Table of contents
Introducing Dragon Fruit
Originally from south Mexico and Central America, dragon fruit (also called pitaya or strawberry pear) is now grown around the world. A member of the cactus family, this unique climbing cactus produces an oval shaped fruit with pointy scales reminiscent of a dragon.
This plant is sometimes referred to as the moonlight cactus on account of its flowers that bloom only at night. It produces footlong fragrant flowers in addition to a nutritious tropical fruit.
Growing Dragon Fruit
Location and Soil
Growing well in tropical gardens, the perennial dragon fruit is a type of climbing cactus plant that can live as long as two decades. It also grows well in the sub-tropics.
Dragon fruit requires at least six hours of sunlight per day, but are best planted in full sunlight. It is a climber, so it must be supported with a stake, trellis or some other structure it can climb on.
When growing, go for well-draining soil that is sandy and loamy. A mixture of sand in garden soil is best. That said, the plant is forgiving to poor soil, as long as it is not too swampy.
Growing from Seed
Dragon fruit is self-reproducing, so you only need one plant to grow from. You can propagate this plant with seeds from the fruit itself. Simply wash the seeds and dry them overnight before planting them in a seed-starting tray with moist soil. The seeds should germinate within two weeks.
Growing from Cuttings
Propagating a dragon fruit tree from a cutting is fairly simple. Trim off a 30cm section of a dragon fruit tree and leave it to dry out for 5-6 days or until the cut end has dried out. Then place cut side down into sandy cacti soil and water monthly. Your plant will send out roots and make itself at home within a month and then continue to grow. However, you will need to wait from one to three years for your first fruit using this method.
Fertilising dragon Fruit
Like the paw paw, dragon fruit are fairly low maintenance. They do not need heavy fertilising. In fact, over fertilization will harm your plant. Choose an organic, balanced fertilizer and apply every six weeks during its peak growing season. There is no need to fertilise during the winter months, especially if you are living in a cool climate.
Without pruning a dragon fruit will easily get out of control. Pruning is needed to shape the plant on the trellis. Regular pruning improves air circulation, and prevents fungal infection.
Over time dragon fruit can grow quite large, so a popular method is to plant against a thick stake or post and tie one or two main stems to it, in order to support it and encourage vertical straight growth. One then trims away any other side shoots, and after the stems have reached the desired height you cut off their ends to encourage new branching shoots. The branches that shoot out will then spread and hang downwards. This will provide fruit at a pickable height.
Growing in a pot
If you are in a cool climate or you don’t have much space, you can grow dragon fruit in a pot. This allows you to move it during winter to protect it from frost, as it will not survive long periods of freezing temperatures and frost.
Start the plant in a smaller pot around 25 cm (10 Inches) deep and re-pot when the plant seems root-bound. A large pot that is 50-60cm deep is enough to accommodate a mature dragon fruit tree. Make sure the pot has drainage holes.
It is possible to kill a plant by over-watering it. In a tropical wet-season, dragon fruit can handle torrential downpours, but there is no need for additional watering. If you water the plant too often, this can cause the roots to rot.
Pests and Diseases of Dragon Fruit
The dragon fruit is a very robust plant. Common pests include caterpillars, snails and slugs, but they can be easily treated.
Caterpillars can be easily picked off when you see them. Snails and slugs can chew away large sections and interfere with the initial training of the main stems.
Fungal problems can occur where you have high humidity and overhead watering. However, pruning of the plant and removing additional branches will improve airflow.
Other treatments for fungal infections are application of a copper-based spray and reduced watering.
Eating The Fruit
The fruit weighs about 150–600g, with pink, crimson, yellow or red coloured skin and fleshy green scales on the exterior. Further, on the inside, the fruit has translucent white or red flesh with tiny black seeds, and the flesh is sweet to mildly sweet, with a light melon-like taste.
There are a number of ways to consume the fruit. First select a ripe fruit with bright red, evenly colored skin that gives slightly when squeezed. Use a sharp knife and cut straight through the fruit, slicing it in half.
Use a spoon to scoop the fruit out of the skin or peel the skin off and slice the pulp into small pieces. Other ideas for serving the fruit are:
- Simply slice it up and eat as is.
- Chop it into small pieces and top with Greek yogurt and chopped nuts.
- Include it in a salad.
- Drink in smoothies
The fruit is extremely healthy, some even describe it as a ‘super food’. It’s full of antioxidants, easy to digest carbohydrates, and omega fatty acids in the seeds.
Dragon fruit is low in sugar (compared to other fruits) and has fewer carbs than many tropical fruits.
With 7 grams per one-cup serving, this fruit is an excellent source of fibre.
The vitamin C in the fruit can boost your immune system.
Dragon fruit is a great source of magnesium, a nutrient needed for over 600 biochemical reactions in your body.
The fruit contains several antioxidants that protect your cells from damage. These include betalains, hydroxycinnamates, and flavonoids.
Eating dragon fruit has a prebiotic effect on the body that enhances digestion and nourishes gut bacteria.