The dense, rounded canopy of Loquat is decorated in USDA hardiness zones 8b through 11 in late winter and spring with clusters of apricot yellow, pear-shaped, edible furry fruits. Fruit rarely sets further north. Loquat is a rapidly-growing evergreen tree and can reach 25 to 30 feet in height in the shade but is frequently seen 15 feet tall with a 15 to 25 foot spread in a sunny location. The 10 to 12-inch-long variegated leaves are rusty-colored beneath and have a coarse texture. Fragrant clusters of creamy white flowers are produced in fall, followed by the delicious, brightly colored, winter fruit.
Scientific name: Eriobotrya japonica
Pronunciation: air-ee-oh-BOT-ree-uh juh-PAWN-ih-kuh
Common name(s): 'Variegata' Loquat
USDA hardiness zones: 8A through 11 (Figure 2)
Origin: not native to North America
Invasive potential: According to the IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas (IFAS Invasive Plant Working Group 2008), Eriobotrya japonica 'Variegata' should be treated with caution in the central and south zone in Florida, may be recommended but managed to prevent escape. It is not considered a problem species and may be recommended in the north zone in Florida (counties listed by zone at: http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/assessment/pdfs/assess_counties.pdf)
Uses: hedge; trained as a standard; urban tolerant; street without sidewalk; deck or patio; screen; fruit; specimen; espalier; container or planter; highway median
Availability: not native to North America
Height: 20 to 30 feet
Spread: 30 to 35 feet
Crown uniformity: symmetrical
Crown shape: round
Crown density: dense
Growth rate: moderate
Leaf arrangement: alternate (Figure 3)
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: pectinate, serrate
Leaf shape: oblong, elliptic (oval)
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: broadleaf evergreen, evergreen
Leaf blade length: 8 to 12 inches
Leaf color: variegated
Fall color: no color change
Fall characteristic: not showy
Flower color: white/cream/gray
Flower characteristics: showy
Fruit shape: round, oval
Fruit length: 1 to 3 inches
Fruit covering: fleshy
Fruit color: yellow, orange
Fruit characteristics: attracts birds; showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem
Trunk and Branches
Trunk/bark/branches: branches droop; not showy; typically one trunk; thorns
Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure
Current year twig color: gray
Current year twig thickness: thick
Wood specific gravity: unknown
Light requirement: full sun, partial sun or partial shade
Soil tolerances: sand; loam; clay; acidic; alkaline; well-drained
Drought tolerance: moderate
Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate
Roots: not a problem
Winter interest: yes
Outstanding tree: no
Ozone sensitivity: unknown
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown
Pest resistance: sensitive to pests/diseases
Use and Management
Its neat habit and compact growth make Loquat an ideal specimen or patio shade tree, and it can be used as a residential street tree or median strip tree in areas where overhead space is limited. But an adequate clear trunk needs to be developed early in the life of the tree to provide for vehicle clearance. Branches will have to be pruned to grow up, as they tend to droop with time under the weight of the developing branch. It is not suited for planting next to the street if trucks pass close to the tree since adequate clearance is not possible but is successful in wide median strips. It also blends well into informal shrubbery borders and the fruit is attractive to wildlife. It espaliers well against a sunny wall, and makes a good screen due to its dense canopy. Sprouts along the trunk can be a maintenance nuisance.
Providing best fruit and form when grown in full sun, Loquat can tolerate partial shade and a variety of well-drained soils. It grows well on soils with a high pH and maintains the characteristic dark green foliage. Clay soil is acceptable as long as there is sufficient slope to allow surface water to run away from the root system. It often looks best in the southern portion of its range when given some shade in the afternoon in the southern portion of its range, especially if it is not irrigated. Loquat should be well-watered until established, but can then survive periodic droughts. Do not overfertilize since this could increase sensitivity to fire blight disease. Loquat may live only 20 to 30-years so it should not be considered a permanent fixture in the landscape. It performs well along the coast with some protection from salty air. Not for New Orleans area due to wet soils.
Although Loquat can easily be grown from seed, many cultivars are available for consistent fruit quality. `Champagne' (March-May), best for USDA hardiness zone 9, has yellow-skinned, white-fleshed, juicy, tart fruit, one of the better fruits. `Gold Nugget' (May-June), best near coast, has larger, sweeter fruit with orange skin and flesh. `MacBeth' (April-May) has exceptionally large fruit with yellow skin and creamy flesh. `Thales' is a late yellow-fleshed variety. `Coppertone', a hybrid, has dense growth with copper-colored new foliage and pale pink flowers.
Propagation is by cuttings, or grafting of cultivars.
Scales and caterpillars are occasional problems.
To reduce fireblight problems, provide good air circulation and keep away from other fireblight hosts, such as Pyracantha, pears, etc. If leaves and stems blacken from the top downward, prune back one-foot or more into healthy wood. Sterilize shears with a mixture of one part bleach to nine parts water between cuts.
Root rot occurs on wet soils. Locate the tree in a well-drained soil.
Fox, A.M., D.R. Gordon, J.A. Dusky, L. Tyson, and R.K. Stocker. 2008. IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas: Status Assessment. Cited from the Internet (November 16, 2012), http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/assessment/pdfs/status_assessment.pdf