Planting, Caring For, and Harvesting the Japanese Plum

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In your gardening journey, you come across plants that catch your attention. For me, loquats are one of those plants. They’re tropical-looking ornamentals that produce delicious fruits. New to growing loquats? You’re in for a treat.

Adding loquats to your orchard, backyard or homestead provides you with difficult-to-find, but oh-so-delicious fruit and ample opportunities for canning, jams, jellies, and preserves.

If you’re looking for a lesser-known fruit that isn’t finicky in terms of growing conditions, loquat is for you. It’s a joy to grow, look at, and eat.

Planting, Caring For, and Harvesting the Japanese Plum

What is Loquat?

Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is sometimes known as Japanese plum. It’s an evergreen that is native to China and Japan. The thick, showy leaves add shape and texture to landscape gardens, while the fruit is unique in both taste and appearance.

The flowers add a fragrance to the garden, before forming light orange fruit ranging from two to four inches in diameter. The flesh is slightly acidic and tastes like a mixture of plum, apricot, and cherry.

Planting, Caring For, and Harvesting the Japanese Plum

The fruit can be eaten raw, or made into jellies, jams, or added to savory dishes and desserts. You can even make wine.

Part of the Rosaceae family, loquats join apple, pears, raspberries, and quince in providing us with delicious, nutritious fruit.

Loquat grows very well in USDA Growing Zones 8 to 10, with Zone 9 being especially suited to it. The trees grow to about 25 feet tall and 15-20 feet wide, so they don’t take up too much room in your yard.

Not all loquats are self-fruitful, meaning you need to have more than one tree around at a time. There are also late, standard, or early varieties.

Best Cultivars of Loquat

Although many suppliers sell loquats as a species plant, some cultivars are better than others. Here’s my pick of the best:

Golden Nugget

This is a self-fertile variety that produces quite large pear-shaped fruit. It is sometimes called ‘Placentia’ or ‘Thales.’ This is a late-season variety.

Champagne

This is often the variety commercial growers choose because it’s reliable and usually sweeter than other cultivars. It is self-fertile and is a mid to late-season producer.

Varied

This is the option when you want to plant loquat as an ornamental, but you also want to get plenty of fruit. The foliage of this variety is white with splashes of green. It can tolerate less sun than other cultivars.

Advance

This is a mid-season variety with thin skin and a mildly tart flavor good for relish.

Oliver

A very sweet variety, ready mid to late season. The skin is thicker than most other varieties.

Wolfe

Wolfe combines sweet, tart, and spicy all in one fruit. It’s a mid to late-season producer with large fruit and thin skin.

Propagating Loquat

The most important thing to remember when growing a loquat tree is that it grows rapidly. You need to ensure the space is ready for a tree that grows 3 feet per year and a tree that can grow up to 30 feet high and 20 feet wide at the largest.

The best way to ensure that you get a healthy loquat tree that bears fruit is to plant a grafted seedling purchased from the store or take a cutting.

To grow from a cutting, use the air layering method, rather than the more simple method of taking a cutting and planting it in a growing medium. The chosen stem needs to be a part of the mother tree until roots form. Read our article on air layering here.

Seed

Planting, Caring For, and Harvesting the Japanese Plum

You can grow a loquat tree from seed, but it’s unlikely to grow true to the mother tree and won’t bear fruit for between six and 10 years, if at all. It can be fun to grow a tree from a seed taken from your fruit, especially for kids. So based on that, give it a go.

All loquats have up to three seeds. Remove them from a fresh, healthy fruit and wash the flesh off. You need to plant them straight away before they dry out.

Plant in good quality seed-raising soil. Plant about 1/4 to 1/2 an inch deep. Water well with a spray bottle and place in a warm area, preferably where the temperature is a consistent 70ºF. Water as needed.

Let the germinated seed grow to around four to six inches before repotting into a bigger container.

How to Plant Loquat

Planting, Caring For, and Harvesting the Japanese Plum

Loquats will withstand temperatures as low as 10ºF, but the flowers and fruit will die off at 27ºF. No flowers mean no fruit.

Plant in full sun. Loquat will tolerate low levels of partial shade, particularly variegated varieties.

The main rule for the soil you plant loquat in is it must be well-draining. The pH isn’t important. Loquat will grow in acidic or alkaline conditions. Only salinated soil isn’t tolerated.

When first planting your loquat, loosen the soil about four feet around where you plant the tree. Dig and loosen down about 15 inches. Then, work in lots of well-rotted compost to improve drainage and water retention. This is especially important if you have clay soil.

