The papaya tree can be found in tropical rainforests in Mexico and Florida under canopy trees, where it thrives for 3 to 4 years before production drops drastically and trees last only a few months. At 33 feet high, its spiral pattern of deep cut palmate leaves rest upon a trunk that appears hollow at its base like a palm while its root structure is thin and distal. At around one year old, tiny cream-colored star-shaped blossoms appear beneath the leaves in early spring. All parts of this tree release latex.
Papaya seeds should be planted in mid-spring if the soil temperature is warm enough. As papaya trees have a short life span and must produce fruit quickly from seeds, you’ll only need a few to get healthy sprouts for growing papaya. Plant 6-to-10 seeds into a container large enough to support an entire tree – 15-20 gallons is ideal – since papaya trees have shallow roots which require planting where they will live out their lives.
Seeds should be planted in a fertile, draining soil that stays damp. Place it outdoors with full sun; alternatively, for areas with cold winters, place seeds on an east or south-facing wall which retains warmth during the day and releases it at night. After two weeks, more vigorous young plants can be removed; however, in tropical regions you must ensure they are at least 7-10 feet apart from their planting place.
Once your papaya trees have been established, taking care of them is easy! Let’s cover the essential requirements for a papaya plant and how you can help it develop and mature into mature papaya plants.
Sun and Temperature
Papaya trees require sunlight and warmth for their growth. They need at least 6-8 hours of direct sun daily. As an exotic plant, papayas can easily survive outdoors in USDA zones 9 and 10. Other zones must provide shade during wintertime when temperatures drop below 31 degrees Fahrenheit; it is best to create a greenhouse with high levels of humidity around 90-95 percent. Ideal growing conditions lie between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit; temperatures below 31 degrees may cause injury or even death to these delicate trees so it’s best to stay away from cold weather events.
Water and Humidity
You should water your Carica papaya daily, providing enough water so the soil remains moist but not dripping with water. Varied irrigation can lead to decreased fruit yields and fruit drops; so be sure your schedule is consistent. Use soaker or drip irrigation hoses for a steady, continuous supply of fresh water for your plant; if not available, using a slow-pouring container works too if raining heavily; however, applying additional water during heavy downpours won’t hurt either.
For growing papayas, you need a rich and fertile soil that is abundant in organic matter. Additionally, having well-drained soil is essential as saturated soil can lead to diseases. Once your papaya seeds have been planted in the ground, create a hole about 1.5 feet across and fill it with organic soil and well-rotted compost. Purchase these seeds from an established nursery as poor soil will not suffice and clay soil must be amended extensively for best results. Tropical soil must be used, and amendments can also help. The ideal pH range for papaya plants lies between 5.5, 5.8, and 5.9. In hotter regions during summer, spread wood chips along the base of trees to retain moisture.
When cultivating papaya trees, you must add large amounts of manure or compost around their foundation and trunk. Papayas are heavy feeders as well, so adding 14-14-14 pellet fertilizer at planting time and every four weeks after that will provide them with necessary nutrition. Make sure not to touch the tree’s trunk though as this could cause burning.
If your papaya tree does not have any structural issues, it’s best to refrain from pruning. Most papayas develop from their main trunk and won’t need any important branches removed, plus, this way, the tree won’t lose any winter green leaves either.
In our previous section on plantation, we discussed the primary method for propagating papayas using seeds. Here, we’ll offer some advice for germinating those same seeds. When taking them out of their papayas, be sure to wash them thoroughly and let dry in a shaded area before planting in spring when temperatures are warmer.
You can plant seeds in a large pot covered with plastic wrap to increase humidity and promote better germinating. Make several holes in the wrap so air can freely come in and out, then take off when your sprouts appear. It is okay to store dried and washed seeds in an airtight container until planting time; however, if unsure whether your trees are female, male, or hybrid, wait until blooming before transplanting them. Most papayas sold at grocery stores are cross-bred for efficiency sake and many are hybrid varieties.
Papaya fruits should be harvested within four to five months after they begin flowering. If you’re cultivating two male trees, it would likely be best to pick papayas from female trees as bisexual plants can produce papayas on their own.
When picking papayas, there are two methods. You can wait for it to mature completely and then pick when orange, or harvest while still green. Your trees will produce papayas as long as allowed; when ripe, wait until soft and then take with your hands or ladder if necessary.
Papayas are not usually fully ripe after harvesting, so those from your tree may only last a couple of weeks at room temperatures or up to seven weeks in the fridge. Unripe fruits typically reach full ripeness within one to two weeks at room temperature and should be consumed before then. While papayas that are already ripe can be eaten raw, unripe papayas should be cooked prior to consumption in order to reduce the amount of latex present. Fresh papaya that has been cubed can be stored in the fridge for several weeks in sealed plastic containers. Canned papaya may last up to two years when kept in a dark and cool environment. Dry papaya kept in an airtight glass container at room temperature will keep between 4-12 months.