Growing pawpaw from seeds

Planting Pawpaw Trees

Successfully establishing a young fruit tree in your yard starts with your planting site and method. Once a fruit tree is established, it needs little assistance to grow and bear fruit; but you’ll want to make sure you give your trees the right foundation.

Stark trees that are grown and shipped in bottomless pots are part of our continuing quest for producing better and stronger trees for the home grower. By following these simple instructions, you will be assured of getting your young tree off to the best possible start.

NOTE: This is part 3 in a series of 9 articles. For a complete background on how to grow pawpaw trees, we recommend starting from the beginning.

Fruit trees require fertile soil for good growth, so before you plant, check your soil pH. Contact your local County Extension Office for information about soil testing in your area, or purchase one of our digital meters for quick and accurate results. Pawpaw trees enjoy a soil pH of 5.5-7.0. Steer clear of soils that are extremely heavy or poorly drained.

Before Planting

  • When your tree arrives, carefully take it out of the package, making sure not to damage any of the branches. The potted tree has been watered prior to shipment and should arrive moist, but it does need another drink when it arrives at your home. Be sure the container is moist clear through. If you can’t plant your tree immediately upon arrival, keep the pot moist until you can plant it and keep the tree in a sheltered location. DO NOT place your potted tree in a bucket of water. This could cause the roots to rot, and kill your tree.
  • Your tree is ready for planting as soon as it arrives at your home. Simply grasp the sides of the container and carefully slide the tree out. The potting soil should remain intact around the tree’s roots. You will want to keep this soil with the tree and plant it, soil and all, into the prepared hole.
  • The first year is critical for a pawpaw. Protection from direct sun by shading the first few growing seasons is highly recommended. Use a wooden shingle, evergreen bough, or a screen with mini fence or similar method to provide shade. Plant two different varieties to assure proper pollination.

Planting Steps

  • Space your trees 15-25 feet apart, depending on variety.
  • Dig the hole deep and wide enough so the root system has plenty of room. (Keep the topsoil in a separate pile so you can put it in the bottom of the hole, where it’ll do the most good.)
  • Roots grow better in soil that’s been loosened, so mix in our Coco-Fiber Potting Medium into your pile of topsoil. You can also use dehydrated cow mature, garden compost or peat moss (up to 1/2 concentration).
  • Plant the same depth as grown in nursery row or in pot.
  • Fill the hole, putting the topsoil back in first. You can avoid creating air pockets by working the soil carefully around the roots and tamping down firmly.
  • Create a rim of soil around the planting hole 2” above ground level. This allows water to stand and soak in. (In the fall, spread soil evenly around tree to prevent damage from water freezing around the plant.)


  • Fertilize sparingly with Stark® Tre-Pep® Fertilizer. (If planting in the fall, wait to fertilize until spring for best results.) This effective starter fertilizer helps trees and plants grow quickly and vigorously. After watering, if soil compacts, be sure to add enough soil to fill the hole to ground level.
  • No pruning is necessary at planting time.


A pawpaw’s flowers have both male and female reproduction parts, but they are not self-pollinating. Also, the female stigma may mature and no longer be receptive when the male pollen is shed. They do require cross-pollination from another pawpaw tree. Bees have little interest in pawpaws; flies and beetles can do some pollination. The best solution is to pollinate by hand. Male pollen is ripe when the ball of anthers is brownish in color and loose. When collected, pollen grains will appear as small, beige-colored particles on the hairs of an artist’s brush. The female part of the flower is receptive when the tips of the pistils are green, glossy and sticky.

In This Series

  • Introduction

Getting Started

  • Acclimate
  • Planting

Care & Maintenance

  • Fertilizing
  • Pest & Disease Control
  • Pruning
  • Spraying
  • Watering

Other Topics

  • Harvesting

How To Plant Pawpaw Tree Seeds: Tips For Germinating Pawpaw Seeds

Once a common understory tree native to the eastern United States, pawpaw trees have become increasingly popular in the landscape lately. Not only do pawpaw trees produce delicious fruit, but they also make attractive small, low maintenance trees for the landscape. In organic gardening, they are popular due to their resistance to pests and diseases, fitting in perfectly with chemical-free garden practices. With the many dark brown seeds produced in each pawpaw fruit, gardeners may naturally wonder: Can you grow a pawpaw tree from seed?

