Saturday, April 3, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon......Fruit

I am always looking for neat and unusual plants to try and grow. If they produce food of any kind even better. I tend to lean towards fruit however, just the sweet tooth talking I guess. I learned about Dragon Fruit from my Cactus studies. They are in the genus Hylocereus.
Believe it or not, you may actually have a Dragon Fruit plant growing in your house right now! If not, you have probably seen one numerous times. Remember seeing something that looks like this?

Photo courtesy of W. Chow ( ) He has a GREAT website to learn more about this unusual fruit.
The green rootstock is Dragon Fruit or Hylocereus undatus. I have actually done this before, you can just cut the top part off.....the yellow, orange or red Cactus. Unfortunately, it will not live on its own. That cactus can not produce chlorophyll, that is why it is grafted onto something that can. Another option is to wait until the rootstock sends out a shoot and root it. This is very simple. Once the shoot is large enough to cut off, dip the cut end into a little root hormone and place in a pot with some potting mix. Keep soil barely damp. It should root in a couple of weeks.
These plants can very easily be grown in pots. Roger Washington down in Florida grows them in containers at his farm. He runs a company called

Dragon Fruit is native to South and Central America, it is commercially grown successfully in both Thailand and Vietnam. Southern California and parts of Florida are very good for growing Dragons. So, looking at these places, you can tell that they are not looking to live in the Sahara Desert. If you don't live in a tropical environment, they can be grown in a greenhouse.
They enjoy temperatures between 31 degrees and 100 degrees, either side of these extremes will hurt the plant. They can grow on a wide range of soil types, as long as it has good drainage. Although Dragons are members of the cactus family and may withstand dry periods, they have a fairly high water requirement. The plants should be planted in full or almost full sun (very light shade) for best growth and fruit production. An application of a 6-6-6 type fertilizer every two months is recommended.
As for many fruiting plants, the very young plants will not liberally flower or fruit at all until they have gotten much older and larger. These things need to put on quite a bit of weight, average of ten pounds worth of vines usually before they even think about flowering and fruiting. This can actually be attained in just a couple of years, depending on the size of the cutting used.
Lets say you have gotten yours to pretty good size, yet you see no flowers. It might be time to go on a midnight raid. Dragon Fruit plants bloom only at night, and unless you have a lot of bats or moths that pollinate Dragons, you are going to have to do it. I know, why not wait until morning? The flower will be gone by then, the first inkling of daybreak and the flower fades. The good news is that the plant tends to flower a couple of times a year. Even so called self pollinating Dragons will fail to produce fruit without the help of Bats, Moths or you. If you can, you need to plant a couple of them to help with cross pollination.
How is this for a beautiful flower?

It is worth growing just for the scent and beauty.
If you can get it to produce and are good at pollinating, it is not unreasonable for 3 to 4 year old plants to produce about 220 lbs of fruit per year. The average life expectancy is around 20 years.
To support your Dragon, I found this useful information from the University of Florida. Dragon Fruit plants may become quite large and spreading, and therefore individual plants should be planted 15 to 25 ft or more away from trees, structures, and electrical lines. A strong trellis should be established that may withstand several hundred pounds of stem weight. A weak trellis may buckle under the weight of a mature plant. Do not use wires on the trellis because they may cut or damage the stems. If wire is used, it should be covered by hoses. For the home landscape, consider a trellis for individual plants which should consists of a post and a structure at the top of the post to support the plant. An arbor type trellis may also be constructed. Individual plants growing on a short tree or on a pile of rocks or blocks could also be used as supports for a few plants.
I created the post with a structure on top to support mine. I am hoping for some rapid growth this year.
In case you were wondering what the fruit looked like, here it is:

There are actually a few different varieties.
Red, with white pulp like above.
Red, with red pulp:

And a Yellow, with white pulp:

To top all this off, eating Dragon fruit is good for you. It is high in Vitamin C and dietary fiber. There are also reports that it aids in type 2 diabetes glucose level control.
I hope this encourages you to go out and try to find a Dragon Fruit plant. Maybe then you can make your OWN movie of how you Trained your dragon.
Happy Growing!


  1. What a coincidence! I was at Lowes the other day and noticed a cactus like the one in the first photo - I have one of these too. The tag read "grafted cactus" and I was going to ask you about that. Now I know!

  2. Can you post a picture of your trellis or post with structure on top. I'm trying to figure out the best way to plant one, and am looking for ideas...

  3. I have lots of Dragonfruit at home and sometimes get fruit after flowering but most of the time they just turn yellow and drop off.. Even when I cross pollinate them!! Whats happening here?

    1. Are you keeping the soil moist? Many times if there are wild fluctuations in the moisture level, the plant will abort the fruit. It is basically going into survival mode.
      What about sun? If they are not getting enough sun or fertilizer, they might not be strong enough to support the fruit.
      You did not mention how old your plants were either. If they are very young, they might not be able to support the fruit.

