Sunday, June 3, 2012

Potted Papaya

As the price of food goes up, more and more people are wanting to grow their own produce. Which is fine if you want Tomatoes, Lettuce, Strawberries,Corn, Okra or any of the other common fruits and vegetables. What if you have a hankering for some kind of exotic fruit, like Papaya, but don't live in the tropics? Well, you too can grow it, in a container!!
Carica papaya is a short lived perennial that can attain heights of 10-15 feet tall and produce fruit within a year because of its rapid rate of growth. Originally from southern Mexico and neighboring Central America, though the exact area of origin is unknown, it is now present in pretty much every tropical and subtropical country. There is also a small commercial crop in Florida. It has a hollow, herbaceous stem that does not branch out, however, if a papaya loses the growing tip or is cut back it can develop multiple trunks. It is usually grown from seed which works out great because it is readily available and fairly cheap. You can get some from the Papaya that you buy at your local grocery store. There will be enough seeds in one fruit to plant an entire plantation! Generally speaking, germination may take from 3-5 weeks.

If you find a really tasty fruit, save the seeds from it, they generally come true to type. Dry the seeds by placing them in a brown paper bag and storing in a warm place until the seeds become slightly wrinkled, then they are ready to plant.
The Papaya tree needs lots of water and has rather shallow roots, which make it great for growing in containers.

Papaya thrives best under warm, humid conditions.It must remain warm throughout the year, though mine have dropped to 35 degrees for short periods of time in my greenhouse with no ill effects. In the Winter time the plant should be allowed to stay on the drier side, especially if it will get down around the 40 degree range, root rot is the prime problem.
You will want to start with a trade 30 gallon container or something similar to a half whiskey barrel. The potting mix should be a good, soiless mix that has an ample amount of organic matter in it. Like I said, the Papaya likes lots of water, but it does not like standing in that water, so drainage is also a must.
You can plant the seeds directly in the big pot, they supposedly don't like to be transplanted. I have done so numerous times and they didn't seem to mind.
You will also want to plant and grow at least 4 or 5 because each plant can be either Male, Female or Hermaphrodite. The Female and Hermaphrodite will produce fruit, the Male will not. When it comes to flower types, you might need a score card to keep track. The flowers have five trumpet shaped petals and appear in the leaf axils of the tree during the Summer. They are fleshy, waxy and slightly fragrant. Some plants bear only short-stalked female flowers, or bisexual flowers (considered perfect) which are also on short stalks, while others may bear only male flowers. Some plants may have both male and female flowers. Others during certain seasons produce short-stalked male flowers, and at other times perfect flowers. I found this picture that might give you a better idea of what you might have:

Photo courtesy of

If you want to know which sex you have before they flower, you can get an idea by being very observant and looking very closely at your plants. The Males tend to grow faster and have a wider berth between the branches, the other two will be closer together. Only one Male is needed for every 15-20 Females. Pollination is done by honeybees, moths and light breezes. Hand pollination may be needed to set more fruit.
There are two types of papayas, Hawaiian and Mexican. The Hawaiian varieties are the papayas commonly found in supermarkets. 'Solo' is the most common and it produces perfect flowers. This variety will not produce any male trees so each plant will provide fruit.
When it comes to sun, give it all you can. Reflective heat and light is also a bonus. They can be grown in some shade,but the fruit is rarely sweet. They dislike a lot of wind, so if you have a place that is inhospitable for other plants that is secluded the Papaya will be happy.
Feeding is somewhat up to the individual plant. Being that they are so fast growing they require regular applications of nitrogen fertilizers. Again, how much is up to the personality of your plant. Feed it once a month the applicable rates on the package and then adjust according to how the plant reacts. Remember that nitrogen leaches through the soil quickly, so you may not be feeding it as much as you think.
The only real major pests that you might encounter will be Whitefly and Spider Mites, both of which can be taken care of with insecticidal soap or a horticultural oil.
When it comes to diseases, chances are you will not have to worry. The shrub is a short lived plant and will probably die before any diseases really get a hold of yours. Most Papayas reach their peak of production after 3-4 years, then they tend to decline. What to do? Just plant more.
Okay, so what good would growing these tropical beauties be if you didn't want to harvest the fruit? Papayas are ready to harvest when most of the skin is yellow-green. In Hawaii the fruit is considered at the peak of perfection when the skin is 80% colored. After several days of ripening at room temperature, they will be almost fully yellow and slightly soft to the touch. Dark green fruit will not ripen properly off the tree, even though it may turn yellow on the outside.
The fruit is usually eaten fresh, peeled, cut in chunks or shaped into balls and served. The juice or nectar is also highly valued.
So you can see, if you have someplace that can stay warm, given either abundant sunlight or grow lights and will allow the tree to grow up to 15 feet, you too can grow your own Papaya.
My first attempt at this was very rewarding, this is a close up of my very first crop, which is also seen above from a distance:

Happy Growing!


  1. Wish I had the space and the patience to grow papaya in Zone 5! Looks good!

  2. I have a Red Lady papaya plant at 2' tall in a 2 gallon pot. It will be transplanted to its larger permanent pot as the weather warms (I bring it inside at dark here in So Cal while it is maturing). How much do you water it? How do you tell when it has enough water?

  3. Scott, the one thing I have learned about Papayas is, they don't like wet feet. The best two methods to tell if they have enough water is:
    1st) Stick your finger in the soil, if it dry down to your second knuckle..water.
    2nd) This one is better. Water your plant real well. Then either lift or tip your pot to the side and get a feel for the weight. After about 3-4 days, repeat the lift/tilt. If it still feels heavy, wait a couple of more days. When the pot feels about half as light, water. I do this with many of my plants and it seems to work.

  4. Hi Darren,
    Thank you very much for all the useful information you have provided. I have transplanted 3 papaya plants ( about 2 feet high) from the ground in to pots. I am planning to transplant 3 more ( taller ones approx 3 and a half feet) next week. I am going to put these larger ones into planter bags. I am hoping to bring all 6 with me when I move in about 2 years time. Do you think they will be OK for 2 years in the planter bags and the pots? What fertiliser is best for them? I heard that Dynamic lifter is good for them. I live in Western Australia. Sorry I couldn't sign in using my name so it had to be under 'anonymous' for some reason. My name is Anne.

  5. Hello Anne,
    Glad you found my blog and it has been useful.
    The ones in pots will be fine. Just remember that watering will be different (more often) and the fertilizer will be different (more). As for what to use, I am not familiar with Dynamic Lifter, it must be a fairly localized or new product. I am going to have to go look it up. If you are comfortable with it, then use it. Miracle Gro is fine or any 10-10-10, at least until you get them to their new location. Then you can do a soil test and see what is needed.
    I am not too sure on the planter bags. If they will last too years, they will be fine. I would be afraid of:
    1) Them rotting, then falling apart when you go to move them.
    2) The roots growing out through the bottom much easier than in a pot.
    3) Tipping over? I guess it depends on how deep they are and whether you can tie them up.
    Again, not overly familiar with them. I have seen them, but never used them myself.
    Just as a side note, I envy you. You have some of the neatest Citrus available to you in Australia. Some of the colored finger limes are absolutely awesome.
    Anyway, I hope that all helps!?
    Happy Growing!

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  7. hi! so i picked up a potted papaya plant from a local store. it had 3 plants in the same pot. it said it was a solo papaya.
    i'm assuming i'm suppose to let them grow and then see what sex they are? what if all 3 are herma for some i just keep one and cut the other two out? thanks!

    1. Hey Johnny,
      The first question I would ask is, why cut the two out?
      All three could produce fruit.
      What I WOULD do is, separate the three of them into individual pots. That way they don't compete with each other and have more room to grow. Keep them fairly close together, just in case you have males and females.

    2. Hi Darren,

      Thanks for the quick response! someone had offered some advice that papayas don't like their roots being disturbed and doing more research I found videos of farms planting papayas in group of 3's and then when they can determine the sex of it, they would chop off the 2 and leave 1. so hence why i thought these came in groups of 3.

      but originally i was thinking of splitting them up. but before i do that i had one more concern. i learned more about the ringspot virus and if you can see this link if you can give me your opinion on if this is or not.


    3. Hey Johnny,
      I am going to go out on a limb and say, No. Does it have any of these signs? Water soaked oily streaks on the petioles and upper part of the trunk. Severe symptoms often include a distortion of young leaves which also result in the development of a shoestring appearance that resembles mite damage. If not, I think you are good. I used to repot mine all the time, they never seemed bothered by the transplant. I was careful not to disturb the roots too much, but I was still able to separate them.

