Grown as a shrub or the loquat tree, this fruiting plant is very interesting. It’s a relative to the rose, and it produces small fruits that taste like a mixture of mango, citrus, and peaches, and many people claim it has a honey note.
However, most people have never tasted this fruit and know virtually nothing about the loquat tree in general. We’re going to fix this in this article because loquats are nutritious, delicious, and fun to grow if you live in the right climate. These evergreen trees are pretty ornamental plants, but it’s worth growing for the fruit too.
Even though this tree isn’t well-known in parts of the world, the small fruits it produces are very tangy and sweet.
Loquat Tree – Quick Overview
|Common Names:||Japanese plum, loquat, Chinese plum, pipa fruit|
|Diseases:||Fire and pear blight, fungal leaf spot|
|Fertilizer:||Grass or fruit with no weed blockers|
|Humidity:||Tolerates humidity but needs good airflow|
|Light:||Full sun to partial shade|
|Pests:||Scale, fruit files, caterpillars, aphids|
|Scientific Name:||Eriobotrya japonica|
|Soil:||Well-draining with acidic or alkaline pH|
|Temperature:||45°F to 80°F – Fruit dies at 30°F or lower|
|Water:||25 to 40 inches a year|
With an average height of 30 feet, loquat trees can become a sizable evergreen. However, they are commonly trimmed to stay inside the 10 to 15 foot range to make them easier to maintain and harvest the fruit. When you keep it at 10 feet or lower, you treat it as a very dense, tree-like shrub.
There are up to 800 cultivars available, but they all have the same base species. Sometimes called the Chinese Plum, Japanese Plum, or Japanese Medlar, the loquat tree and fruit are called Pipa in China. There are orange and white-fleshed cultivars available, and the most popular cultivars to grow in the United States include:
- Big Jim – This is a rounded, orange-fleshed variety that has a large fruit, orangish-yellow skin, and it self seeds.
- Champagne – A yellow to white-fleshed pear-shaped variety that has pale orangish-yellow skin with medium to large fruit.
- Early Red – This is a pear-shaped variety that has reddish-orange skin dotted with white. It produces large fruit and is self-fertile.
- Gold Nugget – You’ll get a firm round to oblong fruit with this cultivar, and it has orangish-yellow flesh.
- Vista White – This rounded variety comes with pale yellow skin and white flesh, and it requires cross-pollination to fruit.
In traditional Chinese or Japanese medicine, the loquat tree’s leaves and fruit get used for a range of purposes. The Chinese use this fruit to make a cough syrup, and the Japanese use the leaves to make biwa cha, a drink that supposedly helps cure respiratory illnesses like bronchitis and skin issues.
Both the seeds and leaves from the loquat tree have small amounts of cyanogenic glycosides that release cyanide when you eat them. While this normally isn’t large enough to harm someone, you do want to keep them away from kids and pets.
Loquat Tree Fruit Development Cycle
At the end of the warm summer season, the loquat tree will start to develop flowers. The flowers will start to form on the tips of new growth branches that are below six months old, and the flowers are clustered or pinnacles. These flowers can have a very sweet tropical scent to them that will spread throughout your garden or yard in warm fall afternoons.
You can get up to 100 flowers on one panicle, but this doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll produce 100 fruits in this cluster. Typically, a panicle has between 40 and 60 flowers, and you’ll get 10 to 12 fruits in this space. If the loquat tree sets a lot of fruit, you may want to prune away some excess to ensure you get healthier, larger fruits instead of a bunch of small ones.
As the individual blossoms start to swell and turn into fruit, it’s also important to keep your loquat tree warm. A cold snap can make the flowers or fruit fall, and you want to avoid temperatures dipping below 30°F.
You want to let the fruit ripen on the tree as this is where it develops all of the flavor and sweetness. When your fruit ripens, it will start to soften up. The whole tree usually gets rips around the same time. As the tree recovers post-harvest for the rest of the spring, it’ll start to send up new growth. Once fall comes back around, it’ll flower again.
Flowering on each loquat tree may not be consistent year to year, and your fruit set can vary. Some years will give you a heavy harvest while others are much less. It depends on the weather conditions and climate.
The growth cycle of the fruit is relatively straightforward, and the amount of fruit you get depends on the growing conditions.
Loquat Tree Care
You plant the loquat tree just like you would any other tree. If you live in a planting zone with a borderline temperature, it’s a good idea to pick out an area that could be a microclimate. You could also look for a space that has a lot of rock or concrete features that will absorb the heat during the day and release it at night. Putting the tree near a wall will also help it produce and hold heat by acting like a windscreen.
A granular, slow-release fertilizer formulated for fruit trees works well for loquat trees. You should try to get a variety that nourishes quinces, apples, or pear trees as they are closely related. If you can’t find fruit tree fertilizer, you can use a standard lawn fertilizer as long as it doesn’t have any weed killers or preventatives mixed in.
