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How to Care for Barbados Cherry Trees

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Also known as Acerola or West Indian cherry, Barbados cherry (Malpighia glabra L) is a small tree or large shrub originating from different parts of Central and South America and the West Indies. The tree grows up to 20 feet tall and equally wide and features oblong evergreen leaves and tiny light pink to rose-colored flowers that bloom throughout the summer months. After planting it in your home garden or yard, care for the tree so it thrives and produces healthy fruit rich in Vitamin C.

Plant the tree in spring, just before the rainy season in well-drained, fertile soil. Check the soil pH prior to planting to ensure that it is at least 5.5. Add lime to acidic soils to a depth of 8 inches.

Spread a 3- to 4-inch-thick application of organic mulch around the base of the young tree. Keep the mulch 6 inches away from the trunk to prevent direct contact. Depending on personal preference, use leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, straw or sawdust as mulch.

Irrigate the plant with a garden hose when the top 3 inches of the soil feel dry. Reduce watering in summer and fall when supplemental rainfall provides necessary moisture.

Feed the newly planted tree every month or two months, using 1/4 of a pound of a 6-6-6-3 or well-balanced fertilizer specifically formulated for cherry trees. Increase fertilizer application as the tree grows.

Prune the tree to maintain shape and size. Depending on personal preference, trim upright branches to encourage side branches that give a fuller look to a leggy tree, or thin bushy trees to allow more sunlight and air to penetrate the canopy. Use sharp, sterilized pruning shears when trimming the tree and collect clippings in a garbage bag for disposal.

Inspect the tree for pests and diseases and treat these immediately to prevent the problem from growing. Barbados cherry is susceptible to root-knot nematode that weakens the plant and causes foliage to drop. Preventive measures include using sterilized soil when planting, fumigating the planting site and mulching heavily around the tree. Spray horticulture oil to prevent scale insects, caterpillars, whiteflies and aphids from infesting the tree.

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