    4. no water soaked oily streaks on the petioles and upper parts of the trunk. just on the leaves. new leaves however look good. no distortion and much less marks on them or not at all. thanks for that advice!

    5. i was re-reading your article again and you had written

      " 'Solo' is the most common and it produces perfect flowers. This variety will not produce any male trees so each plant will provide fruit."

      so i can be fairly confident that the 3 in the pot right now are all females then! problem solved! :D

    6. I planted 6 Solo "Sunset" papaya seeds. When they were about 4" tall, I transplanted two of them into large individual pots, and 4 of them into one pot together. The 4 planted together stayed small, reaching less than 18" tall after 2 years. The papayas in pots by themselves grew to about 6' tall the first year, and one of them bloomed. It was a female. The other one didn't bloom until it was about 18 months old. It was a male. Because the first one continued to bloom, I hand pollinated it from the male, and it grew 9 papayas (and they are delicious). They are so tall now (11') that I can't reach them to pollinate, so I'm starting some new ones.

  8. Thank you for the great info and tips. I grew up eating papayas from my backyard trees but now I live in zone 3b (Canada). I so want to grow papayas. I sowed some papaya seeds from a grocery store papaya (outdoors in tiny pots). Two seedlings just showed up (in two weeks). I am sure, more will be coming. I am planning to keep the plants outdoors for 3 months every year and 9 months indoors. We get day temperatures between 20-30 for 3 months, some days are hotter. Do you think I am being too optimistic in expecting these plants to fruit anytime? If you think I might get some fruits, can you suggest what kind of indoor environment I should provide to increase my chances of success? Thank you so much for the info once again and hope to hear from you.

    1. Good Morning Snehil,
      Thank You for the kind words!
      No, I do not think you are being too optimistic. It may take a little longer to fruit than normal, but I think it can be done.
      When they are inside, give them as much sun as you possible can. That will probably be your only limiting factor. If worse comes to worse, use some grow lights on them.
      If they flower while indoors, remember you will have to hand pollinate.
      Other than that, I see no reason not to succeed!
      Happy Growing!

    2. Thank you Darren! This is encouraging. I do plan to put some extra light for the plants indoors. I have a few lemon saplings as well and I plan to do the same with them. I will be asking more questions once I have had a chance to read most of your blogs. I just discovered your page and it got me excited!

  9. How is propagated "Solo" cultivars? Is there a very fast growing cultivar that could bear fruit as vegetable in cold climate?

    1. Hello Francesco,
      Most Papayas are propagated by seed. As for a fast growing, I am not sure what they might be. If you are growing them in a pot, you can bring it inside during the really cold weather.

  10. you may have answered this question already. I haven't closely read all of the entries.
    I have a small papaya in a mid sized clay pot in my sun room. It looks healthy and is producing a lot of leaves however it has a tall bare stalk. Buds come out but then stop growing and no leaves...
    Something I should be doing so it fill outs?
    From the info you have submitted it sounds as if I'll need at least 2 plants for flowering/fruit.

  11. Sorry for the error. I meant to write: Something I should be doing so it fills out?
    It's at least 18 inches tall with a thin bare stalk.

    1. The bottom leaves will naturally fall off. Papaya do not get bushy. They will get tall with a bare stem/trunk....similar to a coconut tree.
      Depending on the cultivar, you probably will need two...a male and a female.....unless you happen to get a hemaphrodite. I am not completely sure on this, but I have reason to beleive that it will change sexes if there is nothing else around. Many times I have only had one and yet it flowered and fruited. Do I have any scientific proof that this is what happened, no, but it is interesting.

  12. I plant two Red lady papaya and there where doing fantastic , they grew real fast and in a few months they where about six ft tall and had some fruit , with all the rain we had here in central florida they died ... No I want to try again !! Do you think is to late now in september to start again ???

    1. Hello Paul@Patricia,
      Being that you are in Central Florida, I would say "maybe". Sorry, I know that is not a definitive answer, but the past two winters have not exactly been normal. If you have the seeds now, what I would do is plant half outside and the other half in a pot that you can bring inside if it does get wicked cold. That way you will have a head start on the growing season next year.

