A trug full of ripe hot pink dragonfruit is photobombed by a pineapple and a magenta T-rex puppet.

How To Train Your Dragonfruit (Pitaya)

We sell delicious ripe sweet dragonfruits (also called pitayas) at ARTfarm, but we also occasionally make cuttings available so you can try your hand at dragon farming. They are relatively easy plants to grow in the subtropical climate of the Caribbean, and can tolerate full sun or partial shade. Dragonfruit is a climbing cactus vine of spiky green triangular sausages whose care leads to some odd bedtime habits: certain varieties need to be hand pollinated, and the blooms only open at night. This article will get you started, and then you’ll want to search the web for more details. Welcome to our obsession:

Planting Your Dragonfruit Cutting

Water, water, anywhere? A tiny anole lizard licks moisture off of a dragonfruit bud in the dry pasture.
Water, water, anywhere? Look closely to see what Farmer Luca saw: A tiny anole lizard licking moisture off of a dragonfruit bud in the dry pasture.

Beware of the sharp spines! Your cutting is pretty tough and can wait a few weeks to be planted in a pot or in the soil and start its upward trajectory. In fact, the cut end should be fully cured and dry before planting.

So take your time to find the perfect spot: this desert plant becomes incredibly heavy as it grows up and up, so if you put it on a weak structure the vine will eventually pull it down. The vine can handle shade or full sun, thus a large tree seems like a perfect sturdy natural support; but left to its own devices, the dragonfruit vine will eventually grow high up out of your reach for pollinating and picking the fruit. The roots can adhere to many surfaces and will grow up walls, too. A sturdy wooden fence or trellis is best, away from livestock and deer who enjoy munching the juicy interior of the vine segments.

When you’ve found a good spot, take a close look at your cutting: it’s directional. The spines should point up. Plant the cutting’s bottom end 1″ into a one gallon or larger pot to start, with a stake or other temporary support to climb, or plant it directly in the ground near the support where you plan to have your vine grow. Once you see some growth on the top of the cutting, you’ll know it has rooted in the soil.

Dragonfruit Vine Care

Dragonfruit (pitahaya) ripening on the vine.

These tough desert vines are a relatively slow growing plant so be patient and prepared to wait up to several months before you see initial growth from your cutting.

Dragonfruit vines do need some water, but not as much as other plants. Once well established, especially on trees in a well-drained spot, we find they will survive and thrive without irrigation. They will develop roots all along the green segments, against the support you provide. The vine absorbs water from the air and from the surface they grow on. But depending on conditions they will also need regular watering with good drainage as they get established. They don’t want a wet spot but prefer to dry out between waterings. The smooth green segments of the vine will start to look wrinkly if it is thirsty.

If you prune the dragonfruit vine by cutting in the center of one of the green sections, it will often branch. So if you choose a tall support like a tree or wall, you can chop the growing tip of the vine in half as it grows and it will bush out and start to arc gracefully downward. You can also add more cuttings along the bottom of your structure, to keep the vine dense but within reach. There are industrial dragonfruit farms in Vietnam with thousands of vines on concrete posts, and the profuse spreading growth from the top makes each vine appear like a strange palm tree.

Flowering and Pollinating

Dragonfruit vines put out fruit buds near the tip of their length.

Dragonfruit vines need to grow to a certain overall length before they will flower and fruit. This reproductive effort doesn’t start until the cutting has grown into a fairly substantial vine of six feet or more; it can take up to two years from planting to fruit from cuttings, even longer from seeds. But once they start, you’ll see buds forming along the edges of the outer segments of the vine.

How many of you are old enough to remember the R.E.M. song “Gardening At Night”? Dragonfruit blooms only open after 8pm, and often need to be hand pollinated in order to bear fruit. So forgive us if we’re a little sleepy!

The dragonfruit is the domestic cousin of the rarely-flowering night-blooming cereus. It is a night blooming cactus vine. Like the night-blooming cereus, each large, showy dragonfruit bloom is active for only a single evening, generally opening after dark and closing by mid-morning the following day. Night pollinators such as bats and moths can pollinate the dragonfruit, but for the most reliable harvests you’ll want to research further into how to choose, collect, and apply dragonfruit pollen to your open flowers at night.

Different varieties of dragonfruit pollinate themselves and each other differently. Natural Mystic has a high success of blossoms turning into fruit. Physical Graffiti doesn’t seem to self-pollinate, so it’s not a bad idea to have both varieties planted so they can pollinate each other to make sure fruits will form. Farmer Luca has experimented over the years and now pollinates all his blooms with pollen collected within 24 hours from newly opened Natural Mystic blooms.

Once the flowers are pollinated and have closed, you can prevent end rot in the developing fruit by trimming the excess wet petals from the tip. Birds and other wildlife love delicious ripe dragonfruit, so we often protect the fruit from damage with reusable fabric mesh bags.

Harvest

Heavy basketloads of fresh ripe dragonfruits at ARTfarm

To harvest the ripe dragonfruit for immediate consumption, you can twist the fruit and break it free of the vine. We prefer to use a hand pruning tool and cut the small portion of attached green stem away to free the fruit without damage.

Good luck with your new dragonfruit cutting! Wishing you fun nights of pollinating under the stars!

6 thoughts on “How To Train Your Dragonfruit (Pitaya)

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