South African summers are incomplete without litchis. Whether sitting on the patio or by the pool, we all have fond memories of removing the tough, deceiving skin to reveal the soft, juicy fruit underneath. Not many gardeners consider growing these fruits in their own backyard, but many regions are lucky enough to have the perfect litchi-growing conditions. Besides the fruit, Litchi chinensis also makes a wonderful ornamental tree with long glossy green leaves. Native to China, the litchi grows in warm, humid climates. Summer-rainfall regions are best for this tropical plant, which requires consistently moist soil and hot weather to produce fruits. The Eastern coastal areas of South Africa are ideal, with summer temperatures over 25°C and relative humidity over 50%.
If you’re looking for the classic litchi loved by South Africans, you can’t go wrong planting Litchi chinensis ‘Mauritius’. A large majority of litchi production across the country involves this cultivar, proving that it handles the climate well. It is also one of the most popular cultivars worldwide due to its tasty fruits and high yield. ‘McLean’s Red’ is another popular option and accounts for a large part of the remainder of litchi production in South Africa. Depending on the variety, litchi trees can grow incredibly large, some spanning a massive 12m wide. One tree should be enough for most home gardens, but if you’re an avid litchi fan, plant your trees several metres apart (around 8 – 9) and keep them pruned. When it comes to litchi care, the most important factor to consider is water. The rainy season provides most of the water these plants need, but you will need to supplement this during the remainder of the year. They prefer being planted in a full-sun position in slightly acidic soil with a pH of around 5.5. Keep an eye out for the litchi moth or the Natal fruit fly, which can quickly ruin a harvest. Litchi trees should begin to produce fruits after around 5 years. The cold winter weather should trigger the flowers to bloom in spring. These flowers are pollinated by our favourite garden friends – bees – but can also be helped along by hand pollination if production is slow. Alternatively, add two or three hives to your garden to ensure an abundance of bees (they’ll help the rest of your garden too). After flowering, the fruits should be ready to harvest in 3 – 4 months. You’ll know your litchis are ready to pick when they turn a pinkish-red colour. For optimal sweetness, test one or two (or three – they really are irresistible) from a bunch and, if they’re ready, cut the whole bunch off the tree.
Fruit salad popsicles
Looking for the most Instagrammable summer dessert out there? Try fruit-salad popsicles. Each one can be customised to the individual tastes of picky kids (or picky adults), including all your favourite fruits. Simply slice each fruit into thin pieces and layer in a popsicle mould, pushing the fruits outwards to the edge of the mould so they are visible. To fill the mould, pour in a fruit juice like litchi, apple, or even lemonade, and place in the freezer until set.
Making litchi juice
There are only so many litchis one person can eat in a day. After you have given some of our harvest to your neighbours and your neighbour’s neighbours, there’s only one thing left to do – make litchi juice. As litchis are a fleshy fruit, you’ll need to mix in plenty of water for the right consistency. Peel and deseed around 5 litchis per cup of juice. Add the litchis and the same amount of water to a blender and squeeze in the juice of 1⁄2 a lemon to ramp up the flavour. Store your juice in the fridge or use it immediately to make the perfect summer popsicles.