Can You Grow a Pawpaw Tree from Seed?

If you are seeking instant gratification and hoping to immediately enjoy its fruits, then purchasing a growing rootstock cloned pawpaw tree may be the best option for you. When growing pawpaw trees from seed, the more pertinent question is when to sow pawpaw seeds, rather than how to plant pawpaw tree seeds.

Most gardeners have heard the old Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.” While 20 years may be a little excessive, many fruit trees, pawpaw included, do not bear any fruit for many years. When planted from seed, pawpaw trees usually do not produce their fruits for five to

eight years.

Growing pawpaws from seed is an exercise in patience, as the seeds are slow to germinate and require special care. In the wild, pawpaw trees naturally grow as understory trees. This is because germinating seeds and young seedlings of pawpaw are extremely sensitive, and even killed by direct sunlight. To successfully grow pawpaws from seed, you will need to provide them with some shade for the first year or two.

How to Plant Pawpaw Seeds

Even when provided with adequate shade, germinating pawpaw seeds requires a 60- to 100-day period of cold, moist stratification. Seeds are generally sown directly in the ground, or in deep tree containers in late fall, after the seeds ripen in fall. Stratification can also be mimicked in a refrigerator at 32-40 F. (0-4 C.). For this method, pawpaw seeds should be placed in a Ziploc bag with moist, but not wet, sphagnum moss and sealed.

Seeds should be kept in the refrigerator for 70-100 days. Once removed from the refrigerator, the seeds can be soaked in warm water for 24 hours to break dormancy, then planted in the ground or in deep containers. Pawpaw seedlings usually sprout a month or two after germination but aerial growth will be very slow for the first two years as the plant expends most of its energy in to root development.

Pawpaw trees are hardy in U.S. hardiness zones 5-8. They prefer well-draining, slightly acidic soil in the pH range of 5.5-7. In heavy clay, or waterlogged soils, pawpaw seedlings will not perform well and may die. Proper drainage is essential for optimal growth. Pawpaw trees also do not transplant well, so it is important to plant pawpaw seeds in a site where they can permanently stay, or in a large enough container where they can grow for some time.

Pawpaw seeds, like their fruit, have a very short shelf life. Seeds should never be stored by drying or freezing. In just three days of drying, pawpaw seeds can lose about 20% of their viability. Pawpaw seeds ripen in fall (September to October), and are usually removed from the fruit, washed and used immediately for seed propagation.

When planted in autumn, pawpaw seeds usually germinate and produce shoots in summer of the following year.

Fruits and vegetables have been proven to be great benefits to improve human health and serve as prevention of illnesses due to their nutritional contents which include, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Taking the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables each day has also been proven to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

Fruits are rich on dietary fibre and serve as overall healthy diets which help reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease. Fibre is an important nutrient for proper bowel function. It helps reduce constipation and diverticulosis.

Pawpaw is a fruit that is beneficiary to the body in different ways. The benefits of the fruit are not limited to the fleshy yellow fruit but the seeds are of great benefits to the body.

The edible yellow flesh of pawpaw when sliced open contained seeds that are mostly wasted by people due to lack of knowledge of its benefits to the body. While most people throw them away, pawpaw seeds are not only edible, small amounts of them in your diet can be surprisingly good for you.

Although chewing half a teaspoon of the seeds is not like eating pawpaw fruit because they give different taste. The fleshy fruit is sweet while the seeds are a bit bitter and spicy, they have a strong flavor.

The seeds, medicinal value has been discovered to contain nutrients that help heal cirrhosis of the liver and improve kidney health, preventing renal failure and its anti-inflammatory properties help treat arthritis and joint disease. It contains an alkaloid called Carpaine that kills intestinal worms and amoeba parasites.

The many benefits to the body cannot be underestimated. It is said that a medium-sized pawpaw contains approximately 120 calories, 20 percent of the daily value for fiber and more than three times the vitamin C one needs for each day.

As a precaution, pregnant women should not use pawpaw seeds or the enzyme rich green pawpaw powder. This warning on their use would also extend to mothers who are breastfeeding.

