Monday, 20 June 2016

Cool Climate Starfruits

There are a number of reasons that you would want to grow a Starfruit or Carambola tree in a cool climate, such as Sydney’s. Aside from the delicious fruit which are also remarkably attractive hanging from its branches, the tree, with its lovely, pinnate leaves and graceful, arching habit, is a very shapely one and carries beautiful magenta flowers, edged in white.

Pinnate leaves of the Starfruit tree
Starfruit trees, however, are not a ‘plant-and-forget’ tree. The temperate climate of Sydney is marginal, at best, for these lovely trees, demanding thoughtful site selection before planting, and regular attention after planting.

The important question is, ‘Will they fruit in Sydney?’ The answer is, ‘Yes, they will.’

A magnificent young Starfruit specimen overhanging a fence in Chiang Dao, Thailand

Ripening fruit on the same Chiang Dao tree

First of all, let’s look at site selection. Being of a tropical and sub-tropical origin (Maluku, East Indonesia), they will require a warm micro-climate. Choose a planting location protected from Sydney’s cold, southerly, winter winds… a north-facing situation is ideal. Furthermore, if you have the space for other subtropical trees, this will provide added comfort for the starfruit. In our circumstances, the starfruit is in a north-facing location, protected from the south by the home itself, growing in a small garden area with banana trees, a macadamia and a mango tree.

Even though Sydney is not the natural home of starfruit trees, you must make your starfruit feel at home!

The starfruit tree will also need plenty of water. Apart from natural rainfall, it will need supplementary watering. We keep a bucket in our back shower to catch the cold shower water which falls before the warm flow begins. You know, the water too cold to stand under! Every day, this supplementary water is shared between the starfruit and the bananas. Importantly, however, your starfruit should not sit with ‘wet feet’. It needs ample water, indeed, but it might resent waterlogging over a long period of time. We are fortunate that our back garden has a natural slope which runs excess water away.

Am I making this sound too difficult? I hope not. Remember, starfruit trees are lovely… They are worth the effort.

The pretty magenta and white flowers of the starfruit

Keep it fed! For a young tree, throw around a couple of handfuls of pelletised chicken manure on a regular basis, perhaps every two months, increasing this as the tree matures. At the same time, give it a handful of Epsom Salts, which you can purchase at your local supermarket in the Health and Beauty Section.  Epsom Salts are an excellent source of magnesium, which will keep your plant’s leaves green and healthy.  Water this in.

Finally, never discard your used eggshells. Pound, crush or grind these into a powder, and store the grindings in a container for garden use. Not only are eggshells a splendid source of calcium, but they also contain 26 other beneficial trace elements. Scatter a handful of egg shell grindings every time you feed your starfruit tree.

Oh… Don’t forget the compost! And the mulch!

Developing fruit and flowers
But should I guard against Queensland and Mediterranean fruit flies? 

Definitely! In actuality, fruit flies are more likely to attack and spoil your tomatoes or your capsicums, even your kasturi limes (Calamondins). However, it’s best to hang a fruit fly trap from the outer branches of your tree… Better safe than sorry! Touch wood, we have not lost any starfruits to fruit fly.

Our seedling tree, now nearly five years old, has granted us green-and-gold stars for the past two years. The pretty, little bunches of flowers appear along the branches of the tree in late January and through February and March. We pick our first fruit in late April, with fruit continuing to ripen through May and June. In fact, with the onset of the coldest weather, we pick the fruit from the tree as soon as there shows a little yellow, ripening the greenish fruit indoors... 
A starfruit colouring up in the home garden

Interestingly right now (June), our tree has many little starfruits along its lower branches: I do wonder whether these small fruits will lay dormant over the remaining winter and mature with the warm rays of spring. Or will they drop?

June 'babies'. Will they drop, or ripen in the spring?

Our winter starfruits are not as sweet as Malaysian or Indonesian starfruits. They make wonderful juice, however, reminiscent of the cooling, quenching, iced starfruit drinks to be purchased in those countries. Memories of Asia…

Wishing you hours of enjoyment and contentment in your garden…

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