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Article updated on 13th Jan 2016  Dragon fruit or called by its proper name Pitaya is one of the lessor known fruiting plants in the Western world (perhaps the whole world).

The name “dragon fruit” has its origins in Asia and probably was formed as a way to describe the bright coloured fruit with a chunky scaled skin resembling large...Well, dragon scales, I guess. Whilst this plant is pretty well known in Asia and grown extensively throughout the region, dragon fruit actually originated from Mexico and South America.

Dragon fruit flowers at sunrise

Dragon fruit flowers at sunrise (above image)

This medium to large climbing plant is part of the cactus family and like so many other cactus varieties the dragon fruit is an extremely interesting visual spectacle and when grown in the backyard or in a pot on a balcony the plant is always a lure for questions.

Red fleshed dragon fruit

The plant grows like a climbing vine but instead of tendrils it shoots from the tip and grows another segment ranging from 1-3 feet long and about 4 inches wide.

In Asia, the fruit is popular and pitaya farms are not an unusual sight. The dragon fruit is growing in popularity throughout the Western world with commercial farms starting to appear among the more traditional fruit crops but generally the fruit isn't well known, yet. I do see the rare case of dragon fruit in my local supermarket and it's promoted as a real exotic treat (with a price tag to match).

Personally, I prefer to grow my own at home.

Varieties of dragon fruit

The most common varieties of this spectacular fruiting cactus are the red and yellow fruiting ones. The reRed and yellow dragon fruitd fruiting variety can be split into two main plants distinguished by the flesh colour (edible part) of the fruit – a white flesh, and the other a dark red flesh with the white fleshed red dragon fruit the most common.

The yellow skinned (with a white flesh) dragon fruit are not as commonly grown as the red variety mainly because of its nasty thorny protection, which needs to be removed before handling (more about that later). Also, the yellow variety is significantly smaller than the red in size. However, out of the two colours the yellow has a better taste (sweeter) than the red variety but that's my personal opinion.

What does the fruit taste like?

With such a glamorous exterior, you would expect the dragon fruit to deliver more than it does – taste wise. Having said that, one shouldn’t try and compare this fruit to other tropical stand-outs just because of how vibrant it looks. The main point is the fruit does not taste bad it just isn't a taste bud celebration with every mouthful, but it does taste good. Let me clarify by saying I really enjoy eating dragon fruit! 

Dragon fruit pulp close up

Dragon fruit pulp close-up (image above)

Some would say the fruit tastes a little bland but I think the same about some varieties of watermelon and that doesn't stop me from eating them. The taste of the dragon fruit is like a melon with the texture and tiny seeds similar to a kiwi fruit. And just like a kiwi fruit, you hardly notice the seeds when eating the dragon fruit pulp. In fact, crunching a few seeds in a bite releases a slight tang (or acidity) which is quite pleasant.

dragon fruit flesh scooped out

The fruit is best eaten a little chilled (whole in the fridge), then cut in half and the pulp scooped out with a spoon. Eaten this way, I find the fruit quite refreshing and very enjoyable – I could eat lots of them. Alternatively, dragon fruit are good mashed in cocktails or cut into chunks and added to fruit salads, which by doing so can only enhance the overall fruit salad taste and definitely will not detract from it.

Out of the common red and yellow varieties of dragon fruit, the sweetest tasting is the yellow. However, the drawback for growing the yellow variety (unlike the red) is the fact that the fruit develops spines (thorns) up to and over a centimetre long, which need to be carefully removed before handling (read more about removing the spikes in harvesting below).

Why grow dragon fruit?

I say, “why not” grow dragon fruit? Here are some reasons why more people should grow this weird looking fruit producing cactus:

  • Healthy – Despite some thinking the fruit tastes bland, it is actually very good for us to eat nutritionally. Dragon fruits contain good levels of fibre, minerals, vitamins (vitamin C), and cancer fighting antioxidants.

