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Dragon Fruit Plant Care: How to Grow Dragon Fruit (Pitaya)

Woman holding dragon fruit from dragon fruit plant

Dragon Fruit plant, scientifically known as Hylocereus undatus, is a cactus species native to Central and South America that produces a captivating fruit known as dragon fruit.

Dragon Fruit plant is not just a visually striking cactus; it is a fascinating and beneficial plant. From its captivating flowers to its nutritious fruits, this plant offers both aesthetic beauty and health benefits.

As the plant develops, it forms intricate root systems and begins to climb and intertwine with its support structure. The flowering stage is particularly enchanting, as the large, fragrant blossoms open up at night, attracting pollinators such as moths and bats. Eventually, these flowers give way to vibrant and delicious fruits.

Trust me, growing your own Dragon Fruit plant can be a rewarding experience. It requires proper care and attention, but the results are worth it. The plant thrives in warm climates and well-drained soil. With the right conditions, it can grow up to 20 feet tall and produce abundant fruits.

If you have ever wanted to grow your own exotic and colorful fruit, then you are in for a treat. In this article, I’ll explore everything you need to know about growing and caring for dragon fruit plants from the years of experience I have as a master gardener.  But before we get our hands dirty, let’s first understand what exactly the Dragon Fruit plant is all about.

Furthermore, In conclusion, the Dragon Fruit plant is not just a visually striking cactus; it is a fascinating and beneficial plant. From its captivating flowers to its nutritious fruits, this plant offers both aesthetic beauty and health benefits. Growing your own Dragon Fruit plant allows you to witness the marvels of nature up close and enjoy the satisfaction of nurturing a unique and rewarding plant.

Dragon Fruit Plant with Flowers Blooming

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Botanical Name: Hylocereus undatus

Common Name: Dragon fruit, dragon fruit cactus plant, pitahaya, pitaya, strawberry pear, Honolulu queen, moonlight cactus, Belle of the Night, Cactus fruit, night blooming Cereus

Family: Cactaceae

Plant Type: Cactus, perennial

Hardiness Zones: 10 – 12 (USDA)

Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial sun

Soil Type: Well-drained, sandy

Soil pH: Neutral, acidic,

Height: 8 – 20 ft. tall

Bloom Time: Spring, summer, fall, winter

Flower Color: White

Native Area: North America, Central America, South America

What is a Dragon Fruit Plant?

The Dragon Fruit plant, scientifically known as Hylocereus undatus, is a cactus species native to Central and South America. It belongs to the family Cactaceae and is also commonly referred to as pitahaya in Mexico or pitaya in Central and South America. This intriguing plant has gained popularity worldwide due to its stunningly beautiful and unique fruits.

The Dragon Fruit plant is a climbing cactus that grows on trees or other support structures. It features long, triangular stems with aerial roots that help it cling onto its host. The stems are segmented and have prominent ribs, covered in small spines.

Dragon fruit plantation

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The plant’s flowers are large and nocturnal, blooming only at night and lasting for just one night. These flowers are usually white, but some varieties may have pink or yellow blooms.

One of the most captivating aspects of the Dragon Fruit plant is its fruits. These fruits have a distinct shape, resembling a dragon egg, hence the name “Dragon Fruit.” They come in various vibrant colors, including red, pink, and yellow, depending on the variety. The outer skin of the fruit is covered in scales, giving it a unique texture and appearance.

Dragon Fruit plants are not only visually appealing but also highly nutritious. The fruits are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, especially vitamin C which means they’ll boost your immune system and help fight infections.

They are also low in calories and fat, making them an excellent choice for those looking to maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

In addition to their nutritional value, Dragon Fruit plants have long been used in traditional medicine. The fruits, stems, and flowers are believed to have various health benefits.

They are known for their anti-inflammatory properties, aiding digestion, and boosting the immune system. The plant’s extracts are also used in skincare products for their moisturizing and anti-aging effects.

What Do Dragon Fruits Taste Like?

Tasty dragon fruits

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

The flavor of the dragon fruit may be the only aspect more intriguing than its appearance. Peel the pink skin off easily to reveal a bright white flesh that is flecked with tiny black seeds resembling seeds from kiwi fruit. These seeds give the fruit is juicy pulp a crunchy texture.