  13. I just bought a papaya tree with three shoots. It sounds like i should separate them? How many hours of light do the need? What kind of grow light do you recommend I live in zone 5b and will definitely need to use one?

    1. Hi Chrissy,
      Wonderful, congrats on your new Papaya.
      If you can separate them, then yes, by all means. That will give them each more room. Try not to disturb the roots as much as possible. Keep them warm and moist until they recover.
      I would say minimum of 7 hours of sunlight, more will be fine. Grow lights, I would aim for closer to 10.
      There are SO MANY different kinds of grow lights on the market, it will basically depend on budget and how involved you really want to get. The first year, ordinary grow lights will probably be fine. After that, you might want to step up to a much higher degree of lighting. I have a greenhouse, so I don't use lighting out there. The only lights I use are the ordinary ones for my Camellia cuttings that are in the house.
      Like I said, it will depend on budget and degree of involvement. A great website to see all the different grow lights and how they work is:
      I hope that helps?!
      Happy Growing!

  14. Hi Darren, quick question, I have sprouted papayas from seeds and then transplanted to black plastic bags. I got distracted and now it's about a year later... can I still plant them in the ground and will they produce fruit? I was told it was too late. They are about 4 foot high now and very unhappy. Thanks. Teri in Costa Rica

  15. Hello,
    I am in the south of Morocco in coastal town with very occasional strong winds. My 4 outdoor container papayas (grown from seed and well cared for) are no bigger than 20 and 30 cm after 8 or 9 months and looking fairly unhappy. I give them coffe grounds as nitrogen fertilizer every 3 weeks.Papaya fruit is not commercially available where I live and need to eat Papaya for health reasons. Any tips please. Thank you!!! Beatrice

    1. Hello Beatrice,
      More than likely the coffee grounds you are giving it are not giving it enough, if any nitrogen. If you can get some kind of commercial fertilizer you would be better off.
      Fish emulsion would be good. Water from an aquarium is even better than coffee grounds. Make a compost bin (there are plenty of directions online) and then make compost tea. That will be your best avenue of approach.

  16. Hi there. Are the plants toxic to pets?

  17. Hi there. Are the plants toxic to pets?

    1. As far as I know and have researched, they are not poisonous to pets.

  18. just sharing experiences papaya cultivation, I have planted papaya 4 more years until now.

    My notes is:
    if only just take the seeds from papaya tree would result does not like his mother, because in a manner that better hatcheries since flowering, then papaya flower fragile cross-pollination with other varieties.

    papaya does not have shallow roots, even very long roots of papaya can follow plant height, shallow roots are roots that are in the side, while the sole entrance to the roots into the soil.

    This may be first A that I give, because it is still much more that needs to know before planting papaya, both of tillage, treatment, and control of pests and diseases.

  19. Aloha Darren from Hawaii! My papaya tree leaves are growing over and into my neighbors flower plants. Will trimming the leaves harm my plant?

    Thank you, Diane :-)

  20. Aloha Diane!
    No, the plant will not be harmed at all. It may actually produce more leaves to replace them, but it will not hurt it.

    1. ok Darren, thank you sooo much, this is my first papaya tree i'm growing so i'm a mama bear and want it to flourish. my neighbor will be happy when I trim the leaves, i'm sure he's getting irritated. Hurricane Darby is headed our way, any suggestions on how to keep my young (VERY young) papayas from falling off from the wind? Diane :-)

    2. Hey Diane, I just saw this message. Stay Safe! As for the fruit, there is not much you can do, unless it was in a pot. Keep fingers crossed and I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. Let me know how you come out on the other end.

    3. Hi Darren, Darby just dumped a whole lot of rain, which papayas love so that was good. We have 2 more systems heading our way but it is hurricane season for us - and these usually die out before it reaches us. I hope I just didn't 'bachi' myself. Diane :-)

    4. Hey Diane, I am glad to hear you are safe and it just dumped a bunch of rain!
      LOL, I had to look up your sentence of, "I hope I just didn't 'bachi' myself."
      I had NO IDEA what that meant!
      Once I looked it up, I understood. It is the same as when I say, "I hope I didn't just jinx myself"
      Stay safe and stay in touch!

