Growing Lychee from Seed (Litchi/Lichi) – a Full Guide

Introduction to growing Lychee from seed

Litchi is also called as Lychee or lichi. It is an evergreen tree of the soapberry family (Sapindaceae), grown for its edible fruit. The Litchi fruit is eaten fresh but can also be canned or dried. Growing Litchi indoors isn’t easy and takes a lot of special care, warmth, and sunlight. The tree produces sprays of small, greenish-yellow flowers followed by clusters of round and bumpy red or pink fruits, each 1 1/2 inches in diameter.

A step by step guide to growing Lychee from seed

Litchi fruit is a delicious juicy fruit of excellent quality. Botanically it belongs to the Sapindaceae family. Litchi is famous for its attractive red color, excellent quality characteristics, and pleasant flavor.

Soil required for growing Lychee fruit from seed

Litchi plant is a sub-tropical fruit and thrives best under moist subtropical climate. It prefers low elevation and can be grown up to an altitude of 800 m. Deep, well-drained loamy soil, rich in organic matter and having pH level in the range of 5.0 to 7.0 is ideal for the crop. Litchi plants cannot tolerate frost during winter and dry heat in summer. Prolonged rain can be harmful especially at the time of flowering when it interferes with pollination.

Lots of sunlight required for growing Lychee trees

Your Litchi tree will grow the best in full sun on all sides of the tree. If you are going to put Litchi in an area with sunlight on only one side you should turn the tree as often as possible. Litchi trees in containers grow well outside where they can get full sun around the entire tree.

A beautiful specimen tree with its shiny leaves and attractive fruit, Litchi plant thrives in deep, fertile, well-draining soil. They prefer acidic soil of pH 5.0-7.0. When growing Litchi trees, be sure to plant them in a protected area. Their dense canopy can be caught up by the wind, causing the trees to topple over and the tree can reach 30-40 feet in height.

Different varieties of Lychee

Recommended cultivars for fruit production include;

  • Brewser
  • Mauritius
  • Sweet Cliff
  • Kate Sessions
  • Kwai Mi Origin

Right conditions to help Lychee fruit growing well from seed

When ready, transfer your small Litchi tree to a larger container and provide all the right conditions to help it grow;

Lots of water – Litchi plant needs plenty of water to thrive. Don’t lapse on watering your Litchi tree either. There is no winter dormant period for Litchi, so keep watering it regularly year-round. Litchi plant also likes humid air, so spritz the leaves often.

Ample sunlight – Make sure your Litchi tree has a spot where it can get as much sunlight as possible. Rotate your container grown Litchi to make sure it gets even light too.

Acidic soil – For the best results, your Litchi tree needs acidic soil. A pH level of between 5.0 and 7.0 if best. The soil should also drain well.

Occasional fertilizer – Your Litchi tree will also benefit from occasional light fertilizing. Use a weak liquid fertilizer.

WarmthPotted Litchi trees need to be kept warm. If you have a greenhouse and that is the best place for it in the colder months. If not, be sure you have a warm spot for it in the house.

Lychee is not the most ideal plant for an indoor container, and you can find that your tree never develops fruit. For fruiting to occur, it helps to allow the Litchi plant to spend spring and summer outdoors where proper pollination can take place. Just be sure to move the plant back inside before the return of cool temperatures.

Lychee tree care

As mentioned, Litchi trees need to be protected from wind and proper pruning will also mitigate wind damage. Give the Litchi tree regular watering and fertilize twice a year with an organic fertilizer. Other than minor maintenance, Litchi tree care is fairly minimal and it will reward you with years of beauty and succulent fruit.

Sowing and germination of Lychee seeds

Normally, Litchi seeds germinate reliably when kept under suitably warm, moist conditions. Fill a 6-inch pot with drainage holes with clean, unused potting soil and then add water until the soil is evenly moist and the excess water has drained out through the drainage holes. Sow the Litchi seed in the center of the soil at a depth of about 1 inch. Maintain a temperature of between 23 and 32°C and keep the top inch of soil moderately moist. Most fresh Litchi seeds will germinate in one to four weeks, but some can take up to 6 weeks. Once the glossy, reddish-bronze plant leaves emerge, move the pot to a sheltered, lightly shaded location.

The growing process of Lychee from seed

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The growing process of Lychee from seed.
The growing process of Lychee from seed.

Step 1) Collecting seed – Only fresh seeds taken from fully ripened Litchi fruit will germinate. Look for Litchi fruit with a solid red, pebbly skin and strong fragrance. Peel the Litchi fruit and eat or discard the juicy, translucent flesh inside. Each Litchi fruit contains at least one seed, which is generally round and dark brown with a diameter of roughly 3/4 inch. Litchi seeds remain viable for only 4 to 5 days and should be sown as soon as possible after extraction to increase the likelihood of successful germination.

Step 2) Litchi seeds must be planted within 4 to 5 days to increase the chance of germination. Refrigeration or any delay in planting severely reduces the viability of the seed. Litchi trees grown from seed don’t grow true to the parent tree and take about 10 to 25 years or more to produce fruits. Eat Litchi fruits, and save all their plump seeds and at least 1/2 inch long. Rinse all pulp from those seeds.

Step 3) Dampen sand with water and fill a 5-inch diameter pot, which has drainage holes, with the damp sand. Plant the Litchi seeds 1 inch deep in the sand, covering them with sand. Then, enclose the pot in a 1-gallon, clear, plastic bag. Zip the bag shut, or fasten it shut with a tie, such as a twist-tie. Set the pot in a warm, shady location and sprouts should appear above the sand in about 2 weeks.

