If you want to learn How to Grow a Papaya Tree and how to take care of it, then read this informative article carefully!
Papaya tree (Carica papaya L.) is native to the tropics of Mexico and Central America and is now grown almost all across the world in subtropical, tropical, and arid climates. In the United States, they are grown in Texas, California, Hawaii, Arizona, and Florida. Major Papaya-producing countries are India, Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Mexico.
This fruit is known for its high nutritional value, great taste, and medicinal properties. After all these facts, let’s have a look at How to Grow Papaya below.
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 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 afterward.
The tree has a hollow, segmented, and erect single stem and no branches. It presents many large, lobed leaves, which look highly ornamental. The plant height can reach up to several meters (usually 6-20 feet) and has a shallow root system, making it an excellent choice for container growing.
The fruit comes in various forms: shapes and sizes vary, depending on the cultivar and type of flower. If you want to learn about the best-tasting 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 (self-pollinating) 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 trees, read this informative discussion on the helpful gardener forum.
Our recommendation for you is to buy seeds from a quality source instead of scooping them out from a papaya fruit you bought from the market. This way, you’ll know what you’re buying and 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 ones. 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 with shallow roots. 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!
You can search for the best dwarf cultivars on the internet, specifically for your region.
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 at least around 18-22 inches in diameter and 16 inches deep should be sufficient. If you can get bigger size pots, that is even better–Old drums, barrels, and buckets are also a good choice.
Sow the seeds directly in the final pot you intend to use for growing papaya tree later because this fruit doesn’t transplant well sometimes. 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 and go to step five below.
- 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 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 viable papaya seeds will be left. On the last day, when changing the water, add fungicides to it.
- After this process, keep the seeds on a cotton cloth for 2 days, keeping 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 in less ideal conditions, so don’t give hope early! The 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 weaker dose at the base of the hole. Later, fill it with a thin layer of soil to prevent the plant roots from directly contacting 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 rainy days.
How to Grow a 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, trees will grow until the frosty weather comes and get killed, but there is a possibility that you’ll get some juicy papayas. Even if you don’t get any fruits, these plants look ornamental.
- If you don’t have a greenhouse, keep it indoors during winter in a warm room.
- Cover the pot with 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. You need to keep in mind when choosing a location for growing papaya trees–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.
Soil that is more than a meter deep is suitable. Compact soil must be avoided; also, clean the rocks or other debris that could limit the development of roots till the following depth before planting.
Drainage is crucial in papaya cultivation. The proportion of sand, silt, and clay determine 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, leading to root rot, slow development of the plant, and inhibiting 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 (this 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 the papaya plant deeply when the top one inch of soil dries out.
Excess water causes the yellowing of young leaves, premature fall of flowers, and 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 ever 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 temperatures above 100 F (38 C). But due to extreme temperature above a hundred Fahrenheit, 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 warm conditions, in full sun:
Mulching a papaya tree with organic matter helps in retaining moisture, which is essential in hot climates. It also saves it 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.
For pots, you can opt for liquid or slow-release balanced fertilizers.
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 9-12 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 a 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 a yellow to orange color.
Papaya is a fruit that, after being cut, continues its maturation without stopping. Papayas 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.
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, the Philippines, China, and India as a vegetable in salads, stir-fries, pickles, and curry recipes.
Some Interesting Facts!
Papaya (Carica papaya), a native to Central America and is now widely grown in tropical and subtropical areas globally, is a large, short-lived perennial plant.
- A single trunk of the papaya tree can grow up to 30-35 feet when it reaches its full maturity.
- The palmate leaves can reach out to 3-4 feet in width and are heavily lobed.
- Usually, the fruit flesh is yellow, but some also have ones with red and orange-colored fruit flesh.
- It’s probably the breakfast fruit and contains enzymes that improve digestion.