Dragon fruit is an exotic cactus that is found in Asia, Mexico, and parts of South America. It is not grown in North America, which is why the plant is not as common in this region. Dragon fruit can be planted as ornamental plants, but they do bare delicious fruit that is rather tasty. In fact, it is often used in jams, ice cream, fruit juice, and wine. Let’s start by becoming more familiar with the different types of dragon fruit, then we will jump right into how to grow the plant.
The blooms of this plant are unique; in fact, they are one of the largest flowers in the world. The reason that they are so unique is not their size; it is the fact that the blooms only open for one night, and the scents that you will experience on that night are surreal and exotically fruity.
- The Different Types of Dragon Fruit
- How to Grow Dragon Fruit
- How to Grow Dragon Fruit in Pots
- Dragon Fruit Pollination
- Pests and Diseases
- Health Benefits
- Fruit & Vegetable Growing
- How To Get Dragon Fruit: Reasons For No Fruit On Pitaya Cactus Plants
- Reasons for No Fruit on Pitaya Cactus
- How to Get Dragon Fruit
- Dragon fruit surprisingly easy to grow | Miami Herald
- Dragon Fruit
- The dragon fruit
- Growing Dragon Fruit at Home
- Containers – Potted Dragon Fruit
The Different Types of Dragon Fruit
Dragon fruit or pitayas are extremely unique plants that come in three different types that you can enjoy. They are also called strawberry pears because of the bright red features of the fruit. These plants are also known by other names as well. Indonesia buah naga, Thanh long, Thai kaeo mangkon, nanettika fruit, Belle of the Night, Cactus fruit, Kaktus madu, and Night blooming Cereus are among a few of the most common names. Regardless of the type of dragon fruit that you are growing the fruit will be green until it is ripe. At that time, it will either be bright yellow in coloration or red. The inside pulp of each piece of fruit will be filled will small seeds that look similar to those that can be found in a kiwi fruit. The three types of dragon fruit are:
- Hylocereus Megalanthus – This type of dragon fruit has a white fruit flesh and a yellow shell. The shell of this variation is a bit thornier than the rest of the variations, so it is rarer to see in a garden.
- Hylocereus Undatus – This is a variation that has the same white flesh, but the exterior of this fruit is red in color.
- Hylocereus Costaricensis – This type of fruit is red in coloration on both the shell and in the flesh. The flesh is often a deep red coloration that looks almost unnatural or blood–like.
How to Grow Dragon Fruit
Unlike most cactus plants, this one is a climbing plant that needs a bit of support to grow properly. It is a sub tropical plant that needs a lot of heat and humidity, so here is a breakdown of the information that you will need to nurture and grow dragon fruit.
- Soil Requirements – This plant is able to grow in any soil that is well draining, but it prefers to grow in soil that is slightly acidic with a pH level that is between six and seven. Sandy soil is the best option for this plant; if it is not available, just ensure that it is well draining soil.
- Fertilizer – To ensure that the dragon fruit is growing properly, give it some fertilizer every month during the active growing season. During the cold winter months, you will want to stop feeding your plant for a few months.
- Water – Because this plant is a cactus plant, it is important to make sure that you are watering it properly. Only water the plant when the top of the soil is dry to the touch, and do not allow the plant to sit in water. The soil needs to be moist, not soaked.
- Light Requirements – The base of the plant can see a little shade, but the tips of the plant require full sun to ensure that the plant blooms properly. If too much shade is given to the plant, the fruit will not do well.
- Temperature Requirements – Dragon fruit will not grow in cold climates, so make sure that the temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent damage from occurring to the plant. For optimal growth, the temperature needs to be between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
How to Grow Dragon Fruit in Pots
Since dragon fruit does not like to grow in colder climates, having it planted in a pot can be a great idea. It allows you to easily move the plant indoors when the weather starts getting cold. Large pots are best; typically they should be at least 15 gallons. The pots also need to be well-draining so that the water does not sit in the base of the pot and cause root rot to occur.
Dragon Fruit Growing Season
The growing season of this plant takes place during the hot months of the summer. It will not grow the rest of the year, but when it does grow, it grows rapidly. Blooms will occur from July to October, but they will only bloom for one night each year. After the flowering occurs, fruit will begin to form. One plant can produce fruit for 20 to 30 years, so if you plant one, be ready for a lot of dragon fruit.
As we discussed previously, the plant is often grown in Asia, Mexico, and parts of South America. You can find them grown most often in Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Thailand, Vietnam, Israel, Taiwan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.
Growing Dragon Fruit from Seeds
Dragon fruit can be propagated directly from the seeds in the fruit. You will need to cut the fruit in half, and then scoop out the seeds. The seeds need to be separated from the flesh, so wash the seeds and dry them overnight. Using a germinating tray, plant the seeds in soil, but make sure that they are close to the top. Make sure that the soil is moist, and then cover it with plastic wrap until it germinates, which will take ten to 15 days. Once germination occurs, the young plants can be transplanted into a larger pot.
