Lulo: cultivation, care & harvesting of the naranjilla

Regina
Regina
Regina
Regina

I studied horticultural sciences at university and in my free time you can find me in my own patch of land, growing anything with roots. I am particularly passionate about self-sufficiency and seasonal food.

Favourite fruit: quince, cornelian cherry and blueberries
Favourite vegetables: peas, tomatoes and garlic

Lulo is an exotic, fruiting plant that comes from South America. Read on to find out everything you need to know about the naranjilla.

halved lulo fruit
Lulo, also known as naranjilla, is known for its aromatic berries [Photo: Alexander Ruiz Acevedo/ Shutterstock.com]

Lulo fruit are particularly popular in South America, where they are used in numerous dishes and drinks. But there is nothing stopping you growing the plant at home! Read on to discover more about lulo and learn how to grow it at home.

Fruit, properties, and origin of lulo

The lulo (Solanum quitoense) plant, often called naranjilla, is a perennial that grows one to three metres tall. It belongs to the Solanaceae family and is therefore closely related to the tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) and aubergine (Solanum melongena). Like its relatives, lulo comes from the Andes and is commonly cultivated by the local population at high altitudes.

Lulo has many branches, upon which it forms large, broad-toothed, fuzzy leaves with deep purple veins and individual spines. The stems, too, are fuzzy and occasionally spiny. In fact, young lulos look very similar to aubergines.

If you pre-cultivate your lulo early, it will begin to flower within five months. In central Europe, this means mid-July and the beginning of August. The plant’s white-purple flowers form racemes, or clusters, on short flower stalks, while its fuzzy, round fruits ripen, becoming 4 to 6 cm wide.

After pollination, and around harvest time in September, these fruits turn orange-yellow. Their skins are tough and up to 4mm thick, which is why they are generally discarded. The juicy flesh of naranjilla fruit is yellow-green.

Fortunately, lulo seeds keep. To store lulo seeds, remove, clean and dry them, before moving them to a cool, dark and dry location for next season. However, there is no hurry. The plants produce fruit for up to five years, which is why overwintering naranjilla is particularly worthwhile.

purple lulo flower buds
Lulo’s flower buds are uniquely purple and fuzzy

Growing lulo fruit: location and method

It is best to cultivate naranjilla early in the year, on a bright, warm windowsill between the end of January and the beginning of March. Just like you would for tomato seeds, only lightly cover lulo seeds with soil. A low-nutrient growing soil, such as our Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost, is a great choice. It promotes root formation, and provides a loose, permeable structure that prevents waterlogging.

Prick out your young lulo plants once their first leaves emerge, and transplant them individually to nutrient-rich potting soil. You can then move your lulos outside from mid-May. The plants thrive in garden beds, but a container that holds at least ten litres is also suitable, and can even help if you plan to overwinter the plants.

The ideal location for naranjilla is bright, warm (18-20°C) and sheltered. It is best to avoid direct sunlight as well, and instead opt for partial shade. Lulos prefer nutrient-rich, moist soil that rarely or never dries out. Because lulos spread as they grow, it is a good idea to give each plant about one square metre of space.

If you are planning to plant your lulo in a pot, use a nutrient-rich, organic potting soil, such as our Plantura Organic Tomato & Vegetable Compost. Dig a sufficiently large hole in the soil and place the young plants in, no deeper than they were in their previous container. Fill-in any spaces with soil and press lightly, before watering well.

large lulo leaves with purple veins
Lulos grow into sprawling plants so they need a plant pot with plenty of room

Caring for lulo

Lulos are generally easy to care for. They do not need to be pruned or thinned out, unlike many tomato varieties. However, they do need plenty of moisture, so water yours frequently. You will also need to fertilise your lulo thoroughly, as you would fertilise a tomato plant.

It is best to fertilise naranjilla in mid-June, or once the first flower buds begin to form, whichever is sooner. Do watch to see if the plant has used up the soil’s nutrients. A liquid fertiliser, such as our Plantura Liquid Tomato Food, is perfect for lulo, and easy to apply. Just add 15 to 25ml of fertiliser per 5 litres of water, and apply about once a week.

Plantura Liquid Tomato Food
Plantura Liquid Tomato Food

Liquid fertiliser with an NK ratio of 4-5, for tomatoes & other vegetables, promotes healthy plant growth, child & pet friendly

Is lulo hardy? No, lulo is not a hardy plant. Temperatures must remain above freezing for lulo to thrive. However, as a perennial, it is worth overwintering. To overwinter lulo, move your plant to a bright, cool space outside, once temperatures drop below 5°C.

In fact, if there is enough light and the temperature is not too warm (around 15-18°C), you can even overwinter your lulo indoors. Just remember to water it sparingly so that the plant does not suffer from diseases like grey mould (Botrytis cinerea). Do not fertilise an overwintering lulo plant until spring.

Harvest, use and taste of naranjilla

To eat lulo fruits fresh, or to process them, wait until the berries are fully ripe. You will know when this is, because the fruit skin will turn a distinct orange-yellow and the stalk will become dry and brown. In central Europe, the first naranjillas ripen from September.

If you choose to store lulo fruit over winter, but it is not yet ripe in October, have no fear. The berries can ripen indoors, as long as the temperature remains moderate – above 10°C. If you store them appropriately, your ripe lulo berries will keep for about a month.

yellow-green and ripe orange lulo fruits
When lulo fruits turn orange-yellow, they are ready to harvest [Photo: Luis Echeverri Urrea/ Shutterstock.com]

Lulo fruits are fruity and tart, and contain large amounts of vitamin A and C. Their aromatic-sour flesh is best sprinkled with a little sugar and spooned out of the thick skin. In South America, the fruits are particularly popular in ice cream or pureed, once the fuzz is removed, with water, sugar and ice. This puree is a popular drink called lulada.

As well as making lulo desserts, like pastries and candied fruit, you can extend your fruit’s shelf life by making naranjilla juice, jam, syrup and fruit wine.

A relative of lulo is the pear melon or pepino (Solanum muricatum). Why not find out more about this wonderful, tasty fruit!

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