Also known as the tree tomato, this fast-growing fruit baffles many Australians. JACKIE FRENCH explains why we should get to know the shade-loving tamarillo
Grown as a fruit but often used as a vegetable, tamarillos have tough skins that come in red, orange, yellow or a sort of striped mauve. Few Australians know what to do with them – New Zealanders seem better informed. But tamarillos have one glorious plus: they grow in shade! Dappled shade, quite deep shade, dryish shade, damp shade. As long as the soil is fertile, they thrive and grow fast.
While seeds may take three months to germinate, even in warm weather, you should get fruit the first year and certainly in the second. They bear from mid-summer to mid-winter in cold to cool climates (they need protection from deep frost, but overhead trees can help) and all year round in tropical and subtropical areas. Even in our freezing winters, there are usually a few fruits high up on the tree.
Shop-bought tamarillos are usually red. Orange ones may be more cold hardy and yellow ones do best in hot climates. Grown side by side here, the red ones are definitely sweeter, although the flavour and sweetness of different cultivars may vary. There’s also a dwarf yellow variety with fruit that looks like a cluster of berries.
Take a cutting from a productive tree, if possible, or sow seeds. Plant out seedlings when they are at least as long as your hand. They can grow to 3m tall but usually stop at about 2m and spread about 2m wide, making them a neat garden plant.
A decade is a reasonable life span for tamarillo, as the branches and stem become woody, and the plant becomes unproductive. Pruning can extend its life a bit, but trees grow so fast that it’s better to have another tree or two coming along in a shady place where nothing much else will grow.
Keep moist, and feed well. The better you feed and water tamarillos, the sooner they fruit and the bigger the crop. Pick as soon as the fruit are fat and fully coloured, whatever colour this may be.
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