Step 4) Remove the bag from the pot, and place the pot where the Litchi seedlings will receive bright light but no direct sunlight. Transplant the Litchi seedlings when each has four leaves, moving each seedling to its seedling pot filled with African violet potting soil. Plant each Litchi seedling at the same soil depth at which it grew in its previous pot.

Step 5) Water the Litchi seedlings with rainwater, if possible. Tap water tends to be hard and cause a buildup of alkaline salts in the soil. Maintain the soil evenly damp, but never soggy, at all times. Leach the Litchi seedlings pots once each month, if you use tap water, by pouring tap water through the soil until it runs freely out the drainage holes, carrying excess salts with it.

Step 6) Expose the Litchi seedlings gradually to more sunlight after they are 1 month old. After they adapt to the increased light and give them a permanent position in a south-facing window where they will receive sunlight for most of each day. Move each seedling into its own larger pot with drainage holes when plant roots begin to emerge from its seedling pot’s drainage holes.

Step 7) Feed the lychee trees every 2 weeks in spring and summer with a water-soluble plant fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants. Use the fertilizer at one-half strength, 1/2 teaspoon of the crystals per 1 gallon of water, when the trees are young. Increase that amount to 1 teaspoon per 1 gallon of water when the Litchi trees reach fruiting age, but refrain from fertilizing them during fall and winter.

Step 8) Give the Litchi trees at least 100 to 200 hours of chilling temperatures but below 7°C the winter before you want them to bloom. Expect them to blossom in early spring and fruit in late spring to the early summer season. The Litchi trees, however, probably won’t flower and produce fruits until they are at least 5 years old.

Step 9) Watch for germination in 1 to 4 weeks. Leave the propagation mat and plastic dome in place, but turn down the heat on the mat to 21°C and lift the dome every day to acclimate the seedlings to normal conditions. Move the Litchi seedlings into a ventilated, partly shaded cold frame once they reach 4 inches in height and have several sets of leaves. Water Litchi tree weekly to a 2-inch depth.

Step 10) Transplant the Litchi seedlings into a permanent bed with full sun exposure and loamy, fast-draining soil. Spread a 3-inch-thick layer of mulch around each Litchi tree and shield them from midday sun for their first summer.

Water and Fertilizer requirement for growing Lychee trees from seed

Litchi plants prefer ample and regular water throughout the year. Litchi does not have a natural winter resting period, so it will not benefit from a suspension of watering.

We don’t recommend fertilizing your container Litchi tree very often or your tree will quickly outgrow its container. Low concentration, organic fertilizers such as kelp and fish emulsion are best. When you do fertilize make sure you spray minor elements on the plant leaves. Spray liquid phosphorous fertilizer on the leaves when you transplant your Litchi tree into a new container and annually in September or October to promote flowering and fruiting of the Litchi tree. As you probably know, the pollinated flowers become the Litchi fruit.

Pruning procedure of the Lychee tree

Pruning and thinning of the Litchi tree is necessary for a strong structure and to prevent wind damage. Young trees must be pruned to maintain a round shape, cutting trees back approximately 4 inches annually. Thinning Litchi trees to create an open center provides better sunlight exposure and air circulation while protecting against wind damage. Once Litchi trees are mature after they’re about 4 years old, the yearly clipping of fruit from branches provides sufficient pruning.

Pests and diseases of Lychee plants

Keep a lookout for mealy bugs, aphids, and mites. Signs of infestation include tiny webs on plants, clumps of white “powdery” residue, or visible insects on the Litchi plant. A product like Pyrethrum is made to control aphids and pests that flock to Litchi fruit trees. Spray it on the Litchi per the product directions and it should kill the pests on contact. Treat infestations as soon as possible to prevent them from spreading to the rest of the collection. Diseases of the Litchi tree include anthracnose, root rot, and red algae. Most are the result of improper watering (either too much or too little), and excessive use of fertilizer.

Lychee fruit harvesting procedure

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Lychee fruitS.

Lychee fruitS.Change in Litchi fruit color, from green to pink along with the smoothness of skin is an indication of fruit maturity. Fruits are harvested in the bunch. While fruit harvesting, take a little portion of leaves and branches. It possesses a poor shelf life. For local markets, do harvesting at the ripening stage while for distant markets, harvesting is to be done when they start to turn pink color.

Commonly asked questions about growing Lychee from seed

Questions about growing Lychee.
Questions about growing Lychee.
How long does it take for a Lychee tree to bear fruit?

Litchi seeds must be planted within 4 to 5 days to increase the chance of germination. Refrigeration or any delay in planting severely reduces the viability of the Litchi seed. Lychee trees grown from seed don’t grow true to the parent tree and take about 10 to 25 years or more to produce fruits.

How often do you water a Lychee tree?

Litchi should not be in standing water, as it will stunt their growth. Newly planted Litchi trees should be watered 2 to 3 times a week during the first weeks of planting but can be reduced once the tree is established. Prune mature Litchi trees to help control the size and shape.

Are Lychee trees self-pollinating?

Litchi is self-pollinating, producing both male and female flowers on the same panicle, so only one tree is needed to get fruit. To become productive trees, however, they need a week of cool night temperatures below 20°C before flowering.

Are the Lychee leaves turning brown only at their tips? 

Foliage that turns brown color only at its tips can indicate a watering problem, either too much water or too little. Tip burn can also indicate over-fertilizing and nutrient deficiency.

Do Lychee trees lose their leaves?

Drought stress can cause dried out leaves and defoliation of Litchi trees. Lychee growers recommend growing Litchi in a full sun site with protection from wind. Though they will need deep watering during periods of drought, they are otherwise infrequently watered to allow them to grow their own deep, vigorous roots.

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