The first year, you want to provide three fertilizer applications spread over the season, but the tree should be established before you apply the first round. You want the tree’s roots to go as deep into the ground as possible before you start feeding it more. In subsequent years, a good rule of thumb is to measure your tree trunk’s diameter. A good annual fertilizer rate is one pound of fertilizer per inch of your trunk diameter, but you want to space out your feedings so you apply them gradually over the year and water well once you apply it.
When you fertilize, try to do so in a four foot ring around the base of the loquat tree. This allows the nutrients to get into a wider area, and the roots will more easily absorb them as need be.
Plant your loquat tree in the ground with some leaf mulch to retain soil moisture. This tree prefers a soil that drains very well, but it’s less picky than some plants with the soil quality as long as you don’t have salinated soil. The pH levels of the soil are also not much of a concern as they do well in alkaline and acidic soils.
Ideally, you’ll loosen the soil in a four to five foot circle around where you want to plant the tree, and make sure you go at least 18 inches below the soil’s surface. You can amend the soil with compost if you want. Poor drainage will cause the tree’s roots to struggle. Also, if the soil is too clay-like, you may have to amend even further out to give good runoff as your loquat tree won’t tolerate standing water for long.
Loquat trees require full sun to partial shade, and it is best planted in zones 8 to 10. This means that a large portion of California is perfect for growing these tangy, sweet, smaller fruits, as is a big portion of the southeastern or south United States. It’s common to grow loquats as shade cover for patios, and you can shape them into espalier patterns. If you put them in the right spot, you may be able to get a little shade on your tree during the hottest parts of the summer, and this can boost the tree’s growth.
You can also potentially grow your loquat tree in containers, and they will stay very compact and small. Also, you can move the containers outside when the weather is nice and back indoors under grow lights when the temperatures dip.
Temperature and Humidity
Loquat trees are surprisingly sensitive to temperature, and you can grow them as ornamentals in areas where it drops to 10°F. However, the flowers and fruit will fall off the tree when the temperatures dip below 30°F, and this makes it impossible for it to bear fruit. If you grow it as a container plant in a smaller form, you can move it indoors when the weather is too cold to protect the flowers and fruit. Hot weather is a problem too, and when it gets over 95°F, the trees suffer from leaf scorch and stunted growth. It’s essential that you water your plants more during hot weather to keep them healthy.
In the native Asian climates, loquat trees thrive in a much more humid environment than they get in the southeastern portion of the United States or in the desert regions of California. Some offer cultivars that have been developed specially for lower-humidity climates.
In the first year after you plant your new loquat tree, it’s important that you water more heavily than you would normally. You want to water it three to four times a week for the first two weeks, and then slowly and gradually reduce the watering frequency until the tree establishes itself. As a general rule, loquat trees planted in the ground will do very well if the local rainfall is between 20 and 45-inches a year. When you get to the lower end of the range, you may have to water it once in a while.
When the blooms start to swell into fruit during the spring months, give your tree a slow, long water sweep. You can do this using a drip hose, and you want to keep watering until the moisture slowly seeps through the soil around the root system. Once the water starts to run off, stop watering. Repeat this process a few times as the fruit starts to ripen to ensure it’s juicy and sweet, but only if you don’t get rain. If you’re getting plenty of rain, skip this additional watering.
During summer’s hottest months, a weekly slow and deep watering will help your loquat tree withstand the scorching sun’s rays. This is most important during days that get at or above 95°F. Again, a drip hose works very well for this purpose since it doesn’t splash water around. Mulching around your tree’s base during the summertime is also good because it keeps the moisture in the ground.
These pretty trees make nice ornamental additions to your yard or garden, and they require minimal maintenance to make them look nice.
Harvesting Loquat Tree Fruit
If your climate doesn’t drop below 28°F, your loquat tree has a very good chance of producing fruit. It’s important that any fruit is completely ripe on the tree before you harvest it. It takes roughly three months to see mature fruit after you see the flowers open fully. You can tell your loquat fruit is ready because the stems turn yellow-orange and pull away very easily.
It’s best to eat your loquats soon after you harvest them as they don’t last long. You can keep them in the refrigerator for up to a week. The fruit is a mixture of sweet and tart, and the flavor profile falls between a plum, lemon, and apricot. It’s common to use this fruit in jellies, preserves, compotes, and pastries.
Storing Loquat Tree Fruit
These fruits all seem to get ripe at one time, even if they are delicious. They’re also great to eat fresh, but they only last for a few days once they ripen. Once they pass this period, they’re not good. However, there are a few things you can do to store these fruits until you’re ready to use them.
To start, you can put the whole fruit on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer until they’re frozen solid. Once they are, put them in a freezer bag until you want to use them. When they thaw out, they’ll be a bit mushy and soft, but it makes for a nice jam or syrup. You can also preserve loquats by making jellies, jams, and syrups. Since it’s low acid, you may need to add more to it. They also supposedly taste good pickled, and you can use them to make liqueurs and wines.
