Dragon fruit, also called “pitaya” or “pitahaya”, is the fruit of cactus plants. It is brightly colored and tastes sweet. It’s not too hard to grow, especially in tropical or subtropical places where care isn’t too much of a hassle. People who live in places where it freezes often can also grow it in a pot.
Dragonfruit is a strange-looking cactus fruit that looks like a magical dragon egg. If you cut through the bright red skin, you’ll find white or pink flesh with tiny black seeds all over it. Some people say it tastes like a sweet mix of mildly flavored kiwi fruit, watermelon, strawberry, and pear. Some people say it’s not very sweet or even savory. Confused? Well, how it grows and when it’s ripe can affect how it tastes, but it’s still beautiful and full of good things like Vitamin C.
If the fruit doesn’t tempt you enough, don’t forget about the flowers. Their beautiful, big flowers are easily more than 20 cm wide and bloom in the summer. On the outside, they are yellowish green, and when they open, they have a white flower that smells like a lily. Flowers bloom at night, but they only last one night. It’s a great reason to have a cocktail party in the evening and enjoy their blooms.
Dragon Fruit Types
Dragon fruit, also called pitayas, are very unusual plants that come in three different kinds.
Because of the bright red parts of the fruit, they are also called strawberry pears.
There are also other names for these plants. Some of the most common names are Indonesia buah naga, Thanh long, Thai kaeo mangkon, nanettika fruit, Belle of the Night, Cactus fruit, Kaktus madu, and Night blooming Cereus.
There are three main different types of dragon fruit plants:
- Hylocereus Megalanthus (yellow skin and white flesh): the inside of this type of dragon fruit is white, and the outside is yellow. This variation’s shell is a bit more prickly than the others, so you don’t see it as often in gardens;
- Hylocereus Undatus (white fleshed fruit): this is a different kind with the same white flesh, but the outside of the fruit is red;
- Hylocereus Costaricensis (red fleshed fruit): the shell and the inside of this type of fruit are both red. Most of the time, the flesh is a deep red color that looks almost unnatural or like blood.
Species of pitaya
All known varieties are listed below:
How the dragon fruit gets pollinated and how it grows
Dragon fruit cacti are self-fertile. Even if you only have one plant, you will get fruit. Adding another cactus, on the other hand, will make your crop much bigger.
Pollinators like hummingbirds, butterflies, moths, bees, and even bats like to visit the white blooms of outdoor pitahaya trees at night.
One of the best things about having your own pitaya cactus is that you can use the seeds from the fresh fruit to grow more cacti. You can also try to grow new plants from the parts of the cactus that are left over after pruning.
As we say, dragon fruit is pollinated by moths, bats, and bees, but there are some types that can’t pollinate themselves at all. Hand pollination comes into play here. To cross-pollinate, you will need to get the pollen from two different dragon fruit plants and use a cotton swab to carefully paint it on the stigma of the other plant. This needs to be done at night, so the best time is between 8 pm and 8 am. Use a new cotton swab for each plant you want to pollinate. The fruit will take about a month to grow.
Flowers and fruits
Most dragonfruit plants bloom with rosette-shaped flowers in the summer. These flowers can be red, yellow, pink, or white. Each flower will take a few weeks to grow, but once it opens, it will only last a few days. Most hybrids or species will have a sweet scent that is strongest at night.
If the pollination works, the ovules in the flowers will turn into fruits that you can eat. For those who don’t know, dragonfruits, also called Pitahaya (Pitaya) in Asia, can be good for your health in many ways. They are high in Vitamins B2 and C, as well as Iron and Magnesium.
