If you’re tired of growing the same old fruits, then mangosteen may be for you. This is a famously picky tree to grow, but after reading this guide, you’ll be armed to grow one of the tastiest tropical fruits out there.
You’ll also be growing expensive and difficult to find fruits that people are willing to pay good money for.
Some have tried and many have failed, but that’s never stopped me from attempting to grow fruits I love to eat and want to sell. If you feel the same, then let’s get started.
What is Mangosteen?
Known as the queen of tropical fruit, mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) is a fruity treasure. It’s native in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia and cultivated in India, Thailand, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Florida, and Vietnam.
With an amazing flavor that I can only describe as sweetly tropical balanced perfectly with slight acidity, and the white flesh inside is heavenly with a texture like soft ice cream.
This evergreen tree grows up to 50 feet tall in the right conditions and needs lots of humidity and rainfall. It has beautiful foliage that starts out as rose-colored before transitioning to dark green.
Though it is fussy, if you care for it properly, it will reward you with yields of a few hundred fruits annually when it’s young and over a thousand as it matures. It’s not unheard of for a healthy, mature tree to produce up to two thousand fruits per season.
Growing mangosteen is a lengthy process. It may take up to 15 years to see your first harvest.
The fruit was banned from being imported to the US from Asia until very recently because the government wanted to avoid importing the Asian fruit fly, so it has been difficult for people in America to get their hands on it.
How to Plant Mangosteen
This is a very particular tree, but who doesn’t love a gardening challenge? These plants need high humidity, lots of moisture, and a narrow temperature range. It’s considered an “ultra tropical” tree, so it only does well in the US in places like the east side of the Big Island in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the warmest parts of Florida.
Hardy to zones 11 and 12, mangosteen thrives in full sun when mature. You need to be able to provide part shade during the hottest parts of the day in the first two to three years after planting outside. You can use shade tarps or even a patio umbrella to do this.
Deep loamy, sandy soil is a must and you have to dig in well-rotted manure and quality compost when prepping the bed.
Soil pH is important, so take special note when planting it in its permanent home. Aim for a pH of 5.5 to 6.8.
Air temperatures shouldn’t drop below 40ºF nor exceed 100ºF, especially when the tree is young or still in a container.
Mangosteens don’t like windy locations either, so choose a sheltered spot. They also can’t handle salty conditions, so don’t plant this tree if you are on a coast.
Growing mangosteen is a challenge and growing it from seed is an even bigger one. You could plant direct into the soil when temperatures are consistently above 55ºF in spring, but this is a gamble. Try this method instead.
- A fresh seed directly from a mature fruit is best, but you can purchase seeds as well.
- Fresh seeds should have a tan outer edge with a deep, white center.
- Moisten a paper towel and wrap it around the seed. Place in a sealable bag and put it in the fridge for at least three days until you’re ready to plant. Keep the towel moist with a spray bottle if necessary.
- Before planting, soak the seed in either purified water for 24 hours. The chemicals in treated water are not good for mangosteen seeds.
- Using the richest potting mix you can find, fill an eight-inch or deeper pot to two inches below the top. Lay the seed on top of the soil and cover with an inch of soil.
- Saturate the soil until water runs out the bottom.
- Place in the sunniest spot you can. The container needs to be in sunlight all day if possible.
- Keep the soil moist and in four to six weeks you (fingers crossed) should see germination.
As the tree grows in the pot, transplant it to bigger containers, but be very careful not to damage the delicate taproot. You don’t want to transplant it outside until it is at least 48 inches tall. This will take a couple of years as mangosteen is a notoriously slow grower.
Use sustained release fertilizer capsules to keep the medium full of nutrients.
Dig a deep hole, twice the width, and depth of the container. Fill it halfway with nutrient-rich soil loaded with organic matter at least 30 days before planting.
Carefully put the tree in the prepared hole, making sure to protect the taproot. Fill with soil and tamp down firmly.
Stake the tree if you live in a windy environment, but you should do your best to plant it in a place that is protected from the wind. These trees don’t do well in windy environments.
Caring for Mangosteen
Until your mangosteen is at least three years old, you need to fertilize it every three to four months. Use fish emulsion or a fertilizer with an NPK of 16-16-16.
After three years, fertilize twice a year. Apply fish emulsion at the end of winter and the beginning of fall. It’s important to keep the nutrients consistent for mangosteen.
When you first transfer the tree outside, make sure the soil remains moisture constantly for the first three months. After this, water well when it doesn’t rain.
Having said that, once you recognize the flowering pattern of your mangosteen, you should stop watering just before blooming to produce a better fruit set. If you can’t figure this out, don’t worry. Just keep watering.
Mangosteens need an annual rainfall of at least 50 inches. Provide water if you don’t live in an area with this kind of rainfall. Pooling water is fatal to young trees, but older trees will survive even with wet feet.
Prune to shape and, as with all trees, prune any broken or diseased branches. Old, unproductive trees should be heavily pruned to remove dead or unproductive branches.
Companion Planting for Growing Mangosteen
Given the environment where mangosteen naturally grows, try planting with the following:
Common Problems and Solutions for Growing Mangosteen
Mangosteen trees contain a bitter latex that protects it from most insects or diseases. There are some common issues to watch for, however.
Be aware that the skins may become translucent if the plants experience too much fluctuating rain and humidity. You can still eat the flesh, but the fruits will be very tender and prone to rot off of the tree.
The main sign of anthracnose on mangosteen is the flowers turn black and drop off before fruit can set. The typical signs of decay on the foliage are also likely. Read our article on how to identify and treat anthracnose here.
This is a disease that loves humid environments, just like mangosteens do. The signs are raised black lesions with yellowish edges on the foliage. This can spread to the fruit as well.
The fruit can crack and ooze infectious gunk.
Use an organic fungicide as a preventative when you prune the tree. Protect young mangosteen from the wind. Don’t allow any branches to rub on each other, which can create wounds for the bacteria to enter through.
If you notice the leaves begin to yellow at the edges before spreading toward the center, you likely have a deficiency of some sort. It’s common for mangosteen to be deficient in nitrogen or phosphorus. Provide a quality fertilizer in liquid form. Fish emulsion works well, but any fertilizer heavy in nitrogen and phosphorus works.
This caterpillar causes extensive damage to mangosteen leaves. It eats the new, emerging foliage, often making the tree look like it’s losing its leaves.
If you see leaves with just the midrib remaining, it’s possible you have this caterpillar. It’s a nocturnal feeder, so may take you by surprise, especially since just one caterpillar can have a big effect on the tree.
Both the adult moth and caterpillar can vary in appearance, so it’s likely the damage to the tree and telltale midrib is the likely sign you’ll see.
To control these, use an insecticide containing Bacillus thuringiensis.
Thread blight is common in the southeastern United States. Leaves will turn brown in summer in the shaded parts of the tree. This disease will commonly appear after harvest.
Use organic fungicides regularly to prevent this disease from getting a foothold.
Harvesting and Using Mangosteen
You can pick slightly under-ripe mangosteens as long as they are fully formed. If they aren’t, the fruit won’t ripen. Full-formed fruits will continue to ripen off of the tree.
Don’t allow the fruits to fall to the ground; cut them off before this happens. Use an orchard ladder to get to the higher ones.
When about 25 percent or more of the skin has turned purple, you should be okay to pick it.
Mangosteen is best eaten fresh, added to fruit salad, or used for a sweet addition to savory dishes. You can also juice them.
Cut around the circumference of the fruit and pull the two halves apart. This will expose the delicious white segments similar to oranges and mandarins. Seeds may be present, but they are usually soft and easily digested.