  • Ornamental value – Many people collect cactus just for fun and for looking at because they are a spectacular plant genus visually. The flower this plant produces is incredible!

  • Different – In contrast to the rest of the garden the dragon fruit plant can be made into a great feature with its eye-catching fleshy stems. On the table, or at a dinner party the fruit do look fabulous and are a real talking point with guests.

  • Easy – The plant itself is very easy to grow and requires little care or water.

  • Taste - I personally do love the taste and think it's a refreshing fruit to eat or drink if you make it into a cocktail.

  • Retail - The large red dragon fruit sell for a ridiculous $5 a pop in the supermarket (in Australia) – enough said...

How to grow dragon fruit?

The massive flower bud from the dragon fruit

The massive flower bud of the dragon fruit (image above)

Where can you grow Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit can be grown almost anywhere in the world. In very cold climates it needs to be protected or it may struggle as it grows best in a warm climate with mild winters. It can be rather drought proof and survive harsh dry conditions; however, the plant does seem to like regular water (in good draining soil) and this helps it produce better fruit in my experience. Yes, pitaya plants can suffer neglect well but will grow much better in fertile, free draining soil with lots of water.

When (planting, fruiting, harvest)

Planting - Time of year for planting isn't really a consideration. The plant is long lived and being a cactus has natural reserves to make it pretty easy as a self-establisher for getting through planting at any time.

Fruiting and flowering – Fruiting can be sporadic throughout the year with the main flowering in summer and then fruit developing into autumn and winter. A dragon fruit plant in flower is an amazing site to behold with petal span often over 8 inches across! Firstly, the shear size of the flower makes it stand out from 50 yards away and the crisp white outer petals with the rich yellow stamens are beautiful. For the best chance to see these flowers in full glory a dawn rising is required as by mid-morning the flowers are usually closed. The flowers are mostly nocturnal (opening at night only) to be pollinated by the creatures of darkness (moths and bats). Nevertheless, I have seen the flowers open through the day and visited by other insects especially ants.

Dragon fruit flower close up

The dragon fruit flower in all its glory (image above)

Plant maturity inducing flowering seems to work off growth rather then age of the plant. I have found that the dragon fruit plant starts to flower and produce fruit best after it has reached a high-point in growth on whatever structure it is climbing. That is, the single stem reaches up and loops down under its own weight triggering small fractures in the stem wall, which in turn stimulates branching.

I have since learnt decapitation once the vine has grown to an acceptable height is another way to stimulate extra branches and fruit development.

Therefore, growing the plant on posts no higher than 2 metres will not only make harvesting easier but it will produce fruit faster also because it won't need to climb as high before toppling over and spreading.

The other extreme, where the plant is left unchecked to grow up a tall structure or even a tree trunk, is worse because the dragon fruit will just keep climbing up and up making fruit harvesting difficult.

It is on the new branches sprawling over the top of the support structure where most of the new flowers are produced, although, flowers can pop-up anywhere on the plant.

Of course, after the flowers come the fruit and it can be tricky to guess exactly how long the fruit will take to reach maturity because it depends mainly on the size. Some fruit keep growing and get very large (bigger than a man’s fist) and others stop growing and start ripening early. So, from flowering to ripe fruit can take from 6 weeks to several months.

Pollination - You can get self-fertile plants and other plants which require cross pollination from other dragon fruit flowers. Unless you are an enthusiast, try to ensure the dragon fruit plant you buy is self-fertile! However, if you are not sure whether your plant is self-fertile or not you can test it when your first flower comes along by hand pollinating; likewise, if your plants are having trouble setting fruit hand pollination will have to be done.

Hand pollination is a pretty simple process but remember the flower only lives for about 12 hours so timing is important! All Pitaya flowers contain male and female parts. The anthers on the tips of the stamen are the male parts (which are typlically the fluffy middle of the flower that contain pollen) and the stigma is the top of the pistil or the female part of the flower (which is usually the long pollen tube poking out from the centre of the flower leading to the ovule). To hand pollinate, use a small paint brush and rub the anthers to collect the pollen then gently dab the top of the stigma to deposit the pollen and thus fertilise the flower!    