Growing Dragon Fruit from Cuttings
If you decide to grow a dragon fruit from a cutting, make sure not to take too much from the parent plant because it can stunt its growth and put its well being in danger. Also, make sure to start growing the cutting during the summer months for the best results. Start with a cactus segment that is approximately a foot long. This section can make three to four new plants.
Once you cut the cutting into three to six inch cuttings, apply fungicide to the ends and allow the cuttings to dry. This is not a necessary step, but it helps promote growth, so it is useful. Next, you dry or cure the cutting, which typically takes two to five days. You will know that it is ready when the tips of the cutting turn white.
At this point, you can place the cutting in soil. It needs to be about two inches into the soil, and the cutting needs to be oriented in the same direction that it was on the parent plant. Make sure to water the plant daily, unless the soil is still moist; then skip a day. Eventually, you will start to see roots appear. If the propagation was a success, you will soon see new growth. This typically takes about three to four weeks. Within a few years, this young cutting will be able to produce fruit of its own.
Dragon Fruit Pollination
Moths, bats, and bees pollinate dragon fruit, but there are some varieties that do not self pollinate at all. This is where hand pollination comes into play. You will need to collect the pollen from two different dragon fruit plants, and gently use a cotton swab to paint it onto the stigma of the opposite plant to cross pollinate. This does need to be done at night, so between the hours of eight at night and eight in the morning is best. If you are pollinating different plants, use a new cotton swab for each. It will take about a month for the fruit to grow.
Pests and Diseases
Mealybugs and aphids can be a common problem for a dragon fruit. They are sap sucking pests that basically feed on the sweet sap of the plant. Aphids also attract ants, who will then feed on the plant as well. Mites and thrips can also be a hindrance; they will not kill the plant, but they are not good for the overall health of the plant.
Dragon Spots, which occur on the stems and leaves of a plant, can be the sign that your plant has an infection. Bacteria can cause other issues as well like soft stem rot. This is a disease that affects the ends of the branches. These illnesses are typically transferred from plant to plant, so sterilize your clippers. Sunburn can occur during the hottest time of the year when the sun is sweltering hot, and if too much water is given to the plant, root rot can also occur.
Not many people are aware that eating the fruit from a dragon fruit plant is actually very beneficial to your health. Here are some of the benefits that you can experience when you have your own fruit bearing plant:
- There are high levels of Vitamin C in this fruit, so it will boost your immune system.
- These fruits contain no cholesterol, which means eating them is good for your heart and cardiovascular system.
- The vitamin level in dragon fruit is amazing, which can help you get the vitamins you need to maintain a healthy system.
- Carotene is present in dragon fruit, which means that it has anti-carcinogenic properties.
In addition to all of these health benefits, eating dragon fruit can improve your metabolism and your digestive system. With all of these health benefits, why not take the initiative and have your own dragon fruit plant in your garden. They do take a little bit of care because they are fruit bearing plants, but they are actually simple to maintain. Not to mention that they look exotic in your back yard; making them a point of conversation for your guests.
Fruit & Vegetable Growing
Article updated on 13th Jan 2016 Dragon fruit or called by its proper name Pitaya is one of the lessor known fruiting plants in the Western world (perhaps the whole world).
The name “dragon fruit” has its origins in Asia and probably was formed as a way to describe the bright coloured fruit with a chunky scaled skin resembling large…Well, dragon scales, I guess. Whilst this plant is pretty well known in Asia and grown extensively throughout the region, dragon fruit actually originated from Mexico and South America.
Dragon fruit flowers at sunrise (above image)
This medium to large climbing plant is part of the cactus family and like so many other cactus varieties the dragon fruit is an extremely interesting visual spectacle and when grown in the backyard or in a pot on a balcony the plant is always a lure for questions.
The plant grows like a climbing vine but instead of tendrils it shoots from the tip and grows another segment ranging from 1-3 feet long and about 4 inches wide.
In Asia, the fruit is popular and pitaya farms are not an unusual sight. The dragon fruit is growing in popularity throughout the Western world with commercial farms starting to appear among the more traditional fruit crops but generally the fruit isn’t well known, yet. I do see the rare case of dragon fruit in my local supermarket and it’s promoted as a real exotic treat (with a price tag to match).
Personally, I prefer to grow my own at home.
Varieties of dragon fruit
The most common varieties of this spectacular fruiting cactus are the red and yellow fruiting ones. The red fruiting variety can be split into two main plants distinguished by the flesh colour (edible part) of the fruit – a white flesh, and the other a dark red flesh with the white fleshed red dragon fruit the most common.
The yellow skinned (with a white flesh) dragon fruit are not as commonly grown as the red variety mainly because of its nasty thorny protection, which needs to be removed before handling (more about that later). Also, the yellow variety is significantly smaller than the red in size. However, out of the two colours the yellow has a better taste (sweeter) than the red variety but that’s my personal opinion.
What does the fruit taste like?
