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June Plum Tree: Growing Ambarella Fruit

The June plum tree produces an uncommon tropical treat, not to be compared to the popular plum fruit. The flavor of a June plum resembles a pineapple and mango with the crunch of an apple. The fruits can be eaten unripe or ripe, which can either make the flavor mellow or tangy. June plums are a rare commodity that you probably won’t find at the grocery store. This fruit tree would be an excellent addition to the home garden if your climate permits.

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June plums thrive in the heat, but cannot tolerate frost. They are very popular in the South Pacific Islands where they originate. In the United States, they are extremely uncommon but can be found in Florida and California. They are more popular in Florida because of the hot and humid conditions, but there is still potential to grow in other areas of the United States. 

June plum trees offer more than just fresh fruit. The tropical fruit can also be used to make juice, jams, and sauces. They can be pickled and added to dishes for flavoring. The young leaves are also edible and commonly consumed in Southeast Asia either raw or steamed. Additionally, the leaves can be used to tenderize meat. 

Fortunately, June plum trees are also very easy to grow. They can be grown in the ground or a pot. They require full or partial sun, making them an ideal candidate for a patio fruit tree. They have very few problems in regards to pests and diseases. As long as June plum trees can be protected from frost, there’s no reason not to grow your own!

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Quick Care Guide

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June plum tree
The june plum tree or ambarella tree is a lovely tropical. Source: Cerlin Ng
Common Name(s) June Plum, Ambarella, Golden Apple, Tahitian Apple, Jewish Plum
Scientific Name Spondias dulcis
Days to Harvest Variable
Light Full to partial sun
Water Moderate
Soil All types well-draining
Fertilizer 2-4 applications per year with 10-10-10
Pests Minimal; Occasionally scales, thrips, mites, and fruit flies
Diseases Minimal; root rot, fruit rot

All About The June Plum Tree

Canopy of spondias dulcis
A look upwards at the canopy of a Spondias dulcis. Source: loupok

June plum (Spondias dulcis) has many different common names, but the most common are Ambarella, Golden Apple, Jewish Plum, and Tahitian Plum. This tree is native to the South Pacific Islands but has been dispersed into many different tropical regions. Spondias dulcis is in the family Anacardiaceae. Also included in this family are mangos, cashews, and pistachios.

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Spondias dulcis is a deciduous tree with elliptic, pinnate leaves with 9-25 leaflets. Trees can grow up to 40-60 feet tall, although most trees sold are dwarf varieties that only grow 6-8 feet tall. The flowers grow in large clusters of at least a dozen, and are small and white. The fruits are green when unripe and turn a golden yellow when ripe. The fruits are oval and around 2.4-3.5 inches long.

June plums are self-fertile, so there is no need to have multiple varieties for cross-pollination. Each fruit has one large fibrous seed in the middle, similar to a mango. 

Ambarella trees have a very unique life cycle because they could be quite variable. Trees do not have a specific bloom season. Flowers are triggered by dry periods followed by a rainy season. Depending on irrigation practices, this can be triggered at any time. It is not uncommon for trees to have flowers and maturing fruits at the same time. Trees may also drop their leaves during excessively dry periods or cold winter. Leaves and shoots eventually come back when conditions improve, usually with some new flower clusters.

Planting

Golden apple trees can be grown in a container or the ground. They do not tolerate frost, so they must be planted in a warm location or brought inside during the winter.

Spondias dulcis makes a great patio tree, because of the size of the dwarf variety and it also tolerates partial sun. When planting trees in containers, it’s common for trees to become root-bound. Monitor the roots and watch for circling. Trees need to be transplanted to a larger pot if root circling occurs.

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When planting in the ground, plant in a sunny location with well-draining soil. Do not plant trees in excessively windy locations. The best time to plant is when there is no danger of frost. To plant in the ground, dig a hole three times as wide and just as deep as the root ball. Plant firmly in the ground and cover the top layer of soil with 2-3 inches of mulch.

Care

Heavy ambarella branch
The weight of ambarella fruit can bend down the branch. Source: loupok

Ambarella trees are very versatile and easy to care for. They do require some inputs but have virtually no problems when properly cared for.

Sun and Temperature

June plum trees prefer full sun, but also grow well in partial sun. They need at least 4-6 hours of sunlight each day. Plants can be grown in USDA zones 4-11 if they are potted and brought inside during the frost. If planted in the ground, they can be grown in USDA zones 9-11.

Spondias dulcis grows best in humid tropical and subtropical climates. Trees are very sensitive to frost. A heavy frost will cause dieback of entire branches or potentially kill the tree. When freezing temperatures are in the forecast, bring potted trees inside or cover in-ground trees with frost fabric. Excessive heat above 100℉ can cause sunburn in immature trees. Cover immature trees with a light shade-cloth or protect the trunk with a sleeve.

Water and Humidity

Ambarella trees are fairly drought resistant when mature, but they grow more vigorously and produce more fruits when given adequate water. Young trees need to be watered more frequently until they are about 3 years old.

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Watering trees in containers can be done manually with a hose or with drip irrigation. The potting media should be fully saturated after each irrigation and allowed to dry until it is slightly moist before watering again. This can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks depending on the potting media and weather.

Newly in-ground planted trees should be watered one to two times per week for the first few months. Then once a week during dry periods. Check the soil moisture periodically. If the top two inches of soil is dry, then it’s time to water. Extra water is not necessary during rainy periods. The best method to irrigate trees in the ground is with drip irrigation or soaker hoses. This allows for the soil to soak in the water without causing too much runoff.

