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Growing guava of a different color

February 14, 2012 |  8:28 am


When Gina Thomas was looking for some guava to plant, she didn’t want the typical pineapple guava. So she asked David Silber at Papaya Tree Nursery in Granada Hills for advice. Silber was her tree guru and offered her varieties with different-colored flesh, taste and size -- guavas from Hawaii, Malayasia, India.

Guava3“I told him I wanted one of each,” says Thomas, right, recalling that exchange more than 20 years ago. “In India they grow them like apples.”

One of her favorites is from Malaysia, with pastel pink flesh and soft crunchy seeds. She likes it enough to propagate it, employing a layering method: She bends down a low-hanging branch so it sits below the soil surface. The partially submerged section is held in place with bricks and a stake until it sends out roots. After a few years, once it’s established, the connection to the mother plant is cut, and the new tree can be transplanted.

Guavas originated in Central America. The sweet flesh of the pear-shaped fruit is grown in the tropics and used in jams, drinks, baby food, chutney and desserts.

Rishi Kumar at the Growing Home and Learning Center community-supported agriculture project in Diamond Bar has a green-skinned, white-flesh Indian variety.

“We had a lot of trouble with it not getting a lot of fruit, but since we've started to do a lot of [soil] amending, we got maybe 200 pounds last year from one tree,” he says.

Not all guavas sold at nurseries are the same. The popular pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana) is different from the tropical guavas (Psidium guajava) that Thomas grows. The latter taste better, have fewer seeds and are self-propagating. Usually pineapple guavas need a mate to produce fruit.

David Silber's son, Alex, now runs Papaya Tree Nursery, and he carries a type of self-propagating pineapple guava, the Nazemetz. “But they’re not true guavas,” Alex says.

GuaveHe carries more of the tropical guavas: Vietnamese, Purple Malaysian, Ruby Supreme and Turnbull White. The last can produce fruit weighing more than a pound. It’s not just bigger. It has a higher liquid content, so it’s also juicier.

“It’s also very precocious,” he says. “It can be 4 feet tall with fruit on it. It fruits at a very young age.”

Guavas do well in Southern California, even during cold winters. They can take temperatures down to 20 degrees. They won’t like it and will look bad, but they will survive. Look upon it as an opportunity to prune, Alex Silber says cheerfully. (Check out the Papaya Tree Nursery video on “How to Prune a Guava Tree, Parts 1 & 2”.)

One rare guava that Alex Silber has been growing is an Indonesian seedless variety, discovered in 1905 and brought to the U.S. 50 years later by tropical fruit legend Bill Whitman, a friend of David Silber. “My dad actually got the bud wood, the scion, from the original tree,” Alex says.

-- Jeff Spurrier


Corrected: An earlier version of this post implied that David Silber was deceased. He is alive and, we hope, accepting our apologies!

The Global Garden, a look at our multicultural city through what it plants, appears on Tuesdays. For an easy way to follow future installments, join our Facebook page for gardening in the West.


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Photos: Ann Summa