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An Experience with Macadamia:
Growing Macadamia in Central Florida

Francis X Ritchie

"Macadamias don"t grow well in Florida"..."Fine shade tree in Fort Myers, but they don't bear very well"..."Fort Myers, yes, but Winter Haven? You're too far North, it won't make it through the winter."

These were the comments of well-meaning sales clerks and on lookers as my friend Vince and I loaded four, "three gallon" Macadamia Trees into his van, for the 145 km trip north to our homes in Polk County. Eight years and at least 10 freezes have past since that fateful day in June 1991. My tree and two of the others are alive and well. The only fatality was due due to a faulty irrigation system freezing a tree during a -3.3oC (26oF) night.

Here in Central Florida we have a subtropical climate with potential temperature range of -6.7 to 38oC (20 to 100oF). Frost typically occurs each winter, but there are some winters that have none, there are frost pockets and there are blessed microclimates where tropical plants grow as well as in Miami .....160 km to the South. One blessed microclimate I speak of is Cypress Gardens, a tropical botanical garden and tourist attraction, 3 km to the northeast across Lake Eloise. My climate is somewhere in between the two.

The small flowers of Macadamia integrifolia occur in long racemes up to 30 cm in length.
Select the thumbnail image or highlighted name for a higher resolution image (39k)

The first four winters of Macadamias life saw a few scares but it was basically a warm period....... the Long El Nino of the early 90s. On cold nights I brought out THE MACADAMIA HOUSE, a large wooden structure covered in plastic which, with help, I placed over the tree along with a light bulb for a little extra warmth. As Macadamia grew too tall and wide for THE MACADAMIA HOUSE I began covering her with heavy sheets, again with a light bulb for a little warmth. Now she is too large large for these measures and is about to outgrow Christmas lights as well! In early 1997, for the first time, a surprise -4.5oC (24oF) night took a few flowers and an unhardened shoot or two. Not bad considering all the naysayers!

As you can tell by now I am attached to Macadamia. This is the first food bearing tree I have ever planted and well........she's kind of rooted to my life!!!!!

Macadamia nuts

Before I bought Macadamia, I read many books on subtropical fruit and nut production, joined The California Macadamia Society (presently lapsed),and read other food production pieces. Of all the phrases I read, the one that really hit home was the old adage "dig a five dollar hole for a one dollar plant". The soil in my area is very sandy (Proteaceae plants like this type of soil) and the early spring is hot and dry. Being a rainforest tree, I felt Macadamia could use a moisture retentive soil for her planting. Macadamia was planted in a 1.8m wide by 0.9m deep hole .. to which was added twelve x 18kg bags of top soil, some blood meal and potash, and a heavy 15cm layer of mulch at least 1m all around. The fact that macadamias do not like phosphorus was not lost on me and to this day I shy away from applying it. When Macadamia is fertilized I use balanced 6-6-6 tree food spikes, by the label directions. She (there I go again!) has responded beautifully.

In July 1997, Macadamia was 4m high and 3.6m broad, whereas Vince's tree was 2.9m high and 3.6m broad. In November 1998, Macadamia was 4.9m high and broad. I have no recent information on Vince's tree.

Macadamia first bore nuts in its third year. It produced 1.4kg in 1995, 2.3kg in 1996 , 2.7kg in 1997, 5kg in 1998 and 9.5kg this last harvest! Vince hasn't weighed his produce to my knowledge and his surprise when I relate Macadamia's production, leads me to believe his tree produces somewhat less.

More on Macadamia....

The following web resources will be of interest if you want to know more about Macadamia and its uses.


As noted above, macadamias are rainforest trees and as such, like mulch and a little shade in the heat of the day. The first is very evident by Macadmia's habit ... ...the tree is in a landscape bed near the swimming pool. Macadamia clearly prefers the mulched area toward the pool. The tree is mulched out well beyond the dripline on all sides, she however prefers the fully mulched area, to that bordered by the lawn, and has pushed her canopy toward this favored direction. The second is more complicated and has yet to be put to the test in my yard. A few years ago I noticed leaves with white speckles during the summer and I believe that the speckles are caused by the strong sunshine (mid 30oC) we have, before and after our summer afternoon rains. I will soon be planting a Live Oak, some 7.5m away, with the anticipation of some shade in future years.

In closing let me say :

  1. Prepare a good bed for your Macadamia, a little extra care will indeed pay dividends.
  2. Don't let the naysayer's tell you that macadamias are too difficult. I can attest that all root disturbance is not fatal. My dog has dug a few ruts under mine and Macadamia has come through well. I have caught the dog early each time, however!
  3. Don't be discouraged if your Macadamia doesn't set nuts. The third remaining tree (you wondered if I'd ever mention it didn't you?) produced nuts for the first time in 1997, after six years!

Good things are worth waiting for!!!!

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Australian Plants online - March 2000
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants