Learn how to grow a papaya tree. Papaya tree care & growing is simple. It’s perfect for gardeners who like to plant fruit trees that remain low maintenance and productive.
USDA Zones: 9-11
Other Names: Banane de Prairie, Caricae Papayae Folium, Carica papaya, Carica peltata, Carica posoposa, Chirbhita, Erandachirbhita, Erand Karkati, Green Papaya, Mamaerie, Melonenbaumblaetter, Melon Tree, Papaw, Pawpaw, Papaya Fruit, Papayas, Papaye, Papaye Verte, Papayer, Papita.
Papaya tree (Carica papaya L.) is native to the tropics of Mexico and Central America. This fruit is known for high nutritional value, great taste, and medicinal properties.
How to Eat Papaya
Papaya is mainly consumed as a fruit, but it is also used for making soft drinks, juices, pickles, jams, and curries. It produces latex that is extracted from the green fruit and stem, which contains an enzyme called papain that helps in the digestion of proteins. Interestingly unripe, green papaya is used in many Asian countries like Vietnam, Philippines, China, and India as a vegetable in salads, stir-fries, pickles, and curry recipes.
Papaya Tree Information
Papaya is a herbaceous plant of relatively rapid growth and short life. This is the reason why it’s not commercially profitable to cultivate mature papaya trees for longer than 3 years because the fruit yield gets low.
The tree has a hollow, segmented, and erect single stem and no branches. It presents many large, lobed leaves. The plant height can reach up to several meters (usually 6-20 feet), which makes it an excellent choice for container growing.
The fruit comes in a wide variety of forms, shapes and sizes vary depending on the cultivar and type of flower. If you want to learn about the best papaya varieties, read this article!
Papaya Tree Pollination & Propagation
If you’re growing papaya, you must know that papayas come in three sexes: male, female, and hermaphrodite (self-pollinating). Male papaya trees must be eliminated as they don’t produce fruits. Female papaya trees require male trees for pollination. In orchards and papaya plantations, generally, 1 male tree per 10 female trees is grown.
Hermaphrodite papaya trees are self-pollinating and don’t require male trees for pollination. Many commercial growers plant them! If you’re planting papayas, you will need to have either female or self-pollinating papaya trees to harvest fruits.
To learn how to identify male or female papaya tree, read this informative discussion on the helpful gardener forum.
Our recommendation for you is to buy seeds from a quality source so that you know what you’re buying and to get a self-fertile bisexual tree. Most of the hybrid varieties are either bisexual or female–it is better to buy them.
If you don’t want to germinate seeds, the best option is to buy young papaya plants from a nearby nursery, or you can find them online. Many sellers ship them!
If you’re sowing seeds obtained from the fruits, choose seeds from elongated fruits instead of rounded fruits. Elongated fruits have a 66% probability of hermaphrodite (bisexual) seeds and 33% female seeds.
Tip: Cross-pollination from hand is required for the pollination of female papaya trees.
How to Grow Papaya in Pots
Growing papaya in pots is not difficult, considering it is a short living small tree. You can grow any papaya variety in a pot and cut the top off to shorten it. However, it is better to choose a dwarf variety, if you’ve options available. Hawaiin papaya trees are considerably shorter than Mexican ones and seldom grow over 8-10 feet!
Choosing a container
Choose a large 15-20 gallon size container for growing papaya in pots, also, ensure there are enough drainage holes in the bottom before planting. A pot that is around 18-22 inches in diameter and 14-16 inches deep should be sufficient.
Sow the seeds directly in the pot you wish to use for growing papaya tree because this fruit doesn’t transplant well. All the other growing requirements are given below in the article.
Growing Papaya from Seeds
Seeds must be given treatment before sowing for germination. The first method is to simply wash the seeds to remove the gelatinous coating before sowing. Another method is to immerse them in a container full of neutral water for a period of 4 days. Change the water twice a day. After 2 days of soaking, separate the seeds that are floating on the surface from those that have settled down.
Leave the seeds that are settled down for another day. After this time, the seeds that float up again must be removed. This way, only the viable papaya seeds are left. On the last day when changing the water, add fungicides in it.
After this process, keep the seeds on cotton cloth for 2 days, keeping up the seeds moist. Once the white dot in them can be observed, they are ready for sowing.
Proceed to sow the seeds directly on the ground or in the container. If you’re using seed pots, make sure they’re biodegradable as papaya plants don’t transplant well, and you’ll have a low success rate otherwise. Seeds will germinate in 1-3 weeks. It can take up to 5 weeks, so don’t give hope early! Optimum germination temperature is around 70 F (20 C).
Planting Papaya Tree
Once the seedlings germinate, sow them directly at the desired spot. If you’ve got plants from a nursery, prepare the ground well before planting. Dig a hole that is of the same depth as of rootball of the plant but twice wide.
Apply slow release 16-48-0, 18-46-0, or balanced 15-15-15 fertilizer according to the product’s instruction but in a weak dose at the base of the hole. Later, fill it with a thin layer of soil to prevent the plant roots from coming in direct contact with the fertilizer.
The base of each plant should be 1 cm above ground level, to prevent rot at the stem base. After transplanting, a fungicide can be applied to ensure greater protection, especially if planting during the rainy season.
How to Grow Papaya Tree in a Cold Climate
Papaya is a tropical fruit tree but if you are thinking of planting it in a temperate climate, plant it in a large pot and try to overwinter it in a well-protected area, like a greenhouse.
Another way is to start the seeds in fall, or early spring indoors. Once the temperature soars up to plant the seedlings outside, the tree will grow until the frost comes and get killed, but there is a possibility that you’ll get some juicy papayas.
- If you don’t have a greenhouse, keep it indoors during winter in a warm room.
- Cover the pot with a bubble wrap to insulate the roots and provide protection.
- Reduce watering and stop fertilizing in winter.
Requirements for Growing Papaya Tree
The papaya needs plenty of sun due to its high photosynthetic activity. It is impossible to grow it in the lack of sunlight. One more thing you need to keep in mind when choosing a location for growing papaya trees is that they are not strongest and must not be planted in a too windy spot.
Good soil preparation practices are key to growing papaya, such as deep plowing and mixing a lot of organic matter. Therefore the main characteristics of soil for growing a papaya tree are the following:
- Loose and Moist
- Good Drainage
- High Organic Matter Content
- pH Level 5.5 to 7 (Neutral)
- Fertile and Deep
The ideal growing medium must be loamy and have adequate content of organic matter with good moisture retention capacity and efficient drainage. Soil depth is also an important factor for root development. The soil that is more than a meter deep is suitable. Compact soil must be avoided, also, clean the rocks or other debris that is limiting the development of roots till the following depth.
Drainage is crucial in papaya cultivation. The proportion of sand, silt, and clay determines the texture and soil structure:
- Sandy soils have better drainage than clay. But too sandy soils that are low in organic matter have reduced water retention capacity, which must be avoided.
- In clay-rich soils, water movement remains slow, which can lead to root rot, slow development of the plant, and inhibit nutrition uptake.
- In very alkaline soils (above pH level 8.0), Zinc, iron, and other micro-element deficiency can occur.
Water is the main contributor to the plant (the plant is composed of about 85% of water). In the process of germination, and the first few months after planting, papaya needs a lot of water at that stage.
In the dry season, to get the optimum results in production, watering must be increased again. Keep the soil slightly moist but not wet. As a rule of thumb, water papaya plant deeply when the top one inch of soil dries out.
Excess water causes yellowing of young leaves, premature fall of flowers, and contributes to root rot. Low moisture in the soil can lead to slow growth, accelerated aging and premature foliage and fruit drop.
Papaya trees must be spaced 8-10 feet apart from each other.
It is also an important factor that determines if the plant will grow or not. Papaya is one of the easiest fruit trees you can grow. The optimum temperature for growing papaya ranges between 68-90 F (20-32 C). Low temperatures lead to slow growth of the plant and higher temperatures cause low production.
The papaya tree can bear cold temperatures down to 32 F (0 C) for a short period of time. In hot climates, it can tolerate temperature above 100 F (38 C). But due to extreme temperature, heatwaves and drought, flower buds fall and the plant suspends its growth.
Papaya Tree Care
Papaya tree care is easy if you grow it in the warm conditions in full sun:
Mulching a papaya tree with organic matter helps in retaining moisture, which is essential. It also saves from hot and cold weather.
Papayas are heavy feeders. Apply plenty of aged manure or compost regularly near the base of your plant.
You can also apply complete fertilizer like 15-15-15, 0.1 kg, or a similar mixture at intervals of two weeks during the first six months and 0.2 kg after that.
No pruning is required.
Pests and Diseases
Pests that can attack it are fruit flies, mites, black vine weevil, aphids, leafhoppers, and whitefly. In diseases, it suffers from soil fungi, powdery mildew, fruit rot, papaya ringspot virus, and nematodes.
Papaya fruit set occurs 10-12 months after planting. The fruit is sensitive to sunburn and it must be separated from the tree carefully using plastic gloves or something similar, pick it lightly with a twist or use a short knife, leaving 0.5 cm stalk.
Harvesting should be done according to the following maturity indices:
1. 0% Ripe: Completely green, but well developed.
2. 10-15% Ripe: Color change, one or two yellow stripes with 10-15% yellow surface shell surrounded by a bright green color.
3. 25% Ripe: 25% of the surface of the shell is yellow, surrounded by a clear green color.
4. 75% Ripe: 75% of the surface is yellow.
5. 76-100% Ripe: The surface of the shell has yellow to orange color.
Papaya is a fruit that, after being cut, continues its maturation without stopping. Papayas that are harvested for selling in the market are harvested green with two or three yellow stripes as fruits that reach 75 to 100% maturity are difficult to transport. Fruits must be collected in the early hours of the day and must not be exposed to the sun.