How to grow loquat trees
Loquat, known as Eriobotrya japonica, is a small to medium-sized evergreen tree with broad, glossy, leathery leaves that bears clusters of small, yellow-orange, sweet, edible fruits. Native to south-eastern China, loquat is now widely cultivated in subtropical and tropical regions around the world. It has many common names, such as Chinese plum, Japanese plum, Japanese medlar and Japanese apricot. In Japan, loquat is associated with folklore and is believed to bring good fortune. Loquat is an excellent choice of garden tree, as it’s easy to grow, requires minimal care and can live up to 75 years – making a stunning statement tree with beautiful foliage.
Identifying loquat trees
Loquat is not the same as medlar, although its fruits are sometimes called ‘Japanese medlars’. Medlar, also in the Rosaceae family, is a small deciduous tree that resembles a cross between a crab apple and a quince. Loquat trees are evergreen, with large, tropical-style leaves.
Size, height and spread
The typical height and spread of a loquat tree can vary depending on the variety and growing conditions. As a guide, loquat trees can eventually reach a height of 8m with a spread of 6m when fully mature. There are varieties available with a more compact growth habit, and others that are larger and more sprawling. Pruning can help maintain the desired size and shape of the loquat tree.
Value to wildlife
Loquat fruits are a source of food for garden birds and mammals and its fragrant, pollen-rich flowers are attractive to bees and other pollinating insects.
Loquat fruits are a refreshing, nutritious snack because they’re low in calories with a high water content. It is possible to produce fruit from a loquat in the UK, but it can be difficult to get the fruit to ripen as it’s harvested in spring. For the best chance of getting fruit, grow your tree against a warm wall. The fruit can be eaten raw or used in in jams, jellies and desserts. Loquats have a range of nutritional benefits, including:
- They are rich in vitamins A and C – essential for maintaining healthy skin, supporting the immune system and promoting good vision
- They contain dietary fibre – aiding digestion and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels
- They are a good source of potassium – important to help regulate blood pressure and maintain proper heart function
Some people may be allergic or sensitive to loquat fruit. These can manifest as skin rashes, itching or digestive discomfort. If you have allergies to other fruits in the same family (Rosaceae), such as apples or peaches, exercise caution when consuming loquat.
Where to grow a loquat tree
Plant loquat trees in a sunny and sheltered location that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. They are are generally frost resistant and will grow in various soil types, including sandy or loamy soils as long as they are free-draining and slightly acidic to neutral, (with a pH range between 6 and 7).
Choose a planting site that is protected from strong winds, as loquat trees have delicate branches that can break easily. Protection, such as a fence or windbreak, can help create an ideal growing environment. Loquat trees can also be grown in containers but need space to spread their branches.
How to plant a loquat tree
To plant a loquat tree, dig a hole slightly larger than the rootball and add compost or organic matter to the soil. Place the tree in the hole and fill it with soil, pressing down firmly to remove any air pockets. Water the tree thoroughly, and mulch around the base to retain moisture and suppress weeds. Once established, water it regularly during dry periods and fertilise it twice a year, in early spring and midsummer, with a balanced organic fertiliser.
How to prune a loquat tree
This is only necessary if you want to shape your tree. If so, do this in early spring before new growth begins. Start by removing any dead, damaged or diseased branches. Thin out crowded areas by selectively removing crossing or inward-growing branches to improve air circulation and light penetration. Maintain a balanced shape by pruning back long or leggy branches. It’s important to avoid excessive pruning as loquat trees have a naturally attractive form. Remember to use clean, sharp pruning tools and make clean cuts just outside the branch collar. Regular pruning will promote healthy growth, maintain the tree’s shape and improve fruit production.
Unlike many fruit trees, loquats flower in autumn and produce fruit in spring. When it comes to harvesting loquat fruits, timing is crucial. The fruits should be allowed to fully ripen on the tree for the best flavour and sweetness. They are ready to harvest when they turn a vibrant yellow-orange colour and are slightly soft to the touch. Gently pluck the ripe fruits by hand, being careful not to bruise or damage them. Harvest the fruits as they ripen, in stages rather than all at once, as this allows you to enjoy a prolonged harvest period. Once harvested, handle the fruits with care to avoid any damage. Enjoy the freshly picked loquats right away or store them in the refrigerator for a few days to prolong their shelf life.
Loquat can easily be propagated from seed or cuttings. However, loquat trees grown from seed may not produce fruit for up to 10 years and the fruit quality may vary. To propagate loquat from cuttings, take semi-hardwood cuttings in early summer. Trim stems to around 10cm and remove the lower leaves. Loquats can be tricky to root so you may want to dip each cutting in rooting hormone to increase its chances of taking, then push them into a pot filled with cuttings compost. Keep the cuttings moist and in a warm, partially shaded area. You will know they have rooted when you see growth at he tips of each cutting.
Pests and diseases
Loquat is a hardy tree with few pests and diseases, but keep an eye out for the following issues:
- Woolly white insects on plant stems (more likely if your loquat is grown indoors). These are mealybugs. Deal with them by removing dead leaves and pruning debris from the greenhouse. Consider disposing of heavily affected plants instead of trying to eliminate them (only for very severe cases)
- White fungal growth near the base of the tree and honey-coloured mushrooms appearing in autumn. This could be honey fungus, although it’s rare for a loquat tree. Other symptoms include upper plant parts dying and the gradual dying back of branches over several years. The leaves may be smaller and paler than usual, fail to flower or there might be excessive flowering followed by heavy fruiting before plant death. There are no chemical control options available for honey fungus. The only effective remedy is to excavate and destroy all infected root and stump material.
Advice on buying a loquat tree
- Although numerous loquat cultivars (exhibiting a range of sizes and fruit flavours) exist around the world, most of these are currently unavailable in the UK. However, the suppliers below stock the ‘true’ loquat species.
Where to buy loquat tree