Pineapple guava (also known as feijoa) is a compact tree, reaching 2-4 m in height, with irregular crown. Its bark is light green, leaves are ovoid, dark green and glossy above, and silvery on reverse. It flowers on the current year’s growth. Flowers are very beautiful, with fleshy red and white petals and long red stamens. The tree yields green, rough-skinned fruits, weighing 30 to 120 g.
The species, most commonly grown indoors, is feijoa (Acca sellowiana), which is native to the forests of South America (Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentine). Feijoas are especially popular in India and Japan. In countries with subtropical climate they are grown outside as fruit trees, or used for hedges or topiary. Although feijoas withstand brief frosts down to -5-14C, it is not possible to grow them outside in our climate.
Feijoas are popular houseplants due to their spectacular flowers and tasty reddish green fruit (4-6 cm in diametre and 10 cm long). Although the fruits contain a lot of seeds, they do not distract from the taste sensation – soft whitish pulp of fruit suggests a combination of bananas, strawberries and pineapples. Unripe fruit are unpalatable.
Feijoas are easily propagated from seed. Ripe berries are cut in half and the soft jelly-like pulp is squeezed out. Seeds should be rinsed in week solution of potassium permanganate, dried and sown into a soil mix, made of leaf mold, peat and sand (2:2:1). Shop bought peat-based seed mixes are quite adequate, only the seedlings will have to be transplanted earlier.
[banner]Sow the seeds in trays or flats in January – February. Press the seeds into the soil 0.5cm deep and water well. Keep the seed trays on a windowsill, in 16-19C temperature. Feijoas germinate within a month, and it takes another 1 to 2 weeks for seedlings to develop their first true leaves. After the seedlings have grown 4 leaves, transplant them, using a planting mix, made of loam, leaf mold, compost and sand (6:4:1:1), or any ready-made universal potting mix for houseplants.
The feijoas are rarely propagated by cuttings, though cutting-raised plants retain all the qualities of the parent plant, which seed-grown plants do not. The cuttings are difficult to root, since they require high humidity and warmth, and strike best in mist propagator.
The feijoas can also be propagated by grafting and runners. However, their bark is very thin, so grafts are often unsuccessful, while runners weaken the parent plant, so this method is more commonly used in industrial horticulture. The feijoas can be propagated by air-layering – wound the current year’s branch, stuff some moss inside the wound and wrap it around with some plastic. The branch will root in 1.5-2 month time.
In the first 2-3 years feijoas should be transplanted every year. They grow and fruit best when grown in slightly acidic soil. In their native habitat feijoas are cultivated in poor growing conditions, so they do not need fertile soil. Larger specimen should be transplanted every 2-3 years, keeping the rootball undisturbed, and moving the plant into a larger pot every time. Roots which have extended through the pot drainage hole should be reduced, and branches which have grown too long, should be shortened.
After the seedling have reached 25-30 cm height, its branches should be shortened by two thirds in order to shape the tree. No pruning will be required later, except for removal of weak, dead or crossed branches. Seedlings start yielding fruit in 5-8 years. The feijoas are sun-loving plants, and grow best on southern or south-western windowsills. Come autumn or winter, they shed a lot of leaves, but this is to be expected. The plants will retain their leaves though, if given additional light. The feijoas dislike drought – they will drop their leaves, and their branches and roots will die back. Plants should be watered generously in summer, while watering should be reduced in winter. If air is very dry, the feijoas should be sprayed in winter. Optimum winter temperature is +12+14C.
Feeding and watering
The feijoas should be fed every 2-3 weeks with complete fertilizer compounded for citrus or exotic fruit trees. Prior to fertilizing, plants should be watered with clean water. In order for feijoas to fruit well, it is best to have two plants which would flower at the same time. This is not easily achieved, since most feijoas may flower spectacularly for a number of years, yielding only one or two seedless fruits. The self-pollinating feijoas are most suitable for indoors culture. Their seeds are available from seed shops abroad.
Special thanks to Irina Kanzyuba for her great picture.
© Giedra Bartas, 2011