Now is the time to add a good quality balanced fertilizer. Work all that amended soil back into the hole and create a new hole large enough to accommodate the rootball.

Remove the plant from its growing container and wash the soil away from the roots. Place the rootball in the hole you made and spread out the roots as much as possible. Fill in around with fresh soil. Water well.

Spacing should be a minimum of 15 feet apart. Like most plants, loquats will contract diseases in high humidity areas if the canopy is too packed and the airflow is restricted.

Container Growing

Loquat will grow well in pots, but the size will be small and when constricted like that, they sometimes refuse to fruit. Make sure to use a container that is, at a minimum, 24 inches wide and at least 10 gallons.

The container should have drainage holes so the water doesn’t pool.

Fill the container with a water retentive potting soil.

Maintenance and Care

Planting, Caring For, and Harvesting the Japanese Plum

Loquats love slow-release fertilizer, especially those that are made for apple and pear trees. Avoid anything that is high in nitrogen. Something like Jobe’s Organics Fruit and Nut Fertilizer is perfect.

Wait until the tree is well established and the roots are penetrating the soil before your next fertilizer after planting.

After a couple of years, fertilize three times a year evenly spaced out. A few good handfuls of fertilizer should be enough.

Loquats need up to 40 inches of water per year, with a minimum of 25 inches. If your yearly rainfall is enough, you won’t need to provide additional water. If your yearly rainfall is short of that total, provide enough to make it up.

Pruning only needs to be done once a year to maintain shape, remove dead or diseased branches, and ensure good airflow.

Companion Planting for Growing Loquat

Plant loquat with:

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Quince
  • Lavender
  • Comfrey
  • Nasturtium
  • Chives

Don’t plant with:

Problems and Solutions for Growing Loquats

Loquats are fairly tough and only suffer a few issues.

Leaf Tip Burn

Even though loquats love heat, they will suffer from leaf tip burn when temperatures exceed 95ºF. This problem looks like you’d probably imagine – the tips turn brown and crispy. There’s not a lot you can do to prevent this issue, but make sure your loquat tree has enough water, especially when the weather gets really hot.

Eventually, the dead leaves will drop off and be replaced by new ones when the temperature cools down a bit.

Fire Blight

This is quite a common bacterial infection and you often see it when you have apple and pear trees in humid areas.

Cankers form on branches and ooze a secretion in spring. The ends of shoots progressively turn black and die off. The fruit turns black and shriveled and hangs on the tree for the season.

Remove the infected parts of the tree and either burn or remove them from the property. Remove any foliage on the ground around the infected tree.

Use a copper spray when the tree is blossoming. Repeat in the winter when the tree is dormant.

Aphids

This sapsucker will damage the tree to a certain extent, but unless the infestation is huge in number, you shouldn’t see too much happening to the loquat tree.

Read our article on how to identify and treat aphids here.

Leaf Spot

Sometimes common at times of high humidity, leaf spot makes the foliage look blotchy with patches of dead and dying leaves. The disease starts out as little spots, which eventually grow, causing the leaf to die.

Humid conditions and lack of airflow often increase your chances of the loquat tree getting this disease.

Make sure you water the base of the tree, not the foliage. Use a broad-spectrum fungicide to treat. Prune the tree well to make sure there is good airflow.

Harvesting Loquats

Planting, Caring For, and Harvesting the Japanese Plum

Once your loquat tree is established you should get a bumper crop. The only thing that is negative about it is that all the fruit seems to ripen at once.

To tell if a loquat is ripe, it looks slightly bigger than an unripe one and is brighter in color. It should be slightly soft to the touch and give a little when gently squeezed. It’s quite a fine balance between an unripe fruit and overripe fruit. Over time you will know when it’s ready to be picked.

Because loquat trees are prolific fruiters, some people find it easier to cut the branch tip-off than the individual fruit. This means you are removing big clumps of fruit all at once, rather than one at a time.

Storing and Preserving Loquats

Planting, Caring For, and Harvesting the Japanese Plum

Loquats are beautiful and sweet when eaten fresh off the tree. They do have quite a short period when they’re perfect and before they become soft and mushy.

If you can’t devour them in time, preserve them and use them in jams. jellies, pies, and syrups.

You can also freeze the fruit whole on a cookie sheet in the freezer. Place washed fruit in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in the freezer. Once the fruit is frozen, transfer it to a plastic bag or freezer-proof container.

Once the fruit defrosts, it becomes a little soft and mushy, but it’s perfect for jams and jellies.

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