  4. What cross pollinating. How can you be sure?

    1. You can't be sure. Your best bet is to go ahead and pollinate by hand if you want a better chance of having fruit.

  5. Do you use a qtip?

    1. You can. The best thing to use is a small artist paintbrush. Kind of like the one you probably used in grade school.

  6. about 3 months ago i found a yellow dragon fruit tree hanging from a palm in sw florida and chopped it down. i cut it into pieces (ranging from 1-7 feet/some single stock others multiple branches) and put them in sand. i also hung some in a palm tree-unpotted. all have survived and roots are beginning to fill in pots. some have new shoots growing fairly rapidly without any fertilizer-just a watering once a week. i noticed recently noticed that the ones without pots are much thinner (lacking water?) than their potted counterparts-almost as if they are beginning to wither away; however they still look healthy.
    all of my cuttings (maybe 50 in total) came from a very large and mature fruit bearing tree. How long do you think it will take until these cuttings begin to bloom? why are the cutting not in a pot so much skinnier than the ones that are? any advice would be appreciated.

    1. What wonderful luck!
      I might have to figure a way to get a piece of that plant.
      Anyway, to answer your questions.
      It is a very good chance that it is a lack of water that a few are weaker and thinner. It could also be that the roots have not found anything worth while on this particular palm, or possibly a sun issue?
      Try spraying them with a diluted solution of a water soluable plant food and see if it helps.
      As for how long it will take to flower and fruit. It will depend on your horticultural practices. If you take wicked good care of them, it will be sooner than if you neglect them. They need to be pretty heavy before they will fruit. Average of ten pounds worth of growth before they think about flowering.
      Hope that helps.

  7. I live in Nova Scotia Canada so growing out side is not and option i did however keep the seeds out of a dragon fruit i purchased to eat and now have to dragon fruit plants. whats the chances of them actually surviving to make fruit?

    1. Hello Sally,
      There is always a chance!
      It is going to depend on how much work you want to put into it.
      Do you have a greenhouse or a VERY sunny room. When I say sunny, I mean gets 8+ hours of direct sun.
      They may survive as plants no matter what you do, though they might be weak and spindly.
      I wish I could give you a cheerier answer, but that is my best shot.

  8. You are giving a lot of great advice. I have have a few question. I live in New Jersey. I'm thinking of growing my 3 plants in 5 gallon pots. I will move the plants indoors in the winter and do my best to give it 8+ hours of sun. I might even buy a green house just for it but i'm still worried about the cold weather at night. I am hoping to cut time top off when it gets to 6 ft so I can manage them, what do you think? please give me your advice.

    1. Hello One Picture,
      I must ask first, what part of New Jersey? I was born and raised there.
      To begin, I am thinking that a 5 gallon bucket will be too small. You might want to consider a 15 gallon pot. That is still a manageable size, though you might need a little help moving it as Dragon Fruits can get pretty heavy.
      A greenhouse would be an excellent idea, especially one of those portable ones. As for the cold at night, I know how cold it can get up there, been there, done that! LOL
      If you can run a small space heater in the greenhouse and keep the temperature at least above freezing, you will be fine. I do that here in Charleston. I run a heater in my greenhouse for my exotic tropicals and let it get to just above freezing. It actually got to 32 in there one night, though it was a short event. The Dragon Fruit came out just fine.
      I hope this gives you some encouragement and helps. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  9. Hello,
    When you repot in say a 15+ gallon container, do you put only one dragon plant or two or three in the same pot and train them up the trellis? Also like another poster, I would like to see a picture of your trellis or at least know more about making one for dragon fruit.

    1. When I repotted them, I put two in a pot, one on either side of the pot.
      I would post a picture of the device I used, but, and this is hard to believe, the plant was stolen sometime ago,
      It was heavy and I have no idea who did it or how!! They knew what they wanted, it was the only thing taken.
      I truly hope that they were just desperate to grow some fruit and it wasn't some stupid kid that did it.
      Basically, it was a 4x4 in the soil and a flat piece of plywood on top. The plant attached itself to the pole and laid across the board. Hopefully you can visualize this.

  10. I have a new Dragonfruit and it came with 3 stalk ranging from 1' - 3'. We planted it in a large pot and have a tied it gently to a sturdy redwood center stake.
    My problem is this: the smallest of the 3 turned black and kind of smooshy so remove it from the pot in case it was a fungus. The second 2 are growing, however, they are also starting to get wrinkly and smooshy. We do not over water so please tell me what to do...I would hate to loose it.

    1. Hey Jessica,
      You say you are not overwatering it, how often are you watering?
      What is your soil mix like? Store bought, heavy peat, sand, etc
      How much sun are you giving it?
      When you repotted it, is it possible you hurt the roots?
      Have you fed it at all, or was there fertilizer in the soil?
      Have you seen any kind of insects?
      What kind of temperatures have you been having?
      Sorry for all of the questions, they will help me get a little closer to the problem.