- Easy to take care of;
- Give it a bright, sunny place to thicken its phylloclades, which are changed leaves that act like stems over time. Don’t put it anywhere in the shade;
- Let most of the soil dry out between waterings. In the cooler months, you can cut this down to “drenches between droughts.” It’s better to under-water a Dragonfruit than to over-water it, since it can handle drought and is prone to root rot;
- Even though the average humidity of a room is fine, you can add a humidity/pebble tray to keep the humidity high during the winter. When the heaters are turned off in the spring, summer, and fall, there is no need to add extra humidity;
- Use a “Houseplant” or “Cactus” fertilizer every four times you water in the spring and summer, and every six times you water in the winter;
- Check the plant often for pests, especially Mealybugs and Scale, which like to hide in the crevices of the leaves;
- Keep the temperature around it above 10°C (50°F) all year long, especially if it’s outside in the summer;
- Once the plant is old enough, which can take a few years, flowers will grow in the summer. Once they open, the flowers only last a few days. The plant is more likely to bloom if it went through a successful dormancy period the previous winter;
- Use a “Cactus and Succulent” potting mix to repot your plant every three years in the spring. This is also the best time to take stem cuttings.
How to grow a dragon fruit
Dragon fruits grow in the plant is often grown in parts of Asia, Mexico, and South America. Most of them are grown in Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Thailand, Vietnam, Israel, Taiwan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. They like warm places with mild winters and no frost, which is not a big surprise. They can handle short bursts of cold weather, but it’s best to keep the temperature above 10 degrees. They can handle heat, drought, humidity, and poor soil, but their fruit will taste better if they are watered regularly and grown in rich soil.
Choose a sunny spot and then add compost, manure, and certified organic pelletised fertilizer to the soil to make it stronger. A bit of lime is also good for you. The soil needs to be able to drain quickly because the roots of these plants will rot quickly if they stay wet. Clay soil is not ideal, but if that’s all you have, treat it with gypsum and plant on a raised mound. Or, you can put them in a big pot and they’ll be fine.
If pitahaya are left to their own devices, they will grow into a tangled mess. Plant against a thick stake or some other support and tie one or two main stems to the support to help the plant grow straight up. Cut off any other side branches. Once the stems have grown to the right height, cut the tips off to make new shoots that branch out. After that, you can let these spread out and hang down.
Dragonfruit tree should be planted in the spring because it usually has fruit by the summer. You can plant your dragonfruit in the ground outside or in a pot that you can bring inside. Sun and soil are what the plant needs.
So here’s what you need to know to care for and grow dragon fruit:
- Soil: this plant can grow in any soil that drains well, but it does best in slightly acidic soil with a pH level between 6 and 7. This plant does best in sandy soil, but if that’s not an option, just make sure the soil drains well;
- Fertilizer: give the pitaya some fertilizer once a month during the growing season to make sure it grows well. You should stop feeding your plant for a few months during the cold winter months. Remember that Fertilizer can hurt a dragon fruit cactus, and giving it too much can kill it. Use cactus fertilizer that is low in nitrogen and has a slow release rate. Spread a balanced granular fertilizer once a month on plants that will go in the ground. Pitahaya cacti don’t need much food, but if they don’t get any, they grow very slowly and almost stop growing. Feed them every other month, but don’t give them too much food;
- Light needs: the base of the plant can get a little shade, but the tips need full sun to bloom properly. If the plant gets too much shade, the fruit won’t do well;
- Temperature: pitaya plant won’t grow in cold places, so make sure the temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit to keep the plant from getting hurt. The temperature needs to be between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit for plants to grow at their best;
- Keep an eye out for small pests like aphids and mealybugs as well as larger animals like bats and birds that like to eat the fruit;
- Water: how much water it needs? This plant is a cactus, so it’s important to make sure you water it the right way. As a tropical succulent, the Dragon Fruit should only be watered when the soil is almost dry. A cactus will die for sure if it gets too much water. You can check how wet the soil is by sticking your finger or a yardstick about 3 inches into the soil. Wait a while before watering if you find any water.
When watering a potted Dragon Fruit, be extra careful because containers can hold more water.
How to plant your dragon fruit properly
Before planting, cut slits down the sides of the root ball with garden shears or a knife. This will help the roots grow into the soil more quickly. If you want to plant more than one Dragon Fruit Tree, leave some space between them so that the cacti can grow in clumps and reach their full rooting and fruiting potential.
Since the pitaya tree is a climbing cactus, it will need something to climb on as it grows, whether it is in a pot or in the ground. Put a trellis next to it to give the cactus some structure so it can grow to its full size. When you put a plant outside, it might stay dormant for a while as it gets used to its new surroundings.
