Subtropicals for Zone 9

This year I’ve put most of my gardening energy into the search for subtropical trees that will survive and fruit here in zone 9b, Los Gatos, CA. I am only 6 months into this experiment, but I have done a lot of research and acquired a lot of plants. I’m willing to risk the life of many plants in the name of discovery!

I have so much to say on this topic, but I thought I would start with a breakdown of my current thinking on what fruits have the best odds. I’ve seen other lists (like this one https://www.crfg.org/fg/1996/chooserft.html) but they haven’t always agreed with the things I’ve learned or observed.

This list is limited to the plants which I currently have in my collection, and not including citrus, loquats, figs, and other fruits that are no-brainers here. I am ranking trees based on their hardiness when mature - it would be homicide to leave immature trees outside in winter here. The list is partially informed by how well these plants have done in my backyard this summer, but mostly by talking to people and reading old forum threads. As we all know, the toughest obstacle is winter, and only a handful of my trees have endured that yet.

I’d love to hear any dissenting opinions on my rankings!

Bulletproof

  • Avocado (Mexican strains)
  • Strawberry Guava
  • Feijoa
  • Ugni
  • Guabiju

Easy with little to no protection

  • Avocado (Guatemalan strains)
  • Cherimoya
  • Lucuma
  • Banana (fast growing dwarfs)
  • Macadamia
  • White Sapote
  • Frederick Passionfruit
  • Cherry of the Rio Grande
  • Suriname Cherry

Needs protection only in very cold years

  • Jaboticaba
  • Green Sapote
  • Imbe
  • Longan
  • Tropical Guavas
  • Pitomba
  • Pitangatuba
  • Cedar Bay Cherry
  • Tamarillo
  • Kwai Muk
  • Cinnamon Apple (Pouteria hypoglauca)
  • Guabiroba (Campomanesia xanthocarpa)

Possible with serious protection and lots of luck

  • Mango
  • Black Sapote
  • Carambola
  • Canistel
  • Sapodilla
  • Lychee
  • Wax Jambu
  • Atemoya
  • Grumichama
  • Dragonfruit
  • Ceylon Cinnamon
  • Allspice
  • Avocado (West Indian strains)
  • Ice Cream Bean
  • Achachairu
  • Mexican Mangosteen
  • Strawberry Tree (Muntingia calabura)
  • Wampee
  • Peanut Butter Fruit
  • Rainforest Plum
  • Mountain Papaya

Very difficult but worth trying

  • Sugar Apple
  • Rollinia
  • Jackfruit
  • Mamey
  • Papaya
  • Lemondrop Mangosteen
  • Seashore Mangosteen
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if growing them potted and moving to your garage/indoors daily won’t be too much trouble to you, and if you’re the type who likes instant gratification, muntingia is quite precocious, and could start bearing fruits at <1 yr. Bigger specimens may survive being left out all night at 50-60F. It tolerates ‘cramped feet’ and will be productive even with little soil(in the tropics it will grow on rock crevices with nothing more than dust and debris as its growing medium). I have seen productive ones at just 4 feet tall growing diagonally on adobe walls.

sugar apple may bear fruits < 2-3 yrs old, but will also have to be sheltered indoors during cold nights/winter.
i won’t say it is ‘very difficult’ but i am cocksure about it ‘worth trying’ !! It is absolutely delicious.
like muntingia, it will be fine grown potted, and may fruit at three to four feet tall.
rollinia is also feasible, but is a much bigger tree than sugar apple so this might be too heavy and leggy to bring in and out of your garage.
dwarf papayas may also be worth the trouble, since many will bear fruit at a year old or so(perhaps longer in cold weather)

and yes, jackfruit is worth trying, but will be extremely difficult. You will need a gigantic pot, and a forklift for this one, as it will not fruit at a small stature. And if it does, fruits will likely be duds.

wax jambu is probably not worth growing in your area. Many folks find it a little too bland even when grown in the warm tropics. Am quite certain fruits will be more so when grown in colder areas.

as for others in your list, cherimoya, longan, lychee, psidium guavas, mamey, and sapodillas would be the priorities if it were up to me, though the latter two will probably be more challenging.

and of course, avocado is a must-have!