With such a glamorous exterior, you would expect the dragon fruit to deliver more than it does – taste wise. Having said that, one shouldn’t try and compare this fruit to other tropical stand-outs just because of how vibrant it looks. The main point is the fruit does not taste bad it just isn’t a taste bud celebration with every mouthful, but it does taste good. Let me clarify by saying I really enjoy eating dragon fruit!
Dragon fruit pulp close-up (image above)
Some would say the fruit tastes a little bland but I think the same about some varieties of watermelon and that doesn’t stop me from eating them. The taste of the dragon fruit is like a melon with the texture and tiny seeds similar to a kiwi fruit. And just like a kiwi fruit, you hardly notice the seeds when eating the dragon fruit pulp. In fact, crunching a few seeds in a bite releases a slight tang (or acidity) which is quite pleasant.
The fruit is best eaten a little chilled (whole in the fridge), then cut in half and the pulp scooped out with a spoon. Eaten this way, I find the fruit quite refreshing and very enjoyable – I could eat lots of them. Alternatively, dragon fruit are good mashed in cocktails or cut into chunks and added to fruit salads, which by doing so can only enhance the overall fruit salad taste and definitely will not detract from it.
Out of the common red and yellow varieties of dragon fruit, the sweetest tasting is the yellow. However, the drawback for growing the yellow variety (unlike the red) is the fact that the fruit develops spines (thorns) up to and over a centimetre long, which need to be carefully removed before handling (read more about removing the spikes in harvesting below).
Why grow dragon fruit?
I say, “why not” grow dragon fruit? Here are some reasons why more people should grow this weird looking fruit producing cactus:
Healthy – Despite some thinking the fruit tastes bland, it is actually very good for us to eat nutritionally. Dragon fruits contain good levels of fibre, minerals, vitamins (vitamin C), and cancer fighting antioxidants.
Ornamental value – Many people collect cactus just for fun and for looking at because they are a spectacular plant genus visually. The flower this plant produces is incredible!
Different – In contrast to the rest of the garden the dragon fruit plant can be made into a great feature with its eye-catching fleshy stems. On the table, or at a dinner party the fruit do look fabulous and are a real talking point with guests.
Easy – The plant itself is very easy to grow and requires little care or water.
Taste – I personally do love the taste and think it’s a refreshing fruit to eat or drink if you make it into a cocktail.
Retail – The large red dragon fruit sell for a ridiculous $5 a pop in the supermarket (in Australia) – enough said…
How to grow dragon fruit?
The massive flower bud of the dragon fruit (image above)
Where can you grow Dragon Fruit
Dragon fruit can be grown almost anywhere in the world. In very cold climates it needs to be protected or it may struggle as it grows best in a warm climate with mild winters. It can be rather drought proof and survive harsh dry conditions; however, the plant does seem to like regular water (in good draining soil) and this helps it produce better fruit in my experience. Yes, pitaya plants can suffer neglect well but will grow much better in fertile, free draining soil with lots of water.
When (planting, fruiting, harvest)
Planting – Time of year for planting isn’t really a consideration. The plant is long lived and being a cactus has natural reserves to make it pretty easy as a self-establisher for getting through planting at any time.
Fruiting and flowering – Fruiting can be sporadic throughout the year with the main flowering in summer and then fruit developing into autumn and winter. A dragon fruit plant in flower is an amazing site to behold with petal span often over 8 inches across! Firstly, the shear size of the flower makes it stand out from 50 yards away and the crisp white outer petals with the rich yellow stamens are beautiful. For the best chance to see these flowers in full glory a dawn rising is required as by mid-morning the flowers are usually closed. The flowers are mostly nocturnal (opening at night only) to be pollinated by the creatures of darkness (moths and bats). Nevertheless, I have seen the flowers open through the day and visited by other insects especially ants.
The dragon fruit flower in all its glory (image above)
Plant maturity inducing flowering seems to work off growth rather then age of the plant. I have found that the dragon fruit plant starts to flower and produce fruit best after it has reached a high-point in growth on whatever structure it is climbing. That is, the single stem reaches up and loops down under its own weight triggering small fractures in the stem wall, which in turn stimulates branching.
I have since learnt decapitation once the vine has grown to an acceptable height is another way to stimulate extra branches and fruit development.
Therefore, growing the plant on posts no higher than 2 metres will not only make harvesting easier but it will produce fruit faster also because it won’t need to climb as high before toppling over and spreading.
The other extreme, where the plant is left unchecked to grow up a tall structure or even a tree trunk, is worse because the dragon fruit will just keep climbing up and up making fruit harvesting difficult.
It is on the new branches sprawling over the top of the support structure where most of the new flowers are produced, although, flowers can pop-up anywhere on the plant.
Of course, after the flowers come the fruit and it can be tricky to guess exactly how long the fruit will take to reach maturity because it depends mainly on the size. Some fruit keep growing and get very large (bigger than a man’s fist) and others stop growing and start ripening early. So, from flowering to ripe fruit can take from 6 weeks to several months.