Growing dragon fruit from seeds
Dragon fruit is easy to grow from cuttings or seeds. To grow from a seed, squash some flesh onto a piece of paper towel, keep it moist, and put it somewhere warm but out of direct sunlight.
You will need to cut the fruit in half and scoop out the seeds. To separate the seeds from the fruit, wash the seeds and let them dry overnight.
After two to three weeks, the seeds will start to grow and can be put into punnets. Plant the seeds in soil using a germinating tray, but make sure they are close to the top. Make sure the soil is moist, and then cover it with plastic wrap until it sprouts, which will take 10 to 14 days.
Water the seedlings once a week to make them strong, and when they are big enough, put them in their own bigger pots. It will take seedlings a few years to get big enough to bear fruit.
How to plant dragon fruit with seeds?
As we’ve already talked about, one of the best things about having your own dragon fruit cactus is that you can use the seeds from the fresh fruit to grow more cactus plants.
- Scoop out a piece of the ripe fruit with seeds and pulp, and wash the pulp off the seeds;
- Fill some pots that drain well with a sterile potting medium for seeds. You can buy the medium or mix equal parts of sand, peat moss, vermiculite, or perlite to make it yourself. Spread the seeds out over the top of the medium;
- Sprinkle a very thin layer of germinating medium over the seeds to just barely cover them;
- Lightly mist the soil and seeds when you plant them and when the soil feels dry to the touch before the seeds sprout;
- Cover the pot with a plastic lid or a glass to keep the air around the seeds moist and reduce the need to mist them all the time. You can also put a plastic bag around the pot to help keep the humidity up;
- Put the container with the seeds somewhere that gets bright but indirect light. For the best results, try to keep the temperature between 65 and 70 degrees. Within 14 to 28 days, the seeds should start to grow. At this point, you can take the glass or plastic off the pot and let the surface dry out a bit between waterings.
How to grow dragon fruit in pots
Pitahaya doesn’t grow well in colder climates, so planting it in a pot can be a good idea. It makes it easy to bring the plant inside when it starts to get cold outside. The best pots are big ones, usually at least 15 gallons. The pots also need to have good drainage so that water doesn’t pool at the bottom and cause root rot.
Be picky when choosing a pot for your cactus. Most containers used for decoration do not have holes in the bottom to let water out. But because terracotta pots are porous, the soil will quickly dry out in them (even without drainage holes). If you have to use a container that isn’t made of terracotta, drill holes in the bottom to allow water to drain and keep the soil from getting too wet and making the roots rot.
If you want, you can move your Dragon Fruit Tree outside during the summer so that bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds can help it make more fruit. Just make sure that the plant doesn’t get too much direct sunlight or heat above 100°F.
When planting in a pot or container, we also suggest using a sandy cactus potting mix. If you live in a more temperate growing zone with cooler seasons, you can bring your pitaya plant in a pot inside. It will adapt. Make sure there is enough room in the pot for the roots to grow. Start with a trellis in a container that is at least 10 inches deep.
|January and February||January and February are a time to rest or go to sleep. Cut back on watering and fertilizing.|
|March||March is the end of the sleeping/resting period. Water it more and feed it once a month with a nitrogen-based fertilizer.|
|April||Before the flowers bloom. Use a feed with potassium every two weeks during this time. Once the top of the soil is dry, water it.|
|May and June||May and June are when flowers bloom. Keep the soil moist and feed it every two weeks with potassium-based food.|
|July||July is the end of the blooming time. Slowly cut back on how much water and fertilizer the soil gets. As the flowers die, pull them out.|
|August and September||When most of the soil has dried out, water it. Feed them once a month with houseplant food or a general plant fertilizer.|
|October, November and December||From October to December, the plant rests or goes to sleep. Cut back on watering and fertilizing.|
Place and light
Give them a place that gets a few hours of sunlight in the morning or evening. The natural light will keep the soil from getting too wet, and it will also make the phylloclades sweeter and stronger. Root rot is more likely to happen in places where you can’t read a newspaper, especially in the winter.
The best place is within a meter of a window facing north, east, south, or west, or below a skylight window. Place plants that are already grown and likely to bloom in a cool conservatory with nighttime temperatures around 12°C (54°F) during the fall and winter. This will help them get ready for their winter rest, which is important if they want to bloom again in the summer.