Additionally, while pawpaw seeds do have strong anti-parasitic properties, they may be too powerful for young children’s gastrointestinal tracts, so a doctor should be consulted before giving them to infants.

There is also some animal research suggesting that eating pawpaw seeds may temporarily but greatly reduce a man’s fertility to the point that would make pregnancy unlikely. I’ll leave it up to male readers whether they currently consider that a good or bad thing.

Patients using blood thinning medications like warfarin or aspirin should consult their doctor before they eat pawpaw seeds regularly as papain may increase the actions of these drugs


Some benefits of pawpaw seeds to the body · •for worms and other parasitic infections •treatment for liver cirrhosis •fighting bacterial infections and treating food poisoning • combating candida yeast overgrowth •protecting your kidneys • better digestion with pawpaw seeds However, despite the beneficial properties, pawpaw seeds do have some side effects to be aware of and certain people shouldn’t take them. Please check if any of these apply to you before eating pawpaw seeds.

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Can You Eat Papaya Seeds?

In addition to providing several key nutrients, papaya seeds are linked to a number of potential health benefits.

Can Help Fight Infections

Studies show that papaya seeds can destroy certain types of fungi and parasites.

According to one test-tube study, papaya seed extract was effective against three different strains of fungi, including the specific pathogen responsible for causing yeast infections (6).

Another small study found that drinking an elixir made from dried papaya seeds and honey was significantly more effective at killing intestinal parasites than a placebo (7).

However, further large-scale studies are needed to determine how eating papaya seeds may impact fungal and parasitic infections in humans.

May Protect Kidney Function

Your kidneys play an integral role in health, acting as a filter to remove waste and excess fluid from your body.

Research suggests that eating papaya seeds could protect and preserve the health and function of your kidneys.

One animal study found that papaya seed extract helped prevent kidney damage in rats given a medication to induce toxicity (8).

Papaya seeds are also rich in antioxidants, which can block oxidative damage to your cells and protect kidney health (1, 9, 10).

However, since research in this area is still limited to animal studies, more human-based studies are needed.

Could Have Anti-Cancer Properties

Thanks to their impressive nutrient and antioxidant profile, some studies show that papaya seeds could have anti-cancer properties.

One test-tube study found that papaya seed extract helped reduce inflammation and protect against cancer development (11).

Similarly, another test-tube study showed that black papaya seeds were effective in decreasing the growth of prostate cancer cells (12).

While these results are promising, additional studies are needed to evaluate the effects of papaya seeds on cancer growth in humans.

May Improve Digestive Health

Like other seeds, papaya seeds are a good source of fiber.

Fiber moves through your gastrointestinal tract undigested, adding bulk to your stool to promote regularity.

In fact, a review of five studies found that increasing fiber intake was effective in increasing stool frequency in people with constipation (13).

Upping your fiber intake may positively impact several other aspects of digestive health as well.

Studies show that dietary fiber may protect against inflammatory bowel disease, relieve symptoms of hemorrhoids and prevent the formation of intestinal ulcers (14, 15, 16).

Summary Studies have found that papaya seeds could help fight infections, promote kidney health, protect against cancer and enhance digestive health.

The process of selecting and breeding superior pawpaws has only just begun, so if you can get seed from a good parent tree, its worthwhile to grow out the seedling to fruiting age. Growing pawpaws from seed is also the best way to produce rootstock for grafting known cultivars.

To break dormancy, pawpaw seeds require a period of moist, cool stratification. Seeds directly sown in the fall will receive this over the winter and generally germinate the following summer. Chipmunks an affinity for disturbing pawpaw seeds sown in ground. A protective wire screen over the seedling bed may help mitigate this issue.

Seeds can be stratified in a refrigerator over the winter and sown indoors in the early spring. Refrigerated (32°-40° F) seeds should be stored in a zip-lock bag with a bit of damp medium like peat moss or coconut coir. 70-100 days is the recommended stratification period.

The seed should be sown 1” deep in a light, well drained soil mix, pH 5.5-7. Germination will occur readily at a temperature between 75°-85° F . Sow seeds in tall containers, with a height of about 10” designed for tap rooted seedlings. The seed will normally germinate in 2-3 weeks, and the shoot will emerge in 2 weeks to 2 months.

