How To Grow Dragon Fruit {A Simple Guide}

Dragon fruit, once a rarity, is becoming increasingly popular and can easily be found in food stores. When out of season in the U.S. and being imported from far-off lands, the fruits are often picked before they are fully ripe. They don’t ripen much more once harvested, so they tend to be rather tasteless. When fully ripe, the sweeter varieties are delicious and healthy, which are good reasons to grow them for yourself. Here we’ll look at how to grow dragon fruit at home.

Is Dragon Fruit Easy To Grow?

is dragon fruit easy to grow

Dragon fruit is relatively easy to grow, providing you give it the right conditions. Being a cactus that climbs, it needs something to be trained up and trailed over.

Climate

Also known as Pitayas, they require a subtropical or tropical climate that is frost-free to grow outdoors. They can tolerate moderately cool climates so long as the temperature doesn’t drop to below freezing. They don’t like excessive heat either and will soon wilt if temperatures exceed 100°F. 

Despite being known as a direct sunlight plant, powerful sunlight can damage the plants and produce sunburn problems. This tends to be more problematic if the plants are being grown in low humidity or at a high altitude.

While the plants are young, for the first three or four months cuttings should be provided with some light shade during peak sun hours.

The ideal temperature for the plant is 65°F to 77°F with a humidity level of around 50%.

Location

Originating in southern Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Pacific Guatemala, Columbia, Venezuela, Curacao, Ecuador, Brazil, Panama, and Uruguay, they have also been successfully cultivated in tropical and subtropical America, southern Florida, Hawaii, Caribbean, Australia, Asia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Israel. 

If you wish to grow them outside in the U.S., then they thrive best in climate zones 10 and 11. 

As we don’t all live in southern Florida, another option is to grow them indoors. If your home has large windows or a sunroom and gets plenty of sunlight (six to eight hours per day), then you should be successful.

Because pollination by insects for indoor plants may be difficult, you’ll have to hand pollinate.

Keeping in mind that a fully mature dragon fruit cactus can reach heights of 20 feet, smaller varieties are needed for indoor growing. These include:

  • Alice
  • Seoul Kitchen
  • Edgar’s Baby
  • Yellow Dragon Fruit
  • Zamorano

Soil

As cacti naturally grow in areas with poor sandy soils, you need to provide them with free-draining soil, although making it rich and free-draining is best for fruit production. The roots are very tender, and, if they are kept too wet, will quickly rot. 

If growing your dragon fruit in pots, ensure they are at least 20 inches in diameter and 30 inches deep. 

When growing outdoors, enrich the soil with well-rotted organic matter or a soil improver before planting.

Salt

Pitayas have been noted to be moderately to highly salt-tolerant, making them suitable for growing in coastal areas. 

Support

The support necessary for a dragon fruit should be put in place when the plant is still young. It usually comprises a central post that is set vertical and is four or five inches in diameter and five to six feet in height.

At the top of the vertical support, a strong square frame should be attached that sits on the horizontal for the branches to hang over. 

You can plant two or three cuttings around the base of the frame. Gently secure them to the post, and as they grow taller, remove any side shoots until the stem reaches the required height. 

Cut off the top of the stems to force the plant to develop side branches that will hang over the support. 

Sunlight

To grow well and develop flowers and fruits, a dragon fruit cactus requires six to eight hours (or more) of full sun per day. If you’re growing your dragon fruit trees indoors, be careful that the sun provided through a south-facing window is not too intense. 

It’s also advisable to rotate plants grown indoors regularly to ensure all branches receive sufficient light exposure. 

Artificial Light

In some areas, providing enough light year-round can be a problem. Artificial grow lights can be used to make up any shortfall. Full-spectrum LEDs are the best for this. 

Get the plant used to artificial light over a few days, starting them at around 30 inches distant before gradually moving them closer. 

Temperature

Dragon fruit trees like a temperature of between 65° and 85°, so ensure you protect them from excessive heat or cold.

