Lychee fruits are a favorite fruit in Asian cuisines and are becoming popular in the US. The fruit is a drupe with a bright red shell that turns brown on refrigeration. The white flesh is sweet and juicy. Lychee trees grow well in warm tropical and subtropical climates. Most lychee varieties available are hybrids and may not bear fruit when planted from seed. Purchase a tree from a reputable nursery or propagate by layering or grafting. Trees cultivated by layering or grafting will bear in 3-4 years.
Choose a well-drained site with full sun away from other trees or buildings. Lychee trees do not like wet roots. In areas with a shallow water table of less than seven feet, consider planting the tree on a mount three feet high and five to ten feet in diameter. This will help drain the roots and increase plant survival. Space lychee trees at least 10 feet apart.
Dig a hole three times the diameter and three times the depth of the container that the tree came in. Do not add fertilizer to the hole. If you feel your soil needs extra organic matter, you can mix in approximately 1/3 organic compost into the soil removed from the hole. Remove the tree from the container and place it in the hole.
Backfill the hole with the soil and place the tree in the hole so that the top of the trees soil is level with the top of the hole. Continue filling the hole in around the tree roots, compact the soil slightly.
Water the tree immediately. Stake the tree if needed for support. Tie the tree to the stake lightly with cotton string.
Remove the grass at the base of the tree to create a bare circle five feet out. Apply a layer of bark or other organic mulch to the cleared area to conserve moisture and help control weeds. Keep the mulch 8 to 12 inches away from the tree trunk to keep it dry and avoid fungus and rot.
Take care when mowing and grooming the lawn. Lychee trees are sensitive to injury caused by bumps against the trunk caused by lawn care equipment or playing children.
Water the newly planted lychee tree regularly until the tree is established, then taper off watering. The lychee needs moist soil when it is growing, but is moderately drought tolerant. Do not overwater. Once the trees are established, water only after the blooms have set until harvest, or during long dry spells.
Fertilize young trees with only light applications of fertilizer; 1/4 pound of a complete fertilizer every two months should be sufficient for the first three to four years. Once the trees mature and begin to produce fruit, they will need more fertilizer during the spring and summer months. Apply a good general fertilizer during the summer months. Withhold nitrogen fertilizers from august until early spring to avoid overproduction of foliage, which hurts fruit production.
Prune young trees, establishing the desired shape for easy harvest. As trees mature, prune them as needed to control their size and remove damaged branches.
Cover lychee trees with plastic or cloth to protect them from cold when the temperature drops below freezing. Young trees are susceptible to damage when temperatures drop. Mature trees are less tender, but sustained temperatures below 25 degrees F can kill lychee trees.
Harvest the fruit when it is fully ripe. Cut off entire clusters along with a short piece of stem. Fruit picked too soon will lack flavor and sweetness. Over ripe fruit darken in color and lack acidity.