Are you looking for a small- to medium-sized evergreen landscape tree that is easy to care for, produces fragrant, delicate, white flowers and also makes delicious fruit? Then the loquat is the tree for you.
These trees are in full bloom right now, and the penetrating fragrance has called the bees out on warm days.
Also called Japanese plum, loquat is native to southeast Asia. The fruit is said to have been cultivated in Japan for more than 1,000 years, and that country is the leading producer of loquats with an annual crop of 17,000 tons.
According to Julia Morton, an expert on subtropical plants at the University of Miami, loquats were brought to the West by a botanist in 1690. They were first planted in the National Gardens of Paris in 1784 and in the Royal Botanical Gardens of England in 1787.
Loquat is now cultivated in India, East Indies, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America, Central America, Mexico and California. It was introduced in 1867 to south Florida and grows north to the Carolinas. Chinese immigrants are thought to have brought it to Hawaii.
They are grown in greenhouses as an ornamental tree in the North and do not produce fruit.
Loquats are a popular ornamental landscape tree in Louisiana due to its small size and evergreen habit. Like satsumas and persimmons, loquats are some of the most cold-tolerant fruit trees we can grow.
Trees grow 10 to 30 feet tall with a moderate growth rate, a rounded crown, thick evergreen leaves and short trunks. Tolerant of most soils types, loquats can be drought tolerant and prefer good drainage.
Loquats are easily propagated by seed for ornamental uses. They produce beautiful white flowers in late fall to early winter and attractive, small, light-yellow to apricot-colored fruit in the spring. They’re a great option for a foundation tree or landscape plant.
The fruit is not as popular in the U.S. as it is in Asia. Naturally low in calories, loquats are a good source of calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium and vitamin A, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Typically eaten fresh, peeled and seeded, the fruit is also a good source of gelatin and can be made into jams and jellies.
Trees should be planted in protected areas on the south side of buildings. Temperatures in the 20s can kill or damage blossoms, but fruits and trees are cold hardy to 10 degrees. Sunburn can cause fruit loss in hot climates with long summers.
Ornamental loquats are low-maintenance and typically grown from seed. Remove vegetation within 2 or 3 feet of the base of the tree to reduce weed competition. An application of one pound of 8-8-8 fertilizer per 8- to 10-feet of height during March is adequate in most Louisiana soils.
Loquats grown for fruit production benefit from good irrigation and fertilization. They are also typically grafted or budded and not easily rooted from cuttings. Fertilize with 1 pound 6-6-6 three times a year during active growth for each tree 8 to 10 feet in height.
Loquats have both male and female flowers on the same plant, but they need bees or other insects for pollination. Having multiple trees and several varieties will enhance fruit set. Thin flowers and young fruits of clusters to enhance fruit size.
Seedling trees are not identical to the parent and usually take eight to 10 years to produce. Layered or grafted trees produce fruit within five years. Old seedling trees can be converted by cutting them back and inserting bud wood of a different cultivar.
Loquats do not have many pest problems. Occasionally, aphids, scale, fruit flies and birds as well as some leaf spot and fleck have been reported. Fire blight is the most destructive disease. Pruning out diseased limbs helps control the disease and avoid heavy fertilization on diseased trees.
Some good selections for the South are Advance, Champagne, Early Red, Olivier, Premier, Tanaka, Thales, aka Gold Nugget and Wolfe. Big Jim and Macbeth are two varieties that have also done well in south Louisiana. A pollinator variety improves fruit set.
Loquats reach maturity in 90 days from flower opening. Color development is the best guide for ripeness. If not fully ripened, the fruits are very acidic.
Loquats are difficult to harvest, so clip clusters from stalks to avoid tearing the skin, and then clip the individual fruits from the cluster. Loquats will keep for 10 days at room temperature and 60 days in cool storage and three days after removing from storage.
Loquats are a well-known ornamental landscape tree that lack respect for the fruit. Let’s show them some love.