Growing Mangoes In Phoenix Arizona

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Photo
Photographed in the June, and planted 2.5 years ago in March, this 5 foot tall Manila mango tree has already produced one delicious yellow sweet mango. The fruit became ripe in the middle of August. This Manila mango tree was purchased locally and this variety is the most commonly available of all mango varieties, since they ship them in from Southern California. It was covered with frost cloth its first winter, on several of the coldest winter nights, but fortunately this year it didn't actually need it. It is located on the west side of the house in the lawn, on the east side of a cinder block wall. Being located a fair distance, 9 feet, from the western wall of the house helps the tree avoid the baking reflected heat it would be exposed to if it was located closer.

A small basin around the tree is kept free of grass, and is lightly composted. Chemical nitrogen fertilizers are not used on this tree because it burns very easily. However, chelated iron and fish emulsion are used in moderation. It is watered by the sprinklers but it is also occasionally deep soaked.

Manila Mango Tree

Keitt Mango Fruit Overview
Mangoes tolerate the lower desert heat very well as long as they have sufficient water. They are salt sensitive and therefore one must be very careful not to burn them with fertilizer. Freezing temperatures are hardest on young mango trees but as they grow larger they can tolerate temperatures slightly below freezing for short periods.

Fruit
One of the best known fruits of the tropics, mangoes come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and even a variety of flavors. The best mangoes are sweet, with a full flavor, and are minimally stringy. Unfortunately, the mango found most often in

supermarkets in the U.S. is a variety named Tommy Atkins, which is not one of the best, although it ships very well. So, many people are unaware how good a mango can be.

Mango trees can be grown from seed, but like many fruit trees a seedling will not reliably yield a fruit like its parent tree (unless it is from a polembryonic seedling, see propagation section below). Since the highest quality mangoes are the result of hundreds if not thousands of years of selective breeding, a seedling mango is most likely to be inferior to its high quality parent. For this reason, it is best to buy a grafted mango tree.

Manila Mango Fruit A good variety of mango tree, named Manila, can often be found in local big box stores in the Phoenix area. A cut fruit from my Manila mango tree is pictured on the left. Manilas are a South East Asian type mango and relatively long and thin and very sweet. Other varieties of mango trees are more difficult to buy here, but can be found at specialty nurseries or shipped in from Florida. Some very desirable varieties are Keitt, Kent, and Nam Doc Mai.

A cut Keitt mango from my tree is pictured below. Keitts are an Indian type mango and have a little more of a tart edge on them than Manilas, but they are still very sweet, especially when grown in the heat of the lower

Arizona desert. The green mango pictured above, hanging on the tree, is also a Keitt. By clicking on that picture you can see a close up of the fruit and a photo of the tree.

It is fairly difficult to tell when a Keitt mango is ripe because it will stay generally green, although it will get a little more color on the top, and lose some of its bluish hue becoming more of a straight green. Manila mangoes go from a yellow to more of an orange hue when ripe. Another way to see if a mango is ripe is to palm it in your hand and gently tilt it in relation to its stem. If it falls off into your hand, its ripe. In the Phoenix area, both Manila and Keitt mangoes become ripe in the second half of August.

Keitt Mango Fruit

Heat Tolerance and Sun Exposure
Mangoes tolerate the lower desert heat very well and will grow continuously all summer. They like full sun but should still be kept out of reflected heat in Western exposure. For example, being next to a white wall in the heat of the day creates an oven like environment that almost no plant can take. In full sun, a mango's leaves will sunburn slightly during the hottest parts of the year, but this is generally not a problem.

Fruit and the stems that hold the fruit can sunburn, especially if exposed to afternoon sun. To be on the safe side, when fruit are larger than a lima bean paint the stem holding the fruit with a 50/50 mix of white latex paint and water. Later, when the fruit itself has reached about half its full size, tape a white paper bag around it. Leave a portion of the bag open so that the fruit can be viewed.

Cold Tolerance
Being tropical, mango trees suffer when temperatures go below freezing. Generally speaking, young trees can be damaged below 30 F., and larger trees can take temperatures down to 25 F. for short periods of time. Therefore, mango trees are limited to neighborhoods in Phoenix with favorable microclimates. Planting trees near walls or houses can help them get through colder nights and small trees should be protected on the several frosty nights that typically occur from November to January. Neighborhoods on the outskirts of town that are typically colder than the Phoenix metro area, such as Queen Creek and Cave Creek are most likely too cold for mangoes.

Planting
Dig a hole at least twice the size of the rootball. At a minimum, make the hole 2 feet in diameter and 2 feet deep. Back fill the whole with the same native soil that was removed. It also is a good idea to finish with the hole an inch or two recessed so that a watering basin is formed. After planting, spread a thin layer of compost on top of the soil to help conserve moisture and to supply some nutrients. Do not fertilize the newly planted tree until it has been vigorously growing for a couple of months.

Watering frequency
Mangoes do well on a grass watering schedule. An occasional deep soaking will help the tree fend off salt burn and encourage the roots to grow more deeply.

Watering method
Basin and sprinkler irrigation are both suitable for mangoes. As mentioned above, an occasional deep soaking will benefit mango trees grown in the lawn.

Fertilizing and Growth Rate
Mangoes are very sensitive to soil salinity. Since the Phoenix area water is already high in salts, the safest thing to do is to not use any chemical nitrogen fertilizers. A mango short of nitrogen will look a paler green on both newer and older leaves. During the warm and hot months, regular (every 2 weeks in hot weather) applications of fish emulsion 5-1-1 will supply nitrogen and promote steady growth. Fish emulsion 0-10-10 can also be used to supply more potassium but should be used much less often (a couple of times a year) than the 5-1-1 because it is more salty.

When my seedling mangoes start to look chlorotic (new leaves look yellow), I use Greenlight Iron and Soil Acidifier, a source of chelated iron, around the base of the plant. I also have a grafted mango and the soil applied source of iron does not seem to help it, like it does for the seedlings, so I use a foliar fertilizer on it called Liquinox Iron and Zinc. Pouring Liquinox over the leaves has helped this plant substantially. It is important that a foliar fertilizer does not have any sulfur in it, because sulfur will burn a plant's leaves. Also helpful with chlorosis are occasional light applications of manganese sulfate.

Mulch/compost is also very beneficial to mangoes.

Propagation
There are two main families of mangoes. The Indian family and the Southeast Asian family. Indian Mangoes are monoembryonic, meaning there is only one plant in each seed and it is a cross between its parents, so it will not be a clone of either of its parents and will have unique fruit. This uniqueness is actually undesirable because if one of the parent trees had a fantastic tasting fruit, then the child will be very unlikely to match it in quality. Therefore, to get reliable fruit quality a mango in the Indian family must be grafted.

However, Southeast Asian mangoes are polyembryonic, meaning each seed has a number of plants inside of it and the majority of these plants are actually clones of the parent tree. So, a S.E. Asian mango has a good probability of coming true from seed. If fact, recently, Manila mangoes sold locally in Phoenix that originate from the La Verne nursery in California are being sold as seedlings. It is unclear if the nursery has some way of telling which seedlings are clones or whether they are gambling with their customers. I have tried a mango from one these trees and it was very good. Perhaps there is something special about Manila mangoes in this regard and they always come relatively true from seed.

Pests
Leafhoppers like mango trees but do not cause any significant problems, so they can be more or less ignored.

Links to more mango information

Julia Morton      California Rare Fruit Growers      Agroforestry      University Of Florida