Mangoes are the king of summer fruit — sweet, tasty, and perfect no matter what way you consume them. On a cake, with yoghurt, in a smoothie, on a salad, just plain, everything goes. And while it’s delightful to run out to the shops and buy a nice big box of ripe fruit, you can also grow them yourself!
There’s a certain satisfaction in seeing your mangoes ripen on the tree, waiting to be picked. Harvesting mangoes is fairly straightforward, but growing them on a tree can be tricky. So here’s a brief rundown of how to grow and care for mangoes — and more importantly, when to pick them.
The mango (mangifera indica) is a tropical fruit native to Asia. Often considered the ‘king of fruits’, it’s a summertime staple all over the world. There are over 500 cultivars, but for Australian mango varieties, these include:
- Kensington pride mango (also called Bowen mango)
- Calypso® mango
- R2E2 mango
- Honey Gold mango
- Brooks mango
You can check with your local nursery which variety grows best in your area. Mango trees are mostly grown from saplings, but some can grow from seed.
Mango trees thrive best in tropical or subtropical climates. They prefer hot, humid summers and cool, dry winters with no frost.
Plant your fruit tree in an open, sunny position with shelter from strong wind. The mangifera indica isn’t picky about soil, but it does need depth and good drainage.
Mangoes are best planted in autumn, so they have time to establish themselves. Pre-prepare your garden, and if needed, ask a gardener about soil management and space — the trees can grow past 10m! Then dig a hole with the same depth as the pot and pad it with organic matter.
Young mango plants will require regular watering, especially during dry months. While they’re starting out, water every other day, then slow it down to once a week. Once established, you can water less.
Mangoes may not necessarily need fertiliser, but you can use one that’s rich in potassium. The base of the tree should also be mulched once a year, ideally during spring.
A mango plant will not need much pruning, but remove dead or damaged branches as necessary.
The best part about having mango trees is harvesting the fruit. The trees will usually start flowering in spring, after which they will start to bear fruit. Mango season in Australia starts in September, peaking in November to February, with some late harvests available in March.
Mangoes can and do ripen on the tree, but it’s best to pick a mango while it’s mature yet not quite ripe — about 100 days after flowering. The fruit has matured when the nose (the end opposite the stem) and shoulders have filled out. The mango should feel nice and firm, not squishy. The skin is starting to turn from green to yellow, often with an orange or red blush. Then you can begin your harvest.
(Commercial farms begin harvesting when the mangoes are still a little green so they don’t ripen during transport, but you’re harvesting for yourself — or your neighbours, if you feel like sharing. So it’s safe to start picking when the fruits are just shy of ripening.)
To pick mangoes, grasp the fruit and give it a tug. If the stem snaps easily, it’s ready to harvest. Make sure to leave a 5-10cm stem at the top of the fruit, otherwise the sap might leak and cause sap burn. Not only does this irritate your skin, it can cause lesions on your mangoes and lead to fruit rot.
Note that ripening does not happen all at once, and mango fruits will continue to ripen over several days after being picked. You can pick a few at a time, or even make a game of it with your kids and teach them to climb (carefully, and with supervision!) to help harvest mangoes.
Can I Eat It Yet?
You can tell a ripe mango by its complexion, which is a nice pale yellow to yellow-orange, sometimes with a rosy blush. When grasped, the skin (and flesh underneath) is slightly soft — not too firm, but not too squishy. The fruit also gives off a nice, sweet scent, while the flesh has that delectable tropical flavour.
Small blemishes or uneven colour are perfectly normal for a ripe mango. Bruises or marks can be caused by fruit rubbing on each other, or awkward handling during harvest. No worries — they won’t affect the taste of your mango at all!
Wash your produce first before eating, but be gentle. Slice into thirds: two horizontal cuts above and below the pit. Ta da — fresh mango, ready to eat! Then you can scoop out the flesh to eat, or use it for some homemade mango icypoles, or blend some smoothies… The possibilities (man)go on and on.