Growing and enjoying unusual fruits is easier than you think

Nan Sterman

Fri March 28, 2014 11:10am

San Diego’s coastal, desert and valley microclimates offer gardeners opportunities to grow a much wider selection of fruits than typically sold in local supermarkets. You might expect that unusual fruits can only be grown in the tropics, but many heat-loving “rare” fruits do very well in our city.  
Here are a few of my favorite rare fruits to try, especially in frost-free regions of San Diego County. Like most fruiting plants, these do best in well-drained soils and full sun.  
Avocado Avocado might not be unusual for San Diego but outside Southern California, it is quite rare indeed. While Hass is the most common supermarket variety, the range of options for home gardens is staggering: Fuerte, Reed (my favorite), bacon, Holliday and Mexicola are just a few of the 115 varieties listed by the University of California. Avocados are large, dense evergreen trees that can grow to 30 feet or more and require frequent watering in warmer weather.
Star Fruit / Carambola Cut a star fruit cross-wise and you’ll see how it got its name. Fruits develop on slow growing evergreen trees, typically 25 feet tall and wide. These trees require full sun and a rich soil with regular water in the summer months. Throughout the year the tree blooms with tiny pink or lavender flowers that become fruits and then fall to the ground – gather them up and enjoy!
Tropical Guava Guava trees are graceful evergreens that reach about 12 feet tall in our climate. Again, this tree needs full sun and regular water in the first year as roots are establishing. Irrigate deeply but only occasionally after that. Let fruits ripen on the tree until fragrant and just slightly soft.
Mango At first glance, mango trees’ dark green leaves and pale white flowers are easy to mistake for avocado trees. These trees require your hottest exposure with well-drained soil and if possible, a slope so air moves freely through the branches. Once flowers are pollinated, fruits mature within three or four months. Ripe mangos can be green, red or yellow, depending on variety, and soft to the touch – allow them to ripen on the tree.
Since avocado, star fruit and mango are relatively thirsty trees, plant them together or in an area with other thirstier edible trees, and irrigate on the same irrigation zone. That way they get the water they need and you don’t waste any on other plants that don’t need it.
Give these rare fruits a try and enjoy! And if you do plant these rare fruits, we would love to see them so be sure to post photos to Instagram with #agrowingpassion.
For more garden inspiration and tips catch “A Growing Passion” on KPBS. Visit to browse previous clips, upcoming events and our gardening blog.