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Yes, South Florida. You Can Grow A Mango Tree On Your Apartment Balcony

Alexander Gonzalez

Mango season is nearly upon us, that annual ritual of pungent juices dripping onto the chin, of begging friends and family for a spare fruit or two, of driving slowly along back streets to check out that one tree that drops fruit right on the side of the road that you’ve been thinking about since this time last year.

And all this time, you might be asking yourself, "How can I get in on the mango action without avoiding the middlemen? If I live in a condo, can I grow my own mango tree?"

WLRN recently spoke with Heather Tietig, who is in charge of shipping operations at Pine Island Nursery in South Miami-Dade County. The nursery specializes in fruit trees, and sells potted trees wholesale to big box stores like Home Depot and Wal-Mart.

We talked to her about how certain kinds of mango trees -- known as “condo” or “dwarf” mangos -- can be grown even by someone on a balcony or a small terrace. And we also talked about how mango season itself is actually undergoing a shift, thanks to warmer winters of late.

Tietig started the conversation by showing us one of these varieties of mangos. You can read the highlights below. 

TIETIG: This is a Carrie right here. This is one of our number one dwarf varieties. It can be grown in a large part on a balcony on a terrace and it maxes out at about 10 maybe 12 feet. And at that size it'll produce 250, 300 pounds of fruit and it stays nice and compact so you don't have to trim it. So it makes it ideal for the homeowners to have in their backyard.

WLRN: Have you ever met anyone with one of these on their balcony or terrace?

Actually I met someone -- he was living in a high rise off of Brickell, up near the Rickenbacker Causeway, and he was on the 27th floor or something. He had them out there and and they were doing great. One thing he did have to worry about was it was of course quite windy up there. So he had those protected but they looked gorgeous. He had a gigantic planter pot for him. And so he he actually had one of everything; he had dragonfruit, he had carambola [starfruit]. And he had his own little edible fruit garden on the 27th floor, overlooking Biscayne Bay.

It was pretty cool.

Credit Daniel Rivero / WLRN
Condo mango varieties in three-gallon pots, as sold at many local nurseries.

What is it that separates one of these varieties that someone could put in a pot from the other kind of varieties that you guys sell?

Other kind of varieties -- they have massive root balls and their roots are going to want to extend 15, 20 feet laterally, and also down. You can keep the larger produce-producing mangoes trimmed at 15 x 15 and still maintain full fruit production, but if left to their own good, they'll get quite massive. So that's why... dwarf mangoes are becoming more popular.

I'm curious -- if you want to put this in your balcony, how far north can you go? Is it something you could put inside for part of the year and then outside for part of the year?

I have had people up north, like in New York and the northern parts of the U.S., want to attempt it this way. What I try to remind them is [that] because their cold months in January, February, March is typically when the mango wants to flower, the tree would typically be inside of course to be protected from the cold, and most people don't have those pollinators available inside the home.

So they would have to facilitate some sort of hand-pollination in order for it to set fruit. It is possible. I have had customers in Minnesota create elaborate greenhouse rooms in their homes where they could keep the trees growing but they do have to recreate the humidity. They have to be able to hand-pollinate in order to set fruit. In Florida, the furthest north you could stay outside all the time I would say is about Orlando, basically the Orlando-Tampa line and above that, they would have to be brought in on nights where it's going to get close to freezing.

Speaking about getting fruit we're about to get the mango season. When do the earliest varieties start maturing?

Well, they normally come on towards the end of May beginning of June and that's typically our Glen's. Those are our earliest.

Now, for us, we've had what we've considered mild winters and so we may actually start be able to harvest some of the fruits within the next few weeks or so. You can see directly across over there there's a large tree it's got the mango fruit hanging from it. That's a Nam Dok Mai tree, and it actually shouldn't have fruit ready until end of July, August. But because we had such a warm winter, I'm probably going to be able to pick that fruit within the next few weeks.

Mother nature controls when that fruit set comes on, but typically end of May, beginning of June is when we start harvesting all the fruit off the trees.

But it sounds like with warmer winters that might be getting pushed up slightly?

If our winters get any warmer, there's a good possibility to have fruit at the end of April, beginning of May. Which would be be weird for us.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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