How to Grow Acerola Cherries
Acerola or Acerola Cherry is a small tropical fruit-bearing tree or a shrub. Common names also include Barbados cherry, West Indian cherry, and Wild crepe myrtle.
It is native to South America, southern Mexico, and Central America, and it is often grown in warmer areas.
Acerola is extremely rich in vitamin C, but it also contains vitamins A, B1, B2, and B3, as well as carotenoids, bioflavonoids, and other antioxidants.
Acerola grows 2-5m in height, but they can be kept rather small with strong pruning and still bear fruits. This is very important for people who plan to grow acerola bushes as hedges or in greenhouses.
But, there are also smaller, more compact acerola cherries, with dwarf varieties being grown even as bonsai trees, and still bearing aromatic, taste, and very decorative fruits.
Acerola trees and shrubs generally have shallow root systems, making them susceptible to drought and strong wind gusts, especially taller trees.
Generally, acerola cherries are spaced 5-6 feet (1.5-1.8 m) in rows, with 10-12 feet (3-3.6m) between the rows.
For proper growth, acerola requires a warm climate - temperatures below freezing (0°C or 32°F) can kill acerola trees. Also, the soil should be pH neutral, preferably between 7.0 and 7.5, although it will grow to a pH of 6.5.
Acerola prefers dry, well-drained, sandy soil with plenty of sun - it doesn't like shades too much.
However, acerola is not very picky, and it will also grow in soils like clay, marl, limestone, and other heavy soils as long as drainage is good - heavy soil must be heavily amended by adding plenty of peat moss, aged manure, sand compost, humus, etc., but also some lime to keep pH between 6.5 and 7.5.
Acerola leaves are light to dark green, glossy when mature, with minute hairs, which can be irritating to some people.
People living in colder climates can still grow acerola plants in greenhouses that are heated during really cold days. Remember that temperatures must be above freezing during winter.
During summer, be sure to have acerola trees regularly watered, but also, any excess water must be easily drained away. Acerola requires between 1000 and 2000 mm of water annually, but if water is scarce, it will 'switch' from being an evergreen plant to being deciduous - lost leaves will prevent regular flowering and bearing fruits.
In warmer and drier areas, a dripping irrigation system is highly recommended - such a system saves water and keeps the soil evenly moist, ensuring a good harvest.
Acerola trees in good shape can flower 2-3 times per year, having a long harvest season. Regular watering and moderately rich soil promote flowering and bearing healthy and rich crops.
When the soil is very sandy, the gardener can add some mulch to protect the soil from evaporation.
Acerola Cherry Propagation
The most popular propagation methods are by seeds, cuttings, and air layering.
Be patient since these plants require around three years to start producing any larger number of brightly red fruits. Also, with the soil temperature of 75-85°F (24-30°C), germination takes 3-4 weeks, although some seeds will germinate much later.
That's why home gardeners that require just a few acerola trees/shrubs should consider purchasing small acerola plants from local garden centers or online stores - it can save plenty of time.
Thanks to a warm climate and 3-4 flowerings per year, acerola harvest usually lasts from April to November - it is not uncommon for some trees to have both flowers and fully ripe acerola cherries.
Fruits are slightly acidic, having a gently sour taste, but they can even be sweet if plants are grown well, without shocks and stress (too cold, too wet, too dry, etc.).
Fruits taste best right from the tree, but acerola can also be processed in numerous ways.
Personally, such great fruit, one of the richest fruits in vitamin C and many other antioxidants and vitamins, should be eaten fresh - after all, after picking, acerola may be stored at most 2-3 days at room temperature.
Growing Acerola Trees and Shrubs in Flower Pots and Containers
Like many other similar small trees and shrubs, acerola can be grown in larger containers and flower pots.
Keep in mind that roots are relatively shallow, so there is no need for pots deeper than 60cm (24 inches). The width of such pots should also be around 60cm (24 inches) for a single acerola tree.
Note: the size of the pot should be according to the expected plant size.
Acerola can be grown in much smaller pots, and in fact, it is a very popular bonsai tree because of its small leaves, regular flowers, bright red fruits, and fine ramification in general.
However, if you plan on growing acerola in containers for its fruits, 60x60cm (24x24 inches) pots are recommended.
One of the advantages of growing acerola trees (and other plants) in pots is using growing soil other than that found locally in gardens.
So, for an acerola, be sure to have a large enough flower pot with plenty of drainage holes on the bottom. Also, a thin layer of gravel and smaller stones on the bottom can help with water drainage even further.
Fill the rest of the pot with good potting soil, add some organic compost, worm castings, and mineral fertilizer (2-3x per year) with a gradual release of nutrients (avoid any excess nitrogen) and periodically check the pH of the soil.
In the autumn, such plants can be easily placed in a protected area (greenhouse, if needed), and when the danger of frost is gone, plants can be positioned outside again. Acerola prefers a warm climate, and in colder areas, it can be and should be kept in a greenhouse practically yearlong - just be sure to provide proper pollination of the flowers.
Since organic fertilizers tend to slightly lower the pH of the soil, check the soil regularly and when pH drops below 6.5, add a tablespoon (or just a teaspoon, just to be sure) of lime (or some similar compound) and mix it thoroughly with the soil.
Note: some acerola varieties may require cross-pollination, hence requiring more plants.
Acerola Pests and Diseases
People like acerola fruits, and so do the birds - it is possible to pick acerola cherries before they are fully ripe and let them ripen indoors. Personally, if you have a few plants, a light protective net is a better option.
It should also be protected from common bugs and insects like whitefly, aphids, scale, weevil, etc. Root-knot nematodes can be a serious problem, too.
Generally, acerola cherries are resilient and healthy plants that are easily grown in smaller gardens and backyards.
Acerola flowers attract pollinators, increasing the yield of other plants in the garden as well, making it a good companion for most plants. Acerola itself grows well with lavender, catmint, or even a sage planted nearby.
For more information about acerola cherries, feel free to check the following:
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Acerola cherry, also known as Barbados cherry or West Indian cherry, is a tropical fruit tree that prefers light, sandy soils that drain well.
However, many gardeners wonder if acerola cherry can be grown in heavy clay or similar soils. The answer is generally yes, but only if the soil is amended or the gardener should grow acerola cherries in a shallow garden bed.
Published: January 21, 2023.