Known for growing across the tropical parts of South and Southeast America, the sea grape tree or Coccoloba uvifera is a beautiful shrub that’s often used to give any garden architectural structure and form, especially in coastal gardens.
It helps that the foliage is evergreen, allowing for some shade.
Here’s everything you need to know about the sea grape tree.
At a Glance: What You Should Know About the Sea Grape Tree
While it’s typically referred to as a tree, this evergreen can be grown as a smaller shrub. It’s tolerant to both exposed, windy areas and soil which has high levels of salt, as it can be found naturally along the coast.
This makes it perfect for coastal gardens, as not many plants with huge, ornamental leaves can survive in salty soil which is very exposed.
The flowers that appear only add to the ornamental value of this plant. The sea grape tree produces petite white flowers in clusters, the highest number in spring and summer, although you can see them at other times of the year.
It also produces fruit which look like grapes during the mid-summer. They start off green, and mature to a deep red or purple.
You should know that only the female plants are capable of producing fruit, but you need both genders in order to get the female plant to fruit.
The gorgeous foliage starts off completely red, maturing to a vibrant green, never losing the crimson hue, appearing only in the veins of adult leaves. Each leaf is capable of reaching 30cm in diameter.
When left to its own devices, the sea grape will form multiple trunks, but you can cut them to encourage the plant to only form one if you wish. Once the plant is mature, the care you need to give it is minimal, but this may be quite a way down the road.
While a sea grape tree can reach 25 feet high, this is more typical of being in their natural habitat.
When cultivated as a garden plant, it’s more likely to reach about 10 feet tall, and that’s if you don’t cut it down further, and give it plenty of room to grow.
How to Make the Most of a Sea Grape Tree in Your Own Garden
The sea grape tree can act as the perfect windbreaker or an ornamental hedge while adding color and form into your garden.
It’s a great choice if you want to introduce some shade into an area of your garden that acts as a sun trap, somewhere that you feel you could do with a respite away from the sun’s rays. In this case, you may want to go for a more mature sea grape tree.
It’s worth mentioning that the tree will drop its flowers and fruit once they are finished. While that might sound obvious, it’s something you should keep in mind, as you’ll either need to clear away the litter, or put it somewhere where this won’t matter, like out of the way of paths or lawns.
The pollen from the sea grape tree can set off some allergies in those that are susceptible to hay fever, so you may want to keep this plant away from seating areas, windows and doors.
How to Care For a Sea Grape Tree
Should You Grow a Sea Grape Tree From Seed or Propagation?
You can use either method to grow your own sea grape tree. It’s an easy plant to grow from seed. If you aren’t buying the seeds commercially, you can harvest them from the sea grape fruit.
You’ll need to remove the flesh of the fruit to get at the seeds, and rinse any residue off them. Pat them dry, and fill a small tray or pot with perlite. This works better than soil.
Plant the seeds in the perlite, taking care to keep it moist, somewhere light and warm, and you should see tiny shoots appearing in a few weeks or so.
If you’d prefer to start a sea grape tree from cuttings, this takes out some of the work, and it will also be quicker than starting from scratch with seeds.
Take more than one cutting, and make sure they are at least 7cm long, but don’t make them any longer than 10cm. Multiple cuttings help increase the chances of success, as some don’t always root, no matter what you do.
Cuttings vary in success rates, but the best way to ensure the most root as possible is to plant them in damp soil as soon as you cut them from the plant, keeping them somewhere bright and warm, which has a lot of humidity.
You could put the pot inside a clear plastic bag if you don’t have a propagator, and spray the inside of it to keep the humidity level up.
It’s also worth mentioning that taking a cutting of a male sea grape tree will result in the same, so if you need a female one, you’ll either have to take a cutting from an adult female tree, or buy one.
Flowering can take anywhere between 6 and 8 years to occur on a tree, as it needs to mature before it can produce flowers or fruit. If you don’t want to wait that long, it may be worth buying an older tree.
Sunlight & Position
Sea grape trees have adapted to live in full sunlight, so that’s what you should aim for when you want to grow it in your own garden. It will survive in partial shade, but the plant won’t thank you for it, and you may see reduced numbers of leaves, flowers and fruit.
You can place it somewhere sheltered or exposed, it depends on how much room you have within your garden.
It is worth noting that young sea grape trees cannot survive freezing temperatures until they get a little bigger, so if you do choose a juvenile plant, or you’re growing one from scratch, you keep it somewhere sheltered to begin with, somewhere the temperature won’t drop below 22°F (or -5°C).
Older sea grape trees may survive some colder temperatures, in which case the foliage will turn red before it drops.
In order to stay healthy and to produce balanced growth, the sea grape tree needs well-draining soil, either with a neutral or slightly alkaline soil. It can survive in soil which has a lot of salt and sand, too.
While the sea grape tree is very drought tolerant, any that you introduce into your own garden will need frequent watering to encourage the roots to establish themselves into the soil.
Water the plant in the morning, and this will ensure that the sun will get rid of any excess moisture on the leaves or around the base, which will help prevent disease.
When you want to get a sea grape tree to establish itself within the soil, take care not to place it too close to other plants.
This will mean more competition in terms of water and nutrition, which the newly-introduced sea grape will struggle to compete with plants that are already established within your garden.
Should You Feed a Sea Grape Tree?
Newly-planted sea grape trees benefit from some fertilizer, about a month after planting the tree. Use an organic feed with a ratio of 8-8-8 or 6-6-6 to keep the growth rate balanced, and deliver a good amount of nutrients.
Should You Prune a Sea Grape Tree?
Yes. Cut back the foliage when you want it to take a specific shape, or you want it to grow as a hedge or windbreaker. This will also stop it from growing into other plants, or making an area of your garden too shaded.
Regular pruning also helps get rid of any dead branches, allowing more airflow to get to the rest of the plant.
Sea Grape Tree: Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Grow a Sea Grape Tree Inside?
If you’re keeping the sea grape tree as a bonsai tree, yes, you can keep it inside. Otherwise, you should only keep this plant inside when it is a seedling, or if you’re trying to overwinter it.
Can You Eat Sea Grapes?
Yes, sea grapes are safe to eat. They’re not ‘true’ grapes, but they taste similar.
How Fast Do Sea Grape Trees Grow?
In the right conditions, a sea grape tree will grow quickly, so you will need to make sure you keep on top of pruning it to keep it healthy and the growth vigorous.