Pollination – You can get self-fertile plants and other plants which require cross pollination from other dragon fruit flowers. Unless you are an enthusiast, try to ensure the dragon fruit plant you buy is self-fertile! However, if you are not sure whether your plant is self-fertile or not you can test it when your first flower comes along by hand pollinating; likewise, if your plants are having trouble setting fruit hand pollination will have to be done.
Hand pollination is a pretty simple process but remember the flower only lives for about 12 hours so timing is important! All Pitaya flowers contain male and female parts. The anthers on the tips of the stamen are the male parts (which are typlically the fluffy middle of the flower that contain pollen) and the stigma is the top of the pistil or the female part of the flower (which is usually the long pollen tube poking out from the centre of the flower leading to the ovule). To hand pollinate, use a small paint brush and rub the anthers to collect the pollen then gently dab the top of the stigma to deposit the pollen and thus fertilise the flower!
Harvesting – Pitaya (dragon fruit) do not ripen off the plant after harvest. Therefore, before picking the fruit ensure it is fully ripe by visually checking the colour has completely changed from green to red or yellow. Also, the skin should be slightly soft (like a silicon filled ball) when lightly squeezed or poked.
To remove the fruit simply rotate it with a light pull and it should come away rather easily – if it doesn’t come off easily it probably isn’t fully ripe.
Before picking the yellow fruit, its thorns need to be removed and this can be done by using any implement; for example, a pliers, brush, glove. If the fruit is ripe, the thorns should already be showing signs of shedding anyway and hopefully they will easily rub off without too much problem but care still needs to be taken naturally as the thorns are needle sharp. See my video on how to remove thorns from yellow dragon fruit.
After harvest preservation isn’t too bad; however, they are best eaten within a few days.
Propagation and positioning of dragon fruit – Because dragon fruit are a climbing plant they are best grown on a structure. Most people grow the plants on a post and secure the stem to the post as it grows with twine or some sort of material.
A dragon fruit farm (image above)
I have seen images of dragon fruit plants on posts no higher than a standard fence (about 1.5m and that might be ok if you plan to have several plants; however, if just one or two plants are required then I’d go a little higher so there is more space for hanging growth (thus more fruit).
Plants can be started readily from seed but most people purchase a potted plant which are usually a foot or two high. Cuttings are also a very successful way to propagate dragon fruit and it’s quite common to find a segment broken from the plant. More often then not, the segment will grow into a new plant if potted up or even re-planted in the soil as is. If you know someone with dragon fruit plants then getting some freebies should be easy enough.
To propagate from seed is a slower way to grow a new dragon fruit plant but it’s still a good option if you can only get the fruit. Simply, squash some of the pulp and seed onto some damp kitchen paper and keep slightly damp over a few weeks you should see some of the seeds sprouting and when they get about 1/2 inch high carefully transfer them to individual pots in good seed raising mix. Once the plant gets about 6 inches high, it can then be planted out into where you want it to grow (preferribly up a strong single post).
Soil – One thing that will kill a cactus is over watering or wet feet so ensure the soil is free draining. I live in a sub-tropical climate and because of the high rainfall (and my clay soil) I have ensured my plants are growing on a mound or large pot with the bottom cut out. Being a cactus, it can survive some neglect from lack of water and even nutrients but the plant will quickly rot in heavy soil.
Fertiliser – I feed my dragon fruit plants a mix of chicken and quail manure once or twice a year with an occasional dress of compost and a good mulching (keep the much away from the trunk/stem). A complete commercial fertiliser purchased from a garden centre will do also.
Honestly, this plant will grow well under horrid conditions and neglect but for the best fruit possible some care will help.
Pests & Disease on Dragon Fruit plants
Nothing much attacks this plant or the fruit except for when the fruit ripens and then animals or birds may have a go at it but this personally hasn’t happened to me. I wouldn’t imagine climbing or sitting on a cactus to be an easy or pleasant thing for an animal to do, and I’d like to see my pesky possums try to eat a prickly yellow dragon fruit.
For those of us (like me) who live in an area with fruit fly you needn’t be concerned with this awful pest either as it doesn’t sting the fruit so no netting is required!
Fungal problems can sometimes arise through summer when the humidity is high with rust spots appearing and then opening up to rot; however, the plants seem to get over it without any intervention. If the plant looks like it is in big trouble from a fungal attack then sparingly using a fungicide (as directed) should solve the issue. Nevertheless, the dragon fruit plant heals itself well after attacks from fungus or injury through wind etc.
Having said that, recently (Feb 2014) I have had my first serious fungal attack on a dragon fruit vine (red variety) which caused severe dieback. The rust spots started random on certain limbs and then rapidly spread. For now, the treatment I’ve used is a fungal spray and removal of affected branches – hopefully, this will be good enough! This has only happend on the one plant and it happens to be dual planted with a yellow variety which is NOT affected (strange). I’ve started a thread about this on our fourm SSC here so I can collect more information about the problem and detail progress in solvign or preventing it.
Also, I have read a dose of Epsom salts (as directed on packet manuf instructions) watered into the base of the plant may help it recover from sunburn.
