The cashew is a broadleaf evergreen tropical tree with a rounded, spreading crown. It can get 40' tall and wide in the wild, but cultivated trees are usually in the 20' x 20' range. The rounded glossy leaves are handsome and the tree flowers with large sprays of tiny, fragrant blush pink flowers during the dry season (typically December through January in South Florida). The flowers turn into unusual reddish, apple-like fruits from which the cashew "nut" dangles at the very bottom.
Fruits are ready to harvest when the "apple" has a deep pink or red color (some are yellow) and the shell of the nut turns a dull grey. The fruit can be eaten raw or made into preserves or beverages.
Extreme care must be exercised when handling cashew nuts. The nuts cannot be shelled and eaten like other nuts such as walnuts or almonds; their shell is full of a poisonous caustic liquid that will burn. It is the same poisonous sap found in poison ivy and poison oak, to which the cashew tree is closely related. Skin and especially eyes should be covered when handling cashew nuts. It is highly advisable to consult a reputable source on harvesting cashew nuts before attempting to do so on your own.
Cashew trees enjoy regular water, full sun, and high temperatures. They grow best in sandy soils, but sandy soils don't hold much water and are generally not very fertile. The trees will still do fine without additional attention, but incorporating some organic compost at planting time is a good idea, as it will help retain soil moisture and nutrients.
If a heavy crop of cashew nuts is desired, you need to supply your cashew trees with additional water and fertilizer. Irrigate during dry periods, and fertilize the trees when they actively grow, as well as during flowering and nut development. They will mainly need nitrogen, phosphorus, and zinc.
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