The Biscayne Times

Aug 17th
A Passion for Papaya PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Shimonski, BT Contributor   
July 2017

The plant is easy to grow and quick to bear fruit

TPix_YourGarden_7-17hese past few mornings I’ve gone out in my backyard to pick a few ripe bananas for my daily smoothie. These are the small finger bananas -- called manzanillas in Spanish. They have a hint of apple in their flavor.

This past year I’ve also had a steady supply of papaya fruit; I’m tending four different varieties that I’ve grown from seed. I call them varieties because the fruits are shaped differently and some are sweeter than others. The fruit from my plants are orange and yellow. I haven’t had much success yet growing the red varieties from seed.

What is very noticeable with papaya is that there are three sexes to work with. There’s the female plant, which must be pollinated to set fruit. There’s is the male plant, which never fruits but which is good to have around as a source of pollen for the females. And then there’s the hermaphroditic plant, which has female parts and pollinates itself. These almost never have seeds in them. Mine are really sweet, almost like candy.

When you grow papaya from seed, it seems you have a chance to get any of the sexes. When I’ve grown mine from seed, I don’t know what sex they’ll be until they flower. The male flowers occur on panicles that can be several feet long, and the flowers are small compared with the flowers of the other sexes. I almost always cut them down since they’ll never have fruit.

The female flowers are closely attached to the trunk and are pear-shaped before they open. The hermaphroditic plants have flowers that are also closely attached to the trunk; these are cylindrical when unopened.

Papaya can begin setting fruit about eight to ten months from seed, depending on your growing situation. They like full sun and well-drained, moist soil that is high in organic matter.

I have one of those extendable poles with a small metal basket for picking the fruit, but once the plant gets too tall, when I can’t reach the fruit with the pole while standing on the top rung of a stepladder, I coppice the plant.

Coppicing is an interesting practice. It is literally cutting the plant or tree down in order to get it to regrow. I coppice many species of shrubs to get them to regrow healthy and lush foliage. I cut the shrubs down six to twelve inches above the ground. The papaya I cut to three or four feet above the ground. I then remove the less vigorous new branches, usually settling for two branches growing on opposite sides of the original trunk. It’s much easier to stand on the ground and pick the fruit, though eventually -- once the papaya begins to lose vigor and the head of foliage starts to appear smaller than normal -- I cut the entire plant down and start over with a new seedling.

Years ago I was with a co-worker who was on a ladder picking papayas and passing them down to me. He’d already picked half a dozen unripe fruit off the plant. As he passed me another fruit, I was looking up and a drop of the latex-like sap dripped from one of the cut petioles right into my eye. It was a really painful experience and I had to go an eye doctor for treatment. The pain persisted for days. Be careful of the latex.

At Parrot Jungle we’d remove unripe fruit from the plants to feed the parrots. If we waited to leave them on the plant to ripen, they’d often get eaten by some other opportunistic animal. We’d cut the fruit lengthwise with five or six shallow cuts, enough to cause the latex to drip out, and then wait until they ripened, usually in a week or so. I still do this sometimes at home, as occasionally I have an opportunistic and hungry animal or bird passing through my own garden.

I never need to fertilize my plants. I’ve been mulching for years with tree-trimming mulch, and now have a nice thick layer of organic material on the ground. What’s really great about growing papaya is you can grow other plant species underneath that will benefit from the diffused sunlight. I have sweet potato growing on the ground, and turmeric and pepper plants (of salt and pepper fame) growing in large pots.

Another interesting edible plant growing under the papaya canopy in a large container is kaffir lime, which is a species of citrus. Kaffir lime has aromatic leaves that are used in cooking, and impart an interesting and refreshing taste to Asian cuisine. Zest is made from grinding the rind of the fruit, and is also used in cooking.


Jeff Shimonski is an ISA-certified arborist municipal specialist, retired director of horticulture at Parrot Jungle and Jungle Island, and principal of Tropical Designs of Florida. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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