It tastes delicious when eaten chilled and has a flavor that is similar to a cross between a melon and a pear. Use dragon fruit to create a homemade sorbet, smoothie, or exotic beverage that will cool you off and quench your summertime thirst. It is also used as aa savory ingredient in jellies, jams, and even sauces.

Dragon Fruit Plant Care

Now that I have piqued your interest in Dragon Fruit plants, let’s delve into the essential care tips to help you nurture these magnificent plants.

Dragon Fruit plants, also known as pitaya, are not only visually stunning but also relatively easy to care for. With their vibrant colors and delicious fruit, they have become increasingly popular among gardeners and fruit enthusiasts. Fortunately, dragon fruit can be grown outdoors year-round in USDA Hardiness Zones 10 to 11.

The bright red features of dragon fruit have earned this plant the nickname strawberry pears. Interestingly, this fruiting plant has many other common names depending on the region its grown. This includes Indonesia buah naga, Thanh long, Thai kaeo mangkon, nanettika fruit, Belle of the Night, Cactus fruit, Kaktus madu, and Night blooming Cereus.

To learn exactly how to care for dragon fruit plant, let’s look at some important plant care aspects. Whether you are a seasoned gardener or a beginner, these care tips will ensure that your Dragon Fruit plants thrive and produce abundant fruits.

Light

Dragon Fruit plants thrive in bright, indirect sunlight. It is best to find a spot in your garden that receives at least six hours of sunlight each day. If you are growing them indoors, placing them near a sunny window will ensure they receive the required amount of light. Remember, the more sunlight they get, the more fruit they will produce.

However, it’s important to note that excessive exposure to direct sunlight can cause sunburn on the plant’s leaves. If you live in an area with intense sunlight, consider providing some shade during the hottest part of the day to protect your Dragon Fruit plants.

Soil

Dragon fruit tree with ripe red fruits for harvest.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

When it comes to soil, Dragon Fruit plants prefer a well-draining, slightly acidic soil. You can create the perfect growing medium by mixing equal parts of sandy soil, compost, and perlite. This combination ensures good drainage, which is crucial to prevent root rot. It’s also a good idea to add organic matter to enrich the soil and improve its fertility.

Additionally, Dragon Fruit plants are native to tropical regions, where they grow epiphytically on trees. If you want to replicate their natural habitat, you can consider growing them in a well-draining orchid mix or mounting them on a tree trunk or wooden post. This method allows the plants to receive better air circulation and mimics their natural growth habit.

Water

Proper watering is essential for the health of your Dragon Fruit plants. While they do require regular watering, be careful not to overdo it. The key is to maintain a moist yet not overly wet soil. During the growing season, water the plants every one to two weeks, allowing the top inch of the soil to dry out between waterings. In winter, reduce watering to once a month.

Additionally, be cautious not to wet the leaves, as it can lead to fungal diseases. Water the plants at the base, aiming for the root zone rather than showering the entire plant. Mulching around the base of the plant can also help retain moisture in the soil.

It’s worth mentioning that Dragon Fruit plants have a natural adaptation to drought conditions, which allows them to survive in arid environments. However, prolonged periods of drought can affect their growth and fruit production. Therefore, it’s important to strike a balance between providing adequate moisture and allowing the soil to dry out slightly between waterings.

Temperature and Humidity

Dragon fruit garden under blue sky

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Dragon Fruit plants thrive in warm climates with temperatures between 65°F and 90°F (18°C to 32°C) which serves as the ideal growing conditions for this plant.

Keep in mind that they are not frost-tolerant, so it’s important to protect them during winter. If you live in a cold region, consider growing them as potted plants, which allows you to move them indoors when the temperatures drop.

As for humidity, Dragon Fruit plants appreciate some level of humidity, but they can adapt to different conditions. If you live in a dry climate, occasional misting or placing a tray of water near the plants can help increase humidity levels.

It’s fascinating to note that Dragon Fruit plants are native to tropical rainforests, where they thrive in high humidity. The humidity in these environments promotes healthy growth and encourages fruiting.

However, with proper care and attention, you can successfully grow Dragon Fruit plants in various climates, even in regions with lower humidity levels.

Fertilizer

To ensure your Dragon Fruit plants grow vigorously and produce abundant fruits, regular fertilization is necessary. Feed them with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every two to four weeks during the growing season. Look for a fertilizer specifically formulated for cacti and succulents, as it will provide the necessary nutrients in the right proportions.

