A less common native fruit to try, learn how to grow dragon fruit and you’ll be amazed at the resulting tasty fruits of this exotic plant.
The flowers of the dragon fruit are among the largest in the world. They bloom only at night, adding to their mysterious beauty. They need to be pollinated by another dragon fruit plant, so it’s necessary to grow at least two to ensure your flowers turn into fruit that you can grow alongside other sun-loving fruit trees in the garden or indoors.
Dragon fruit is actually a tropical cactus fruit native to Central and South America. They therefore require more frequent watering and a slightly moist soil, unlike desert cacti which thrive in very dry soil.
A dragon fruit grown under optimal conditions can grow up to 3 meters tall in a single year, making a striking addition to tropical garden ideas.
How to grow dragon fruit – outdoors or indoors
Dragon fruit or pitaya is a warm climate fruit and will grow faster and produce a better harvest in warmer zones. If you want to try growing them in cooler areas, they need to be grown indoors in a heated environment.
It’s possible they would happily grow under glass if you’re planning a greenhouse in USDA Zones 8 and 9, but they’re very unlikely to bear fruit without additional heating. You can grow them indoors provided you can give them a very sunny spot with at least 6 hours of sunlight per day.
They are epiphytic which means they will raise other plants and therefore need some support if grown indoors.
Make sure the pole or support is very stable as the plants will grow tall and heavy. Make sure the root system has plenty of room to develop.
It’s best to grow dragonfruit in the ground rather than in pots, but if you choose to grow them in a pot as part of your vegetable garden container ideas or under glass, then choose a very large pot.
Cut off any lateral growth until the plant reaches the top of the support, then allow it to droop and branch out. Make sure the stem is securely attached to the upright support so the plant is not damaged. A wooden frame at the top works well, allowing the plants to rest on it without being cramped.
“I love dragon fruit because they perfectly walk the line between a beautiful architectural houseplant and an inspirational food plant,” says Lucy Hutchings of She Grows Veg and author of Get up and grow.
“They grow fast so are a good choice for the impatient gardener and are the easiest to propagate. The flowers are huge and the fruits are delicious. What’s not to love!’ She keeps going.
Pollinate dragon fruit plants
When you learn how to grow dragon fruit you will find that cross pollination is the best way to ensure fruit set, so you need two dragon fruit plants. Some varieties are better suited to pollinate each other. ‘Hylocereus purpusii and Hylocereus undatus are the most commonly grown dragon fruit,” says Lucy. They are used both as decorative flowering vines and as a fruit picker.
She recommends hand-pollinating dragonfruit, as they are pollinated by bats and moths in the wild. If you’re growing them indoors, they’ll need some help – do this with a soft brush to transfer pollen from one plant to another.
How to grow dragon fruit from cuttings
Dragon fruit can be grown from seeds or cuttings. If you’re growing her in cooler zones – anything below USDA zone 10 – it would be best to grow her from cuttings or already established plants to get a little progress.
Dragon fruit is easy to grow from cuttings and is harvested more quickly than when grown from seed. How to plant dragon fruit cuttings:
- Take a 10-12 cm section of branch from a mature plant. This can be the top of the stem or a section from the middle, meaning you can take multiple cuttings from one branch.
- Leave your cutting in a warm, dry place for 4-7 days to allow the end—or ends—to dry; This will ensure that they do not succumb to a fungal infection.
- Stand your cutting upright in a pot of well-drained potting soil – add some sand or grit to improve drainage if needed.
- Water every 2 to 4 weeks and keep the substrate moist but not soggy.
Your cutting should take root and you can continue growing it in the same pot and substrate. The time it takes to root depends on the temperature. If you can keep it in a warm spot, rooting will occur faster, but it will need more regular watering to ensure it stays moist.
How to grow dragon fruit from seed
Dragon fruit seeds can be harvested directly from the fruit. It’s easy and inexpensive, and you can grow many hundreds of plants from just one fruit.
To grow dragon fruit from seeds:
- Cut a dragon fruit in half and scoop out some of the flesh and seeds.
- Place the pulp and pits in a sieve and run under running water to separate the pulp from the pits.
- Sow the seeds in deep bowls or pots and cover them with a light layer of potting soil.
- When they are a few inches tall, transfer them to individual pots, being careful not to damage the roots. It helps to use a cocktail stick or the tip of a pencil to pull out the roots.
- If the plants are a bit bigger, they also need bigger pots. Dragon fruit like big deep pots. This means they can stay in the same pot for several years.
Is dragon fruit easy to grow?
Dragon fruit is easy to grow, “but a lot of problems with growing dragon fruit come from growing in pots that are too small,” explains Kevin Espiritu of Epic Gardening in San Diego.
“Dragonfruit want a big pot. I would recommend a pot that holds at least 20 gallons,” he adds. “I prefer to use terracotta pots for my dragon fruit as they help with drainage, but you can use plastic pots if you’d like – just mind your watering.”
Overwatering is another major problem when growing dragon fruit. They are a tropical cactus, so they require more water than desert cacti, but too much water can cause the stem to rot.
To make sure you don’t overwater your plant, dig your finger a few inches deep into the soil. If it feels damp, don’t water. If it feels dry, give it about an inch of water, then wait for it to dry before watering again.
Dragon fruit can be difficult to flower. Kevin recommends removing the top inch of growth when the plant is tall and has a lot of vegetative growth but no flowers. “Pruning back sends a message to the plant that if it has the potential, it should produce some fruit to ensure survival for another generation,” he explains.
What climate do you need to grow dragon fruit?
Climate is an important factor in growing dragon fruit. They are a tropical cactus, so they are best suited to growing in tropical climates. Many people can grow the plants in colder climates, but they may never bear fruit.
Dragon fruit needs temperatures consistently above 4°C (40°F), but they prefer higher temperatures, around 21°C (70°F) or higher.