Southern California plant nursery selling cherimoya plants in pots.

By Richard Flowers, ACCNP-Green Thumb Nursery-Ventura

I remember the first time I saw this exotic being, it was between October and May when they were ripe. The olive green, egg shaped organism had overlapping scales or dimples covering its skin that looked like it had finger print indentations on it. I even noticed some selections were kind of heart shaped with spike-like projections and ripen as late as mid to late June. The fruit weighed about 3 pounds. When I took my knife and sliced it open, the white interior was revealed. I took a spoon and scooped out the custard filling with numerous black seeds and put it into my mouth. It’s no wonder that sometimes people call it Custard Apple but it’s not really what the real name is. I swirled it throughout my mouth sifting out the seeds and discarding them into my hand. I took another scoop then another. As I devoured it and discovered how delicious the fruit really is, I was hooked. The taste was sweet, with a little hint of tartness, and delicate like candy but not over powering. The taste made me forget about the annoying seeds the fruit has but the reward was an epicurean delight. To me the mild flavor is a combination between banana, pineapple, custard, and very fragrant. This wonderful and tasty fruit sometimes found at the grocery store is outrageously expensive. How about if you can grow one of these unique fruits for yourself. Read along and I will provide you with some timely tips about this wonderful fruit they call the Cherimoya that you can grow in your own garden.

Botanically, the Cherimoya is called Annona cherimola and the common name is Annona or Cherimoya, I will use the latter in this text. The Cherimoya is native to the Andes in Central America and is a subtropical plant that can do well in many areas of Southern California, however they grow best in the coastal and foothill areas of the region, at 3 to 20 miles from the ocean. They prefer lots of sun and a very well drained soil.

Cherimoyas are not at their best when they experience excessive dry, inland heat and is not for the desert, however there is evidence that the Cherimoya is very adaptable to growing successfully in very hot and dry interior valleys. They prefer a summer temperature of 65-80F, and a winter temperature of 41-65F, however they can also survive temperatures as low as 25F and will take light to moderate frost but young trees are susceptible to such cold. In colder areas, plant next to a south facing wall to collect heat and encourage early bud break and fruit ripening during the winter.

Another technique to protect against frost is to wrap the trunk and branches with sponge foam. (In inland locations provide protection from extreme hot temperatures and dry winds.) In hotter areas and drought stressed trees they tend to defoliate but come back when the weather and water is restored. So they do not get sunburn, use tree trunk paint and
apply on the lower branches and trunk if defoliated from heat.

Cherimoyas are a fairly dense, fast-growing, semi-evergreen tree that goes briefly deciduous (loses its leaves) in California from February through April, but soon the leaves are replaced a month afterwords. During this period, it is best to water infrequently. Otherwise when the plant is putting out new growth it is best to water regularly and avoid getting the trunk wet. To reduce the incidence of fruit cracking it is wise to water consistently. They can reach a height of 30 feet or more, but is fairly easy to manage it to 12 feet by pruning. Don’t be afraid to prune heavily as this encourages
more flower set hence more likely to get fruit. The best time to prune

Cherimoyas is in April. Be sure to use tree trunk paint on exposed branches after pruning especially in hot, dry locations. When fertilizing, do so on a regular basis with a balanced fertilizer in mid-winter then every three months thereafter. It should be noted that yellow leaves does not always mean it needs a fertilizer, it may mean the soil is too dry or the weather
is too cold.

Cherimoyas begin to start bearing fruit as early as 2 to 5 years old and increases as the trees reach 10 years old. The time to harvest the fruit is when the fruits are fully grown and just beginning to show a slight hint of yellowish green and perhaps a bronze cast.

When harvesting, never pull the fruit from the branch it is attached too, doing so will damage the fruit, instead clip it off the branch. Cherimoyas are harvested when they are hard and ripen over time. To be able to have successful fruit formation it is important to hand pollinate the flowers because the natural pollinators where they are native to are not present in California. Cherimoyas flower from May to October. When hand pollinating, start around mid-June in hot, dry locations or when the male flowers are open and not begun to show signs of drying or discoloration.

You will need a 1/8 inch wide moistened paint brush and a black plastic container with a lid. In the evening, between 4 and 7 pm, insert the paint brush into the male portion of the flower tapping off the pollen into the black plastic container. (The pollen will look like powder. ) Next go to a female flower within the same hour, dab the paint brush into the container to get some pollen. Close the lid on the container so you don’t spill the pollen. Now insert the pollen into the female flower (Stigma). The female flower will be ready for pollen when it just begins to open at the tips. Then mark the flower you pollinated with yarn or break the flower petal so you know that you did that flower already. Repeat the same process with the next flower. You usually have a time frame between June and August to hand pollinate. Please be aware, not every time the male and female flowers are ready together. You need to check often. By hand pollinating you also have the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful aroma of the fragrant flowers. In coastal areas where it is more humid it is not as crucial to hand pollinate but still may be necessary.

Here are some delicious ways to enjoy the Cherimoya:
• Use to make ice cream or sorbet.
• Combine with other fruits for a tropical fruit salad.
• Mash and stir into your favorite muffin or pancake batter.
• Dice and combine with red onion and jalapeño for a sweet-spicy salsa.
• Blend into a morning smoothie.
• Purée and create your own fruity sauce or salad dressing.
• Blend with other fruits for a chilled dessert soup.

The incredible Cherimoya is very beneficial in many regards:
• A single, medium-sized Cherimoya fruit contains about 35% of the daily
recommended intake of Vitamin C.
• This fruit reduces bad cholesterol (LDL) and increases good cholesterol (HDL) levels in the blood.
• Cherimoyas contain Vitamin B6 which aides the proper functioning of our
metabolism and immune system.
• One medium Cherimoya provides a whopping 5 grams of dietary fiber.
• The Cherimoya’s leaves, stems, flesh, juice, and peel is known to have antioxidant and anticancer properties by acting against cancer cells, without adversely affecting healthy cells.
• Regular consumption of Cherimoya can help to delay the signs of aging like fine lines, blemishes and wrinkles.
• This highly nutritious fruit contains hair-friendly nutrients like magnesium, zinc, and iron which promote hair growth.

Come on over to your favorite Green Thumb Nursery and select any of the wide variety of fruits we carry. All products are subject to availability so please call ahead.

Do you like what you see? Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get content like this every week!