 

Green dragon fruit on stemHarvesting – Pitaya (dragon fruit) do not ripen off the plant after harvest. Therefore, before picking the fruit ensure it is fully ripe by visually checking the colour has completely changed from green to red or yellow. Also, the skin should be slightly soft (like a silicon filled ball) when lightly squeezed or poked.

To remove the fruit simply rotate it with a light pull and it should come away rather easily – if it doesn't come off easily it probably isn't fully ripe.

Before picking the yellow fruit, its thorns need to be removed and this can be done by using any implement; for example, a pliers, brush, glove. If the fruit is ripe, the thorns should already be showing signs of shedding anyway and hopefully they will easily rub off without too much problem but care still needs to be taken naturally as the thorns are needle sharp. See my video on how to remove thorns from yellow dragon fruit.

After harvest preservation isn't too bad; however, they are best eaten within a few days.

Propagation and positioning of dragon fruit - Because dragon fruit are a climbing plant they are best grown on a structure. Most people grow the plants on a post and secure the stem to the post as it grows with twine or some sort of material.

Dragon fruit farm

A dragon fruit farm (image above)

I have seen images of dragon fruit plants on posts no higher than a standard fence (about 1.5m and that might be ok if you plan to have several plants; however, if just one or two plants are required then I'd go a little higher so there is more space for hanging growth (thus more fruit).

Plants can be started readily from seed but most people purchase a potted plant which are usually a foot or two high. Cuttings are also a very successful way to propagate dragon fruit and it's quite common tPotted dragon fruit from cuttingo find a segment broken from the plant. More often then not, the segment will grow into a new plant if potted up or even re-planted in the soil as is. If you know someone with dragon fruit plants then getting some freebies should be easy enough.

To propagate from seed is a slower way to grow a new dragon fruit plant but it's still a good option if you can only get the fruit. Simply, squash some of the pulp and seed onto some damp kitchen paper and keep slightly damp over a few weeks you should see some of the seeds sprouting and when they get about 1/2 inch high carefully transfer them to individual pots in good seed raising mix. Once the plant gets about 6 inches high, it can then be planted out into where you want it to grow (preferribly up a strong single post).   

Soil – One thing that will kill a cactus is over watering or wet feet so ensure the soil is free draining. I live in a sub-tropical climate and because of the high rainfall (and my clay soil) I have ensured my plants are growing on a mound or large pot with the bottom cut out. Being a cactus, it can survive some neglect from lack of water and even nutrients but the plant will quickly rot in heavy soil.

Fertiliser – I feed my dragon fruit plants a mix of chicken and quail manure once or twice a year with an occasional dress of compost and a good mulching (keep the much away from the trunk/stem). A complete commercial fertiliser purchased from a garden centre will do also.

Honestly, this plant will grow well under horrid conditions and neglect but for the best fruit possible some care will help.

Pests & Disease on Dragon Fruit plants

Nothing much attacks this plant or the fruit except for when the fruit ripens and then animals or birds may have a go at it buFungal damage on dragon fruit stemt this personally hasn't happened to me. I wouldn't imagine climbing or sitting on a cactus to be an easy or pleasant thing for an animal to do, and I'd like to see my pesky possums try to eat a prickly yellow dragon fruit.

For those of us (like me) who live in an area with fruit fly you needn't be concerned with this awful pest either as it doesn't sting the fruit so no netting is required!  

Fungal problems can sometimes arise through summer when the humidity is high with rust spots appearing and then opening up to rot; however, the plants seem to get over it without any intervention. If the plant looks like it is in big trouble from a fungal attack then sparingly using a fungicide (as directed) should solve the issue. Nevertheless, the dragon fruit plant heals itself well after attacks from fungus or injury through wind etc.

