SCIENTIFIC NAME: Litchi chinensis
FAMILY: Sapindaceae

My trees were planted in December, 1979 in the middle of the wet season. They were both marcots and haven't looked back since. Tai So is the variety, but people have said they are slightly different to Tai So because the tree structure is different.

As a backyarder, I have had time to study the various flowering habits of my trees. If I only knew what I know now, I would have had more fruit years ago. I am writing this article to help other people fruit their trees. I've told many people in Mackay about my techniques - they've tried them with overwhelming successes. It really works.

In the first three years, I mulched my trees well and put fowl manure and filter press around the drip line. They set fruit in year 3.

I starved them for water from March onwards in Year 4, this gave me a much better flower and fruit set. But most of the fruit fell off because I didn't water the trees enough. Talk about learning by your mistakes.

Year 5 only gave me a shy crop on both trees because they flushed just before flowering.

I decided to lash out and cincture half the branches of both trees about 300mm to 400mm above the main trunk in year 6. This worked on the cinctured side with good flower and fruit set, but a hail storm knocked half the crop off that year.

I liked to try something different each year, so after picking the fruit from year 6, I decided to change my fertilizer from fowl manure to three litres of Macado per tree after I picked my fruit. This gave me one quick flush instead of the trees flushing over a long period of time.

Year 7 was a much better year - I had started to learn. For instance, I cinctured half both trees on the new moon of April not in March like year 6. The cuts were panel saw thickness. I only cut half-way round the branches on the opposite side of the tree to year 6.

I painted the cinctures with a mixture of copper oxychloride and water-base paint. The flowers were excellent on my south tree and patchy on the north one which flushed earlier. The cinctured branches had retarded growth but they also had the majority of flowers. The fruit was great that year.

Year 8 was the year of the mite for me. My north tree became a victim in mid-May. Spraying at nine-day intervals kept it in check, but I would rather not spray. I decided to prune the centre out of my north tree, as well as cutting off flushes with mite infestation on the outside canopy. To my amazement, where I cut the flushes off the canopy, these burst into flower when the tree flowered. I used the same fertiliser time as the previous year and cinctured the opposite side of the tree.

When the flowers are about 50mm long, I found you got a much better flower head if you water the trees heavily at this stage. I mean drown them every three days if it's dry. Stop watering when the fruit show the first sign of colour, this will stop them from splitting and sweeten them up too. This was a very good year for fruit.

Year 9, I decided to rest my trees, only one litre of Macado plus one bag of pigeon manure per tree. I pruned my trees heavily after the year 8 crop. This got rid of the mite and opened the trees up. I used the two methods, that is if there are three branches at a fork, cut the worst one out. This will make the tree look even all over.

I lowered the height of the north tree to 3.5 metres, otherwise the fruit is too hard to pick. Lychees love being cut back. I still didn't water after March nor did I cincture them. The trees flushed well in April and the beginning of June. I then decided to cut the flushes off at their base. This made both trees flower heavily all over. They even flowered a couple of leaves down on each panicle. Now I was getting somewhere! The only trouble was that some of the male flowers finished by the time the female flowers came out. I didn't get the fruit set I thought I would, but it was still O.K.

This year (year 10), I haven't fertilized the trees, only mulched them. Instead of cutting the water out in March, it rained in Mackay from January to end of June, the ground was wet all the time; this has stressed the trees on the other end of the scale, as they only flushed once in April. I have discovered that I can cincture half my trees between new moon April and Anzac day. This still gives the cut time to heal before the tree flowers. You shouldn't cincture if the tree is flushing, this time lap helps that.

Photo of cinctured branches

I have also streamlined my cincturing to a spiral so that the two ends of the spiral pass each other by 25mm and they are 50mm apart: only cut to the hard wood and no deeper. The half-cut around I used to do didn't stop the sap flow enough.

The trees have a massive flower set this year. I did cut some flushes off one month before the trees flower. These have bunches of flower spikes on them. I even cut the trees back so the postman could put the mail in the box. These have no leaves on them but they are covered in flowers. The interesting thing is, the cinctured side of both trees have flower spikes which are approximately 140mm in length behind the length of the normal flowers on the other side of the tree. The flowers which have formed after the flushes were cut off are the same length as the cinctured ones. You know what this means - a cross pollination between male and female flowers.

The mite is a problem, so in March, I poured 10 litres of Rogor-100 mixed at 15ml to 5 litres water around the drip line of each tree. This kept the mite in check, but it's still there. I sprayed my flower spikes with Rogor 100 same mix, when they were approximately 75mm long, again in nine days and again in nine days standing on trestles. The spikes haven't burst yet but they are big with no mite on them. I gave the trees a spray of foliage fertiliser to give the flowers a boost. I'll give them another before they open, then again at fruit set. This is a natural fertiliser, readily available to plants.

How I cincture the lychee trees

Next year, I don't think I'll cincture, I'll just cut the flushes off a month before my trees flower. If you cut a flower spike off by mistake, the branch will still flower below the cut. I think this is quite a trick as it even overlaps the flower pollination. I've told people about this and they've tried it, even on poor-bearing trees, it works. So now it doesn't matter whether you over-fertilise and get too much flush, or undue rain makes the tree flush, you can still fruit the tree by cutting the flushes off a month before your tree is due to flower. Don't forget to write down a list of the flowering times for each different variety of lychee tree you have. A diary should be kept on each tree, as this pays dividends in the end.

Tony Buckeridge

DATE: January 1990

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