Propagating Loquat Trees
You can propagate your loquat trees using grafting or seeds. However, the ones you grow from seed will take a lot longer to establish and they are not as reliable at producing fruit as grafted trees that come from established rootstock are. If you want to plant from seed, they need to be fresh.
Remove the seeds from the fruit and rinse them under room temperature water to remove any residue from the inside of the fruit, and plant them quickly. Don’t allow them to dry out before you plant them, and keep them wrapped in moist paper towels until you can plant them. Grafted loquats are usually available in nurseries.
Transplanting Loquat Trees
It’s fairly easy to transplant loquat trees. Start by preparing the soil where you want your new tree to go, and work the soil to loosen it in at least a four-foot circle around the area where you want it. Once you loosen the soil and you dig the hole for the tree, remove it from the container. Rinse off some of the potting medium until you expose the roots. Put it in the hole at the same height it was originally planted at, and make sure you don’t sink it deeper into the soil.
Some of the new soil should come in direct contact with the roots, and then fill in the hole around the tree. Water the tree in well and mulch around the tree to prevent weeds from springing up at the base. If you have your loquat tree in a container, you want to replant it once a year to help replenish the soil. You’ll move it into a larger container if need be, and carefully trim the tap root to keep the tree in the smaller habitat.
You want to be very careful that you don’t remove too much of the tree’s tap root or you’ll cause a great injury. However, a light trimming will encourage the tree to stay small enough for the container and prevent it from getting rootbound.
It’s very easy to transplant these trees, but they do need a little more care and attention to encourage them to develop a strong root system.
Pruning Loquat Trees
If you grow your loquat tree in the ground, it won’t need much more than an annual trimming in April to help ensure light can penetrate to the center of the canopy. You can cosmetically prune your tree to keep them a particular shape if you desire, and you want to remove any dead branches to keep the tree healthy.
It’s also possible to do the espalier fruit method, and if you are, you’ll prune the tree much more frequently while maintaining the new growth tips to ensure you get fruit. Trees grown in containers can gain two feet of height a year, and you may need to prune and train them into a more compact, smaller size.
Loquat Tree Problems
There are very few problems to worry about with the loquat tree in general. However, the few things you should keep an eye out for include:
Loquat trees don’t have issues with many diseases, but it is at risk for having issues with pear blight and fire blight. In the areas that have rain in the late spring or early summer months, or if you have higher humidity, fire blight is very common. Bees transmit this disease, and it kills off the leaves and turns young shoots brown.
You can use a specific bactericide to help prevent fire blight from being an issue, but once it infects the young shoots, you have to remove and destroy them. You’ll also need to cut back any infected material well into the healthy and green wood to prevent it from spreading. Pear blight acts a lot like fire blight, but it’s only very common in California. You’ll use the same treatment methods as both forms are bacterial infections.
Loquat trees can also develop issues with fungal leaf spots if it doesn’t have good air circulation in the canopy. Keeping the tree pruned to allow light into the center of the tree can prevent most fungal diseases.
The most common growing problem with loquat trees is leaf tip burn. The tips of your leaves will start to crisp up and turn brown during hotter days. Unfortunately, there is no real cure for this as it usually only happens when the temperatures are 95°F and up. Ensuring that your tree has ample water during heat waves is the only preventative measure you can take, and it doesn’t always work. However, the tip burned leaves will eventually drop off the tree by themselves with no input from you, and the tree will replace them with new leaves. This is more of a cosmetic issue than a health one.
The two biggest pest problems for loquat trees are scale insects and fruit flies. Scale can be treated by an application of horticultural mineral oil like neem oil. This oil will quickly coat the insects and smother them, and it’ll work effectively on any larvae or insects that are on the tree, but it won’t prevent an infestation once the oil wears off. Regularly applying the neem oil will prevent any further scale buildup, and it’ll also kill off aphids and their eggs if they try to take hold. Aphids aren’t drawn to this tree nearly as badly as scale is, but they’re both relatively common.
On the other hand, fruit flies can be much tricker to deal with. The fruit fly maggots will burrow into the loquat tree’s fruit and cause it to start to rot and fall from the tree. Cleaning up any fallen fruit before the maggots emerge will help keep the population down. However, the only real prevention you have against them is to put a fine mesh bag over the fruit to protect it from fly colonization.
Some caterpillar forms, particularly the codling moth larvae, can also try to infest the loquat fruit. Exclusion bags can help prevent them, and spraying BT (bacillus thuringiensis) will keep them out.
Finally, both deer and birds can be pests with the loquat tree. Birds love to eat the fruit, and they can happily eat any they can reach. Deer will nibble on the foliage, and they like the new growth areas the best. Exclusion bags will help to protect your fruit, but they won’t protect the leaves. If you have a short tree, you may want to fence it in to protect it.
The loquat tree is a relatively low-maintenance choice for gardeners, and it produces a large amount of fruit on a single tree. You can use this guide to get the best growing conditions to maximize your yield and enjoy this little-known fruit yourself.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.