Having said that, recently (Feb 2014) I have had my first serious fungal attack on a dragon fruit vine (red variety) which caused severe dieback. The rust spots started random on certain limbs and then rapidly spread. For now, the treatment I've used is a fungal spray and removal of affected branches - hopefully, this will be good enough! This has only happend on the one plant and it happens to be dual planted with a yellow variety which is NOT affected (strange). I've started a thread about this on our fourm SSC here so I can collect more information about the problem and detail progress in solvign or preventing it. 

Also, I have read a dose of Epsom salts (as directed on packet manuf instructions) watered into the base of the plant may help it recover from sunburn.

Handy links

You can buy dragon fruit plants online plus many other dragon fruit products to try before you grow on Amazon (USA) or eBay (USA)

In Australia, there are plenty of cuttings and seed etc to buy stright from eBay (Australia).

Want to make a Dragon Fruit Trellis? Check out this article - How to Build a Dragon Fruit Trellis.

Conclusion

If you are already a fan of cactus plants then getting a pitaya/dragon fruit plant is an easy decision; even just for the ornamental value.

If you're interested in food gardening then this easy to care for Mexican born, Asian raised, rebel of aHolding yellow dragon fruit plant will be the heavy metal rocker in your quaint garden especially at flowering time. You need to get a dragon fruit plant just so you can get up at dawn, take a picture of these massive flowers, and brag to your friends.

And, if you're not really a cactus fan nor an avid food gardener then why not start your new passion with an exotic like the pitaya aka dragon fruit – this plant will not fail you.

Feel free to use the comment section below and have your say (no email is required) but what would really be even better is if you visited our dragon fruit thread on our forum simply join up (free) and chat with us.

Thanks for reading and thanks for your support.

Look, and see the Earth through her eyes

Mark Valencia – Editor SSM

Here's a video showing a dragon fruit flowering at night

Watch more dragon fruit videos

Comment on Facebook below or use our section further down to have your say...

Comments (156)

Rated 4.5 out of 5 based on 4 votes

Hi jackui
We have sam problem with crow in apple garden because we are only garden around the area the crow and sparrow eat 60% of apple's or other fruit you have 3 choices :
1-use some sound maker gadjet(like explode sound) and it make sound...

Hi jackui
We have sam problem with crow in apple garden because we are only garden around the area the crow and sparrow eat 60% of apple's or other fruit you have 3 choices :
1-use some sound maker gadjet(like explode sound) and it make sound periodically.
2- use some reflective matterial thats move in wind and birds beware of it.
3- our crows is very intelligent so I try to kill some of them then take them and hanging them in garden.do it one per wwek and then they dont come.
And one of my friend told me an idea I dont use it but he say its workful you can break some fluorescent lamp and shredded it until its like powder then add yoghurt to it and combine them then let the dishe's be in top of something In I area( dont let it in ground because aal the animale eat it and die) every crow or bird eat this will die.

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Hi there! i have about 1500 dragon fruit plants in Queensland Australia and we are having problems with birds eating the fruit, crows in particular.
Do you have any suggestions about how to stop them from eating the fruit?
Thank you for all the...

Hi there! i have about 1500 dragon fruit plants in Queensland Australia and we are having problems with birds eating the fruit, crows in particular.
Do you have any suggestions about how to stop them from eating the fruit?
Thank you for all the helpful info above as well!

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  1.    Jacqui Dehnert

Hi Jacqui, WOW that's a lot of Dragon Fruit plants - well done! Sorry to hear about the birds eating your fruit - crows can be particularly destructive...

The problem isn't how to stop crows eating the fruit... it's, "how to find a cost...

Hi Jacqui, WOW that's a lot of Dragon Fruit plants - well done! Sorry to hear about the birds eating your fruit - crows can be particularly destructive...

The problem isn't how to stop crows eating the fruit... it's, "how to find a cost effective way to stop them?" Netting a whole plantation would be expensive as you would know and there's some doubt regarding the effectivness of sonic or water repellers for birds and other animals.