Because its phylloclades hold on to water, Dragonfruit can go for weeks without water. Even though it’s not a good idea to test this skill often, it’s good to know if you’re going to be gone for a short time. Between waterings, let almost all of the soil dry out. In the fall and winter, water less often.
This will not only lengthen its time in dormancy, but it will also reduce the chance of root rot, which is common when the days are shorter and the nights are longer. There is little or no new growth, the plant needs to be moved, and the leaves are drying out.
On the other hand, signs of overwatering include leaves that turn yellow and fall off soon, little or no growth, and root rot. These are common when the soil is too wet, has the wrong kind of medium, or is in deep shade.
As with most houseplants, it’s better to not water them enough than to water them too much. This is because each species has evolved to keep as much water as possible in case of drought. If the bottom of the stem turns brown and soft, it’s likely that root rot has happened.
Use a fertilizer labeled “Houseplant” or “Cactus” every four times you water, and every sixth time you water in the fall and winter.
Switch to a potassium-based feed, like “Tomato” food, while the plant is budding or in bloom to make the flowering process last longer. Never put an RTU (ready to use) feed on a plant without first watering it. This will cause the roots to burn and the leaves to turn yellow.
If there aren’t any flowers, it’s because the plant isn’t old enough or didn’t get enough rest during the winter. The only time a plant will bloom is when it is fully grown, which can take anywhere from three to eight years from a leaf cutting. Also, places with almost the same temperatures all year won’t let the plant go dormant, which means it won’t grow well in the spring.
To get buds to grow, move to a place where the nighttime temperature is around 12°C (54°F) and there is less water. During the winter, the plant will benefit from both cooler temperatures and dry soil. This will help the plant get ready to bloom in the spring.
Every three years, move the plant to a slightly bigger pot labeled “Cactus & Succulent” during the summer. This is a great time to check on the health of the roots and to start new vines from cuttings. Root rot is a problem for all tropical cacti, so check the bottom half of the root ball for any brown or broken roots. If this is the case, remove the spots with clean tools and the irritation will go away.
Growing Dragon Fruit from Cuttings
If you want to grow a dragon fruit from a cutting, don’t take too much from the parent plant or its growth will be stunted and its health could be in danger. Also, for the best results, make sure to start growing the cutting in the summer. Start with a piece of cactus that is about one foot long. This area has enough room for three or four new plants.
After cutting the cutting into pieces that are three to six inches long, put fungicide on the ends and let the pieces dry. This step isn’t necessary, but it helps things grow, so it’s a good idea. The cutting is then dried or cured, which usually takes two to five days. When the tips of the cuts turn white, you’ll know it’s done.
Now you can put the cutting in the soil. It should be about two inches into the soil, and the cutting should be facing the same way it did on the parent plant.
Make sure to water the plant every day, unless the soil is still damp. If that’s the case, you can skip a day. Roots will start to show up at some point. If the planting worked, you should soon see new growth. Most of the time, this takes three to four weeks. This young cutting will be able to make its own fruit in a few years.
To take a cutting, break off a piece that is 30–50 cm long and put it in a dry, shady place for a week. This lets the cut end seal and keeps it from going bad. You can take cuttings at any time, but they will grow faster in the warmer months.
When amateur gardeners try to take cuttings of leaves or stems, they often fail because the wounds were not clean or the vines were too small. Even though it’s not hard to spread tropical cacti, people still find it hard to do well. Not only will the size of the vine determine whether or not it will root, but hurting the leaves or vine can also make it less likely to do so.
