Growing Papaya from Seed – a guide from Seeds to Trees.

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Ripe papaya

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.

Papaya Seeds

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.

papaya seed that germinated on pathway
This papaya germinated on a pathway

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.

We have taken a different path and keep the chickens within their pen and use their unstoppable scratching to our favor (and theirs in the end). We throw the papaya fruits into the pen. It often splits on contact with the ground and makes it easier for the chickens to access the flesh, but they also eat the skin, so the splitting is not required as a rule. It just happens at times.

young papaya plants self sown in chicken pen
Papaya seeds that germinated in the chicken pen

We also cut the fruit into pieces and lay it down at times. We have never seen a chicken eat a seed, not to say that they don’t ever, but I haven’t seen it yet.

So the result is that if the chickens don’t eat the papaya seeds (or only eat half), then there must be a seed bank held in the chicken pen’s soil; that is precisely what has happened.

When it is time to take soil (composted garden waste by chicken power) from the pen, we inevitably end up with papaya seeds scattered throughout the beds, and the seeds start germinating.

We have posted on the method we use to make organic soil for the raised garden beds (link), and it is this method that we now rely on to remove the work and planning that germinating papaya seeds can require.

It is really something when you get to treat papayas as a weed, but that is precisely what is occurring here.

Growing papaya does not necessitate having to do all the work all the time. It is about using natural processes appropriately, and this is a great example of that process.

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.

Transplanted papaya seedling
Transplant the seedlings into a large pot with space for roots

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.

Male papaya flowers
The male papaya flowers are spikes.
female papaya flowers with fruit
The female papaya flowers look completely different to the male

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.

fresh leaf growth on papaya plant
Fresh leaves show the plant has stabilized after transplanting into pot.

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.

female papaya flowers
Female papaya flowers are very different to the male.

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.

Conclusion

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.

FAQ

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.

We have found that papayas can and will transplant well “IF” your soil is healthy and full of life. The amount of soil life plays a large part in your success.

Now and then, we find a spot where papaya trees would fit into the garden design, so we need to go and dig one up that has already germinated.

We can only work with the facts here as we know them, and they are based on our personal experience of transplanting many papaya plants all around the yard.

We have spent a great deal of time and effort working on our soil and the life within it and now have several healthy papayas in heavy fruit thanks to that earlier work.

The only challenge we have at this stage is what gender the plants are as we move them around the yard to a location where we can use the papayas shade to our advantage while picking fruit as they grow.

Just as we advised earlier, we typically grow a couple together to work around this because the female trees are the fruiters, and the males pollinate.

The commercial growers employ labs to clone bisexual plants and early into our self-sufficient journey we bought one of these from a garden center and while it is a great producer, it will eventually grow old and die.

Planning for this means we need to have a pathway of plant succession that is on site with no cost.

In other words, we want the plants in the yard to be self-replicating, and as for papayas… this is where the chickens are so valuable to us.

Do seed grown plants fruit slower than garden center plants?

A seed-grown plant can fruit as quickly as the cultivated varieties, with all things being equal, but how long till they fruit is up to you because it depends on your soil.

In the video clip, we show the plants we have on-site at the moment, giving context to the idea of fruiting speed.

The truth is that if your soil conditions are good or great, you can expect above-average results.

We have experienced this firsthand, as shown in the video above, and it shows that a seed put through the chook pen and then bare root transplanted into very fertile soil can produce a papaya plant that is fruiting inside of a year.

Soil is the place to put a lot of your effort and attention.

What can you plant with the Papaya tree?

We research a lot regarding what and where we plant around the yard, and we have found so many mixed opinions on the web that we now rely on a test and trial process for most things.

We pay attention to what the commercial growers do and see if there are tips we can use to make our food growing more robust and dependable year on year.

We were aware that coffee grows well with Papaya but have discovered that ginger also does very well with papaya.

The only downside is the roots get a little tangled when we lift the ginger at the end of the season. We found that Rosella also has done well with papaya as has Tulsi basil, Peppercorn vines, and Birds-eye Chili plants.

The growing conditions of the rosella and papaya are similar, and our trials have given good results.

Do Cloned Female Papaya produce more fruit than seed grown?

It is possible because commercial growers mostly use cloned plants, which could be for fruit consistency.

What do we think? Well, according to our experience, it depends on the soil and the plant’s location.

We have both types in the yard, and you would be hard-pressed to tell them apart. Some of the seed-grown plants have very crowded clusters of fruit; it is difficult to pick them because they are so tightly packed in.

The bought clone plant is easier to pick but still is a generous cropper. One thing to point out here is we have at least two varieties on-site, with the bought one being red papaya and the other variety being yellow.

As to how much fruit we are getting, I can tell you that from mid-April 2021 to mid-Sept 2021, we have picked 36kgs of prime organic Papaya, which does not include some of the fruit that went to the chickens.

The papaya is one of our best fruiting crops. At least half of that came from the seed-grown plants that have popped up through the yard.

What if you don’t have chickens in your yard?

It’s time to be creative. Consider if having chickens will suit your situation because the simple thing of keeping chickens is the ultimate first step towards self-sufficiency, in our opinion.

What the chicken can do for your yard’s fertility over a few years is something to behold. The best part is that they will behave like a chicken no matter what.

There is no training or coercion to be done, and they turn up every day happy to do chook stuff, all for free.

We have a few other gems to share with how to benefit the chickens and, in turn, supercharge your garden’s yield and quality. That is for another post.

For now, if you don’t have chickens, then the next time you have papaya (organic only), save the seeds and go out to the garden and mix the seeds with a good layer of mulch that has plenty of bug activity on the surface under the mulch and even better has worm activity below as well.

Scratch the seeds into the soil and cover them up with the mulch. Now forget about them. When they are ready, they will come up. As they get taller, you can lift them carefully and spread them wherever you like.

If this is not easy enough, get a compost bin and put the seeds there. It doesn’t matter where they go because all these methods work. It comes down to how much input you want in the process.

Is organic fruit better for seeds?

This is a topic that sets many people off. Our perspective is that organic food is better than chemically grown food for various reasons.

We don’t know what chemicals are used on any particular piece of fruit, but many of the insecticides and fungicides alter the plant’s makeup.

Some of the processes harm the seeds viability, and there is no red sticker on the fruit at the supermarket to alert us to this potential issue, so we don’t buy any non-organic fruit at all now, mainly because we grow 90% of our fruit on site.

Final thoughts on growing this fruit.

We have had success teaming up with chickens with many things in the garden. Getting them to build soil for raised garden beds with the soil being loaded with seeds that are looking for somewhere to grow is just one way we co-operate with them. Growing papaya from seeds is cost effective, and with the right conditions and care, you can achieve great fruit production from your own trees.

Try it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

Article by Tim Blanch for TheTropicalHomestead.com. He is a qualified Permaculture designer.