If not all the fruit is being ruined then perhaps accepting a 10% or so loss due to birds would be cheaper than netting and maintaining nets over the long term - that's something to consider.

I wish I could could be more helpful! Best of luck and I hope you find a solution. Thanks for commenting

Edit: I can't vouch personally for these products but check out this link here to Bird Guard Australia they do look promising from a commercial POV.

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  Comment was last edited about 9 months ago by Mark Valencia

hi there!
first off this was a great article and i loved reading it. i have grown some dragon fruit off cutting and i have built a grow box with fram for it to climb, however recently it seems to be fading to a yellowy tinge towards the centre of...

hi there!
first off this was a great article and i loved reading it. i have grown some dragon fruit off cutting and i have built a grow box with fram for it to climb, however recently it seems to be fading to a yellowy tinge towards the centre of the lengths. is this sunburn? have i watered it too much?
i am quite new to them and have let them grow out in their own directions and tied the main stems to the frames, i try to water them when i notice the ground is dry and i airate the soil on days it seems too hard packed. perhaps i am caring too much for them?

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  1.    michael

Hi Michael!
No, I don't think it would be sunburn and I doubt it's over watering either. My best guess of what would be causing the yellowing is a fungus or possibly a lack of a specific nutrient. If the yellowing is isolated to just a few stems...

Hi Michael!
No, I don't think it would be sunburn and I doubt it's over watering either. My best guess of what would be causing the yellowing is a fungus or possibly a lack of a specific nutrient. If the yellowing is isolated to just a few stems then perhaps prune them back but if it's over the whole plant then you could try giving the plant some fertiliser with trace elements (such as a complete citrus fertiliser) and see how it goes. If you see rust spots you could also try spraying with a copper fungiside. Don't forget to mulch around the base of the plant and prune them back as routine every few years to air out the stems and prevent overcrowding which can lead to fungal diseases etc. Best of luck!

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hi.
I plant pitaya behind my window and its about 3 month old the height is 14 centimeter and .5 centimeter wide .its very soft I make a grow area with lamp with more than 35 centigrade degree and 7000 lumen ful spectrum light with air freshner...

hi.
I plant pitaya behind my window and its about 3 month old the height is 14 centimeter and .5 centimeter wide .its very soft I make a grow area with lamp with more than 35 centigrade degree and 7000 lumen ful spectrum light with air freshner but when the lamp is off pitaya get too soft and fall down plant on the edge of the pot and I must to belt it I water it every time saw the soil is dry the soil is peatmoss .is it a disease or water problem or light problem or?

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Hi Hamid,
my guess would be it's a light problem. I think the stem of the plant is not getting enough proper light to allow the stem walls to strengthen. I would place the pot somewhere where it gets direct sunlight and see if this makes a...

Hi Hamid,
my guess would be it's a light problem. I think the stem of the plant is not getting enough proper light to allow the stem walls to strengthen. I would place the pot somewhere where it gets direct sunlight and see if this makes a difference. Cheers

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  1. 4 / 5

I have had several plants for around three years. Last year the Red Zamora, Physical Graffiti and Yellow plants gave me about 3 fruit each. This year the Red and PG have gone crazy with buds. The Red seems to be doing well and around 40 look to...

I have had several plants for around three years. Last year the Red Zamora, Physical Graffiti and Yellow plants gave me about 3 fruit each. This year the Red and PG have gone crazy with buds. The Red seems to be doing well and around 40 look to go to flowers. The PG blooms are all turning yellow and dropping, around 30 of them. Earlier this year each plant had three or four flowers that yellowed and dropped. I'm in west central Florida, just south of Tampa. Good draining, sandy soil with adequate water and light fertilization with 6-6-6 every other month in the summer. Possibly a nutrient problem? Would epsom salts and maybe Sea 90 help? I hate seeing all those buds fall off.

