Top 5 Exotic Fruit Trees To Grow In San Diego

dragon fruit on cactus

Homeowners with enough space for fruit trees can think beyond apple, orange, lemon and lime. A number of exotic fruit trees grow well in San Diego but since they aren’t native to our region, they do require a bit more care.

Luckily, exotic fruit trees can be sourced locally from the nurseries listed below. Before purchasing a tree, do ask them for growing instructions specific to your home. But, if you’re considering one of these unique trees, here are some general growing guidelines.

1. Dragon Fruit (Hylocereus undatus or Hylocereus costaricensis)

Pitaya dragon fruit

Health food fanatics have probably seen marketing on overdrive lately to promote Pitaya as the ultimate superfood. Pitaya is another name for dragon fruit which was first discovered in Central America, but is extremely popular in Asia. The consistency is similar to kiwi, except the small, edible seeds are scattered throughout the flesh.

The type of dragon fruit found in Asia has a white center (Hylocereus undatus) while the Central American version is magenta inside (Hylocereus costaricensis) with a slightly richer strawberry-like flavor. The latter dragon fruit contains considerably more nutrients, which is why Pitaya bowls across San Diego and beyond are tinted dark pink. However, more than 100 varieties of dragon fruit grow in California alone.

Dragon Fruit Growing Tips —

Dragon fruit actually grows on a large cactus-like trees. Because the stems can reach up to 20 feet in length, dragon fruit needs to be staked. The plant will thrive in full sun near the coast but will require some shade inland to prevent burning. Because dragon fruit is a low water plant, it’s perfect for xeriscaping. Some San Diego farmers are replacing expensive water-guzzling citrus and avocado crops with dragon fruit as a more profitable alternative.

2. Loquats (Eriobotrya japonica)

loquat tree

The loquat is an ornamental flowering shrub that’s native to southern China (though cultivated mostly in Japan) and can grow up to 30′ high though the average height is usually around 10′. The 1-2″ oval fruit grows in clusters and has a tangy-flavored skin typically yellow or orange in color. The flesh inside is sweet and surrounds three or so large seeds. Some liken the taste to a cross between a guava fruit and a passion fruit.

Loquat Growing Tips —

Loquat trees do well in wind, full sun in coastal climates and a number of soil types but they do need good drainage to survive. Though they are drought-tolerant, deep watering on a regular basis will yield more fruit. Extreme heat or cold will stunt fruit production. Many homeowners use them as shade trees over patios or as container plants.

3. Cherimoya (Annona cherimola)

how to eat cherimoya

Seeds from Mexico were planted in California around 1871 and cherimoya has been growing well here ever since. This fruit is thought to be native to the Andes in Peru. Its nickname is the custard apple which makes sense after you experience the sensation of sticking a spoon into its soft flesh. Mark Twain even referred to cherimoya as one of the most delicious fruits known to man. The flavor is an interesting mix of other tropical fruits like coconut, pineapple and mango.

Cherimoya Growing Tips —

The cherimoya comes from sub-tropical, mild climates and can’t handle extreme heat. Trees do well in coastal California though best at a slightly higher elevation around 3-15 miles from the ocean. Skip container planting as they don’t do well in pots and make sure they are protected from Santa Ana winds. Cherimoya grow in a variety of soil types though well-draining and moderately fertilized is best. The tree is deciduous from February through April and experts suggest that irrigation cease during February and March, resuming in April. Do some research based on your growing location.

4. Lychee (Litchi chinensis)

lychee fruit tree

This Asian fruit is growing in popularity and most frequently enjoyed canned in the United States though now can be bought fresh at a number of Asian markets. The lychee originates from China and is a small fruit about 1.5″ in size. The pretty red rind is totally inedible so don’t even try it. Cut it away to eat the sweet, delicate flesh which has a pleasant floral aroma (this disappears somewhat during canning) but beware of the large seed inside. The tree itself is gorgeous and evergreen with a grey trunk and pretty leaves though it can reach up to 40′ in the wild. In San Diego, plan for about 20′ tall with a rounded canopy.

Lychee Growing Tips —

The lychee is a finicky tree to grow in Southern California though many gardeners do it with ease. If you’re up for the maintenance, place the tree in an area sheltered from wind and be prepared to fertilize it often. They can’t handle frost and need constant watering, but can’t handle standing water. And, you’ll need to stop watering before the tree’s dormant period in winter. Leach the soil occasionally to wash sea salt from our ocean air away. Some gardeners do report success with growing lychee trees in large pots.

The lychee is a very popular fruit worldwide so the results are worth the effort. Note that lychee martinis typically use canned fruit, but we have other recipes for incorporating the garden into your cocktails.

5. Longan (Euphoria longan)

longan fruit

A relative of the lychee, the longan fruit is about the same small size though with a tough golden skin though the trees usually produce more fruit than the lychee tree. The name longan sounds like Lóng Yǎn which literally translates to dragon’s eye — the longan fruit looks sort of like an eyeball when sliced open. To open a ripe longan, just squeeze it. Pop the flesh into your mouth and spit out the seed. The taste is a drier sweetness than a lychee and, therefore, the longan is often used in sweet-and-sour Asian dishes as well as desserts. A side benefit of eating longan is that it’s used in Chinese medicine as a relaxation aid.

Longan Growing Tips

In Southern California, longan trees typically grow up to 25′ and require weekly deep waterings. The trees can adapt to a wide range of soil but prefer rich, well-drained soil. Fruit should ripen between late summer and winter.

Exotic Fruit Nurseries in San Diego

a variety of exotic fruit

ONG Nursery —

ONG Nursery specializes in exotic fruit trees, shrubs and flowers. They have been in the same location for over 25 years and are open on Saturdays and Sundays only. Owner Quang Ong is a UC Riverside agronomist.

  • Address: 2528 Crandall Drive, San Diego, CA 92111
  • Phone: (858) 277-8167
  • Website:

Exotica Rare Fruit —

Though there isn’t much information online, reviewers claim that Exotica Rare Fruit pricing is good for such rare plants. Also, because so many trees for sale are also planted on the property, it’s a great opportunity to see how they grow in San Diego as well as what the fruit tastes like. Call before you go.

Encanto Farms Nursery —

They are home to over 100 banana varieties and 1100 fig varieties. Encanto Farms Nursery specializes in these two exotic fruits so this is definitely the place to seek advice for both, but they do carry cherimoya and other fruiting trees. Visit by appointment.

  • Address: 6143 Fulmar Street, San Diego, CA 92114
  • Contact: See website for email address. No phone number is provided online.
  • Website:

City Farmers Nursery —

They seem to have a little bit of everything here from canning goods to urband chicken supplies, including a decent selection of tropical and exotic fruit trees. Do call in advance to be sure they stock what you need as exotic fruit is not their specialty. Every plant is maintained organically and the nursery is family-owned and operated since 1972.

Your Turn…

Do you grow exotic fruit trees?

Photo credits: dragon fruit on cactus, stock.xchng/serunding; dragon fruit, Flickr/Jelle Oostrom; loquat tree, Flickr/MichaelGras; cherimoya tree, Flickr/Akos Kokai; lychee, Flickr/USDAgov; longan fruit, Flickr/Starr Environmental; exotic fruit, stock.xchng/idibiasi