    2. Hi Darren,

      I have several cuttings of dragon fruit planted in clay pots at home. I noticed that some black ants are starting to infest in one of the pots. These ants seem to enjoy climbing the cutting and hanging around the stem that just recently sprouted out of the cutting. Please advise if these ants pose any danger to the plant or should I just leave them be. I am a novice at gardening and I'm not sure how to respond in general to insects like black or red ants which I seem to have plenty walking around the house.


    3. Hey Benny,
      Normally ants don't cause a problem. It could be they are just sightseeing.
      However, it is unusual.
      Check your plant very well for aphids or any kind of scale like insects.
      Ants are usually attracted to the sticky sweet excretion that these insects produce.
      The plant itself is under no danger from the ants, this might just be the warning sign of other insects around. Personally, I usually try to rid myself of ants when I see them, just because they are known to herd bad bugs.
      One other possibility is, if you have been having a lot of rain lately, they might be using the potted plant as a drier, safe place. Either way, I would try to get rid of them.
      Hope that helps!?

    4. Hi Darren,

      Thanks for responding so quickly. Great site by the way. I admire your passion for gardening.

      We have been getting a lot of rain lately, maybe that is the reason. I'll observe further and update you. I haven't seen any aphids or scaly insects thus far.

      I did some searches over the internet and some people recommend using ground cinnamon as a natural deterrent for ants, is this effective? What do you recommend for removing ants?


    5. Hey Benny,
      I too have seen the cinnamon thing, though I have never tried it. It may or may not work, won't hurt to try.
      I usually do one of several things to get rid of ants. Sevin dust will work. I stir up the ants and then sprinkle that on them. Usually does the trick. If you water the pot often, it will often discourage them, but you have to be careful of overwatering the plant.
      Ant baits are good too.

  11. hI darren is it ok to use a mixed saw dust and sand as a component for its planting....

    1. Hello Ernie,
      The sand should be no problem, as long as it is not from the beach and loaded with salt AND it is a course builders sand. The stuff used in playgrounds and sandboxes is too fine.
      The sawdust concerns me. Fresh sawdust will actually leach nitrogen out of the soil as it decomposes. Also, if the wood that the sawdust came from has any chemicals in it, such as a wood preservative, that would be absorbed by the plant, and I don't think you would want to be eating that. The wood that it came from might be a mild problem too, something like cedar would have oils in it that the plants might not like.
      Hope that helps?!

  12. Hi Darren,

    Thanks again for your previous advises. As promised, I want to update you regarding the ants.

    It seems what the ants are attracted to is the sticky secretions that are coming out of the plant's spikes. But after a while, the ants seems to dwindle in number and the sticky secretions has stopped. So i guess all is good.

    Out of the 4 cuttings I planted, 2 are growing nicely. however the other 2 seems to have no growth at all. And one of these has a bunch of roots growing at the top instead of stems. is this normal?

    Also I would like some advise on what kind of trellis design would be best if I'm using pots.


  13. Hi Darren,

    i have ants on my dragon fruit cactus and have 11 buds on it now and it has sticky stuff on the buds is this a possible cause of the ants or no? sec when the flowers bloom at knight time does the flowers get pollinated by the moths and other bugs or do we have ot do it manually by a brush?

  14. Hi Darren,

    I been growing this dragon fruit for a year now and since this is the first time for the flowers to start up ok I had three come out alone one at a time and the bud and other part came off and was that normal for that to happen? Now this is a fresh set of buds coming out all at once of 11 of them at a time so is this normal for it to happen and will this set of buds on there now of 11 be a good set of fruit?

  15. Hey Benny,
    If you can send me pictures of the roots of the two that are not doing well, I might have a better explanation. Is it possible, and I have done this, those two were planted upside down?
    Anonymous- Apparently the sticky stuff is a fairly common event. I asked another tropical fruit friend of mine and she said it is possible the plant does that to attract the ants to help in pollination. I thought that was an interesting view. Yes, usually the moths and bats do the pollinating at night.
    The flower parts falling off were probably do to lack of pollination. When the new buds open, use a small painters brush and pollinate the flowers by hand and see what happens. like I mentioned above, usually bats and moths do the pollinating, but it is possible they took the night off. Never hurts to lend a helping hand when it comes to pollination.

    1. Hi Darren,

      It is possible that I have planted them upside-down as I had no idea which side to plant. what i did was i cut the stem in half and placed each half, with the pointy end, to the soil. with the cut part on top.

      I'm glad to give you a picture for your referrence. Sorry to ask, how do I post the picture on this blog? Or should I email it to you?


    2. No problem Benny. It will probably be easier to send it directly to my e-mail.

  16. hello,
    I just want to ask.. I live in the Philippines and planted dragon fruits from cuttings a year ago, they grew alright but then the stems got thinner and seems to be breaking apart. it still doesn't bear fruit or even bloom. I water it every other day and the soil has sandy texture.. I don't apply fertilizer on it..can you give me an organic fertilizer recipe that is easy to make? thank you.