Tips for propagating leaf and stem cuttings
- Choose the leaves you want to use. The best ones are those that don’t have any signs of damage, pests, or diseases and already have small wire roots attached. Even if a cutting doesn’t have roots, it will still live, but it will take a little longer to spread;
- Cut the whole leaf off the plant with care and cut it into several pieces on the side;
- Get the pot and soil ready. Choosing a potting mix that drains well, like “Cactus & Succulent” compost, gives your plants a good balance of water retention and drainage. Of course, most soils are fine (Houseplant compost or Multi-purpose compost), but try adding grit, sand, or perlite to help loosen it up. If you have any wide, shallow pots, like a bonsai pot, now is the time to use them. Cuttings of tropical cacti don’t need deep soil to grow, so try not to use containers that are too big. Both terracotta and plastic pots can be used in this case;
- Put the cuttings ON TOP of the soil that is wet. Allowing the plant and its wound to callus over (dry out) will start the process of rooting and keep the plant from rotting. For a week, put the cuttings on top of moist soil and mist the soil and leaves on opposite days;
- Give them a place with indirect light and temperatures above 18°C (64°F) during this time;
- Then, bury the bottom third of the cuttings in the soil. Make sure you don’t plant it too deeply, or it could get “Blackleg” (the rotting of its base);
- Do not pat down the soil around you to make it stronger. The best soil needs to be loose and full of air. If you pack the soil down, the roots will be suffocated, which will lead to root rot. Tap the side of the pot to loosen up the soil, not to pack it down. If you need help, you can use a small stick or cane;
- Aftercare: keep the compost evenly moist, but let the top half dry out between waterings. The best place would be in a warm, damp room that is close to a window but not in direct sunlight. After it has been in the soil for another month or two, treat it like any other houseplant.
How to feed and take care of dragon fruit
Spray the leaves with a mixture of fertilizer or water the soil around the plant every two to three weeks. Every spring, add more lime and compost, manure, or organic fertilizer pellets. Check the supports to make sure the plant is getting the right help as it grows.
When it’s set up, the top can get very crowded and big. Remove some of the longer shoots every so often to keep it in check and make room for new growth. This is important because flowers grow at the end of new growth, so you need new growth every year to get fruit. Less crowding can also lead to bigger fruit.
Harvesting dragon fruits
About a month after the flowers bloom, the fruit is ready to eat, but this depends on the conditions in the area. Once you pick the fruit, it won’t get any riper, so you need to look for other signs. Check that the color of the fruit is bright and even all over, and that the small “wings” on the fruit are starting to dry out. If the fruit is ready, it will give just a little when you lightly press it in your hand. You can cut the fruit off the plant or pick it by twisting it off.
How to cut a dragon fruit cactus back
If you don’t prune your dragon fruit cactus, it will be more likely to get fungus and be overrun by bugs. It can also make it hard for light to reach the tangled center stems, which can hurt the plants’ ability to make fruit. Regular pruning also helps the plant produce a lot of flowers and keeps it from getting too heavy for the trellis it’s growing up.
Plan to cut back any stems that are too long, broken, tangled, or dead at least twice or three times a year. If you’re lucky (or if your plant is young), you might only need to prune it once a year, after you’ve picked all the fruit.
Wear protective clothing (pants, long sleeves, gloves, etc.) to avoid the spines, cut off parts of the cactus that are touching, crowding, or growing on top of each other.
Whether you are planting in a pot or in the ground, you can speed up root growth by mixing a small amount of slow-release, low-nitrogen cactus fertilizer (like 6-6-6 or 8-3-9) into the planting hole before you put the plant in.
You can also add a balanced granular fertilizer once a month to plants that are planted in the ground outside. Dragon Fruit Trees love light and grow best in it, but they won’t grow or bear fruit if they don’t get enough fertilizer.
Make sure to follow the directions on the fertilizer package whether you are planting indoors or outdoors. Think about using organic fertilizer, too!
