I admit that for the better part of my life I never gave a thought to tossing that gnarly, fibrous pit in the center of a mango into the compost. Growing up in New England, I didn’t exactly see mangoes growing on the street corners so I never really thought of how they grew. But for some reason just about two years ago I looked at that pit after gleefully devouring the rest of the mango and realized I was looking at a seed, and decided to try to plant it. I failed completely the first time (I kept it too cold and too wet), but then a few months ago I tried again with a lot more research and success, so let me save you the headache of failure and share what I’ve found that works.
Mangoes are tropical plants that are native to the Indian subcontinent, and have been introduced and now thrive in all sorts of tropical and sub-tropical climates. They like warmth, sun, well draining soil, and detest being any colder than 40 degrees F (4 degrees C). So how do mangoes make little mango babies in the wild? A mango tree lets its fruit get so ripe and heavy that it detaches from the stem and falls to the ground where it decomposes and exposes its seed to the tropical elements, and that seed germinates. So it makes sense to replicate those conditions to germinate a seed indoors.
Step one: select your mango. For this tutorial I started with an ataúlfo mango (I’ve also heard them called honey or champagne mangoes) that had firm but slightly yielding skin. It was ripe, but not molding or bruised. I looked for a fruit that looked like it was healthy and hadn’t been damaged in transit from its long journey from Mexico to Vermont. Mango pits are tough cookies, but it’s always a good idea to start with as high quality a fruit specimen as possible.
Step two: cut the flesh off of the mango down to the pit. Eat the delicious mango flesh. Ok, that second part is not required to germinate the seed, but you’re missing out if you don’t. It’s so good.
Step three: remove the husk. Like other seeds, the mango seed has a seed coat that covers the interior seed. That seed coat in this case is that fibrous husk. If it grows out in nature, the seed coat protects the interior seed until it gets to the right conditions for the seed to grow. Mango seed coats are tough enough to survive drifting in the ocean, so if we want that interior seed to germinate, we need to speed up the process and remove that seed coat (unless you want to wait years for it to decompose on its own in soil, and I don’t). It’s not easy to get through, but I use a knife to wedge into the side of the husk along the line where the two sides come together. I then keep moving the knife up along the side of the husk to open it. Go slowly and be careful. You don’t want to stab yourself with the knife if it slips, so make sure to pry away from your body, and wearing heavy gloves isn’t a bad idea. No one needs a “that time I lost a finger trying to plant a mango” story.
Once you get that husk pried open, pull it apart and take out the interior seed.
Step four: make the seed warm and cozy while it germinates. This is the point where knowing where mangoes naturally grow helps a lot. Some plants that grow in colder climates have seeds that need to go through a cold period before they will successfully germinate, but our friend the mango likes it hot. If you’ve read my citrus germination tutorial you’ll know that I keep a stash of take-out containers that I use as mini greenhouses for starting seeds. I line the inside with a damp paper towel (you can use a clean cloth instead of a paper towel), label the top, and seal it up. A mango seed wants to be kept around 75 degrees F to germinate, so if that’s your room temperature, keep it out and you’re all set. I’m in northern Vermont and it’s winter here, so I have mine sitting on a seed heat mat.
Check out your little mango greenhouse every few days. You’ll start to see a root coming out of one corner once germination starts.
My mango seed had a solid root and a baby stem in three weeks, but it can take anywhere from a week to six weeks to germinate. If your seed gets moldy or mushy, it’s time to start over with a new seed.
Eventually, you should end up with a sweet specimen like this:
Step five: plant your plant! Once your mango seed has a root, it’s going to need a container and soil. Mangoes do not like to have soggy bottoms. They like well draining, slightly alkaline soil and need a nice deep container for that long tap root they put out. I’ve had really good luck with 4 parts potting soil (the kind without fertilizer built in), 1 part sand, and 1 part compost. They still want to be warm, so keep them at that 75 degree F range and make sure they’re getting lots of sun. My most recent seedling is thriving on a seed heat mat under grow lights, and once it gets warmer I’ll move it to my porch for the summer. Welcome to the motley crew of my plant family, baby mango.
So go get a mango, enjoy the deliciousness, and try growing your own!