We live in Ag Zone 7b but we grow two tropical guava varieties in containers. If you live in a non-tropical climate zone, find out how you can grow tropical guavas too!
The Tyrant and I are fruit fiends and fruit friends. Sure, we love all the fruit varieties that are easy to grow in our climate region (persimmons, cane berries, elderberries, figs, native passion fruit, etc). But we also LOVE tropical fruits that don’t typically grow anywhere close to our climate zone.
Given that we’re big advocates for gardening + local and organic foods, that means we have a penchant for pushing our climate zone to the extremes in what we grow. For instance, we grow bananas and pineapples. We also grow about 10 varieties of citrus in containers.
Since 2018, we’ve also added guavas to our list of tropical fruits that we grow here in Ag Zone 7b, on the outskirts of Greenville, SC. (For reference, guava’s native ag zones are 9-12.) If you live in a cool or temperate non-tropical ag zone and you’d like to grow guavas too, we’ll show you exactly how to do it!
How to grow guavas in non-tropical ag zones, a step-by-step guide
Here’s everything you need to know to grow your own guava fruit in cooler climate regions:
1. Variety selection
The first thing you’ll want to consider is variety selection. You might think of guavas as one type of fruit, but there are actually three distinct species of fruit that are often referred to as guavas:
i. Common guavas (Psidium guajava)
Native from Mexico down to the tropical regions of South America, common guava is the species of guava most often found in grocery stores due its large fruit size.
Common guava (and various cultivars) are the subject of this article.
ii. Strawberry guavas (Psidium cattleyanum)
A tropical guava native to the Amazon Rain Forest in Brazil, strawberry guavas are now considered one of the worst invasive plant species in Hawaii and other tropical locations where they’ve been introduced.
This species produces a much smaller fruit than common guavas, and offers a distinctive strawberry-like flavor.
iii. Pineapple guava, aka guavasteen (Feijoa Sellowiana)
As its botanical name indicates, this species is NOT a true guava, but it does produce a delicious pineapple flavored fruit. It also produces the best tasting flowers we’ve ever eaten.
Since pineapple guavas are hardy down to about 15°F, we’re going to transplant our young potted trees to warm, in-ground microclimates around our home, rather than grow them in containers, but this is a topic for a future article, not this article…
Selecting common guava (Psidium guajava) varieties to grow in containers:
There are a wide range of common guava varieties you can grow in containers. While common guava plants can grow up to 30′ tall in the wild, they perform quite well in containers and can easily be trimmed back yearly after they fruit to keep them small and manageable.
For best fruit production, you’ll want to get at least two different Psidium guajava varieties. Even though they’re technically self-fertile, they’re much more productive when there’s another guava nearby.
For instance, the two varieties of Psidium guajava that we grow are:
- ‘Peruvian white’ – Young fruit on this variety starts off green then ripens to white/yellow. Interior flesh is also white. Deliciously intense sweet tropical guava flavor with notes of pine.
- ‘Homestead’ aka ‘Ruby Supreme’ – This variety was originally bred by Dr. George Ruehle in the 1940s. It produces large fruit whose skin turns slightly yellow when ripe. The fruit interior is pink when ripe. Delicious fruit but slightly less flavorful than our Peruvian white.
Where can you buy guavas?
2. Container selection
While you can grow guavas from seed, it’s easier to buy saplings. Plus, by buying saplings, you’ll get fruit much faster (~1 year versus 3-4 years).
Your young guava plants can start off in small pots (1-3 gallons). However, you’ll want to regularly pot them up to larger containers as they grow to keep them happy. Ultimately, you’ll want your mature guava trees to be in the largest containers you can manage to move with a hand truck, roller, or other pot-moving device.
(Here’s the Porto-Potter, our custom pot moving device if you want to get inventive.)
Our two mature guava plants are in large plastic pots, about 14″ tall by 17″ wide.We plan to transition our guavas out of their 14″ x 17″ pots and into larger pots once they’re done fruiting this season.
Why plastic instead of ceramic pots?
As much as we try to reduce our plastic use, the extra weight of ceramic pots + our knack for breaking ceramic pots ultimately caused us to use plastic pots for our tropical plants, including guavas.
3. Water and nutrition
Plants grown in-ground require far less inputs (water and fertilization) than plants grown in containers. The reason is pretty simple: in a pot/container, a plant’s roots can only extend to the perimeter of the container to source water and nutrients.
In-ground plants’ roots can extend much further and get additional reach via their relationships with mycorrhizal fungi.
Watering potted guavas
Warm months – During the warm months, we deeply water our potted guavas daily. On extremely hot days over 95F, we may even give them a second watering if they look stressed, to prevent the possibility of fruit drop.
Cold months – During the cold months, we water our potted guavas once every ~2 days.
Fertilizing potted guavas
To start with, be sure to use a high quality organic potting soil mix in your guava containers. Gardening soil or seed starting soil are not ideal for potted plants. Our favorite potting soil is Happy Frog from FoxFarm.
Warm months – During the warm months, your guavas will grow more rapidly, flower, and set fruit. Thus, their fertility requirements increase.
About once ever two weeks in the summer, we apply one of the following plant foods to our potted guavas:
- pelleted organic fruit tree fertilizer
- a thin layer of worm castings or compost (to help maintain good soil microbial communities in the containers)
- homemade “liquid gold”
- liquid seaweed fertilizer
If you notice the leaves of your guava curling, yellowing, or looking stressed and you can rule out either a) cold temperatures (below 45F), or b) lack of water as the stressor, it’s likely that you need to apply a well-balanced fertilizer.