Remember to always follow the instructions on the fertilizer package, as over-fertilization can harm the plants. Also, be sure to reduce or stop fertilizing during the dormant period in winter.

In addition to commercial fertilizers, you can also use organic alternatives to nourish your Dragon Fruit plants. Compost, worm castings, and seaweed extracts are excellent natural fertilizers that enrich the soil and promote healthy growth.

It’s important to note that Dragon Fruit plants are relatively low-maintenance when it comes to fertilization. With the right soil mix and regular feeding, they can thrive without requiring excessive amounts of fertilizer.

Types of Dragon Fruit Cactus

There are approximately 15 species of dragon fruit cacti, each with a different color fruit and shell. Let’s look at some common ones:

  • Hylocereus megalanthus: This rare dragon fruit grows its sweet, white fruit flesh inside of a yellow, thorny shell.
Hylocereus megalanthus, a dragon fruit with a yellow, thorny shell

Hylocereus megalanthus – Photo Credit: Dreamstime.

  • Hylocereus costaricensis: Both the fruit flesh and the fruit shell can have a deep, blood-red or deep pink appearance.
Hylocereus costaricensis, a dragon fruit where both its flesh and shell have a reddish pink color

Hylocereus costaricensis – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

  • Hylocereus guatemalensis: The dragon fruit is flesh is bright purple, and the shell is deep pink with greenish fins.
Hylocereus guatemalensis juice and fruits

Hylocereus guatemalensis – Photo Credit: Dreamstime.

  • Hylocereus polyrhizus: This fruit has deep red flesh and a green thorny shell.
Hylocereus polyrhizus with green thorny shell

Hylocereus polyrhizus – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

  • Hylocereus stenopterus: The fruits of this dragon fruit are red, yellow, or orange.

How to Grow Dragon Fruit Plants from Seed

If you are up for a challenge and want to experience the entire life cycle of a Dragon Fruit plant, growing them from seeds is an exciting option.

When collecting Dragon Fruit seeds, it is important to choose fully mature fruits. These fruits are usually bright and have a slightly soft texture. To extract the seeds, cut the fruit in half and scoop out the pulp. Rinse the seeds under running water to remove any remaining pulp or debris. This step is crucial to ensure the seeds’ viability and prevent the growth of mold or fungi.

Before planting the seeds, prepare a suitable growing medium. Dragon Fruit plants thrive in well-draining potting mixtures that are rich in organic matter. You can create your own mix by combining equal parts of peat moss, perlite, and compost. Fill a seed-starting tray or small pots with the potting mix, leaving some space at the top for watering.

Plant the Dragon Fruit seeds about ¼ inch deep in the soil. It is essential not to bury them too deep, as this can hinder germination. Gently cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil, ensuring they are adequately protected. Water the soil thoroughly to provide the necessary moisture for germination.

Place the seed-starting tray or pots in a warm location with indirect sunlight. Dragon Fruit seeds require a temperature range of 70-85°F (21-29°C) for optimal germination. You can use a heating mat or place the tray near a heat source to provide consistent warmth. Avoid exposing the seeds to direct sunlight at this stage, as it can lead to excessive drying and hinder germination.

With proper care and maintenance, the Dragon Fruit seeds will start to germinate within a few weeks. As the seedlings emerge from the soil, ensure they receive enough light to support their growth. Gradually acclimate them to direct sunlight by exposing them to a few hours of sunlight each day. This process helps the seedlings adjust to the intensity of sunlight and prevents sunburn.

Dragon Fruit Plant Seedlings

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Once the Dragon Fruit seedlings reach a height of about 6 inches, it is time to transplant them into larger pots or directly into the garden. Choose containers or planting locations that provide ample space for the plants to grow. Dragon Fruit plants have long, climbing stems, so consider providing them with a trellis or support structure for optimal growth.

While it may take several years for Dragon Fruit plants grown from seeds to produce fruits, the journey itself is incredibly rewarding. Watching the plants develop from tiny seedlings to mature, fruit-bearing vines is a testament to your patience and dedication as a gardener. So, embark on this exciting adventure and enjoy the process of growing your own Dragon Fruit plants from seeds!