Humidity

Although humidity is impossible to control outside, it is a little easier if you’re growing your plant inside. Aim for a room humidity of around 45% to 50%. The plant will tolerate 30% to 60%. 

When you have the heating switched on indoors during the winter, either mist the plant from above every couple of days or place a water tray filled with pebbles, to prevent spillage and evaporation, next to the plant. Top up the water regularly. 

Water

Although dragon fruit cacti can tolerate some dry conditions, overwatering will often kill them. In summer, water when the top of the soil feels dry. Test this by poking your first finger into the ground up to the first joint. If it is dry, water. If it feels damp, wait a little longer. 

During fall and winter, reduce watering to induce dormancy. 

Air Circulation

To prevent molds and mildew, keeping some air circulating around your plant is necessary. 

Once a year after fruiting, thin out the branches in the center of the plant so that air can continue to circulate freely. 

Fertilizer

Stay away from high nitrogen fertilizers and instead use ones made for cacti or preferably natural products such as chicken manure. 

Harvesting

The fruits are generally ready to harvest around a month after flowering. This is easy to deduce as the fruit will turn from green to either yellow, red, or pink, depending on the variety. 

The fruit should be evenly colored all over, and the tips of the wings on the outside should be slightly withered. Ripening happens quickly, and once the fruits are colored all over can be picked in four days’ time. 

Pests and Disease

Dragon fruit cacti don’t generally suffer from many problems. Mold, aphids, and mealybugs are about all you need to watch out for. 

Be careful using insecticides or fungicides with cacti as they can be sensitive to these products. Spray a small inconspicuous area, and after a few days, check to see if there have been any adverse reactions.

Pruning

In the first few years, you will only need to tip the ends of the branches to further encourage budding and filling.

After a few years, a more aggressive pruning may be required to remove any branches causing the canopy to become congested. 

Tipping can be done at any time during the growing season, but pruning should be done once fruiting has finished with a sharp pair of secateurs or loppers. 

Always water well after pruning. 

Use any branches you cut to grow new plants, as shown below. 

What Is The Best Way To Grow Dragon Fruit?

There are a couple of ways to grow dragon fruit – from the seeds or from cuttings.

Cuttings are most often used because they grow and produce fruit a lot faster. 

Branches can be cut from a dragon fruit plant. These are usually between six and fifteen inches in length. Several can be placed into a single pot around a supporting upright. 

Cuttings grow very fast, around 1.2 inches per day, and can produce fruit in six to nine months. The longer the cutting, the quicker they reach the support trellis. 

Here in this video, you can see some simple ways of getting dragon fruit cuttings to root:

A far less common practice is to graft pitayas. The advantage to grafting is that a rootstock that can adapt to varying problems and soil types can be used, but a better cultivar for fruit, provided as the graft. This gives you the best of both worlds.

How To Grow Dragon Fruit From Seeds?

Growing dragon fruits from seeds is easy, but it takes a lot longer for the plants to mature and start producing fruit, typically five to seven years, than other methods.

A good dragon fruit variety to grow from seed is the Ecuador Palora Yellow Dragon Fruit (Selanicereus megalanthus). It’s a self-fertile variety that grows aggressively. 

It is more cold tolerant than many other varieties, and the flower buds open in around 40 days to produce a large, highly fragrant bloom of off-white, that opens fully by 10 pm CST. 

The fruits are large, with white flesh and bigger seeds than other cultivars. They are easy to sprout and grow big, easy to handle seedlings.

This step-by-step guide shows how to grow dragon fruit from seeds:

  1. Harvest, or purchase a ripe dragon fruit of the variety you wish to cultivate.
  1. Peel the fruit and cut it into four sections lengthways, and each of these into three sections crossways.
  1. Push each of the sections through a wire mesh strainer with a mesh of a smaller size than the seeds you are trying to collect.
  1. Rinse the seeds to remove any remaining flesh and leave just the seeds in the strainer.
  1. Use moist paper towels to line a plastic container and put one seed every half-inch to an inch apart. 
  1. Use plastic wrap to cover the container and puncture a few holes in the top.
  1. Place the container somewhere warm and dark.
  1. The seeds should germinate in around two weeks.
  1. Once seedlings have reached about an inch tall, carefully remove them one at a time and plant into a seedling tray filled with cacti and succulent potting mix. Keep soil moist, but not wet. A handheld water sprayer is good for this.
  1. Once the seedlings reach three to five inches in height, repot them into their large growing pots, using cacti and succulent mix. 
  1. The seedlings can remain in pots, providing the pots are large enough or be planted out in the garden once big enough. This can take several years. 

