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!

How to Plant Your Pineapple Slips

A good pine takes time.

Sooo…you stopped by the ARTfarm and bought some pineapple slips, or a pineapple fruit with its spiny top, and you’d like to grow your own pineapple. Hooray!! Here is the ARTfarm step by step guide to becoming a blissful pineapple farmer. We’ve also made a short video of most of this information! Link at the bottom.

  1. The first thing you will need is patience. A pineapple plant with optimal conditions can fruit in a year but could take three years. Usually it will take up to 18 months for a slip (one of several shoots or runners that sprout from right below the mature fruit) to form a pineapple fruit. If your plant start comes from the fruit’s top (the ‘crown’) it can take two to three years.
  2. Prepare and strip your slip. If your slip has a bulge at the end, like a mini-fruit with dark rough skin, remove that (cut it off). You’ll see some short leaves at the bulb of the end. The emerging roots of the pineapple plant are hidden inside those short leaves. To give your pineapple slip a little head start, peel off a few layers of the leaves (about half an inch along the bulb) and reveal some of those tiny roots. If you are a visual learner, check out our YouTube video linked below that contains a demonstration of the trimming and peeling techniques for the slips.
  3. Age and dry the slip. After removing those leaves, let the slip injury heal for two to three days in a dry shady location. They can sit for a week or longer, without water. No worries. Pineapples are drought tolerant, slow growing plants, so don’t fuss over them like they were lettuce.
  4. Choose your planting site. Pineapple plants are not terribly picky about their location but they have a few requirements. Full sun will help your plant grow fastest. Pineapples do not like caliche (kuh-LEE-chee) soil* (whitish color, limestone deposits, high pH, alkaline). They like good drainage (loose gravelly soil is good) and don’t tolerate waterlogging. If growing in a pot, use a minimum of a 3 gallon pot (with loose soil and good drainage) so you won’t have to repot it before harvesting. In the garden, Farmer Luca likes to plant pineapples on raised beds (or on a slope) so they aren’t subject to flooding or standing water. Also, if mud or loose soil gets into the crown of your pineapple plant, it will rot and die. So keep your digging animals (particularly dogs and chickens) away from your pineapple patch! And remember pineapples are somewhat spiny plants and will get fairly large, so space multiple pineapples at least 12 inches apart and not in high traffic areas.
    Farmer Luca plants his pineapples in raised beds to keep their “feet dry”.
  5. Plant your slips about two inches deep in the soil. Just deep enough to keep the slip from flopping over, but not so deep that soil can get into the heart of the slip.
  6. Don’t overwater your pineapple. Mulching is highly recommended to prevent water loss and prevent the need for weeding. Water a pineapple plant once or twice a week at most.
  7. Protect your baby. In terms of pests, the biggest issue we’ve seen is rodents eating the ripening fruits. Surprisingly young unripe pineapples can be eaten by mice and rats. Set traps, or get your pets to help out.
    Our adopted border collies, Ginger and Spice, vigilantly patrol the pineapple gardens in fallow summer times to discourage rats. We’ve seen these athletic dogs leap all the way over the row of spiny plants during the hunt. This is a viable and much more entertaining alternative to poisons for controlling crop pests on an organic farm. During dry times there is increased pressure from all pests on farm crops and resources.
  8. Harvest! Keep an eye on your pineapple fruits, and as soon as the green of the fruit turns a slightly different color and the scent becomes tantalizing, harvest it and bring it inside! It will continue to ripen off the plant as long as the fruit is full-sized, and some ripening has started before harvesting. This timing of the harvest is a tricky thing to learn… through trial and error.


* “Caliche is calcium-carbonate cemented soil that is formed in semi-arid climates. Calcium carbonate is derived by the dissolution of [coral reefs,] shells and shell fragments … especially during the Ice Age when the sea level was much lower and the beaches were more extensive. Rain is a weak acid, formed by reactions between water vapor and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and it is this acid that dissolves the shell fragments … [Caliche forms in] a semi-arid climate; …when it rains, the volume of water is too small to carry dissolved materials away from the area, and they remain in the topsoil. …Groundwater dissolves the calcium carbonate from [coral and] shells in the surface layer and re-precipitates it a little lower in the surface profile, where it will act as a cement, binding the soil material into a hard substance that is called ‘caliche’, or ‘calcrete’, or ‘hardpan’.” From NPS information about the Channel Islands, CA. Some plants in the Virgin Islands prefer caliche soil (avocado trees) but most crop plants find it difficult to secure nutrients out of the calcium-rich caliche.