Pests and Diseases of Dragon Fruit
Pitahaya plants are usually hardy, but watch out for the following problems:
- As soon as you see caterpillars, pick them off by hand;
- Snails and slugs. Young plants are most at risk because snails and slugs can eat away big chunks and stop the main stems from being trained properly;
- A tree of dragon fruit often has problems with mealybugs and aphids. They are pests that feed on the sweet sap of plants by sucking it out. Aphids also bring in ants, which will also eat the plant. Mites and thrips can also hurt a plant. They won’t kill it, but they’re not good for its health as a whole. If mites, mealybugs, or other sap-sucking bugs show up, use an organic insecticide to get rid of them before their numbers get out of hand;
- Fungal problems. High humidity and watering from above can sometimes cause stems, flowers, and fruit to get sick. Cut off damaged parts, and if the plant is too crowded, cut off more branches to let more air in. Change the way you water so that you don’t water from above. If you need to, use an organic fungicide;
- Split fruit is usually caused by too much watering or rain when the fruit is getting ready to ripen;
- Stem/root rot. Root rot is a big problem. It causes the lower leaves to turn yellow, growth to slow down or soften, and the stem to fall over. Take the plant out of its pot, so you can look at its roots. This happens most often when plants are grown in soil that doesn’t drain well or in places where winters are cold and wet. Work on making the soil drain better (gypsum can help) or move the plant into a pot with potting mix that drains well. If most of the trunk has died, you must cut off pieces of the stem to save the rest of the plant;
- For smaller, more compact plants, like those in a 5cm (2-inch) pot, letting too much water sit on the leaves causes the central leaves to turn yellow or the base to be bare. Even though you can water from the top, it’s best to water from the bottom up to keep the leaves from getting moldy. Those who don’t know much about soil can improve their growing conditions by using this method and letting in more light. When the vine stems are over 5cm long, take cuttings and put them halfway into the soil. This will make the plant look bushier. Remove any yellowed or rotting plant parts right away, because they can harbor bacteria and fungi that can spread to other parts of the plant.
When dragon spots show up on the stems and leaves of a plant, it could mean that the plant is sick. Bacteria can also cause soft stem rot and other problems. This illness affects the tips of the branches. Most of the time, these diseases spread from one plant to another, so make sure your clippers are clean. During the hottest time of the year, when the sun is very hot, sunburn can happen. Root rot can also happen if the plant gets too much water.
Care for dormancy
As Dragonfruit plants get older, they will start to bloom from late spring to early summer each year. Even though it’s hard for plants grown indoors to bloom, plants kept in partial sun outside or in an orangery are more likely to become sexually mature.
From the beginning of fall until the next crop of fruits, a year later, the following steps should be taken. Keep the roots in the pot to put more stress on the plant, which will increase the chances of it flowering. Most flowers bloom from late spring to early summer, but sometimes they bloom later in the season.
Make sure to give them a place that gets direct sunlight for several hours a day. Even though the sun’s rays in the winter won’t always hurt the plant, if it hasn’t been out in the sun before, be careful not to let it get sunburned or severely dehydrated.
Don’t use artificial lighting at night or go to places where the temperature is above 18°C (64°F).
Cut back on watering so that the soil almost dries out for a week. This will prevent root rot and mimic the plant’s dormant period.
“Cactus & Succulent” is used in one or two feeds. From fall to early spring, the only thing that needs to be added is fertilizer, since too rich of soil will make it less likely that buds will grow. From the middle of spring on, make sure to use a potassium-based feed to help the buds grow. Tomato feeds are a good choice.
Reduce the temperature by about 5°C from what it is in the summer, or put it in a room where the temperature is between 12°C and 15°C (54°F and 59°F). The drop in temperature should last as long as possible, preferably until the beginning of spring, when temperatures start to rise again. If the temperature stays the same all year, you’ll be at a big disadvantage because Dragonfruit only grows in places where the temperature changes by about 5°C every day. Never go above the minimum temperature because it could kill the plant or at the very least turn the leaves black.
Cut down on everything
This one reminds you to cut back on everything, but especially the temperature.
And where are the flowers?
If a mature Dragonfruit plant hasn’t flowered in the spring or summer, it’s probably because it hasn’t been taken care of well or has been in the wrong place all year. During the winter, you should cut back on watering so that the soil almost dries out and the temperature goes down a few degrees. Give them a place that is completely dark for at least twelve hours and has no artificial lights on at night. If it has been in a dry place for a long time or moved to another room, the buds may start to fall off.
How much does a dragon fruit plant cost?
Pitaya plants can be purchased from a variety of nurseries and garden centers. The cost of a dragon fruit plant will vary depending on the size and type of plant you purchase. Small starter plants may cost around $10, while larger more established plants can cost up to $50. Dragonfruit plants are not typically a expensive, but it is important to do your research before purchasing to ensure you get the best deal.