How to Propagate Dragon Fruit Plant

If growing from seeds seems too time-consuming for you, don’t worry; there is another way to propagate Dragon Fruit plants quickly – through stem cuttings.

When propagating Dragon Fruit plants through stem cuttings, it is important to choose a healthy stem that is free from any diseases or pests. Look for a stem that is at least 1 foot long and has a few nodes where the roots will develop. Nodes are the small, raised areas on the stem where leaves or branches emerge.

Once you have selected the perfect stem, it’s time to make a clean cut just below a node. Use a sharp, clean knife to ensure a smooth and precise cut. This will help the cutting to heal quickly and develop roots more effectively.

After making the cut, it is essential to allow the cutting to dry and callus for a few days. This step is crucial as it prevents the cutting from rotting when planted in the potting mix. Place the cutting in a warm and well-ventilated area, away from direct sunlight, to promote drying and callusing.

While the cutting is drying, prepare a well-draining potting mix. Dragon Fruit plants prefer a soil mix that is light and airy, allowing excess water to drain freely. A mixture of cactus potting soil, perlite, and sand is ideal for creating the perfect growing medium.

Dragon fruit propagation

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Once the cutting has callused, it is ready to be planted. Make a hole in the potting mix that is about 2-3 inches deep and carefully place the cutting inside. Gently press the soil around the cutting to ensure good contact and stability.

Water the cutting thoroughly after planting to settle the soil and provide moisture for the developing roots. However, be careful not to overwater as excessive moisture can lead to root rot. It is best to water the cutting when the top inch of the soil feels dry.

Place the potted cutting in a warm and bright location, such as a sunny windowsill or a greenhouse. Dragon Fruit plants thrive in warm temperatures and require at least 6 hours of bright sunlight each day to grow strong and healthy.

Within a few weeks, you should start to see signs of growth. The cutting will develop roots and begin to produce new stems and leaves. At this stage, it is essential to provide proper care for the young Dragon Fruit plant.

Water the plant regularly, keeping the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged. Fertilize the plant every 2-3 months with a balanced fertilizer to provide essential nutrients for growth. Prune any dead or damaged stems to encourage healthy development.

As the Dragon Fruit plant grows, it will eventually produce beautiful flowers that bloom at night. These flowers are usually large and showy, with vibrant colors ranging from white and pink to yellow and red. The flowers are followed by the formation of the fruit, which can take a few months to ripen.

How to Harvest Dragon Fruit

Harvesting Dragon Fruit from the Garden

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

When the flaps on the pink outer skin of the dragon fruit begin to wither, it is time to harvest. Any fruit that has fallen from the stem on its own usually is overripe, so it is important to time your harvest correctly.

If the fruit is ripe, you should be able to twist it from the stem with ease. The dragon fruit can last up to two weeks if stored in the fridge.

The exotic flavor of dragon fruit might not be to everyone’s taste. For those who do enjoy it, it is loaded with antioxidants, beneficial minerals, and vitamin C.

The cactus also produces impressive-looking, enormous edible flowers that are typically white in color and have a potent fragrance. They are typically nocturnal, so you can only pick and enjoy them after the sun has set.

Common Pests, Plant Diseases, and Plant Problems for Dragon Fruit Plant

While Dragon Fruit plants are generally resilient, they can occasionally fall victim to pests, diseases, or other issues. Here are some common problems you might encounter and how to deal with them:

  • Aphids: These tiny insects can suck the sap from your plants. Control them by spraying a mixture of water and mild soap onto the affected areas.
  • Root Rot: Overwatering or poorly-drained soil can lead to root rot. To prevent this, ensure your plants are in well-draining soil and avoid excessive watering.
  • Mealybugs: These cottony pests can be removed by manually wiping them off with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Repeat this process until the infestation is gone.
  • Fungal Diseases: Excessive moisture or prolonged high humidity can promote the development of fungal diseases. To prevent this, practice proper watering techniques and ensure good air circulation around the plants.

By being vigilant and taking prompt action at the first signs of trouble, you can effectively protect your Dragon Fruit plants and keep them healthy and thriving.

Other Fruit Guides from Planet Natural:

What is a Pink Pineapple? Where to Buy It? (Complete Guide)

What is Yellow Watermelon? And How to Grow it Easily at Home

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