Soil

Ambarella trees grow well in all types of soils as long as they are well-draining. They will survive under poor nutrition, but grow more vigorously and produce more fruits when fed properly. Trees grow well in acidic to slightly alkaline soils with a pH of 5.5-7.5. They prefer more acidic soils.

Fertilizing

Apply 10-10-10 two to four times per year when the tree is actively growing especially during flower and fruit production.

Pruning

Immature trees need to be carefully monitored as they are known to fruit themselves to death. Flowers and fruit will need to be thinned on younger trees otherwise heavy fruits can cause new branches to split. Fruits also consume a lot of nutrients, so having a lot of fruits on a young tree will stunt its growth.

Dwarf trees tend to grow bushier and require pruning to maintain the desired height and shape of the tree. Standard trees need to be pruned to avoid any overlapping branches and to maintain the size and shape. Flowers do not require old growth to develop, so there is no concern about pruning off flowering branches.

During a heavy frost, branches may die back and will need to be pruned off in the spring to stimulate new growth. Fruits should drop off naturally, but any old, rotten fruits should be removed to avoid disease and fruit flies.

Propagation

Spondias dulcis can be propagated by seed, hardwood cuttings, air layering, or grafting.

Propagating by seed is easy, but fruit characteristics may be variable. Luckily trees are fast-growing and begin producing fruits at a young age. Some will even begin to produce after about a year. 

Hardwood cuttings and air-layering are the preferred methods of propagation because it is easy and the fruit characteristics will be the same. Trees can also be grafted on the same species rootstock or other Spondias rootstock. However, cuttings and air-layering are the preferred methods because the process is much easier.

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Harvesting and Storing

Ambarella fruit
Ambarella fruit has tropical flavor with the texture of a crisp apple. Source: Arthur Chapman

June plums can be picked when green or golden yellow making it a very easy fruit to harvest. Although the fresh fruits cannot be stored for long periods, there are other ways to preserve fruits to enjoy long term.

Harvesting

June plums are great to eat unripe and ripe, so harvesting depends on personal preference. Harvesting can begin as soon as the fruits reach a full size of about 2.4-3.5 inches long. The fruits can be picked green or golden yellow. When picked green, the flavor will be much more mellow. If allowed to ripen, the fruits will develop a tangy flavor.

Since the fruits grow in a cluster of at least a dozen, the entire cluster can be removed with pruners. For large trees, they can be shaken off the branches.

Storing

Green fruits should be stored at room temperature until ripe. Ripe fruits can be stored for several days in the refrigerator.

For long term storage, fruits can be made into jam. They can also be juiced or made into a sauce and kept in the freezer.

Troubleshooting

Big cluster of june plums
This tree is very productive, sometimes to its detriment. Source: loupok

Spondias dulcis presents very few issues in general. Below are some common issues and some tips to resolve them.  

Growing Problems

Ambarella trees are prolific producers – so much so they can fruit themselves to death when immature. Although it may be tempting to keep all the fruits on a small tree, it’s best to prune some off so that they can grow and mature.

Another common issue is weather-related. There is no controlling the weather, but there are ways to protect your tree to avoid damage or death. When temperatures are expected to be below freezing, protect in-ground trees with frost fabric. For containerized trees, bring them inside until conditions improve.

Pests

The Caribbean fruit fly is a small orange-brown fly that lays eggs inside the fruits making the fruits undesirable when the eggs hatch. Open wounds in the fruits can also lead to fruit rot. The best way to prevent fruit flies from laying eggs in the fruit is to bag the fruit on the tree for protection.

Scale insects are round flat insects that come in a variety of colors from green to red to brown. They are usually found on twigs and branches. Scales are mostly a concern because of their secretion of honeydew. Honeydew leads to the development of sooty mold, which can cover the leaves of the tree preventing it from photosynthesizing. It’s very common for scales to go unnoticed until the black sooty mold begins to cover the leaves. If the issue becomes extreme, growth can be affected. Natural enemies should keep populations under control, but oil sprays can be used to knockdown scale populations that get out of hand.

Thrips are small, yellow to orange insects that feed on new leaves and flowers. Their damage can cause scarring on the leaves and developing fruits. Chemical treatment on Ambarella trees is not typically needed. Spraying the leaves with water will help deter thrips.

Mites are small eight-legged arachnids that cause stippling damage on leaves. Plants are more susceptible to mite infestation when stressed. High levels of damage can cause leave drop and overall decline. Maintaining healthy plants is the best defense against mites. If treatment is necessary, oil sprays are effective.

Diseases

Root rot may occur if the tree is overwatered or if it is not planted in well-draining soil. Excessive water will drown the roots and allow for root diseases to easily infect the tree. Prevent root rot by planting in a good location and by using best irrigation practices.

Fruit rot is caused by fruit fly infestation creating an open wound that allows for pathogens to infect the fruit. Avoid fruit rot by preventing fruit fly infestations by bagging the fruit on the tree.

Frequently Asked Questions

Young june plums
Young june plums growing on the tree. Source: Cerlin Ng

Q: What does a June plum taste like?

A: A June plum tastes like a combination of mango and pineapple with the crunch of an apple. The tanginess can vary depending on ripeness.

Q: What is June plum good for?

A: June plums have a variety of uses. They can be eaten fresh. They are used to make juice, jams, and sauces. The leaves of the tree can be eaten like a vegetable or used to tenderize meat.


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