If you’re looking for a very small tropical fruit tree for a tight space, and especially if you want a potted fruit tree for your patio, I recommend dwarf sapodilla varieties.
These were not even on my radar until several years ago, when I heard people talking about how there are now sapodilla varieties which can produce good crops of fruit on tiny trees.
I now have trees of two of these varieties – ‘Makok’ and ‘Silas Wood’ (in the nursery trade this is often mistakenly written as ‘Silas Woods’, but it’s named after a rare fruit enthusiast in South Florida, Silas Wood, whose name did not have a final ‘s’.)
I got my tree of variety ‘Makok’ from a tropical fruit tree vendor at Mustang Market in Pinellas Park, Florida in May 2018. It was in a three-gallon pot, and I subsequently bumped it up into a seven gallon pot and put it in a place of honor by my front door. The tree is now loaded with fruit at just three feet (1m) tall, and it’s currently putting out another round of blooms. That’s the tree I’ve been harvesting ripe fruits from recently.
The other dwarf variety I have is ‘Silas Wood’ – I got a tree of that variety in late 2017 and planted it in the ground in my greenhouse. That tree has grown a bit more slowly – I think it may be that sapodilla trees prefer more alkaline soil than what I have here. After noticed the tree was growing very slowly, I limed the soil around it, and its growth rate picked up, and it started flowering and setting fruits. That tree is even smaller, only about knee high, but almost incredibly for such a tiny tree, it has a crop of developing fruit.
Growing sapodilla is a lesson in patience – these fruits take a LONG time to develop. I didn’t take note of exactly when the blooms were that produced the fruits that are ripening now, but I think it was about a year ago. Most fruit trees have a much shorter time from flower to ripe fruit than a year. (The only fruit I know which takes longer is mamey, which can take 18 months.) But reportedly these dwarf sapodillas tend to be nearly everbearing once they’ve started producing for the first time, at least further south in Florida. I’ll find out if they retain that everbearing characteristic in my more seasonal climate here in North Florida.
I never knew how good sapodillas can be until I started harvesting my own. For years I thought I wasn’t a huge fan of this fruit, because the sapodillas I’d eaten were good but not great – sweet, but without much more flavor than a basic brown sugar kind of taste. Turns out that as with most fruits, if you let sapodillas become fully mature on the tree, they develop a lot more flavor than if you pick them early.
What I’ve been doing to make sure I’m getting the best flavor possible on these is I wait until each fruit starts to soften naturally on the tree before picking, so that it’s soaked up all the possible photosynthetic goodness from the tree. That’s when the full flavor experience happens – these fully mature, fully ripe sapodillas taste like apple pie filling, with notes of caramel, maple syrup, & cinnamon.
These special dwarf forms of sapodilla don’t come true from seed – if you want to grow them, you’ll need to get grafted trees of these varieties, or obtain scionwood of them and graft it onto sapodilla seedlings. These varieties of sapodilla are available at many tropical fruit nurseries in South Florida and elsewhere, including at Sulcata Grove in Sarasota, which is where I originally got my ‘Silas Wood’ tree.