One of the best things about living in a tropical climate is the ability to grow delicious fruit year-round. One of the tastiest and most nutritious tropical fruits is papaya. They can be enjoyed green. or ripe and juicy.
While papaya trees grow rapidly from seed, they have a short life-span of approximately three to five years. The good news is that during those years, you may be able to harvest fruits year-round from a single papaya tree.
Did you know that papayas are technically categorized as berries? This impacts how you should plant papaya trees and encourage fruit growth. You may grow a papaya tree from a seedling or seed, and each approach has its own advantages. I have a strange trick for creating the best soil for your papaya tree and getting it to yield fruit: my trick is cheap and readily available, but you won’t find it at any nursery or garden center.
How Many Times Can a Papaya Tree Produce Fruit?
Despite their short life-span, papaya trees can produce fruit year-round in tropical climates. This means you can get fresh fruit from your trees all the time if you live in Hawai’i or Southern Florida.
Sorry, friends who have cool winters – your papaya trees are likely to die if the temperature drops below 32F. If you want to rescue your trees, they must be potted and brought indoors for the duration of winter. However, it is unlikely that you will get another season of fruit out of them even when spring rolls around; they might become ornamental trees after that first summer.
Be careful about replanting them again, because papaya trees are known for having very sensitive roots – the tree might die if you pot and replant again.
When Does a Papaya Tree Mature?
After planting a seedling, expect to wait at least 4 months before seeing edible fruits from your Papaya tree.
If you’re planting from seed, then you should wait 8 months to a year before you’ll get your first papaya fruits.
A bit of patience pays off. Once a female tree starts producing fruits, you can likely expect regular fruit for at least 3 to 5 years, after this the fruits will become poorer and then stop altogether, although the tree itself may still be alive.
Best Growing Months for Papaya Fruits
In tropical zones such as Hawai’i and Southern Florida, it’s common to get papaya fruits year-round, once your tree starts producing (remember that 8-month waiting period).
For folks in Southern California, February through the end of October is the typical growing season. Papayas also grow well in Texas, but trees usually have a lull in production around July and August due to the extremely hot, dry weather.
Regardless of location, the best time to plant a new papaya tree is in the spring, when there are still ample rains, but also more daylight and warmth.
Note: Papaya fruits grown in Hawai’i are typically smaller (and sweeter!) than those in the continental US. The papayas in Texas and Florida are a Mexican variety and yield larger-sized fruits.
Where To Plant Papaya for Peak Production
Papayas love full sun and little wind. Plant your seedlings or seeds in a location that gets lots of sun, but is protected from strong winds.
Also, papayas have finicky roots. They are susceptible to root rot if they are in wet soil for a prolonged time. Make sure that wherever you plant them has soil that drains well. Hawaii’s lava soil is ideal for papaya trees because it is very porous.
What Is The Best Fertilizer For Papaya Trees?
I know it is going to sound strange at first, but hear me out: the best fertilizer for papaya trees is a dead fish.
But really! This is an age-old secret around the islands that if you plant a freshly dead fish it will decompose and provide important nutrients to the soil, while at the same time attracting worms. (If you want to know more about using worms to ramp-up your garden, check out this article).
Don’t skimp on the size of the fish here, I choose a fish roughly the size of my forearm for fertilizer, because it will decompose nicely and provide plenty of nitrogen to the plant.
If you donʻt have any fish handy or donʻt like the idea of it, Papayas love plenty of nitrogen rich compost, phosphorous and where I live in Hawaii, plenty of lime.
Planting Papaya From Seed
If you’re planting papaya from seed, then dig a large hole (remember those finicky roots? Give them plenty of space, I dug a square hole that was 2.5 ft x 2.5 ft, and at least 2 feet deep).
Then put a fresh, dead fish over the space and completely cover it with soil, compost, rabbit waste or any mixture of these.
Don’t use any rotting, bad-smelling dead fish for this. You want to attract worms, not other nuisances around your papaya tree.
Next, water the space and allow a few minutes for it to drain properly into the soil, the area should be damp but not flooded.
Now, you’re ready to plant your seeds!
Plant four or five papaya seeds in the space, approximately one inch apart. You plant more than one seed for several reasons: it’s possible that not all the seeds will survive and it’s possible that some will produce male papaya trees (which do not produce edible fruits).
Out of your little group of seeds, you might get two or three trees, from these you can encourage the strongest to thrive and get the most fruits.
Planting Papaya From a Seedling
If you’re planting a papaya tree from a seedling, you need to give attention to the roots. Dig a hole much larger than the base of the seedling (think four times the size) and three feet or more deep.
Drop that fish in the hole, cover it with compost/soil/rabbit waste up to 6 inches deep. Then water it, wait a minute or two for the water to soak in, then plant your seedling and surround the roots with soil/compost/etc again, until you’re level with the ground surrounding the tree.
What’s Better, Seed or Seedling?
The advantage of planting from a seedling is that you can choose female papaya trees. With seeds, you take a risk of getting male trees that don’t produce edible fruit (it’s not a total loss, however, because there are ways to ‘change’ a tree, which I will share about later).
Whether you choose to plant from a seed or a seedling is personal preference. All in all, you might save yourself four months of growing time with a seedling and get fruits that much faster.
The drawback of a seedling is that you mess around with the tree’s roots, and papaya trees are notorious for not liking their roots disturbed. If you do get a seedling, plant it once and then be done.
If you are in a location that has cold weather, you should plant your papaya tree in a large pot so that you can move it indoors to prevent it from dying without having to dig it up again.
Can I Cut A Papaya Tree In Half?
As you papaya tree grows, it may begin to get a little too tall to easily harvest the fruit. So is it possible to cut the tree and have it resprout?
Yes… kind of. Not vertically in half, of course. You can ‘behead’ a papaya tree, or cut off its top.
But let’s start with why you might want to cut the top of your tree off:
Papaya trees are unique in that they can be male or female. Female papaya trees produce delicious, juicy fruits, male papaya trees grow flowers and tiny, hard fruits that you would not want to taste.
Two easy ways to tell if you have a male or female papaya tree
Female trees are shorter, and their white flowers grow very close to the tree’s base. Male papaya trees, on the other hand, shoot up taller and have flowers further out on the branches.
Back to cutting your tree – the reason you might want to ‘behead’ your papaya tree is if it is a male. If you plant from seed and start growing a male tree, you can change the gender by lopping off the top and by grafting you can connect a cutting from a female tree.
In a short amount of time, you’ll have a female papaya tree that already has its roots in the ground and can start producing fruit faster than if you started the process all over from the beginning.
If you intend to cut your papaya tree, make sure to do this during warm times of year, when the weather is sure to be 80F or more consistently.
Create A Continuous Supply Of Papayas
The tropics offer ideal weather, sunshine and soil for growing papaya trees. While the trees may only produce fruit for a few short years, it is easy to plant and grow new trees on your homestead.
An easy way to ensure an endless supply of fresh papayas is by staggering the years when you plant new trees.
I like to plant about 5 trees a year. For my family of 4, that seems to be more than enough.
Papayas really are one of the best fruits you can grow on a tropical homestead. They should be one of the first plants that you grow due to their quick fruiting times. Hopefully this guide will help you achieve your papaya goals.