Lychee (Litchi chinensis) is an evergreen, ornamental fruit tree with glossy green leaves. Trees planted from seeds may not bear fruit for up to 25 years after planting, but the seeds sprout easily and you will have the slow-growing lychee beautifying your landscape for many years as it grows. The seeds germinate in shady spots, while the trees need full sun, so you will need to provide the planted seeds with shade until they sprout, or plan on moving the seedlings to a permanent location later. You will have plenty of time to decide on a location, as the trees grow rapidly to 8 inches tall, then stay that height for about two years. Lychee trees will grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 11.
1 Test the soil with a pH test kit before planting the lychee seeds. Lychee trees do best in an acidic soil with a pH around 5.5, but they will grow in soils with a pH as high as 7.5.
2 Mix equal parts sand and peat moss to add to the soil before planting the seeds. If you have a heavy clay soil, omit the sand and double the peat moss. If you have an acidic soil, use compost in place of the peat moss.
3 Dig 2 to 4 inches of the sand and peat moss mixture into the top 4 to 6 inches of soil.
4 Collect ripe fruit from a lychee tree to extract seeds. Ripe fruit is about 1 inch wide with a leathery red or pink skin and white edible pulp. Each fruit contains one brown seed in the center. Pull or cut the outer covering of fruit from the seeds, and rinse the seeds in water to remove any remaining covering. Do not dry the seeds. Seeds need to be planted immediately after collection as they do not remain viable for very long and cannot be refrigerated.
5 Plant seeds about 1/2 inch deep in the prepared soil. Space the seeds about 2 feet apart if you will be moving the seedlings at a later date. Seeds planted in their permanent locations need to be spaced about 24 feet apart.
6 Water the seeds at the time of planting. Give the seeds at least 1 inch of water per week to maintain the soil moisture. Do not allow the soil to dry out. Since the seeds should be shaded until the seedlings emerge, the shade will help maintain the soil moisture.
7 Protect young seedlings from wind by planting them near a windbreak such as a building or fence, or setting stakes near the plants and stretching a shade cloth across the stakes. You can also shield small plants on windy days by placing a clear plastic bucket upside down over the top of the seedling until the wind stops. Weight the bucket with a rock or brick placed on top to prevent the wind from knocking it over. Wind can damage new growth.
Items you will need
- Soil pH test kit
- Peat moss
- Cal Poly Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute: Lychee
- University of Hawaii at Manoa: Lychee
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: Lychee Growing in the Florida Home Landscape
- Purdue University Center for New Crops & Plant Products: Lychee
- California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.: Lychee
- Trade Winds Fruit: Seed Germination Tips
- HortScience: Characteristics of Litchi Seed Germination
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images