Stratified seeds can also be wrapped in piece of damp paper towel and placed in a zip-lock bag. Place this bag in warm location (75o- 85o F), out of direct sunlight. Once the tap root radical emerges, the sprouted seed be planted in a pot as described above.
Provide seedlings with dappled sunlight, full sun will scorch the leaves of 1st year seedlings. With proper care, seed grown pawpaw’s will fruit in 5-8 years. Two genetically distinct trees are needed for fruit set.

Peterson Pawpaws

Seed Germination

Pawpaw seed is slow to germinate, but it is not difficult to grow seedlings if certain procedures are followed. Do not allow the seed to freeze or dry out, because this can destroy the immature, dormant embryo. If seeds are dried for 3 days at room temperature, the germination percentage can drop to less than 20%. To break dormancy, the seed must receive a period of cold, moist stratification for 70-100 days. This may be accomplished by sowing the seed late in the fall and letting it overwinter; the seed will germinate the following year in late July to late August.

Another way is to stratify the seed in the refrigerator (32°- 40° F/0° – 4° C). In this case the cleaned seed should be stored in a plastic ziplock bag with a little moist sphagnum moss to keep the seed moist and suppress fungal and bacterial growth. After stratification the seed should be sown 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep in a well-aerated soil mix, pH 5.5-7, with an optimum temperature of 75° – 85° F (24° – 29° C).
Use tall containers, such as tree pots (ht. 14 in – 18 in / 35 – 45 cm) or root trainers (ht. 10 in / 25 cm), to accommodate the long taproot. The seed will normally germinate in 2-3 weeks, and the shoot will emerge in about 2 months. During this time we have found it useful to apply a .5 inch (approx. 1.25 cm) mulch of sand. It prevents the seed coat from being pulled from the soil as well as keeping the weeds down. Germination is hypogeal: the shoot emerges without any cotyledons. For the first two years, growth is slow as the root system establishes itself, but thereafter it accelerates. Trees normally begin to bear fruit when the saplings reach 6 feet, which usually requires five to eight years.

Oikos Tree Crops offers a great video on pawpaw seed germination on their Youtube channel. Click below to view.

How to Grow Pawpaw Trees

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This helpful step-by-step guide, How To Grow Pawpaw Trees, will teach you how to produce your own pawpaw fruit, starting from seed or sapling.

Pawpaws (Asimina triloba) are our favorite native fruit, topping the list against some formidable competition including wild strawberries, American persimmons, and passionfruit.

Pawpaw fruit and seeds. Pawpaws are our favorite native fruit.

When we encountered our first pawpaws years back, we couldn’t believe our eyes or taste buds… Here was a mango-sized, native fruit we’d never even heard of that had an exceptional tropical flavor like banana-mango-cream custard. Was this amazing fruit being hidden from the world as part of a vast conspiracy?

Nope. As it turns out, pawpaws were enormously popular up until the mid 20th century. They simply fell out of favor because they don’t ship well or store very long after picking, becoming obsolete with the introduction of large grocery store chains.

However, breeding work is being done to alleviate these “problems” for commercial orchardists. For home gardeners or smaller farmers selling directly to restaurants or farmers markets, these problems actually aren’t problems at all…

Gardeners can harvest, eat, or process their pawpaw fruit soon after ripening. For local farmers, the relative unavailability of pawpaw fruit at a commercial scale can give you a competitive advantage in the marketplace if you’re the only local provider of this delicious, tropical-flavored fruit.

Mmm, pawpaw passionfruit sorbet, a summer delicacy made from native fruit. Get our recipe here.

How to grow pawpaw trees: a step-by-step guide

We started growing pawpaws about a decade ago. We currently have 10+ pawpaw trees planted in our food forest, all of which were either started from seed or grown out from one year old saplings.

Pawpaw’s native range in the US highlighted in green. If you live in the highlighted area, you can easily grow pawpaws. Pawpaws are hardy in Zones 5 through 8, so you may also be able to grow pawpaws outside of their native range if you live in those zones.

