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Growing Sapodilla: Manilkara zapota

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Botanical Overview

The Manilkara genus, which contains 81 species, is a member of the Sapodilla family (Sapotaceae), which includes Mamey Sapote and Miracle Fruit. Manilkara zapota, Sapodilla, is the best known of the Manilkara species.


Form: Tree.
Lifespan: Perennial.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Slow.
Mature Size: 6-60' high and 6-40' wide.
Flowers: Pale yellow to white, bell-shaped, small, inconspicuous.
Bloom: Several times spring through fall.
Self-fruitful: Depends on cultivar. Some trees may need a second variety.
Years before fruiting: 2-4 if grafted, 6-7 from seed.
Fruit: Round, scurfy brown skin, juicy, sweet, yellow-brown flesh. The flavor is often described as a cross between brown sugar and a pear. The fruit has 1-12 hard, black, spiked seeds. Unripe fruit is very astringent.
Months for fruit to ripen: 4-6. Scrape the skin to make sure that the fruit is not green underneath; a yellow to orange color indicates ripeness. Growers will pick the fruit when the stem still leaks sap because hard fruit will last longer in transit and on a store shelf. Home gardeners can wait until the fruit is slightly soft before harvesting.
Storage after harvest: Hard fruits need to soften at room temperature until they are slightly soft to the touch. Once soft, they can keep for a week in a refrigerator or can be frozen.
Leaves: Dark green, glossy, oval, spirally clustered at branch tips. This tree provides dense shade.
Stems: The sap contains a white latex which is a source for chicle, formerly used as a chewing gum base. The tree is very wind resistant. Its hard wood is used for lumber.
Roots: Cuttings of desirable cultivars are often veneer grafted onto any established sapodilla seedling rootstock. The shallow roots can be invasive in moist soil and heave pavements.
Cultivars of Note for Residential Use:
'Alano' A tree growing 25-30 tall, self-fruitful, heavy producer, 9oz fruit, excellent flavor, very fine texture, very sweet, fruit ripens November to June, from Thailand.
'Silas Woods' A dwarf tree growing 6-10' tall, self-fruitful, heavy producer, 9oz fruit, excellent flavor, fine texture, very sweet, from south Florida. Its branches can break from the weight of developing fruit if not supported or the fruit not thinned.
Wildlife: The fruit attracts mammals, including fruit bats.
Toxic / Danger: The seeds are a choking hazard because of a spike on one end and are poisonous if 6 or more are ingested. Older leaves are poisonous.
Origin: Mexico and Central America.

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 10-11. Young trees are killed at 30-32°F. Mature trees can withstand a few hours at 24-26°F.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Young trees have difficulty over 100°F and will need all day part shade during their first three years in high temperatures.
Sun: Full sun to afternoon shade in hot climates.
Drought tolerant: Yes, at maturity. The tree performs better in high humidity at high temperatures.
Water after becoming established: Weekly when young to monthly when mature. In very hot, dry climates, every 3 weeks may be best when mature during fruiting. In general, these trees need less water than any other fruit tree except pomegranate. Young trees may lose leaves with insufficient water.
Soil: Very well draining, tolerant of soil types, pH 6.1-7.8 (neutral to slightly alkaline). This tree is saline tolerant.
Fertilize: Apply monthly applications of compost.
Mulch: Reduce root heating and freezing and soil evaporation by putting down a thick layer of organic mulch, keeping it at least 6" from the trunk.
Spacing: The distance between trees should be equal to their eventual height and they must be far enough apart so that the sapodilla are not shaded for 8 hours of each day.
Planting: Dwarf trees can be grown in containers.
First Year Care: Protect from freezes the first three years. Provide all day part shade over 100°F for the first three years.
Prune: Fruit must be thinned on dwarf trees. Prune in winter to shape in the first three years. Keep the ground 5' from the trunk weed-free.
Litter: Dropping fruit if not harvested throughout the year.
Propagation: Cuttings grafted onto sapodilla rootstock, seeds for rootstock.
Uses: Edible fruit, ornamental.


Other common names for this tree are Chico Sapote and Chico.

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By HK Arun - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid-26901791

Manilkara zapota: Sapodilla cut fruit

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Latest update: July, 2019