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How to Grow Custard Apple

How To Grow custard apples - Organically
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Being a 90’s kid(Still am haha) custard apple was one of the most coveted fruit (it still is) of our generation. We had a custard apple tree at our home and it used to produce fruits like anything. Every season I used to eat so many fruits, that I came to understand their value only when I had to buy and eat them despite their lack of quality and tase.

Custard Apples
Pic by: Sujith Nair
Indian palm squirrel feeding on custard apple
Pic By: praveen pandian

Todays’ kids don’t have the opportunity to experience the beauty of the new leaves they produce, the wonderful aroma of their flowers, the development of fruits(Something from the size of a marble to the size of a tennis ball) and the squirrel that messes with us. If you have grown a custard apple tree you’d know what I am talking about.

No worries! Custard apple is a tree that is easy and fun to grow and to care. In this post I am going to tell you exactly what my mum had followed and what I have seen my friends do to grow Custard apple. So let us see on how to grow Custard apple tree organically and on how to battles the problems associated with it.

(I have a lot of things to share but keeping the length of this post in mind, I have given only the basics. For those of you who love to know everything about this plant I will post new posts very soon explaining in detail.)

Quick Intro:

Custard apple is popularly known as Sita palam or Sita phal in India. The interesting fact about this  fruit is this fruit is not of Indian origin. It was introduced to India from Tropical America. As expected this grows well in tropical and sub-tropical climate. Its Scientific name is Annona squamosal

Varieties of Custard Apple in India:

Custard apple fruit varieties in India are different in states like Red Sitaphal, Hybrid, Balanagar, Washington, Purandhar, Atemoya, Pink’s Mammoth, etc.

How To Grow Custard Apple

Before getting into the details lets focus a little bit on the must know points of this tree.

  • Custard apple trees are deciduous (Shed their leaves anually) in nature.
  • All the varieties of Apple fruits are tropical in origin and grow well in hot and dry climate so it is expected to show symptoms decline in growth in very cold climate
  • They requires hot and dry climate during flowering and high humidity at fruit set.
DSC_0078-edited
Pic by: AshCian

Now as we have established some basic know abouts, no need to panic if the tree shows any of these signs. It’s quite natural.

How to grow them in Garden

Many followers asked me to update on How to grow plants in garden also in addition to growing them in containers. So this section is for them.

Soil:

  • They can withstand any type of soil. But the only catch is that they cannot tolerate water stagnation.
  • So better use a well-draining mixture for avoiding this problem.
  • Prepare a mixture of manure, compost, sand(if available) Ratio can be 40:20:20(Soil: Sand: Manure)

Now let us concentrate on how to prepare the planting site.

Planting:

  • Choose a site that receives good sunlight and have good air flow.
  • Also avoid places where you have grown brinjal, capsicum, tomatoes and potatoes to avoid infection with bacterial wilt.
  • I already stated that these require a well-draining base. So let’s start making one.
  • Dig up a hole that is 60x60x60 cm
  • Leave the hole dry up in the sun light for some days(4 days). This is to sterilize the hole.
  • Now fill the hole with the mix that you have made. The one that we saw above.

Now all we need is a plant to plant.

Getting the plant

This must be the first step actually but people are so focused on getting a plant and planting it they dismiss all the other things that could boost up the process. That is why I thought of speaking it a little later.

How to Grow custard apple from seeds

This ones interesting and fun to experiment. But these require lot of patience. Follow the steps below

  • Get the seeds from the fruit you buy
  • Soak it up in water for a whole day(24 hours)
  • Next day you can see the seeds that are potent will be drowned in water
  • The ones that are floating are of no use. You can throw it away.
  • You can sow them directly in Soil (pots or in ground).
  • For this make a hole using your finger and drop the seed in and water it daily such that the soil is not dry                
  • Sow a minimum of 4 seeds out of which 2 may germinate.
  • You can even keep them in wet tissue paper and keep them in a zip lock bag to germinate
  • Whatever method you try it takes 2-4 weeks to germinate

I will post a separate post on the ways to germinate Custard apple seeds soon

How to Grow Custard Apple from cuttings:

These aren’t actually pure cuttings but you can call them that.  Actually there is a method knows as Air-Layering (Pathiyam Podrathu in Tamil) where a healthy branch is selected from a mature tree.

Then an air-tight bag of wet grow medium is tied around this branch which pushes it to root. Now this branch is cut and is planted separately. This reduces the time we wait for fruiting. You can also grow by this method.

I will post a separate post on the process of Air-Layering and its benefits.