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  1.    Pat Boling

Yes I have heard of epsom salts helping dragon fruit plants to produce better so it's worth trying that's for sure! Flower drop and poor pollination are very common in Pitaya unfortunately and it's difficult to ascertain the exact cause. I've had...

Yes I have heard of epsom salts helping dragon fruit plants to produce better so it's worth trying that's for sure! Flower drop and poor pollination are very common in Pitaya unfortunately and it's difficult to ascertain the exact cause. I've had vines looking poorly and seemingly lacking nitrogen or other other nutrients produce better than other plants that are growing really well! So it's not always a nutrient issue and not always a pollination issue - we just have to keep experimenting until the results come... that's gardening I suppose

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  1. 4.5 / 5

Hi,
I bought a Yellow D/F cutting on e bay and have it in a pot. When it arrived I noticed the tip was a little soft and limp but thought it might have been dehydrated.
The tip now appears to be becoming soft and transparent for the first inch or...

Hi,
I bought a Yellow D/F cutting on e bay and have it in a pot. When it arrived I noticed the tip was a little soft and limp but thought it might have been dehydrated.
The tip now appears to be becoming soft and transparent for the first inch or so.
Should I cut the tip off to a healthy area and would that help?
Karin

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  1.    Karin Malchus

Hi Karin, cutting the tip off (the part going soft or rotten) may help yes especially if it looks like the rot is spreading but if it's showing signs of drying up I wouldn't worry about it and the plant will likely shoot from the side below the...

Hi Karin, cutting the tip off (the part going soft or rotten) may help yes especially if it looks like the rot is spreading but if it's showing signs of drying up I wouldn't worry about it and the plant will likely shoot from the side below the soft tip anyway. Best of luck with your cutting!

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  1. 5 / 5

Great information thank you.
I have a cutting growing in an aquaponic system which is doing really well. After 6 months I already have a several brances and one branch with roots dangling off it. As we have a shaded tunnel setup (strawbs get...

Great information thank you.
I have a cutting growing in an aquaponic system which is doing really well. After 6 months I already have a several brances and one branch with roots dangling off it. As we have a shaded tunnel setup (strawbs get burned by the sun), the plant has branched at about 40 cm high, I wonder if it might bonsai..what do you think?
Should I move it? or leave it be and just plant the cuttings like you say in a normal soil environment.

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  1.    Deborah

Hi Deborah, sorry for not responding sooner. It sounds like a great start you have and good position for your dragon fruit. I expect it will keep growing if you leave it but you could try and bonsai it if you like as it would be a great...

Hi Deborah, sorry for not responding sooner. It sounds like a great start you have and good position for your dragon fruit. I expect it will keep growing if you leave it but you could try and bonsai it if you like as it would be a great experiment! I'd be interested to see how it turns out. Cheers

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  1. 5 / 5

Just testing our new comments system guys! Feel free to join our website, make a comment, rate this article, and give us your feedback.

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Hi Pete,

I mix my dragon fruit vines up red, yellow, and white and don't find any issues - but I'm no cactus breeding expert. The yellow Pitaya are thorny but I think they they taste great - more sweeter than my other varieties anyway.

I see...

Hi Pete,

I mix my dragon fruit vines up red, yellow, and white and don't find any issues - but I'm no cactus breeding expert. The yellow Pitaya are thorny but I think they they taste great - more sweeter than my other varieties anyway.

I see you can get the yellow variety dragon fruit vines and seeds over in the USA [url=http://bit.ly/1Ro1qgV]on Amazon here[/url]

Hope this helps!

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I live in California.I don't have yellow fruit cactus, and my question is I don't know if you can mix planting the cactus vines in red vinecactus, whitevinecactus yellowvinecactus together?.Please endorse me where I can order those yellow cactus...

I live in California.I don't have yellow fruit cactus, and my question is I don't know if you can mix planting the cactus vines in red vinecactus, whitevinecactus yellowvinecactus together?.Please endorse me where I can order those yellow cactus vines.

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