Notice I did not add a “tree” behind the papaya in the title? There was some debate during the sharing of this post in our group (SG Farming in Apartments) whether a papaya plant is a tree , herb or both! 🙂 What is interesting about papaya plant is that it has three sexes : Female (fruit bearing), Male (non-fruit bearing) and bisexual (fruit bearing and has both male and female flowers on the same plant)!
The tips to germinate a fruit bearing papaya plant starts from choosing the right seeds. Firstly, black color as opposed to lighter shade seeds increased the chance of a fruit bearing plant. This information came from member Galih Galih in our group. Another resource ( agriculture90 ) recommended to soak black seeds in lukewarm water overnight and then chose the ones that sink to the bottom. In addition, seeds from the tip to the middle of the fruit’s cavity is better for germination than from the base of the fruit. From my own experience, removing the outer skin covering the seeds made germination faster.
Anyhow, the dwarfing papaya method was shared by Mr. MaderaRoja de la Secoya (or MAI), on how to keep papaya plant low for easier harvest and allowed it to be grown in pots. According to MAI (his shortened Thai name), this was not his original idea. He seen this post from another contributor, and tried them for his fruit trees (orange and lime) and they worked! The plants are able to thrive in pots, did not grow to full size but the fruits are of normal sizes.
At the maximum height, papaya roots that had been pruned will grow to 2 meters (about 6.5 feet) only. According to Mai, it would take a very long time for dwarf papaya to reached this height and they would likely die of old age thereafter.
So how did this method work?
When the papaya seedling is 2 – 4 weeks old, remove it from pot.
Mai has shared that in his region (Chiang Mai, Thailand) only bisexual papayas are available, so this is what the root mass looked like. One main tap root with many root hairs along the whole main root.. MAI advised to save as many roots hairs as possible when cutting the main root. From my reading ( arlene1027 and contributions from gardeners in South East Asia) on this plant, it seem that we can confirmed whether the mature plant will produce male or female flowers based on their roots. Since only female or bisexual plants produce fruits, it is important to know how to tell the difference. Male root is straight while female root is shorter, developed in a bunch and has more than 1 main root.
After the papaya’s tap root has been trimmed, this seedling should be planted in the biggest pot possible so that it can grow to its mature height without further transplanting. His experience has been that papaya plant do not take to transplanting easily. They will die if their roots are disturbed when they are a few months old. Lesson learned – *** Do not uproot papaya plants for transplant when they are already a few months old ! ***
To avoid transplanting when his papaya plant outgrew a pot, MAI checked at the bottom of the pot and trimmed off roots that are extending out of it.
Regarding fertilizer, Mai’s experience had been that papaya can thrived with no fertilizer, “in plain old dirt” .
Disclaimer Advisory – Local SG gardener, Ms. Annie Lim, shared that her seedlings did not survived this root pruning. on February 05 2017 . Perhaps not all seeds are suitable for this method. Do try on one first and observed before proceeding with the next seedling.
RECIPES – Mai also shared that a squirt of lime and a dash of pepper on ripe papaya is not only delicious but also settled a queasy stomach! 🙂 Other delicious Thai recipes for papaya salads can be found on his favorite blog -http://recipes.organicmountains.com/green-papaya-salad/
FEW months old Papaya dwarfing method –
To keep few months old papaya (with normal un-pruned roots) from growing too tall, “topping off” method is quite common. This is a method where the top of the papaya plant is trimmed off and a lattice is built over the plant. MAI said the plant will regrow in a lateral pattern instead of reaching for the skies! The fruits will also hung in a lateral way making for easier harvest. I am sure we seen images of these in the internet.
MATURE Papaya – Shortening Tree Method (Taiwan)
Are there no hope for mature papaya plants?! Gardeners who grew papayas often lament about controlling mealy bugs infestation. What made this problem acute for mature papayas is its height. According to Suan-Loke Tan (Urban Farmers Singapore group), when papaya plants grew too tall (3 meters and taller), they become more difficult to manage pests. A lot of gardeners would stopped maintaining the plants and they will decline. Eventually these plants would be chopped down and discarded.
A method to shorten the height of mature papaya plants was introduced in a YOUTUBE video from Taiwan.
According to this video (in Mandarin and Chinese dialect), papaya plants can be shortened by cutting three vertical slits on the “trunk” of the papaya, so that it can be stretched to bent over. Unlike other tree-like plants, papayas’ inner cores are like bamboos with hollow center. Cutting deep slits on the plants’ exteriors will not killed it. In fact, growing them in a lateral way, will slow down its growth and doubled its normal productive lifespan from 3 to 7 years! Water and nutrients are more effectively distributed to the top of the tree in a lateral way than vertical. Fruits grown this way are sweeter and tastier too. Last but not least, pest control at waist height is much easier and effective!
One local brave (!!) gardener , Mr. CheongWeei Gan from UrbanFarmers Singapore, decided to test this out on 5 of his own plants.
Slits were cut on the “trunk” of this papaya, so that it can be bent. A support was used to hold up the plant in its new position. Some of the leaves were trimmed off as well. This papaya had already produced fruits when it was bent. As seen in this picture, the leaves are facing downwards. Some gardeners in Singapore expressed concern that this plant may not recover!
Two weeks later, the plant has recovered. The leaves are no longer facing down and have moved upwards towards the sun.
Mr. CheongWeei Gan had these observations based on his experiments to share –
- Ideal height to apply this method is 5 to 8 feet. If the tree is too short, the shortening effect is not optimum. Too tall or too old, the papaya plant had become too woody and its harder to bent and likely caused the vertical strips to break or tear. Nutrients and water distribution will be disrupted and the plants would take a longer time to recover.
- Thin trunk needs 3 – 4 vertical strips while thicker trunk 5 – 6 strips for better bent effect. He will be experimenting whether different bent positions affect shortening effect and would try to find the best bent position to optimize this shortening.
- Papaya plants do not thrive in water logged soil. Most plants die because of root rot than any other reason.
- Plants with unhealthy roots have few leaves and the bottom most leaf is only 1 to 2 inches from the tip of the top leaves. In healthy plants, the lowest leaf is more than a foot from the “growing tip”. This is one of the way he gauge whether his papaya plant is in good health or not! 🙂
On this method of shortening, Mr. CheongWeei Gan felt that the real test will be whether the new fruits after the current harvest would be as claimed, that they taste better and sweeter being grown on a lateral trunk than on a vertical one. 🙂
Updates to follow!
SUMMARY of Papaya Plant Growing Information ( Gardening Know How ) –
- Full SUN
- Water frequently for best fruits production and do consider mulching to retain moisture
- Best in growing zone 9 – 10
- These plants can produce either female , male or bisexual flowers. Only female and bisexual flowers produce fruits. Supermarkets’ fruits seeds tend to be produce bisexual flowers (both male and female flowers on the same plant).
- At maturity and grounded, the plant can reached 30 feet