The Dragon Fruit plant is a type of climbing cactus that is often referred to as a tree because it can reach heights of 20 feet tall. It is also known as “Pitayas” and the fruits as “Strawberry Pears” due to their bright red color and sweet flavor. Even the flowers are unique. They bloom for just one night and are one of the largest in the world. Let’s find out how to look after a dragon fruit tree so you can grow one for yourself.
What You'll Learn Today
- How To Care For A Dragon Fruit Plant
- How Long Does It Take For Dragon Fruit To Bear Fruit?
- How Often Should Dragon Fruit Be Watered?
- What Is The Best Fertilizer For Dragon Fruit?
- How To Support Dragon Fruit Plants
- How Long Do Dragon Fruit Trees Last?
How To Care For A Dragon Fruit Plant
The night opening flowers of the dragon fruit plant (Hylocereus undatus) have an intoxicating, exotic, fruity scent that is quite unlike anything else.
Found in South America, Asia, and Mexico, they have become popular as ornamental plants. They will happily grow outside where the temperature is warm, humidity is high, and winters are mild.
They are tropical or subtropical plants and grow best in U.S. hardiness zones 10 and 11.
The ideal temperature for a dragon fruit plant is between 65°F and 85°F / 90°F depending on the variety. If things get too warm, they begin wilting.
During winter, the temperature should stay above 40°F. If they drop to 32°F even for a very short period, they may not survive, but prolonged or frequent freezing will certainly kill them. Ideally, they prefer the winter temperature to be closer to 50°F or 60°F.
The fruit is delicious and can be used for eating raw, making fruit juice, jam, ice cream, and even wine.
For a cactus, they are a little unusual in that they like to climb. This means they require support as they grow.
Cacti are designed to live in poor, well-draining soil, but by planting them in rich, well-draining soil, you will get a healthier plant that grows more, flowers easily, and produces better fruit. The perfect pH is between six and seven, so on the very slightly acidic side.
Just because the plant can survive with very little water doesn’t mean that those are the conditions it prefers. Water so that the soil becomes moist but not saturated and only water when the topsoil is dry to the touch.
Allowing your dragon fruit trees to stand in water will destroy the roots and kill the plant.
Pitayas require full sun to bloom and grow. If there is too much shade, the fruits won’t do too well, and crops will be below optimum.
As a climber, support must be provided. This can be in the form of stakes, a trellis, a fence, or other open, climbable structures.
Because dragon fruit flowers open at night, it is the nocturnal creatures that pollinate them. Bees play a very small part, as here it’s moths and bats that spread the pollen from bloom to bloom.
It’s possible to pollinate them by hand, by using a small soft brush or cotton swab to collect pollen from the center of the flowers and brush it onto the stigma of others from different trees.
Some varieties are self-pollinators, so only one tree is required to bear fruit, while others require cross-pollination. This is best for all trees as it will always produce the most fruit.
Dragon fruit trees don’t require much pruning. It is really only necessary to remove dead or diseased branches and to prevent overcrowding.
Organic, slow-release fertilizers are best. We will look at this in more detail later in the article.
Using a mulch around the base of your plant can help retain moisture and provide nutrients as it decomposes.
How Long Does It Take For Dragon Fruit To Bear Fruit?
A dragon fruit plant can start budding in as little as six to eight months. Container plants can take longer, up to two years, before seeing any fruit.
Once a stem starts to bud, the huge flowers will form and eventually open on nights when the moon is full. Moths and bats are the most common pollinators.
The fruit will start to form at the base of a pollinated flower and matures in approximately 50 days although this can vary according to the type of dragon fruit and the conditions it is growing under.
Two good things about the dragon fruit are that they bloom through the summer to mid-fall for around five months of the year. This means fruits are set throughout the season, giving you gradual cropping rather than being all at once.
How Often Should Dragon Fruit Be Watered?
To increase the fruiting season and amount of fruits produced, careful watering is required. On average, you need to provide around one inch of water per week. This is sufficient to keep the soil slightly moist.
Don’t allow the soil to become saturated and remain soggy, as the roots will rot and the plant soon dies.