Each year, our pawpaw trees grow larger, yielding ever greater quantities of delicious pawpaw fruit. Last summer was the first time we ever had more pawpaw fruits than we could possibly eat fresh, which falls into the “good problem” category.

Perfectly ripened pawpaw fruits from the trees in our yard.

Below is a step-by-step guide showing you how to grow pawpaw trees based on our personal experience combined with collecting tips from other experts.

Step 1: Selecting Pawpaw Seeds, Saplings, and Varietals

You can grow pawpaws one of two ways:

Option 1: Start your pawpaws from seeds

  • Pros: least expensive method; with the seeds from a few pawpaw fruits, you can start dozens of trees;
  • Cons: you won’t necessarily get a cultivar that’s exactly true to the parent, but you’ll still get a great fruit; also, starting from seed will add 1 year to your wait time for getting fruit.

Option 2: Buy young pawpaw saplings

  • Pros: you can select the exact cultivars you want from a breeder and get fruit more quickly;
  • Cons: more expensive.

Pawpaw seed in hand and a 1 year old pawpaw sapling (grown from seed) in a nursery pot).

No matter how you choose to grow your pawpaws, note that you’ll need at least two genetically distinct trees growing in close proximity in order to get fruit. Pawpaw trees are typically NOT self-fertile, so a single pawpaw tree will not set fruit. (Note: Some bred pawpaw varieties are supposed to be self-fertile.)

Can you dig up and transplant wild pawpaw saplings?

When foraging for morel mushrooms in early spring, we often encounter flood plains full of pawpaw trees just starting to flower.

Pawpaws blooming at one of our morel mushroom hunting spots.

While it’s tempting to try to dig up a few of the younger pawpaw pawpaw saplings to plant in our yard, the reality is that our efforts would likely end up killing the tree.

A single pawpaw tree puts off lots of runners, so wild patches are often clonal colonies extending from the same parent plant. Digging them up will cause more damage to the feeder root than the runner plant can sustain for successful transplantation.

If you find a first or second year pawpaw sapling in the wild that grew from seed, you may be able to successfully transplant it.

Option 1: Starting Pawpaw Trees From Seeds

The most affordable way to grow pawpaw trees is from seed. We’ve started the majority of our pawpaw trees from seed, and it’s quite easy.

1. Get pawpaw seeds – In the late summer when pawpaw fruit is ripe, try to find fruit at a local farmers market. Then, remove and set aside the largest seeds from the largest, best-tasting pawpaw fruit when you’re eating them.

These are large-sized pawpaws from our trees, roughly the size of mangos. We save the largest seeds from our largest fruit each year to grow new pawpaw trees.

Do NOT store the seeds indoors for more than a couple weeks or let the seeds dry out. The seeds will only remain viable for a short period of time once dried.

Note: You can buy pawpaw seeds from Amazon and Baker Creek, but we’ve only ever used seeds planted from fresh fruit.

2. Plant pawpaw seeds in nursery pots – Put damp potting soil (we recommend FoxFarm potting soil) into a small one gallon nursery pot and plunk up to 5 seeds in each pot, about 1″ deep. (You can also use smaller containers with one pawpaw seed per container.)

We put multiple seeds into a single large container so we don’t have to keep track of lots of little containers. Then we separate the saplings out into individual pots during the fall/winter after their first year of growth.

3. Mulch and overwinter – Put about 1″ of wood chip mulch on the soil surface, then leave the container outside to overwinter. Pawpaw seeds need cold stratification (freezing temps) to germinate. In early spring the pawpaw seeds will germinate and you’ll see young sprouts pop through the mulch.

We haven’t measured our exact germination rates on our pawpaw seeds taken from fresh fruit and sown immediately, but our estimate would be about 80%+ of our seeds germinate.

Option 2: Buying young pawpaw saplings and selecting pawpaw varietals

There are now dozens of cultivated pawpaw varieties, and lots of breeding work is being done by universities and private breeders alike.

In our experience, there’s no such thing as a bad pawpaw — all taste amazing. If you’re going to buy saplings, it might be best to select the cultivars with the largest fruit size since this can make it easier to process them post-harvest.