Bulletproof

  • Avocado - In your location I would try “Stewart”
  • Strawberry Guava - You’re referring to Psidium cattleyanum. The standard variety propagated LaVerne Nursery is worth having.
  • Feijoa - aka Pineapple Guava (Acca sellowiana). I recommend the cultivar Nazemetz.
  • Ugni - Chilean Guava. IMO it’s an overrated plant and is marginal in your area. Cherry of the Rio Grande is probably a better choice.
  • Guabiju - Myrcianthes pungens. I prefer cherry tomatoes.

Easy with little to no protection

  • Avocado (Guatemalan strains). If any, I’d try Reed.
  • Cherimoya - I don’t think it is worth the effort in your location, you’d find better Cherimoya at farmer’s markets.
  • Lucuma - I don’t think this would be easy in your area.
  • Banana (fast growing dwarfs) – You need not restrict yourself to fast growing dwarfs. However, I recommend you understand which cultivars can work in your environment. If Namwa or Pisang Ceylon work at your home in all day sunlight then I can recommend others. I have grown every fruiting type offered by AgriStarts over the decades in zone 9b, and then only sold those that were good tasting and hardy enough for the region.
  • Macadamia - It’s worth a shot. Could be susceptible to mold in your area. Doesn’t appreciate copper.
  • White Sapote - The cultivar Suebelle is fairly hardy and good tasting.
  • Frederick Passionfruit - No problem. Likely bulletproof in your area. You’ll need at least 50 feet of linear fence that is at least 5 feet high. No kidding! The trunk will be 3" to 5" diameter within a few years.
  • Cherry of the Rio Grande - No problem. Crops a few times per year here.
  • Suriname Cherry - Eugenia uniflora. An overrated fruit in my opinion. Commonly sold by nurseries as an ornamental hedge. I’d plant something else.

Needs protection only in very cold years

  • Jaboticaba - Results from growers in your area are poor. Will need 15-20 years of age before fruiting in your area.
  • Green Sapote - it’s toast even in the SF banana belt. Working marginally well here in zone 10b.
  • Imbe - Garcinia livingstonei. Pathetic tasting fruit when grown in San Diego envirens.
  • Longan - Worth a shot.
  • Tropical Guavas - your inferring cultivars of Psidium guajava. They will be sensitive to your winters – esp. the so-called asian varieties.
  • Pitomba - Talisia esculenta. I’d grow alpine strawberries instead.
  • Pitangatuba - a variant of Surinam Cherry.
  • Cedar Bay Cherry - Eugenia reinwardtiana. The British and Australians call it a bush fruit for a reason.
  • Tamarillo - Tree tomato (Solanum betaceum). A novelty. I’d rather grow real tomatoes.
  • Kwai Muk - Artocarpus hypargyreus. A questionable medicinal plant from China.
  • Cinnamon Apple (Pouteria hypoglauca). - Actually Pouteria glomerata subsp. glomerata. Grown successfully here in a huge commercial greenhouse.
  • Guabiroba (Campomanesia xanthocarpa) - Actually Campomanesia lineatifolia. Which did you mean?

Possible with serious protection and lots of luck

  • Mango - If you do try, I’d recommend the cultivar Valencia Pride.
  • Black Sapote - why grow a western hemisphere persimmon when you could be growing a great eastern cultivar such as Izu?
  • Carambola - LOL
  • Canistel - LOL
  • Sapodilla - LOL
  • Lychee - LOL
  • Wax Jambu - LOL
  • Atemoya - bleck.
  • Grumichama - Cherry of the Rio Grande will work better for you.
  • Dragonfruit - maybe Hylocereus guatemalensis.
  • Ceylon Cinnamon - LOL
  • Allspice - LOL
  • Avocado (West Indian strains) - Why? Stewart tastes better!
  • Ice Cream Bean - If you do succeed, it will uproot your house.
  • Achachairu - LOL
  • Mexican Mangosteen - ?
  • Strawberry Tree (Muntingia calabura) - bleck.
  • Wampee - LOL
  • Peanut Butter Fruit - LOL
  • Rainforest Plum - LOL
  • Mountain Papaya - might work, but the taste is not worth it.

