Two years ago, I sowed some tamarillo trees from seed and now there are two enormous trees in our garden, full of green fruit (see photo above). Every time I look at them I am filled with a sense of wonder at what I have achieved. I thought it would make a good subject for a blog post, so I can help others also grow tamarillo from seed.
Growing tamarillos from seed is not difficult and the offspring is said to be stronger and healthier than plants purchased at the garden centre. It is also an economical way of raising a lot of plants. Even if you only have a small garden, it’s always good to have some spares in case some plants don’t survive. You can also give some plants away to family, friends and neighbours.
Tamarillos come from South America. They do best in a warm, sunny climate. They can be grown in many parts of New Zealand, including Auckland and Northland. As I discovered, they do best in a sheltered spot, where they can be protected from wind. Ours are growing next to our banana tree, near our house.
It’s not difficult to source tamarillo seed, but make sure you start with one of a high quality. I highly recommend Egmont Seeds for the freshness of their products. Their range includes the tamarillo “Ruby Red” and it is $3 for a packet of 25 seeds.
Sowing tamarillo from seed
Tamarillo can be sowed from spring through to autumn. If you are sowing seed in spring, you may find that you need to use a heat pad or your hot water cupboard to aid germination, as seeds need warm temperatures in order to germinate. If you are sowing tamarillos in summer or autumn, this is not necessary and you should find seeds germinate easily outdoors.
Simply sprinkle your seeds in a punnet filled with a little seed raising mix and cover lightly. When choosing a seed raising mix, try to get one that is fine in texture without pieces of bark which make it difficult for seeds to poke their heads through the mixture. Leave outdoors. Don’t forget to water regularly as dryness can hinder germination.
In around two weeks, you should notice seedlings emerge. Let these grow for awhile and when seedlings are a bit bigger, prick them out and pot them up into six-cell punnets using a little potting mixture. You need not purchase an expensive mixture to do this, just a basic all-purpose one is fine. Don’t forget to water your seedlings regularly as they dry out in this heat.
When your seedlings have outgrown their six-cell punnet, it’s time to transfer them into individual pots. Make sure you are careful not to disturb the roots of the plants too much when doing this. Continue to water your plants regularly.
Caring for your plants
I grew my tamarillos organically so I didn’t use any sprays on them. However I did notice something attacked some of the leaves of some of my plants, but I simply disregarded those ones and concentrated on the plants that were healthy. Should you wish to protect plants from insects, a spray like Yates Success would be ideal (but note that it is not organic for those of you wishing to garden organically). Sometimes I think that whether insects attack plants is nothing but pure luck. Last year, I had a terrible time growing eggplants and most of my plants were attached by caterpillars who ate most of the leaves and left the plants in a very unhealthy state. I used Yates Success on the plants with limited success. This year, I haven’t had any problems with insects and my plants are the best and healthiest ever since I started gardening back in 2013.
Bear in mind that tamarillos are in the tomato family (they are known as “tree tomato”) so they can be susceptible to the TPP, if that’s a problem in your area. You may need to spray plants if this is the case. It helps to plant your tamarillos away from your tomatoes to prevent the spread of disease.
When your plants are big enough, you may wish to plant them in the garden. I did this when mine were in 10 cm pots and it was in April, when the temperatures were cooler. Putting in plants during summer is always more challenging due to the heat and dryness, so I recommend waiting until it’s a bit cooler like me.
To encourage your trees to branch out rather than continue to grow upwards, you may wish to pinch out the middle. I forgot to do this when the trees were young and ended up doing this when they were quite high, but it worked out alright and the trees seem to be okay. They are perhaps a bit taller than they should be, so if you want to keep them at a more moderate height it’s a good idea to do this when they are about your height.
The biggest challenge with growing tamarillos, whether from seed or purchased as plants from the garden centre, is getting them through the cooler months. Frosts will kill the plants. I managed to get my plants through their first year by spraying them with Vaporgard, which is a liquid frost cloth that I purchased from Wally. It is also available at Mitre 10. Once trees are well above ground level, frosts are not such a problem but you may wish to continue to spray them with Vaporgard during winter as a precaution. Otherwise, I don’t use any sprays on the trees, simply because it is not necessary. We are very fortunate that TPP isn’t a problem in our garden.
As your trees grow, you may find that they need some support. I secured mine with wooden stakes in either side and tied the plant to them with some old pantyhose. As our trees continued to grow, we ended up securing them to the banana tree that they are planted next to, because it can get very windy where we live.
From spring through to autumn, I feed my trees with a granular food designed for fruit trees. I also try to liquid feed the trees weekly using a water soluble plant food designed for citrus and fruit trees.
We are looking forward to harvesting our first fruit in May! Hopefully, with the help of this guide, you will also be on your way to growing your own tamarillos.