Where can you buy pawpaw trees? Check with your local plant nurseries or universities. You can also google “pawpaw nurseries” to find online retailers, or buy 1-gallon pawpaw saplings through nurseries on Amazon.

Step 2: Site Selection for Young Pawpaw Trees

Once you have your pawpaw saplings (from seed or purchased plant), it’s easiest to keep them growing in containers IN FULL TO PART SHADE for the first 1-3 years, or until they reach about 3′ tall.

Why full shade – part shade?

In the wild, pawpaw trees are adapted to starting their lives as understory plants, growing in the shaded canopy of larger trees. Only when they’re older and/or when a larger tree dies opening up a hole in the canopy, will a pawpaw tree get direct sunlight and grow to its full height and fruiting potential.

If you decide to plant your young pawpaw saplings in a full sun spot, they’ll die from overexposure to sun. You can plant them in full sun IF you put a cage with shade cloth around it. However, we think it’s easier just to keep pawpaws growing in containers until they reach about 3′ tall (around year 3), at which point we transplant them to their final full-sun spot.

To keep your young pawpaw trees from getting rootbound in their containers, “pot them up” to larger pots with new organic potting soil each fall until you transplant them.

These dormant, two year old pawpaw saplings were just potted up to larger containers. They’ll be kept in a shaded spot for one more summer before being transplanted to their final, full-sun spots in the ground.

Step 3: Pawpaw Transplanting & Site Selection

Full sun: Once your pawpaws have reached 3′ tall, it’s time to transplant them into their final, full-sun location.

When to transplant: The two best times of year to transplant your pawpaw trees into their final location are:

  • fall – after they’ve gone dormant and dropped their leaves, or
  • spring – before they break dormancy.

Multiple plants for pollination: As mentioned earlier, pawpaw flowers are typically NOT self-fertile, so you’ll need to plant at least two, genetically distinct pawpaw trees close together for fruit production. A single pawpaw tree in isolation will not bear fruit.

Spacing: Plant each pawpaw tree anywhere from 6-12 feet apart.

Soil Prep: Pawpaws grow in low floodplains and bottomland areas with rich, fertile soil, that’s high in organic matter. As a late succession plant, they prefer fungally-dominated soil.

It always surprises us when we see pawpaws being grown in bare soil, as we did recently at a research farm where they told us that their pawpaws “don’t set much fruit.” This practice diminishes the nutrient- and moisture-holding capacity of the soil. It also selects for bacterially-dominated soil and makes it very difficult for late-succession soil ecology (dominated by mycorrhizae fungi) to flourish.

When preparing your pawpaw site, mix in high quality compost or worm castings with your native soil in the hole. Ratio should be about 30% compost to 70% native soil. If you have heavy or compacted soil and you fill a hole with 100% compost, your pawpaws can actually get rootbound in their planting hole (same is true for other perennial trees you plant).

Next, put 3-4″ of compost/worm castings in a 3′ diameter around the tree. Then cover the whole area with 3-6″ of wood chips/mulch.

Be careful not to pile the mulch against the stem of the tree as this can cause the trunk to rot, killing the tree.

In addition to building the type of rich, biologically active soil that pawpaws thrive in, the mulch will help provide good habitat for the native flies that pollinate your pawpaw flowers (pawpaws are not pollinated by bees).

Healthier pawpaw plants + more pollinators = improved fruit set.

Step 4: Pawpaw Tree Maintenance

Relative to other fruit trees we grow, pawpaws are very low maintenance.

Pruning: Only prune branches that cross over or rub against each other. Otherwise, let them be.

Under ideal conditions, mature pawpaw trees can reach 30′ or more in height, producing boxes full of fruit.

Irrigation: Since pawpaws are accustomed to growing in low-lying flood plains and bottom lands, they like moist (not wet) soil. The first summer after you transplant your pawpaw tree, make sure it gets about 1″ of water per week, whether from rain or irrigation.

As your pawpaw trees mature, they might not need irrigation unless you have prolonged droughts and/or extreme heat that might stress the plants, causing fruit drop.

Soil/fertility maintenance: Every spring, add 2-3″ of high quality compost or seasoned manure in a wide circle around your pawpaw tree, followed by another 3-6″ of wood chips. Let the tree roots and their symbiotic microbial partners do the rest of the work for you.