Very difficult but worth trying
Sugar Apple - LOL
Rollinia - LOL
Jackfruit - LOL
Mamey - LOL
Papaya - LOL
Lemondrop Mangosteen - LOL
Seashore Mangosteen - LOL

Richard, I like the naysaying, you motivate me : )

I have a 4 year old hedge of it that is fruiting this year.

Hasn’t been much effort - I didn’t protect my two small trees last winter, they came through unharmed by sub-freezing temperatures. I have friends in Vallejo and Santa Cruz that have grown extremely high quality Cherimoyas.

My friends in Vallejo and Santa Cruz have also grown Lucuma for years with no problem.

I have had a tree in the ground for 3 years that has done nothing but grow and I’ve seen several large trees all over the Bay Area.

There are a number of cultivars developed for flavor. I’ve tasted them, they’re great. Comparing them to the hedges in Florida is like dismissing apples because you had a nasty crab apple once.

Not if you start with a large mature tree! They are out there in nurseries. There are also precocious species like Red Jaboticaba and Coronata Restinga which are said to fruit in 5-10 years.

My friend in Vallejo has a large Green Sapote tree that sails through winter and has just started flowering.

Logee’s sells plants of a good tasting cultivar. I have a friend in Lake Forest who just got fruit from his and raved about it.

The name Guabiroba is used for many Campomanesia species. It’s the equivalent of “Guava” for Psidiums.

I have 3 Asian persimmon trees. They’re great, but I also love Black Sapote and I have an excellent cultivar.

Who knows what winter will bring, but my Carambola, Wax Jambu, and Cinnamon trees have grown rapidly this summer.

I agree, I have no plans to grow any.

Also known as “Luc’s Mexican Garcinia” - a Garcinia found recently in Mexican highlands near that supposedly has great cold tolerance and excellent flavor. I’m growing a ton of these from seed.

I’ve heard so many rave reviews about the flavor of this fruit and I’m going to taste it for the first time next week.

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Indeed, I have a small Muntingia in a pot that just started flowering a few months after I got it. I also have a few that I grew from seed. They have all thrived here outdoors despite our cold summer nights. I will be bringing them into greenhouse for winter but will plant one outside next spring.

My Sugar Apple is in the ground right next to a Cherimoya. They look almost identical, but it will be interesting to watch how they respond to winter differently. I will do my best to keep the Sugar Apple warm once it gets cold.

Perhaps. I have trees that were supposedly bred for cold tolerance. We shall see.

if it is a cultivar which will survive your winters outdoors, then it more than makes up for what many people complain about it being bland.
while admittedly not inclined to write poetry about the flavor and taste of wax jambu , it is still something i’d grow if my area permits, and will still eat even when there are better tasting fruits i could buy or grow myself.
variety isn’t just about apples and oranges–figuratively and literally.

congrats on your muntingia, as almost sure you’d be getting actual muntingia cherries soon. Also looking forward to your updates re sugar apple and cherimoya.

I’m not in Florida.

I didn’t mean to imply that I think you’re in Florida. I know you’re in California. Suriname Cherry is famously used a hedge all over Florida.

That’s quite a list, Joe. Have you already acquired all of them, or are some of them fruits you are still considering?

Yes, with the exception of tropical guavas and west indian avocados I have everything on that list, some in the ground, some in big pots, some are just seedlings. The plan is to eventually plant most of them outdoors once they are big enough, but in the meantime they’ll spend winters in the greenhouse.

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Ah! a greenhouse makes a difference! :slight_smile: How much space does it have? Will it be heated?

I’m not in cold hardiness zone 9. As you can tell from my screen name, I’m 8a, but I am growing, or attempting to grow a few from your list. Not even citrus falls into the “No Brainer” category here. It’s in the “Possible with serious protection, some luck, and a little skill” category. :wink:

Winters here are much more difficult, but summers may be more conducive to growth of at least some of the tropical/ subtropical plants, at least for the ones that prefer a hot and humid environment, and soil that leans toward being acidic. They thrive during my summer while the temperate climate fruit trees struggle to survive. It is rare to have a day where the high is less than 90 in the summer, and nights range from the mid 70’s to low 80’s. The problem is that we always have some freezes in the winter, and usually have a few nights that drop into the teens.

