Cyphomandra betacea - the tree tomato is another useful tropical foliage plant to have in your arsenal. It is easily grown from seed and makes a pleasing contrast to the more typical foliage of cannas, gingers and bananas. The roots of this plant are quite tough and in the mildest areas should re-grow from the base.
Propagating cyphomandra betacea from seed is quite straight forward. Surface sow the seeds on sterile compost. Place in a heated propagator if raising this plant in late winter. Seeds raised in early spring will germinate in the greenhouse without heat.
If germinated in cool conditions, the initial growth rate is a bit slow. For this reason it is better to wait until early spring before sowing seeds.
Water the newly germinated tree tomato seedlings sparingly at first. The stems are prone to rot if over watered. This can also happen to more mature plants growing in the ground. If watering is withheld the plant will usually recover.
Slugs and snails are a nuisance when the cyphomandra betacea is first planted in the soil. Vigilance at this stage (night time patrols in wet weather) should see off the worst offenders. As the plants grow, damage is reduced as it is the newest leaves that the slugs and snails enjoy eating most.
Aphids are also keen to feast on the newly emerging leaves. They can cause some leaf distortion initially. Control with a brush or hose is possible, although a little awkward due to the hairs on the leaves. However the aphids will eventually be controlled by natural predators, so long as you make the predators welcome in your garden. You've gotta have faith (as the song goes).
Cyphomandra betacea is equally happy in shade (not gloom) or sun but will grow larger in sunnier conditions. As with most plants grown for the tropical effect, mix plenty of home-made compost and composted manure into the planting hole for best performance.
Flowers on the tree tomato grown in a zone 9 environment have proved elusive.
Cyphomandra betacea roots
Although the Cyphomandra betacea is typically grown as an annual tropical foliage plant, the roots have some resistance to cold. The foliage on the plant will be damaged by light frosts. Once the foliage has been destroyed, mulch the roots heavily. In late February / early March the roots can be dug up. Cut off the stem and hose the soil off. Trim back the longest roots so they will fit into a 3lt plastic flower pot.
Cyphomandra betacea shoots
Pot the roots up individually in mutli-purpose compost and place on a heated mat.
One advantage of this method is potentially a multiple stemmed and therefore bushier plant. The cyphomandra betacea also grows faster due to food stored in the roots.
By the end of the season your tree tomato should have given you a good 5 - 6 foot of growth (1.5m+).