Guava growing in New Zealand
If you want a wonderful taste of the tropics, try this small tree.
Words: Ben Gaia
Guavas are fruiting myrtles from South America, so they do well in our southern climes. Feijoas (also known as pineapple guavas) and “NZ cranberries” (Chilean guavas) are surprisingly hardy to cool winds and salt air, but generally dislike cold or dry weather. The large yellow guavas that thrive in South Africa are not grown here, but one that will and that approaches its superb tropical flavor is the strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum).
Like all the guavas, these ones like a constant heavy mulch to feed the roots, and a good supply of moisture. Having said that, this plant won the 2013 “drought resistant subtropical” prize in my orchard after a summer that was so dry it killed off citrus trees and my big tamarillo. The strawberry guava is a healthy small tree, but prone to fungus and black mould if left untidied. You have to pick off any mouldy fruits and funny leaves. For ease of picking and ripening I cut mine off when it’s about 1.5 metres tall or it gets too unruly for my 2.5m-high tunnel house. A heavy annual trim of leggy branches seems to help it too.
It took 10 years for this tree to start fruiting in my cool climate but with attention, good plant hygiene and feeding, the fruit have grown bigger and more profuse each year. It is self-pollinating if bees are let in, and the snow-white flowers fill the autumn tunnel house with a delicate scent. Fruit comes in winter between the pipfruit and citrus. They ripen fast and need to be eaten as soon as the pink fruit turn dark. A daily pick adds a few goodies for your fresh fruit salad or dry fruit leathers.
The attractive shiny green leaves and dark pink guava-flavoured fruits of this Brazilian coastal bush make it a lovely addition to your frost-free northern garden or tunnel house. Because it fruits in winter like many subtropicals, it will need protection from frost anywhere south of the Bombay Hills.
The seeds are not a big problem when you’re eating and can be easily dealt with in two ways. Either prepare by slicing around the fruit, and throw the seeds in your bin that goes to the tip (not your compost) or invest in an antique spittoon and amuse your guests with some innovative “guava etiquette”. When cutting up the fruit to serve in a fruit salad with kiwifruit, feijoas and tamarilloes, add lemon juice and sugar to offset the sweet tropical flavours, or slice around the fruits outside the seeds and drop the slithers into fresh Greek yoghurt. Mmmm. Just call me Nigella.
WARNING FOR NORTHERN GARDENERS
The nearer you get to the tropics, the more strawberry guava thrives. In Hawaii it has become a major weed problem in their native bush, largely because of its hard small seeds that are spread about by wild pigs. So far it has not become invasive in NZ, and those of you in cool areas won’t need to worry, but Weedbusters have it on their watchlist in warmer regions. If you do want to plant it, make sure the fruit are protected so birds and wild animals can’t forage seeds and spread it.