You can buy dragon fruit plants online plus many other dragon fruit products to try before you grow on Amazon (USA) or eBay (USA)
In Australia, there are plenty of cuttings and seed etc to buy stright from eBay (Australia).
Want to make a Dragon Fruit Trellis? Check out this article – How to Build a Dragon Fruit Trellis.
If you are already a fan of cactus plants then getting a pitaya/dragon fruit plant is an easy decision; even just for the ornamental value.
If you’re interested in food gardening then this easy to care for Mexican born, Asian raised, rebel of a plant will be the heavy metal rocker in your quaint garden especially at flowering time. You need to get a dragon fruit plant just so you can get up at dawn, take a picture of these massive flowers, and brag to your friends.
And, if you’re not really a cactus fan nor an avid food gardener then why not start your new passion with an exotic like the pitaya aka dragon fruit – this plant will not fail you.
Feel free to use the comment section below and have your say (no email is required) but what would really be even better is if you visited our dragon fruit thread on our forum simply join up (free) and chat with us.
Thanks for reading and thanks for your support.
Look, and see the Earth through her eyes
Mark Valencia – Editor SSM
How To Get Dragon Fruit: Reasons For No Fruit On Pitaya Cactus Plants
Dragon fruit, also frequently called pitaya, is the fascinating, thoroughly tropical looking fruit you may have seen in the market. This bright pink, scaly fruit comes from a long, winding cactus of the same name. Provided you have warm temperatures and enough space, you can grow a dragon fruit cactus at home. But what do you do if your pitaya won’t fruit? Keep reading to learn more about reasons dragon fruit won’t develop and how to make dragon fruit bear fruit.
Reasons for No Fruit on Pitaya Cactus
There are a few possible reasons your pitaya won’t fruit. The most likely cause is inadequate growing conditions. The dragon fruit cactus is a tropical plant, which means it likes heat. If temperatures are below 65 F. (18 C.), your plant is
unlikely even to form flowers. If it’s cool out, bring your plant indoors or, better yet, move it to a greenhouse to try to induce flower and fruit production.
Another common problem is light. A pitaya needs lots of light to fruit, and especially if you’re keeping yours indoors, it just might not be getting enough. Make sure your plant is in a spot that receives a full 6 hours of sun per day. If you can’t manage this indoors, place it under bright lights instead.
It’s also possible your dragon fruit won’t develop fruit because of a lack of moisture. Since it’s a cactus, many gardeners assume the pitaya doesn’t need much water. In fact, it likes its soil to be kept consistently moist and should be given about an inch (2.5 cm.) of water per week.
Dragon fruits usually only develop in the summer, when temperatures are high and the days are long. If it’s winter, you likely won’t see any fruit. By increasing the above elements, however, you can extend the fruiting season somewhat.
How to Get Dragon Fruit
Pitaya cacti reach maturity quickly and with proper care should produce fruit for 20 to 30 years. Proper care is key, though. The plants are very long, and can reach 40 feet (12 m.) in length. To encourage fruiting, you should give your cactus a tall, sturdy trellis to climb.
Always remove damaged or dying branches. Prune the tips of the uppermost branches to encourage more lateral growth and fruit development.
Dragon fruit surprisingly easy to grow | Miami Herald
Dragon fruit: The name alone is mysterious and intriguing, and its appearance does not disappoint. The fruit itself looks like it’s straight out of a video game. It has a flame-red, egg-shaped body and what looks like reptile scales tipped in yellow-green. The fruit may look like exotic, but you can grow it in a typical South Florida garden.
While you may not initially equate “cactus” with “edible,” the dragon fruit, also known as pitaya, is indeed borne on a cactus. When the fruit is cut open, the flesh is revealed to be snow-white and peppered with tiny, edible black seeds throughout — quite a contrast to the exterior.
The flesh is mildly sweet, some say comparable to a melon. A source of calcium, fiber and vitamin C, the dragon fruit is widely cultivated throughout much of the tropics, particularly in Asia. Its popularity in tropical Asia combined with the dragon reference may lead us to believe it originated in Asia, but the fact is no one seems to agree on where it came from. We do however know it is in the cactus family (Cactaceae), and therefore almost sure to be of New World origin.
This vine-like cactus likes to climb, and is considered a semi-epiphyte, so providing some means of support is essential if you grow it. Here at Fairchild, it grows up an approximately six-foot-tall T-shaped wooden support.
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Propagation from seed is certainly an option, but you’ll have to wait a few years for fruit. Growing it from a stem cutting is a better strategy.
If you acquire a fresh cutting, it’s best to place it in a shady location for a week or more to allow the cut end to dry and “heal” to avoid fungal infections before placing it into soil.
Thereafter, a good, well-drained potting mix will serve to encourage roots to grow. Mine are in a pot for now to ensure proper drainage and so I can keep a better eye on potential problems. When new growth appears, it will be safe to plant them in the ground in a sunny location.