Suckers: Remember above where we mentioned finding large clonal colonies of pawpaw trees in the woods? Well, your pawpaw trees will try to do the same thing in your yard.

When you see pawpaw runners coming up, you have two options: leave them if you like where they are, or pull them out.

Pests & diseases: Perhaps due to the fact that they’re native plants, pawpaws are incredibly disease and pest-resistant – especially if you keep them healthy.

During years when Japanese beetles are abundant, they will do some leaf damage to our trees, but not enough for us to bother intervening. The beetles seem to much prefer our grape leaves and anything in the stone fruit family.

Please grow your pawpaw trees without using synthetic insecticides or other pesticides since pawpaws are the exclusive larval host plant for the gorgeous Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus). There again, the majority of the butterfly caterpillars will be eaten by birds and other predators. The few remaining caterpillars won’t do enough leaf damage to warrant intervention.

Photo of a Zebra Swallowtail butterfly taken by Megan McCarty, (CC BY 3.0). Pawpaws are their exclusive larval host plant.

Step 5: Harvesting

Years to harvest: How many years does it take to grow a pawpaw tree from seed to fruit? Your pawpaw trees may produce their first fruit in their fourth year under ideal conditions. However, it’s more likely to be year 5-6.

Pawpaw flower pollination: The first year our pawpaw trees flowered, we saw few flies visit the flowers. To compensate and ensure we got fruit, we went from flower-to-flower, tree-to-tree with q-tips.

The second year our trees flowered, the number of flies pollinating our pawpaw flowers had grown exponentially. The third year, even more flies.

We don’t know the exact species of fly that pollinates pawpaws or whether it/they only comes out once per year while pawpaws are flowering, similar to the Southeastern blueberry bee (Habropoda laboriosa) and blueberry flowers. What we do know is that we didn’t bring the flies to our pawpaw trees — they just showed up and flourished.

If you do your best to mirror the specific ecosystems in which a plant grows best (in the case of pawpaws, lowland forests) nature seems to somehow figure things out for you. Your job is to cultivate knowledge and trust.

Pawpaw: from flower to ripe fruit. In our area, pawpaw flowers come out in early March and the ripe fruit is ready to harvest for 2-3 weeks, from late August through mid-September.

Ripe pawpaw fruit: When does pawpaw fruit ripen? In the late summer. We usually get our first fruit during the last days of August and our last fruit around mid-September.

Ripe pawpaws look like small, bruised mangoes. Don’t let their lack of surface beauty fool you – under that skin is mango-banana-cream flavored goodness.

How can you tell if pawpaw fruit is ripe? It tells you. Perfectly ripe pawpaws soften and fall off the tree.

If the fruit is so close to falling off, it breaks off with a gentle shake of the tree, it’s fair game. However, if you have to use any force to remove the fruit from the tree, it’s not at peak ripeness and it won’t taste good.

If you pick an unripe pawpaw fruit early, it just won’t develop as good a flavor as one left on the tree until peak ripeness.

Pawpaw fruit thieves: Ripe pawpaw fruit are extremely fragrant, so they do attract fruit-eating wildlife, racoons, skunks, possums, and squirrels in our area. We’ve also seen a mocking bird take a few jabs at a ripe pawpaw fruit.

To help prevent pawpaw fruit theft, make a habit of harvesting your ripe fruit each afternoon or evening. In our experience, a ripe pawpaw fruit laying on the ground overnight is unlikely to be whole the next morning.

Shelf-life: How long will a pawpaw fruit last? About 3-5 days on the kitchen counter at room temperature. If you bag them and put them in the refrigerator immediately after harvest, they can last for up to 2-3 weeks.

Processing extra pawpaw fruit: If you’re fortunate enough to have more pawpaws than you can possibly eat fresh, you’ll be glad to know that pawpaw fruit freezes very well and maintains its delicious flavor.

Bags of processed pawpaw fruit ready for freezer storage.

To learn how to quickly process and freeze your pawpaw fruit for long-term storage, read our article How to Eat and Process Pawpaw Fruit.

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We hope this article helps you grow healthy pawpaw trees and enjoy these delicious native fruits for many years to come!



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