How To Grow Dragon Fruit From Cutting?

Cacti and succulents are well known for easy propagation from cuttings. This is no exception when it comes to dragon fruit.

Plants grown from cuttings can mature in two to three years instead of five to seven years when grown from seeds. 

This guide shows you how to grow a new dragon fruit plant from a cutting:

  1. Cut a healthy stem of between six and fifteen inches. The cut should be slanted and made at the base of the branch. 
  1. Treat the cutting with fungicide and leave it for seven to eight days in a shady, dry location. This will allow it to cure and the cut to heal.
  1. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone and pot in a free-draining succulent and cactus compost.
  1. Place in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
  1. Water once per week.
  1. It takes around four to six weeks for roots to begin forming, longer if conditions are cooler. 
  1. The cutting can be planted in the garden when the root system has developed, and the plant is between four to six months old. 

How To Plant Dragon Fruit

How To Plant Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit can be planted outside in the ground, in pots outside, or kept inside in pots.

Potted dragon fruit plants require vessels that are large enough to accommodate them as they grow. As some cultivars can get quite large, it’s better to use a big pot to start with. As a minimum, it should be 20 inches across by 30 inches deep. 

  1. Choose a position that gets plenty of sunlight. As mentioned earlier, in places with low humidity or at high altitudes, burning can be a problem from exposure to extreme sunlight, and in these instances, light shade should be provided during peak sunlight hours. 
  1. Ensure the site you’ve chosen is protected from strong winds, as this can blow pots over or break off branches. 
  1. Fill the pot with a free-draining succulent and cacti potting mix, or if planting in the ground, use something to improve the soil texture and richness, such as well-rotted compost and chicken manure. 
  1. Place your support system firmly into the pot or the ground. 
  1. Make two or three holes around the support to plant your cuttings or seedlings.
  1. Gently ease the plants from their containers and tease the roots out to untangle them. 
  1. Place the plants into the holes and gently backfill, ensuring you carefully firm the soil around the roots leaving no air gaps.
  1. Water the new plants well.
  1. If there are any side shoots, cut them off and then tie the main stems of each plant to the support. Ensure the ties are not cutting into the plant. 
  1. Use a complete, slow-release fertilizer that is low in nitrogen to help your dragon fruit cactus grow.

How Long Does Dragon Fruit Take To Grow?

When planted as seeds, Dragon fruits can take five to seven years before they start producing fruit. If grown from a cutting, this time is significantly reduced to between two to three years. 

Depending on the type of dragon fruit you grow, the full adult size can vary, but some varieties reach 20 feet if left to grow unhindered. Pruning can regulate this growth.

A three or four-year-old plant grown from a cutting is capable of producing 220 lbs of fruit per year. It can continue to do this annually for 20 years or more under the right conditions. 

Conclusion

With the proper care, and given the correct growing conditions, dragon fruit is not too difficult to grow. One of the main problems is that the growing zones for them in the United States are quite limited, as they really only do well in southern Florida, some parts of California, and Hawaii. 

You can grow them in many more places providing they can be brought indoors during the winter or, space allowing, grown as a large houseplant.

The main considerations are:

  • Temperature – 65°F to 85°F
  • Humidity – 30 % to 60% 
  • Soil – Fast draining, rich
  • Water – Low to moderate. Roots must not become waterlogged
  • Position – Full sun or partial light shade out of strong wind

To learn more about dragon fruit and a vast range of other topics, visit our website. 

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