Cuttings can take four months or more to develop really strong root systems. As the stems grow, make sure you keep them directed towards their intended support or trellis.
Remove lateral growth until the stems reach at least a few feet up their support. Then you can prune the tips of the stems to induce multiple branching, and eventually, fruiting. This cactus develops some pretty thick and heavy stems, so your support will need to ultimately hold quite a bit of weight. Use twine or bands of fabric to help attach it to the support, avoiding wires that can cut into the weighty stems. Eventually the stems will grow aerial roots to grip onto the support.
Keeping soil well drained can be a challenge during the rainy season, but one way to help maximize drainage is by planting the dragon fruit in a raised mound. Dig a hole and mix whatever native soil you excavate along with manure and compost to form the mound at least a foot high. The additions will also help feed your new planting. Add a layer of mulch, which will add to the nutrition of your soil and its microorganisms as it decomposes, but keep mulch away from the base of the plant to avoid introducing fungi and rot.
The dragon fruit grown in Fairchild’s Edible Garden is Hylocereus undatus “Vietnamese giant.” This variety can self-pollinate, which means it can produce fruit on its own without help from you. Be aware that other varieties may require cross pollination with another plant. That’s not a bad thing, but you’ll need to make sure other plants of the same variety are nearby, and either supply the natural pollinator (probably moths, since the flowers open at night) or learn how to pollinate yourself (wearing a moth costume helps).
Dragon fruit flowers are also a treat, edible when in the bud stage as a cooked vegetable, otherwise opening into a huge white flower that to me smells like peanuts.
Flowering is triggered by heavy rains and warm weather, plentiful during summer in the southeast. They’ll do fine during South Florida winters too, requiring a drink only during very extended dry periods. Fruit ripen four to five weeks after flowering, which continues during summer and into early fall. You can harvest the fruit when it’s an intense, fiery red.
Kenneth Setzer is writer and editor at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.
Dragon fruit is an incredible cactus that produces strange looking fruit resembling a magical dragon egg. Cut through the vibrant pinky red skin to reveal white or pink flesh speckled with tiny black seeds. The taste is hard to pin down with some saying it’s a sweet mix of mild kiwi fruit, watermelon, strawberry and pear flavours. Others describe it as only vaguely sweet or even savoury. Confused? Well growing conditions and ripeness of the fruit can impact taste but nonetheless it’s visually impressive and packed full of nutrients, like Vitamin C, so you can’t go wrong.
If the fruit isn’t enough to you tempt you then don’t forget the flowers. Their stunning large flowers are easily over 20cm wide and appear in summer. They are yellowy green on the outside and open to a scented white, lily like bloom. Flowers open in the evening and only last one night. It’s the perfect excuse to host an evening cocktail party and enjoy their blooms!
Dragon Fruit Types
The name dragon fruit is used to refer to several types of cacti that produce edible fruits. In Australia the mostly grown species are:
- Hylocereus undatus (white fleshed fruit)
- Hylocereus costaricensis (red fleshed fruit). Also known as H. polyrhizus.
- Hylocereus megalanthus (yellow skin and white flesh)
There are also named varieties available but the good news is that regardless of what type you get they all need the same basic growing conditions.
How To Grow Dragon Fruit
Dragon fruits come from Mexico and Central and Southern America. Not surprisingly they like warm conditions with mild winters and no frost. They can tolerate the occasional short burst of cold weather but ideally they should be kept above 10 degrees. They can handle heat, drought, humidity and poor soils but will grow tastier fruit with regular watering and rich soil.
Choose a sunny spot and then boost the soil with compost, manure and certified organic pelletised fertiliser. A dose of eco-flo lime is also beneficial. Soil needs to be free draining as these plants rot easily if the roots sit in water. Clay soils are not ideal but if that’s all you have then treat with eco-flo gypsum and plant on a raised mound. Alternatively they will happily grow in a large pot.
Mulch plants to protect their shallow roots and water in with eco-seaweed. Repeat the eco-seaweed a week later to encourage new roots to grow quickly.
If left to their own devices dragon fruit become a scrambling scraggy mess so a bit of training is in order. Plant against a thick stake or some other support and tie one or two main stems to the support to encourage vertical straight growth. Trim away any other side shoots. Once the stems have reached the desired height cut off their ends to encourage new branching shoots. These can then be allowed to spread out and hang downwards. Commercial growers often use a rose wheel and encourage side way branches to grow over the wheel making it easier for picking fruit.
Fertilising and Maintenance of Dragon Fruit
Every 2-3 weeks apply a mix of eco-seaweed and eco-aminogro as a foliar spray or watered in the soil around the plant. Each spring reapply eco-flo lime and replenish the compost/manure/organic fertiliser pellets. Check the staking to ensure plant is properly supported as it grows.
When established the top can become quite congested and large. Periodically remove some of the longer shoots to keep it under control and allow space for new growth to develop. This is important because flowers form on the ends of new season growth so each year you need new growth to get fruit. Less congestion tends to lead to bigger fruit as well.