Cold months – During the cooler months (October – February where we live) our guavas aren’t putting on much growth. Thus, we only fertilize them once every 8-10 weeks or so.
Mulching – We also recommend putting a few inches of mulch/wood chips on the TOP of the soil of all of our potted plants (aka “top-dressing”).
This practice helps reduce water evaporation, evening out soil moisture in your pots. It also moderates soil temperatures. Finally, mulch becomes a slow release fertilizer; as soil organisms digest the wood, they also act as a living slow-release fertilizer.
The hardest part about growing guavas (or any tropical fruit) in cool or moderate climate zones is overwintering them. Overwintering guavas is easy if you have a heated greenhouse or high tunnel, but we have neither.
Instead, we wheel our tropicals in and out of our garage, which has a space heater plugged directly into a wall socket (not plugged into an extension cord since this could be a fire hazard).
Guavas are particularly sensitive to cold temps. In fact, we found that sustained temps in the low 40s or below stressed our guava plants, causing their leaves to yellow (but not drop). As soon as temperatures warmed up again in the spring, our plants bounced right back.
Research has shown that different cultivars of guava have different cold tolerances. For instance, ‘Ruby Supreme’ guavas (aka ‘Homestead’) has better cold tolerance than ‘Lucknow 49’ guavas. However, as a general rule, if it’s below 40°F, your potted guavas are going to need additional protection (like a frost blanket) or to be brought into a warmer environment.
Other ways you can overwinter your guavas: put them indoors in front of a sunny south-facing window, a sunroom, or a glassed-in porch.
5. Additional guava care and maintenance tips
Potted guava pest and disease management
Guavas are quite disease and pest-resistant. The only pest problem we’ve had is chipmunks climbing up and eating some of our fruit, which is incredibly aromatic when ripe (likely enticing chipmunks for miles around!).
Our tropical guava fruit are surely quite the delicacy for these little critters. We’re currently in the process of trapping and relocating our chipmunks after losing an unacceptable quantity and variety of fruit in late summer this year.
Over the years, we’ve found that our worst pest insect problems on potted plants occurs when we have them indoors for the winter. The warm dry environment plus lack of predatory insects creates ideal conditions for small sap-sucking pest insects.
With guavas, mealy bugs, spider mites, and scales can become problematic if you have your plants indoors over winter. To prevent or eradicate them without poisoning yourself or your house, bring your guava plants outside on a warm day and apply a heavy application of OMRI listed neem oil or insecticidal soap.
If you can use this treatment once every ~6 weeks, you should be able to prevent these small pest insects from ever becoming a problem.
Potted guava plant trimming
Once your guavas are done fruiting, you’ll want to trim back any tall growth to keep the plant height manageable. This also encourages branching and fruiting.
Additionally, if you have branches crossing over each other or growing into each other, you’ll want to trim those as well.
Once your guavas have been in their pots for 2-3 years, they may become “root bound.” This simply means that the roots have wrapped around and around inside the pot in search of new growth media, and are starting to choke each other.
Severely root bound plants can become sick or die. So every 2-3 years after your guava is done fruiting, pull the plant out of its pot and use a knife or saw to trim off the outer 2″ of roots from around the entire plant.
Then add new damp potting soil back into the bottom of the container, put the plant back in, and fill up the sides with damp potting soil as well. Be sure to keep the plant’s roots nice and damp (not sopping wet) over the next few weeks as it recovers.
6. Harvesting and eating guava fruit
Depending on where you live and how old your guava plants are, how long you’ll be waiting for ripe fruit may vary. Here’s our timeline for reference:
- We purchased our guava saplings in May 2018. These were small tissue culture plants.
- Our guava trees flowered for the first time in spring 2019.
- We got our first ripe guava fruit in late summer – early fall 2019.
How do you tell if your guavas are ripe?
There are three ways to tell when your guava fruit are ripe:
- With your nose – Guava fruit are incredibly aromatic. When they’re at peak ripeness, you can smell them on the tree from a few feet away (even if you’re not a chipmunk).
- With your eyes – Depending on the guava cultivar you’re growing, your fruit will likely change color when ripe. Our ‘Ruby Supreme’/’Homestead’ and ‘Peruvian White’ guavas both go from an unripe green color to a ripe yellow/white skin color.
- With your hands – When perfectly ripe, guava fruit will pull right off the plant with a very gentle wiggle. (Or fall to the ground if you don’t pick it in time.) The ripe fruit is slightly soft to the touch, as well.
Eating your guava fruit
Eating guavas is actually a little trickier than you might think if you’ve never done it before. Why?
The center of each guava fruit contains dense clusters of small, hard seeds. That’s why guavas are often cooked, strained (to remove seeds), and made into various drinks and dishes. Guava’s flavor is also intensified when cooking.
Here’s how we eat our ripe raw guava fruit:
- Nibble away at the outside of the fruit down to the point that the seeds begin.
- Plop the remaining seed-filled center in your mouth, but don’t chew hard — you’re just trying to extract pulp and flavor. Swallow seeds and all when done. Hey, a little extra fiber is just what the typical American diet needs!
Now you know how to grow your own tropical guava plants in non-tropical climate zones!
Coming soon: our delicious home-grown homemade guava ice cream recipe…