I’ve never tasted most of what is on your list, and wouldn’t even know where to find them unless I drove all the way down to southern FL or was treated to another trip to Puerto Rico. I had some freshly picked wax jambu while there. While interesting, there was little flavor. I thought it was better sliced up in a salad for crunch than eaten as a dessert - perhaps along the lines of a crispy cucumber.

I didn’t see pulasan or rambutan on your list. Is that due to your preference, temperature, or humidity?

Also, what are challenges of growing carambola and papaya in your area? I can see the challenges in my area, but wondered how they differed for you.

Keep in mind that as a Myrteae, Surinam Cherry are propagated by seed and not by cutting. If you like the fruits of the resulting plants, great! :smiley: My space is limited and the individuals I’ve tasted were not tasty enough to compete with other selections.

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You don’t have citrus on there, oranges & lemons are bulletproof. My bears lime has gotten winter damage in very cold winter (3 years ago maybe).

Mexican cream guava does well against south facing wall, as does key lime, (and now my bears lime, I moved it :slight_smile:

I have a mislabeled/unknown banana doing well against the south wall. I know a couple people fruiting bananas in San Jose but don’t know the varieties.

My Fredericks were killed that same winter 3 years ago, however they grow like weeds and I am loaded with passionfruit this year.

Emma Prusch has a large white sapote that fruits and a very large guava too.

My friends cattley guava died to the ground in Willow Glen two winters ago.

Loquats are bulletproof as well I don’t see them listed.

Someone grows dragon-fruit near my sons daycare. Haven’t seen fruit on it though but always makes it through winter.

Some of my 9b observations in San Jose :slight_smile:

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Citrus and loquats weren’t in the specific lists, but he mentioned them as “no brainers” for the area in the main the main body of writing.

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Give me the no-brainer, no-strainer crops and trees every time. I want proven performers, I’ve got a bunch of other things to do! :slight_smile:

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That makes very good sense for many. For others, like me, the journey of exploring and stretching possibilities, and growing what few others do in our areas, is a large part of what keeps our interest in the hobby of fruit growing fired up. If all any of us grew were no brainers, there wouldn’t be much to talk about, learn, celebrate, or bemoan.

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exactly. Additionally, wouldn’t have found out for myself that calamondins and lemongrass actually survive being grown outdoors in the mojave desert(just as well in the tropics) with zero protection year-round had i not tried growing them. Considering Joe’s laundry list, quite likely there will be some, and hopefully many, which may prove feasible in his area.

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God bless those that test the limits of their zone. Case in point would be @applenut, who has blown away so much of the apple chill hour myth.

Not to try and talk anyone into or out of anything, but there’s something good and right about growing things that are well adapted to your locale. They take less energy, water and chemicals to bring forth a crop, and in most cases the quality will also be superior.

Nature stacks the deck against us even under ideal conditions. Having a harvest table that’s loaded and sometimes overflowing every day of the year is a huge reward, not to mention a hedge against disease and hard times.

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You have to have no brainers so you make sure you make a crop of something. But it is also nice to try one or two things each year to see if they will grow in your area.

I am trying surinam cherry, barbados cherry, Cherry of the Rio Grande, and Pitomba to see if any are good. They may all fail due either to not being able to take the cold or bad taste. If I do not like them I will give them to a fried and see if they like them. But I have always wanted to grow things to see if I can. Raspberries are not suppose to grow here but I have had some success.

I have noticed that on the years I have a cold winter I try to test the limits of higher chill hours. Last year was very mild and I am trying sub tropicals.

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I agree wholeheartedly. Most veggie gardeners trial at least a few new varieties each year to see how they do in their garden.

You can’t grow raspberries here, either. Yet, they produced the longest duration harvest of any fruit for me last year. That they had been pronounced unable to survive and produce here just adds to the enjoyment.

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