Harvesting Dragon Fruits
Fruit is ripe approximately a month after flowering but this can vary with local conditions. Fruit will not continue to ripen once picked so you need to look for other signs before picking. Check that the colour of the fruit is bright and even all over and the small “wings” on the fruit are starting to wither. Lightly press the fruit in your hand and if ripe it will give just a little. Pick by twisting the fruit off the plant or cut with secatuers. The skin is not edible but the seeds are just like a kiwi fruit.
Propagation of Dragon Fruits
Dragon fruit grow easily from seed or cuttings. To grow from seed, squash some flesh onto paper towel and keep moist in a warm position but away from direct sunlight. Seeds will sprout 2-3 weeks later and can be potted up into punnets. Water weekly with eco-seaweed to develop strong seedlings and pot into individual pots once large enough. Seedlings will take several years to reach fruiting size.
To take a cutting simply break off a segment 30-50cm long and leave in a dry shady spot for a week. This allows the cut end to seal and prevents rotting. Plant into a pot and keep in a bright shady spot while roots are forming before then moving into the sun. Don’t over water during this time. Cuttings can be taken at any time but will grow faster if done during the warmer months.
Pests and Diseases of Dragon Fruit
Dragon fruit are generally tough plants but watch out for the following problems which can crop up:
- Caterpillars – pick these off by hand as soon as you see them. Read our caterpillar control guide for more tips.
- Snails and slugs – young plants are most vulnerable as snails and slugs can chew away large sections and interfere with the initial training of the main stems. Less of an issue with established plants. Click through for various methods to control snails and slugs.
- Fungal problems – high humidity and overhead watering can sometimes cause various diseases to develop on stems, flowers and fruit. Prune off badly affected sections and if the plant is congested remove additional branches to improve airflow. Adjust your watering regime to eliminate overhead watering. Improve plant strength with weekly applications of eco-seaweed.
- Split fruit – usually due to excessive watering/rain when the fruit is ripening.
- Stem/root rot – most common when grown in poorly draining soil or regions which have cold wet winters. Work on improving soil drainage (eco-flo gypsum will help) or move into a pot with a well draining potting mix.
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The dragon fruit
What is it?
While the dragon fruit can look a little strange at first, it’s actually pretty similar to other tropical fruits. In fact, if you know how to eat a kiwi, you know how to eat dragon fruit. They have similar textures, flavours, and even appearances as they both have tiny black seeds inside of them!
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Where is dragon fruit from?
Dragon fruit or pitaya comes from a special kind of cactus that climbs up plants and other structures like a vine.
Originally, the cactus only grew in the tropical parts of the Americas and Southeast Asia. Today, you can even find dragon fruit plants for sale here in Australia as the white-fleshed H. undatus and the red-fleshed H. polyrhizus varieties are both grown locally.
What is dragon fruit good for?
Like most fruits, dragon fruit is full of important vitamins and minerals. It’s also a good alternative for unhealthy snacks as it’s a lot less calorific than most sweets.
Materials and other considerations
Before you can start planting dragon fruit, you’ll need to make some preparations.
For starters, you need the right kind of soil. Any kind of well draining soil will do, but sandy soil can give you the best results as the plant needs to be in a slightly acidic environment. Sandy soil also drains water faster than other kinds of soil, which is ideal for the cactus-like dragon fruit plant.
You also need to get some fertiliser. The plant’s natural habitat is full of nutrients, so it needs the extra boost from the fertiliser to thrive in your garden.
As a climbing plant, you’ll also need to provide it with some kind of support. A trellis is ideal, but you can also use a wall or a wooden post if you’re short on time or resources. Just make sure the wood you’re using isn’t treated timber.
The last thing you need to prepare is the planting site itself. As a subtropical plant from warmer climates, the dragon fruit plant can only grow somewhere hot, so the temperature of your planting site should hover around 18 – 26 °C. The site should also have a lot of sun exposure as certain varieties like H. undatus need a lot of light.
If you live in the warmer parts of the country, you should be able to grow the plant in your garden without too much of a problem. But, for those farther south, you’ll be better off growing your dragon fruit plants in pots; this way, you’ll be able to move them around when the plant isn’t in its growing season. Any large well draining pot from your local Bunnings will do as long as it’s around 250 mm deep and 600 mm wide.
Growing your plant
When planting dragon fruit, you can grow the plant from either seeds or stem cuttings. If it’s your first time growing dragon fruit, we suggest you use cuttings as they’re generally more reliable than seeds and take less time to produce fruit after propagation. That said, plants grown from seeds can be just as productive as plants grown from stem cuttings when fully-grown.
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How to grow dragon fruit from seeds
If you’re growing your plant from a seed, be prepared for a long ride as it can take six to seven years for your plant to start producing fruit.
To start off, you need to place the seeds in a seed-starting tray with moist soil. After two weeks, the seeds should have grown into young seedlings, which you can then place in your prepared planting site.
As the seedling grows, you only need to water it sparingly. If the soil is still moist to the touch, then you probably don’t need to water it for the day.