Growing from Nursery Saplings:

This is yet another method and easiest of all. Get a good sapling of the variety you wish for. Then plant it in garden or in a container.

How to grow Custard Apple in Containers:

These don’t develop very deep roots. So you can grow them in Containers also.

  • Prepare a well-draining mix as we saw above
  • Get a sapling or germinate one yourself and plant it in the container
  • It is advised to start with small containers then moving with larger ones
  • This makes sure that the plant gets replenished nutrients during each repotting
  • You can prune the plant such that it doesn’t outgrows the container
  • Fertilize a bit more frequently than when planted on ground as the nutrients in the container are limited. The containers loose nutrients quickly.
  • Don’t over water

I will update a detailed post on how to grow them in containers soon. If I add all the points here this post would be become more lengthier.

Watering:

As we have seen earlier these don’t like soggy soil. So water them accordingly

  • Water only when you see the top 2-3 inches of soil is dry
  • Water frequently in summers and in dry climates
  • It needs a bit more water while flowering and fruiting.
  • Otherwise these sustain well in dry and hot climate

Pruning:

These can be grown as tall trees. They can reach upto 10-20 feet if left unpruned. You can also prune them so as to produce more lateral branches and reduce the vertical growth.

  • You can pinch of the new growth when they emerge
  • You can also prune them after they grow to a certain thickness

This is upto you for experimentation. Have fun!

Mulching:

Mulching prevents water evaporating quickly. Also controls weed problems. Get some old leaves and twigs and spread them around the plant base.

Mulching also helps in keeping the roots away from frost during cold winters if you happen to be living in a cold climate. Also it helps in improving biodiversity by boosting microbial activities.

While fertilizing make sure to move away the mulch and move them back.

That brings us to fertilizing

Fertilizing:

Like all other plants they require NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium). They require them in the ratio of 2:1:1. So let us see the organic fertilizer sources for them

  • The best source for all the nutrients are the cow dung, goat dung and other manure
  • You can also use vermicompost or any other compost as they have high Nitrogen content in them.
  • Add some panchagavya to soil. Along with the nutrients it has, it also helps in multiplication of the beneficial microbes that will help in fixing the essential nutrients in soil
  • For potassium you can use banana peels, wood ash
  • For phosphorus you can get Fish Amino Acid – Meen Amilam which also supplies potassium and nitrogen
  • You can also add powered remaining fish bones and chicken bones. These too have phosphorous
  • Add Neem or groundnut cake this promotes nitrogen

Feed them monthly once or twice.

As the plant grows so does its need for nutrients. So increase the amount of fertilizers as the tree grows. It will be completely matured in 5 years.

SUGAR APPLE  #13   /  (Bengali = আতা)
Pic by: 3Point141

Flowering:

Usually flowering happens during May. The flowers have only three petals and are fleshy. They have a great aroma. The flowers of this plant are protogynous that is the flower is female for first 36hrs and then it turns to male. Crazy right! The male flowers are wide open and the female flowers are not opened widely. This is the only way to identify them. When the tree starts to set flowers water it sufficiently or the flowers get burned in sun.

Pollination:

Most have us don’t know this that custard apple don’t self pollinate.(I will write a short post on this in detail very soon)

  • You have to hand pollinate them.
  • Take a paint brush dust off pollens from the male flower
  • And dust them on female flowers
  • Don’t pollinate all the flowers. Multiple fruits may stress the plant and you won’t get a good produce.

Fruits:

The fruits are very sweet and have lot of ­­­­­nutrients. Custard apple fruits are low in saturated fat, Cholesterol and sodium and high in Vitamin C, Iron, Manganese, and Potassium.

Again there will be a whole new post on the uses and nutrition values of Custard apple fruit.

bird on the custard apple
Pic by : MM Singh

Harvesting:

The harvesting months are August-October.

  • The fruits change color from light green to grayish green
  • You may leave the fruits to fully ripen which is indicated by opening of the ridges in the fruit.
  • Usually the fruit is harvested before it and it will ripen in 2-3 days.

This post is getting longer and longer so I will post the challenges faced in growing Custard apple and ways to overcome them in a separate post.

Do you have another great tip to add? Mention them below in the comments. Have questions? You can contact me through contact page or by clicking the WhatsApp Icon that is on the left side of the screen.

I am getting great responses from you guys. Thank you so much for all the support!

Hope this post is useful to you. If you find this interesting share it with your circle lets spread some Organic Love!

Let us plant together and grow together!

This is a bilingual post. இதனை தமிழில் படிக்க இங்கே கிளிக் செய்யவும்.

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