Learn how to grow dragon fruit, one of the most peculiar looking fruits in the world! Can be grown in USDA zones 9 through 11, and with a soil pH of 6 to 7.
Dragon fruit, also known as pitaya, is an exotic, tropical fruit you’ve most likely seen before in stores. The taste is similar to that of a kiwi, but a lot less subtle. The dragon fruit actually belongs to the cactus family and they have some of the biggest, most impressive flowers in the world. Dragon fruit is native to Central America and most often grown in tropical and sub tropical climates.
If you’ve never heard of dragon fruit, no worries – it actually has a slew of other names in goes by: Indonesia buah naga, Khmer sror kaa neak, Thai kaeo mangkon, nanettika fruit, Kaktus madu, Long guo, Cereus triangularis, Thanh long, Strawberry Pear, Cactus fruit, Night blooming Cereus, Belle of the Night, Jesus in the Cradle.
Because dragon fruit is part of the cactus plants family, it will love heat and full sun. Choose a spot that’s as dry and as sunny as can be. In hot climates, such as tropical or subtropical climates, place your dragon fruit plant in a semi-shaded area.
Because it’s a climbing cactus, it will need lots of support such as a fence, trellis, or climbing pole.
Choose well draining soil that is sandy and loamy. You can also make your own soil by mixing in half perlite and half peat, or just add a little bit of sand into your potting soil. The good news is that dragon fruit is very tolerant of poor soil, and even cactus oil will work well.
Water your dragon fruit as you would a cactus or succulent. This means moderate watering – it’s always best to give your dragon fruit less water than more water. Learn more about watering succulents.
If possible, try not to expose your dragon fruit plant to temperatures below 32F (0C), or temperatures above 100F (38C) – both of these extremes can be fatal to your plant.
Dragon fruit is a climbing cactus and will need support to climb. Therefore, it order to grow dragon fruit, you’ll need to plant it near a fence, build a trellis, or a climbing pole. In either case, it’s extremely important for your dragon fruit plant to be able to support itself.
Because it’s a sub tropical plant, dragon fruit loves warm weather and partial sun. If you live in a colder climate, you can still grow dragon fruit, but make sure you do so in pots, and never put it outside, especially if below 28F.
The flowers of the dragon fruit are some of the most unique and strange looking flowers in the world, not to mention some of the biggest! They can reach a diameter of up to 25cm and are about 30cm in length. The flowers themselves only open up for one night and give off a beautiful exotic and fruity scent.
Growing Dragon Fruit From Seed:
- Purchase a dragon fruit and cut it in half. Scoop out the black seeds and wash them off.
- Place the seeds on a moist paper towel and leave them overnight to dry.
- Fill a small germination tray or a small pot with well draining soil. You can also make your own dragon fruit soil by mixing one part peat with one part perlite. Alternatively, you can also use cactus soil.
- Sprinkle the seeds onto the surface of the soil and cover with a thin layer of the growing medium, barely covering the seeds.
- Moisten the soil with a spray bottle and cover with plastic wrap to keep moisture.
- The seed should germinate within 15-30 days. During this time, keep the soil moist.
- After they’ve germinated, remove the plastic wrap, and transplant to a bigger pot.
Growing & Managing Dragon Fruit in Pots:
- Dragon fruit grows well in pots, especially if you live in a cooler climate or don’t have a lot of growing space.
- Fruit growing in pots is fairly easy to care for, and dragon fruit plants are no exception.
- Growing dragon fruit in pots is easy because you can move the pot indoors once the weather cools and you can also control the amount of sun it receives.
- Remember that the dragon fruit plant or pitaya plant can only survive temperatures that are above 28F (-2C).
- Choose a pot that’s about once or two times bigger than the root ball of the dragon fruit. This will usually be a 5 gallon pot that’s 10-12 inches in depth. You will need to repot the plant every year as it grows.
- A mature dragon fruit tree will fit in a 25-30 gallon size pot.