    5. Yes!! Bachi, jinx, same thing! So, hey, 2 more hurricanes breezed by us (Lester and Madeline)but the island I'm on (Oahu) escaped any damage. Yay! My papayas seemed have just STOPPED growing. The tree is growing, leaves are growing, more papayas are coming out but the ones on the bottom have been the same size for what seems like forever now, okay, maybe 2 months. Is that normal? Diane :-)

  21. can any one tell me sell me some red lady papaya seeds? Is there anyone in Australa the world who can. just a few will do ==137 Lindsay St Hamilton Newcastle 2303 NSW 0249616631
    Cheers desprat Joe

  22. I have a papaya I am "plant" sitting. I received it last year and it was in dire need of attention as it had very little root development and small leaves. I transplanted it in November last year and reasponded well - especially when it went outside for the hot, humid Connecticut summer. Leaves were of good size and it flowered but did not fruit. Anyway, I moved it into my greenhouse in early October; I keep the temp at 50. Papaya seems to be not as happy as the new leaves come in and remain small. I have moved it into the house to give it a higher temp . Any thoughts or suggestions?

    1. It could be a couple of things.
      1) Was the papaya getting as much sun in the greenhouse as it was when outside?
      2) Humidity may have been low, it will even be worse in the house.
      3) Were you keeping the water/moisture level the same as outside?
      If you can control those three things, I think you will see an improvement.

  23. Greetings Darren and thanks so much for your informative and plant-saving insight and advice.
    I've got a papaya question for you regarding a lot of seedlings that sprouted over the summer on my Parisian terrace. I've obviously brought them inside now that temps have dropped, but unlike the other tropical plants I have growing -- pineapple, mango, plumeria etc. -- the papaya seedlings (all between six and 12 inches) have started looking ill: leaves dropping off, stalks beginning to whither and/or die from top to bottom. I know I've got too many per pot (from six to 20), but wanted to make sure I had enough of each sex to germinate before culling.
    I've tried watering more, then not at all. Ditto on fertilizer. They clearly aren't getting ideal light -- indirect now that the sun is low -- so I'm totally perplexed vis-a-vis root rot. However, I have had to wipe down stalks with water/peroxide solution a few times to remove what looks like white mildew (ditto to outside of pots).
    That's the Rosetta Stone on my dwindling papaya seedling crop. Any thoughts on what may be behind their downturn?
    Thanks for any tips, and bravo again for your efforts.

    Bruce in Paris

    1. Hello Bruce,
      Thank You for the kind words.
      What probably happened is they were watered too often when they were brought in. Papaya definitely don't like a combination of cool/cold, little sunlight and lots of water.
      Even when you stopped watering, it was too late.
      The white mildew basically told me that too. It was molding.
      Your best bet would be to try and rescue any that look remotely healthy. New soil, new pot, etc.
      You also might want to consider starting over.
      Not the silver bullet answer I am sure you were looking for, but that would be the best I have for you.
      Good Luck and Happy Growing!

  24. Thanks for your response and insight. I feared it might be over-watering/rotting, but not enough to take the kind of action necessary to save most of them. It's been a slowly evolving wave of demise, so perhaps I'll try re-potting the sprouts that still look relatively healthy as you suggest to see if they can survive on their lonesome. At worst, I'll start again next spring with seeds!
    Thanks once again for your insight and advice, and keep blogging -- it's invaluable to most of us out here!

  25. Hi Darren, nice blog and very informative. I have a question for you I have a Papaya tree which looks as Hermaphrodite
    But it's dropping off the flowers I really don't know what to do, Do you have any idea why? I don't know if I can upload
    Some pic to show you

  26. I want to start papaya farming for local market because IT does not exisit where i live Even We have great climate winter between 8 c night and 17 day summer 30 c to 40 c spring is 24 c to 27 i want to plant IT in green house
    My question Are
    Can IT survive outside? IF No Can anyone help with greenhouse design for 2000meter squer!?
    What is the best quality in sweetnes and smell ?
    Does the cow shit and chiken shit after composting enaught for the tree or ?
    Spacing between plants, any other ideas,?
    Thank you

  27. I go to different websites on growing papaya from seedlings and then transplanting them to large 25-30 gallon pots. Geez,each site tells you differ ways to do the same thing.I guess I'm gonna have to involve my wife and have her interpret it all for me. Jim from Florida.