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How To Grow Dragon Fruit? (Pitahaya)

dragon fruit

Dragon Fruit is a tropical fruit that grows on Selenicereus cacti. It looks unorthodox for a fruit; it has pink skin and white or pink flesh with tiny black seeds. The taste of dragon fruit can be described as a mix of strawberry, kiwi, watermelon, and pear. Sometimes dragon fruit is called a strawberry pear, Honolulu queen, moonlight cactus, or in Spanish pitahaya. It’s quite expensive to buy from the store, so why not grow dragon fruit in your garden?

Selenicereus cacti also have large beautiful flowers, which can be over 6 inches wide (18 cm). Flowers are yellow, and white and resemble a lily bloom. Unfortunately, these flowers do not last very long, but they bloom in the evening and at night! That is a sight on its own. Dragon fruit is native to Central and Southern America.

This guide will provide you with all the information about growing dragon fruit. What type of dragon fruits can be grown, what soil they prefer, how much to water them, how to support the cactus plant and more.

Types of Dragon Fruit

There are three main species of Dragon fruit:

  • Selenicereus costaricensis – pink-skinned fruit with white flesh
  • Selenicereus undatus – red-fleshed dragon fruit with red skin
  • Selenicereus megalanthus – yellow-skinned with white flesh

However, there are many different cultivars available. These cultivars are a hybrid of these three species such as Voodoo Child, Vietnamese Jaina, Makisupa, Halley’s Comet, Costa Rican Sunset, Bloody Mary, American Beauty and many more.

Even if you find a very rare cultivar, luckily, it will still need the same conditions to grow in. Let’s get right into it.

dragon fruit
40 year old Dragon Fruit flowering Source: Jean and Fred Hort

How To Grow?

Dragon fruit cacti can grow up to 18 feet tall (5.5 meters), so you probably need to buy or build a dragon fruit trellis. We will get into that later. To grow Dragon fruit successfully, you need to live in a warm and sunny region. These cacti are quite heavy and large, so they need quite a lot of room to grow.

Climate

Dragon fruit cacti cannot be grown in areas that experience frost. The best temperature range is 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 27 degrees Celsius). Dragon fruit cacti are not fussy about humidity. Although, very high humidity can cause fungal diseases.

Light

Dragon fruit thrive in full sun, it can tolerate partial shade but it will produce less fruit. The fruit may also be less flavorsome. When temperatures exceed 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius), it might be a good idea to provide some shade during this time. Dragon fruit cacti will experience scorching when exposed to extreme heat and full sun at the same time.

Dragon fruit flower up close Source: Jean and Fred Hort

Watering

Dragon fruit cacti are cacti, yet they are tropical fruit producing cacti. They need more watering that you would expect, especially when growing delicious crop. Dragon fruit cacti should be watered when the soil is almost completly dry.

A good tip is to have a yard stick in the soil nearby, which is at least 3 inches (7.5 cm) deep in the soil near the dragon fruit cactus. When the top 3 inches of the soil is dry, you should deeply water it.

Overwatering dragon fruit cacti can establish all sorts of different problems like root rot and fungal diseases. During winter, when the plant is dormant it will require less watering.

Soil & Fertilizer

Dragon fruit cacti can grow in all types of soil. The key part of growing delicious dragon fruit is having rich organic soil, even if it is a cactus. New indoor or outdoor potting soil is excellent for dragon fruit. In arid conditions, it is a good idea to have a thick layer of mulch near the base of the dragon fruit cactus to keep moisture from evaporating.

Dragon fruit cacti need a lot of nutrients, even if you provided them with nice organic-rich soil. You can feed them all-purpose balanced fertilizer once every two months during the growing season for young plants, and once every three months for established plants. You can always add organic matter sparingly to the soil.

Dragon fruit growing on a metal trellis Source: Gaynor

Dragon Fruit Trellis

Dragon fruit should be grown with a trellis. Mature dragon fruit cacti can grow very big, weighing about 440 pounds (200 kilograms). Dealing with that much weight is not easy when the plant does not stay upright on its own. Dragon fruit cacti also live for quite a while 30 or 40 years.

We recommend a single pole trellis for dragon fruit with an umbrella-type canopy. You can make a dragon fruit trellis quite easily. When building your trellis, keep in mind it has to last for a very long time. So, do not skimp on the materials. Here’s a list of things you will need:

  • A sturdy, non-rotting piece of wood. Height 6 feet (1.8 m), has to be quite thick to have some weight on it. Two 4×4 pieces of
  • The same type of wood to assemble the umbrella canopy, but shorter pieces.
  • A 40-gallon container (150-liter) container, which can handle the weight. Like terracotta pots.
  • Some tools, hammer, saw, a cordless drill, and some screws.
  • Some weight attached to the pole at the bottom of the container, you can make the same structure as the umbrella canopy.

The result should look something like this (image below), with some weight attached to the bottom of it. The added support for the umbrella canopy is optional if the wood is thick enough, it can handle the weight of the cactus. Make sure you use a level to keep it completely upright, when planting it in the container to make sure it won’t fall later on.

dragon fruit trellis
Dragon fruit trellis model

Planting

Take the 40-gallon container and place the trellis inside of it. Fill it with indoor or outdoor potting soil, and use a level to make sure it’s upright. When the trellis is installed, add a fresh cutting of dragon fruit cacti to each side of the wood, so 4 total cuttings. Plant them in the soil about 2-3 inches deep (5-7,5 cm). Use nursery tape or thin rope to tie them to the trellis about every 8 inches (20 cm) as it keeps growing up the trellis.

Propagating

Propagating Dragon fruit cacti is easy:

  1. Take a cutting out of a healthy stem
  2. It should be at least 10 inches in length
  3. Treat the cut part with fungicide
  4. Plant it the appropriate soil
  5. Water the cutting slightly

Harvesting

A dragon fruit that has been picked too early, will not go ripe over time as some other fruits do. You’ll know that the dragon fruit is ready when you can easily twist it off the stem. Fruits that have fallen off the stem by themselves are usually overly ripe. Dragon fruit can last for 2 weeks in the fridge after being picked.

Pests & Diseases

Dragon fruit has to be protected from big and small pests. Birds, raccoons, and even rats enjoy eating this delicious fruit. Smaller pests like thrips, mealybugs, and spider mites also can cause some problems.

A well-grown dragon fruit cactus doesn’t usually have diseases. Although you should look out for fruit and stem cankers.

Final Thoughts

Dragon fruit is delicious and is quite easy to grow. These plants will be by your side providing fruit for decades. Getting started will need some investment, but it’s worth it. Follow our guide to increase your chances of success!

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