How to Care for Dragon Fruit
How to Fertilize Dragon Fruit Plants:
During its growing season, fertilize once a month with a balanced fertilizer. If growing in a cooler climate, stop fertilizing in the winter. Side dress with aged manure or compost to keep moisture in.
How to Prune Dragon Fruit Plants:
You should prune dragon fruit plants on a regular basis to control size and improve air circulation. This will also help prevent fungal infections and diseases. If left to its own devices, the tree can grow up to 20 feet in height. Prune the tree annually by removing any dead stems as well as overgrowing stems.
Dragon Fruit Diseases and Pests:
Normally, there are no real pests or diseases that can seriously affect the dragon fruit, but do watch out for aphids. Aphids will usually be found feeding on young buds and shoots. Also, be careful when watering the dragon fruit plant, as over-watering can cause root rot as well as fruit rot.
How to Pollinate Dragon Fruit:
Most dragon fruit varieties are self pollinating, but there are a few varieties which do require cross-pollination, also known as hand pollination. If that is the case, you’ll need to grow two or more plants close to one another so they can cross-pollinate. Cross-pollination will usually occur at night since pollination depends on moths and bats. Make sure the soil is well draining, and always moist.
How Often to Water Dragon Fruit Plants
Dragon fruit trees do not need much water, much like their cousin, the cactus. Be sure to only water when the top of the soil is dry to the touch. Once dry, water deeply and be sure that your pot has good drainage holes. Never let your dragon fruit plant sit in water as this can cause root rot. For a young plant, you may have to water every day or every other day. As the plant matures, this schedule may change. Watering dragon fruit depends on the climate, humidity, and age of the plant.
Harvesting Dragon Fruit:
- You can harvest dragon fruit once its skin color changes from bright green to red or pink.
- The fruit should be oval in shape and about 10-15 cm long.
- Fruits should be ready to harvest 30-50 days after flowering.
- In a regular growing climate, dragon fruit will grow from summer to late autumn, and even into winter.
- In temperate regions, you’ll be able to harvest dragon fruit between summer and early to mid autumn.
- The dragon fruit plant will start flowering in its first or second year after planting.
Growing in Pots
Growing the dragon fruit plant in pots is not that much different than growing them in the ground. In fact, it can be much easier, since the pots can be moved to accommodate the plant. In hotter climates for example, the plant may need more shade and therefore will need to be moved.
There are two ways you can grow dragon fruit in pots. The first way involves growing the plant from cuttings, and the second way is to plant seeds. Whichever method you choose, keep in mind that growing dragon fruit from seed could take up to 6 years to product fruits, whereas growing from cuttings will only take a year or two. Obviously, growing from cuttings is the most popular method, but it can also be quite difficult to achieve, especially for beginner gardeners.
Method #1: Growing From Cuttings
- Cut a 6-15 inch (12-38cm) stem from a plant (the parent plant) that is at least one year old. Make the cut at an angle for best results. Let the cut stem heal for about a week in a dry place.
- Choose a container that’s big enough to support the plant and ensure it has good drainage holes. The pot should be at least 20-24 inches deep and hold 25-30 gallons.
- Because dragon fruit is part of the cactus family, it prefers cactus soil, or well draining soil. The should should also be slightly acidic, with a pH of 6-7. Alternatively, you can make your own cactus soil at home by mixing in sand/perlite, organic manure, and compost, using the following ratio respectively: 2:3:1:1.
- Fill your pot with the correct soil, and water the soil well. Wait until the soil has absorbed all the water and is draining properly before planting.
- Dig a hole in the middle of the soil that’s at least 2-4 inches deep and place the cutting inside of it, packing the soil firmly around the stem.
- Follow the same care directions as above.
Method #2: Growing From Seeds
- Be sure to acquire good quality, preferably organic seeds from a reputable seller.
- Follow the same directions as above (for growing dragon fruit from seeds) and plant in a big pot with good drainage holes.
- Again, make sure the soil is suitable for this type of plant and that is is well watered.
Please note that growing dragon fruit can take several years to bear fruit, but in the meantime, you’ll have a stunning flowering cactus!
So now that you know how to grow dragon fruit, let’s get the planting!