Few productive plants are more prestigious and rewarding than a home-grown mango tree. Mangifera indica is an attractive evergreen with a broad, dense crown that casts deep shade. It produces tiny, fragrant flowers from winter to spring, which readily self-pollinate. As summer arrives, decorative pink-tinged new foliage appears that gradually changes to a rich green colour.
There are around 50 cultivars of this south-Asian tree available in Australia. Mangoes take about five years to start bearing fruit, which may be green, yellow or red, with a large seed inside and aromatic orange flesh. The fruit is very nutritious — how fabulous that something so delicious is also so good for us!
Mangoes grow best in a slightly acidic, sandy loam, in full, all-day sun. Adapted to wet summers and dry winters and springs, mangoes grow particularly well along the tropical north and subtropical east coasts of Australia. They grow about half-a-metre a year, eventually reaching up to 35m high and 15m across, with a dome-shaped canopy.
In warm temperate regions, the trees perform best in a sheltered position. Established trees tolerate occasional hard frosts to –5ºC or below, but saplings must have frost protection.
Trees are generally sold as grafted saplings, although some cultivars, such as Nam Doc Mai and Kensington Pride, can be grown from seed sown after removing the flesh. Seeds are polyembryonic, meaning one seed can produce two to four seedlings. Pinch out the strongest seedlings and retain the smallest. This will produce the best fruit.
How to plant
Thoroughly dig the soil, incorporating plenty of compost or well-rotted cow manure, then plant. Form a dish drain, about 1.5m in diameter, by creating a low, doughnut-shaped mound around the sapling. This helps retain rain or irrigation water, directing it to the roots and aiding establishment. Mulch with hay, sugar cane, lucerne or compost to a depth of 10cm, keeping it away from the base of the trunk. Water well.
Feed saplings with organic fertiliser, once in spring and again in summer, until they reach flowering size. Then feed in summer after fruit starts to form, to encourage fruit quality and size rather than leafy growth. Watering and foliar feeding with seaweed tonic improves fruit quality and flavour and helps combat mineral deficiencies.
Train saplings to produce a single trunk about 1–2m high, then remove the tip of the leader. This encourages multiple side shoots and fruiting nearer ground level. No other pruning is necessary other than to improve the shape or remove damaged stems.
The fruit of some cultivars is prone to anthracnose, a fungus, and fruit spotting, caused by a bacterium. To reduce the risk, give supplementary potash during late winter. If disease does strike, apply a copper-based fungicide. Control fruit fly with baits. Harvest ripe fruit daily and collect fallen fruit. Use shadecloth to protect saplings from frost. Finally, take care when handling a mango where the sap has oozed out from the stem. It contains urushiol, a poison that can cause dermatitis.
7 best mango cultivars
1. Nam Doc Mai: Excellent flavour, reliable in cooler climates.
2. Glenn: Early cropper, good resistance to black spot.
3. Kasturi: Small, crisp fruit.
4. Kensington Pride and Tommy: Large and great tasting.
5. Atkins: Suitable for warm-temperate climates.
6. Bowen: Bears fruit early.
7. Royal Red: Suits average-sized gardens.
In the kitchen with mangoes
Served straight up or incorporated into a meal, mangoes are simply irresistible. Full of fibre and numerous vitamins and minerals, including iron, potassium and vitamin C, mangoes also contain phenols and other antioxidants. How do you tell if a mango is ripe? Smell it – if it’s sweet, it’s ready, and it should have a bit of ‘give’ when it’s touched. Once ripe, eat it or store it in the fridge. Freeze whole or in slices, though the texture will go a bit mushy. There are countless recipes for mangoes, both sweet and savoury, and they can also be dried, bottled or used for wine and vinegar. They are delicious in salads, salsas, cakes, desserts and drinks. Hard green mangoes are used in Asian dishes and have a sour, starchy flavour. To serve ‘cheeks’ of mango, cut off each side parallel to the stone, score the flesh in a crisscross pattern, and turn inside out. Another way is to cut the fruit lengthwise (as if halving an avocado). Cut again to divide in four. Work the knife through to detach the quarters from the stone. Now gorge to your heart’s content!
Where to buy
Garden centres stock the most popular mango trees during the warm season. For less common cultivars, contact .