Growing papaya from seed is a rewarding experience that allows you to cultivate this tropical fruit right in your backyard. With its delicious taste, vibrant color, and numerous health benefits, papaya is a favorite among fruit enthusiasts.
In this article, we will guide you through the process of growing papaya, from selecting the right seeds to caring for your young plants. We share conventional growing methods that we have used as well as more advanced techniques learned through Permaculture training and experience.
To start your papaya-growing journey, it is important to choose high-quality seeds. Look for seeds from a reputable supplier or collect them from a ripe, organic papaya fruit. Select seeds from a fully mature papaya, as they are more likely to germinate successfully. They can germinate anywhere if conditions are good.
Remember that papaya plants are dioecious, meaning they have separate male and female flowers. If you want to ensure fruit production, consider obtaining both male and female plants or look for bisexual varieties that can self-pollinate.
We have both male and female plants on site and try to have a ratio of one male to 4-5 female plants. We have the bisexual variety also.
We are also able to select seeds from the tastiest fruit and germinate them.
Seed preparation and germination
Before planting the seeds, it’s beneficial to soak them in warm water for 24 hours. This process helps soften the hard coat and promotes germination. After soaking, remove the seeds and pat them dry with a paper towel.
Fill a germination tray or small pots with a well-draining seed-starting mix. Plant the seeds about half an inch deep and lightly cover them with soil. Maintain a warm temperature between 75-85°F (24-29°C), and keep the soil lightly moist but definitely not waterlogged.
Here at the Tropical Homestead, we do things a bit differently.
We don’t specifically plant papaya seeds into germination trays or pots as we will explain. First up, we are blessed with the preferred weather and temperatures to grow papaya. Secondly, we have an abundance of papaya growing at times, so we give quite a bit of fruit to our chickens.
They love it, and chickens also love to scratch; They can’t stop it. This trait can be a pain in the neck for the gardener who lets the chickens out, and the birds destroy the gardens because of their scratching behavior.
Seedling care and Planting in the Garden.
Once the seedlings emerge, provide them with ample sunlight or use fluorescent grow lights if natural light is insufficient or you are in a cooler climate. Gradually increase the amount of light exposure to help the plants acclimate. As the seedlings grow, thin them out, leaving only the healthiest and strongest individuals.
This is a good time to recommend not to grow papayas in a pot. The roots of this tree will fill the pot quickly, and papayas are voracious feeders.
Do remember that you may need several plants to grow to an age where you can determine the sex of the plant. A single female plant may not give fruit without a nearby male to pollinate flowers. When growing from seed, you get what you get. We suggest you plant two or three seedlings together and remove all but one when you know the sex.
At around 4-6 weeks of age, the seedlings can be transplanted into larger pots or directly into the garden. Take note after initial transplanting and watering to take care to not overwater the seedlings after they have settled. Papayas prefer a slightly drier area in the garden.
When transplanting, choose a sunny spot with well-draining soil. You cannot give papaya trees to much sun. Papaya trees thrive in fertile, slightly acidic soil with a pH range of 5.5-7.0. Ensure that the planting hole is spacious enough to accommodate the root system.
The roots will travel quite a distance because the plant loves to scavenge moisture and nutrients. The plant will accept some roots being removed if they become a problem with landscaping elements or similar.
When planting papaya consider using the plant (small tree really) as a shade element for other small plants such as coffee and ginger. We use them this way and it can make a small patch of garden very productive indeed.
Papaya Tree Maintenance and care.
To encourage healthy growth, apply a balanced fertilizer every two to three months, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Mulching around the base of the plant helps retain moisture, control weeds, and regulate soil temperature.
We never fertilize our trees although we do mulch regularly and occasionally spray the gardens with compost teas. When the plant is young, regularly monitor for pests such as aphids, mealybugs, and papaya fruit flies when the plant bears fruit.
Implement appropriate pest control measures if necessary, using organic options whenever possible. Be aware that birds and fruit bats enjoy papaya fruit, so picking the fruit when the color starts showing can help you beat the visitors.
Papayas require a warm and humid environment, so if you live in a colder region and the plant is young, consider growing them in containers that can be moved indoors during winter, but be aware that papaya trees grow tall… up to 5mts or 15 feet.
The plant will drop the leaves regularly and these can make a mess. We use them as mulch. Female papaya plants can begin flowering within six to twelve months, while male plants produce flowers earlier. Male papayas tend to grow taller than the females.
Soil conditions play a massive part in the time frame for fruiting. Very fertile soil will give fruit in the first year, whereas poor soil can take up to two or more years.
Growing papayas from seeds is an exciting endeavor that allows you to enjoy the flavors of the tropics in your own backyard. With proper seed selection, germination, care, and maintenance, you can cultivate healthy papaya trees that bear an abundance of delicious fruits. Start your journey today and relish the rewards of growing your own papayas.
Once you have mastered growing papaya, you might be interested in how to preserve your harvest. We have several articles dedicated to this topic. The first is on dehydration and can be found here. The second is article is how to water-bath or preserve in bottles for a long shelf life and can be found here.
How long do papaya trees grow for?
We have had papayas live for 25 years, although the fruit production was poor in the end, and the tree had many trunks from side growth over the years. We prefer to have new plants in the ground every two years or so to maintain abundant fruit production.
Can you Transplant mature Papaya plants?
By mature we are talking about plants 2-3 feet tall, and transplant to mean digging up from a garden and re-locating the plant.
Do seed grown plants fruit slower than garden center plants?
What can you plant with the Papaya tree?
Do Cloned Female Papaya produce more fruit than seed grown?
What if you don’t have chickens in your yard?
Is organic fruit better for seeds?
Final thoughts on growing this fruit.
Article by Tim Blanch for TheTropicalHomestead.com. He is a qualified Permaculture designer.