If conditions are particularly hot, you’ll need to water more frequently. This can be judged by testing the soil with your finger. Push your finger into the ground in several places around the plant. If the soil is bone dry, then water, if it is slightly damp, wait a little longer.
What Is The Best Fertilizer For Dragon Fruit?
Dragon fruit doesn’t require a lot of fertilizer feeding. Being a cactus used to living in desert conditions, where the soil is usually poor and low in nutrients, they have naturally adapted to it.
If you want your plants to produce plenty of luscious fruits, then giving some feed can be beneficial for giving the plants a good boost.
Care must be taken not to overfeed, especially with nitrogen, as this produces a lot of growth but no flowers or fruits and given in excess can even kill the plant.
The natural approach is often best when it comes to feeding dragon fruit. This is achieved by using organic compost.
While they do require nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus in a low dose form, they also need humic acids, probiotic soil microbes, and mycorrhizae.
- N – Nitrogen – a low dose promotes growth and the strength of the plant. Colors will be brighter, and overall health and longevity will be greater.
- P – Potassium – makes the blooms more abundant, and this, in turn, helps with fruit production.
- K – Phosphorus – is necessary for good health and helps the plant fight pests and disease. Although in their natural habitat, they are not typically much affected by disease, when grown in pots, they can be more susceptible.
Look for fertilizers intended for cactus plants that are low in NPK and have other organic compounds that are beneficial.
Fertilizers that are organic and slow-release are far better as they are taken up by the plant only when they are needed.
These are often too potent and harsh, burning the plant and causing more harm than good.
The development of live soil microbes is supported by organic fertilizers. These help the plant to break down nutrients and absorb them better.
Other organic compounds, including humic acid, work as chelators. These break down minerals into simpler organic compounds that are easier to use by making them more available.
This also helps with the removal of toxins by neutralizing them and preventing them from being absorbed into the plant.
To keep the soil alive and improve nutrient availability, probiotics and Mycorrhizae assist in forming a symbiotic relationship and help your plant stay healthy and live longer.
Coming from grazing animals, including horses, cows, goats, and sheep, is the best kind of fertilizer for dragon fruit plants. It breaks down slowly and stays available in the soil for longer.
The main downside to this type of fertilizer is smell, which can be quite potent, and lingering. Personally, I don’t mind it, having grown up around animals my entire life, but it isn’t for everyone.
Creating a compost mulch with fallen winter leaves, grass clippings, and other organic matter which breaks down easily can be less aromatic but still beneficial, once it becomes well matured.
Both manure and compost help with the feeding of the plant, and the richness, aeration, and water retention of the soil.
In this video, find out how to make your own dragon fruit fertilizer for springtime feeding:
How To Support Dragon Fruit Plants
The nature of a dragon fruit tree is to climb. Without anything to cling to it will sprawl and become a big mess. To avoid this, you need to provide solid stakes and other supports that encourage the growth to be vertical.
The structure on top of this to support the branches must be placed at the height you want the branches to grow for easy fruit harvesting.
Side shoots should be removed until you reach the position where you want the crown to form. To support this growth, commercial growers use rose wheels. These help the branches to grow out, and the fruits are easier to pick.
In an urban setting, you can also use strong trellis or a structure with an open framework such as a carport, or the uprights on an open terrace or similar.
The support for the branches can be made from sturdy wood, often in a square frame shape, and should be put in place before the tree gets to the desired height.
How Long Do Dragon Fruit Trees Last?
A Dragon fruit tree is a perennial plant that can be quite long-lived. They start producing fruit from around their first year and continue to do so annually until they reach twenty to thirty years of age. After this, the number of fruits they bear starts to decline.
Maximum fruiting happens once the tree is mature. The time this takes depends on many factors, particularly the ones we looked at above earlier in the article.
Dragon fruit plants are relatively easy to care for (although expensive), providing you have a suitable climate, feed and water them appropriately, and ensure they have the proper support they need to grow strong.
They can be grown in pots during their early years, but for best results should be transplanted into the ground for their long-term health and survival and to provide you with lots of delicious fruits each year.
They are worth a little care and attention when young as they can stay very productive for many decades.
To learn more about growing dragon fruit, take a look at some more of our blogs on the subject. Here is our guide how to store dragon fruit properly.