it is a well known fact that lychee trees set more fruit when in the presence of other varieties. This is especially true with regards to Mauritius lychees.
The reason for the above described situation is that lychee trees put out different flower types during the progression of the flowering event. Typically, lychee trees will initially put out male flowers followed by female flowers. If Brewster and Mauritius trees are out of sync then the probably increases that there will be viable pollen when the receptive stigma of the female flowers emerges. To learn more about this read the article on lychee tree flowering Flowering in Lychees
I still continue to hear a very common question: “Why didn’t my lychee tree bloom this year. This is the third year in a row. What am I doing wrong?”.
The answer to this is a bit counter-intuitive. I often tell fellow growers that the trees in our grove that fruit every year, fruit every year. What does that mean? Trees which produce fruit get “pruned” when the fruit is picked. Lychee fruit is harvested with a pruning shears as one usually clips a panicle from the terminal end of a branch several inches below the beginning of the panicle base. This induces a growth flush which in turn sets the growth flush clock to a known period of time, thus increasing the probability that the trees will enter the winter months in a state of dormancy so that if there is a cold spell when buds are beginning to emerge the buds will morph into bloom spikes.
Even if your lychee tree produces no fruit any given year you should always prune it post harvest. The middle of July is a good time for this activity. In areas where lychees are grown commercially this process is often accomplished with a commercial hedging machine such as what is used to hedge citrus trees.
The Brewster bloom this year is modest. The bloom this year came in mid January through mid February, and the fruit is repining normally. It typically, requires about 90 days for the fruit to mature once the fruit has set.
That being said I would expect this Brewster fruit crop to become available in mid June.
Our Sweetheart trees put out a moderate bloom this year as a result of the cool days in January and February.