You also don’t need to add a lot of fertiliser all at once; a little bit of fertiliser every month or so can go a long way for your dragon fruit plant.
How to grow dragon fruit from cuttings
If you’re using a stem cutting, make sure that it comes from a productive plant and it’s at least 30 cm long. The cutting should also be completely dry before planting to promote growth. Once it’s dry, take it to your planting site and plant it 5 cm into the soil.
Like with seed-grown plants, your cuttings only need a little bit of water and fertiliser. Remember – the key to a healthy plant isn’t soaked soil but moist soil.
After about a month, the cutting should have newly propagated roots and start showing new growth. From there, you only need to wait one to three years before your plant starts flowering and producing fruit.
Harvesting dragon fruit
Once your plant’s flowers start blooming, you only need to wait around 28 days after pollination to get your hands on some sweet, delicious dragon fruit. For most dragon fruit plants in the country, you’ll know when to pick your dragon fruit once its skin gets the signature blood-red colour. But, if you’re growing uncommon varieties like H. megalanthus, the fruit’s skin would be yellow when ripe.
The fruit can last for around two weeks as long as you keep it inside a cold container with a temperature between 7 – 10 °C.
What should I watch out for?
For one, you need to watch out for pests like ants and mealybugs that feed on your plants. You can deal with these pests however you want, but we suggest you try out these eco-friendly solutions before resorting to more synthetic alternatives.
You’ll also need to watch out for rot on your dragon fruit plant. In cases where the rot is caused by extreme weather conditions, you can safely clip away the rotting parts of your plant without much worry. However, if the rot is caused by bacteria, be sure to sterilise your clippers before using them on a different plant.
Is the dragon fruit plant worth it?
For our money, it definitely is! As a low maintenance plant that produces delicious fruit every year, the dragon fruit plant is one of the best things you can add to your garden.
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Growing Dragon Fruit at Home
They thrive in USDA zones 10–11. It is highly adaptive to its environment and can be grown as far North as zones 8 & 9 but not as abundantly. Dragon Fruit will endure temperatures over 100 o F, But long durations at these temperatures has been known to damage the fruit.
Dragon Fruit will also survive short bursts of frosty weather. They will not survive extended periods of freezing temperatures. Optimal temperatures for growing dragon fruit is between 65 and 85 degrees o F.
Containers – Potted Dragon Fruit
They also do well as potted plants grown indoors in cooler regions, a greenhouse, florida room or sun drenched porch would be just dandy, but a sunny window will suffice. At least 6-8 hours of sun is needed. The container will need adequate drainage, several drainage holes. The container should also be large enough to accomodate a large plant. There are several popular varieties of Dragon Fruit that vary a tad in size but generally a 3 – 5 gallon container is suitable to start. You can transplant it a later date if need be when starting form a smaller pot, but you may lose some in the process.
NEVER, ever allow the roots to become soggy, they are cacti, overwatering will surely be the end of them.
Seeds can be started in a potting soil mix made for cactus plants that is sandy and well draining or very dry compost with sand.
It is a vining cactus, so a support structure / trellis is advisable. In a container cactus it will flow over the edges. Outdoors it will sprawl along the ground.
Staring from Seed
Dragon Fruit Seeds can be purchased or self collected. If using seeds you gleaned yourself they should be thoroughly cleansed of fruit pulp and stored till dry. It is advisable you use only the best Dragon Fruit specimens for seed saving, free of blemishes and over-ripe.
Seeds under the right conditions, will germinate within a week give or take a few days either way.
Starting From Cuttings
Even though they are not that difficult to start from seed, cuttings are good way to go. Grown from seeds they take much longer to bare fruit and have a lower survival rate. Cuttings will sprout roots with or without soil and are generally ready to plant within a week.
Cuttings should be 1/2 ft to 1.5 feet and taken from a healthy vine. Cut through the vine at a slight angle in order to expose a larger surface area.
I like to spread a thin layer of honey over the exposed cut. Honey works well as a rooting hormone the benefits of Honey as a rooting agent are three-fold – enzymes to stimulate new root growth, anti bacterial and anti fungal properties to curtail infection, and nutrients via its natural sugar content. A win, win and win again menage a trios of properties / qualities. See: Honey as a Rooting Agent .. Fungicidal rooting hormone powder will also work
DO NOT put the cutting in water as is done with some plants – remember it’s a cacti. Place the cutting in a dry area out of sdirect sunlight, but not completely in the dark either. Wihin about a week you should see should roots sprouting from the cut area.
Fill your container with a suitable potting mix and place the cutting root end down roughly 2 inches below the soil surface. You don’t need to have any part above the soil, as it grows it will seek out the sunlight by itself.
The potted cutting should not be in direct sunlight – partial diffused light is best. Water the soil very lightly twice monthly and only after it has dried out completely.
Don’t transplant till the plant is 6 to 8 weeks old and producing helathy growth.
If planning on transferring them to the great outdoors you should wait 5 – 6 months for them to be strong enough and have developed an adequate root system.