Who has the highest elevation/most desert sited pawpaw?

fabaceae_nativeSeptember 13, 2012

Every so often I post a question to see where folks have had luck with this favorite fruit of mine. I tried two plants and numerous seeds here just below 7,000 feet elevation, in my arid climate (average around 14 inches annual precipitation). The plants did OK the first year, but I noticed that during times of low humidity they suffered. The second year was bone dry and they died.

It seems as though in general plants are able to adapt to high elevation, intense sunshine, and low humidity if they have appropriate siting and ample water. That's why people in Phoenix are able to grow plants native to tropical rainforest. So I wonder, is pawpaw an exception? Or should I try again, perhaps with more protection and providing additional humidity somehow?

I'd love to hear your ideas...

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I am growing pawpaws in Colorado Springs, CO . I am at 6,000ft almost exactly. They seem to do well here in more shade than sun. Mine can get sunburn at times. They bloom and fruit well in partial sun.
I have NC-1, Wells, Taytoo and some unknown parentage.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 7:37PM
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Thank you Ivywild! You're the first one I've heard of growing pawpaw in the high dry west. And I've been wondering this for years!

Anyway, you've just given me the confidence I need to try growing pawpaw again. I've been to CO Springs many times, and know that where I am is a bit more arid and slightly more moderate in terms of temps, but definitely a similar climate.

A couple of questions: by any chance did you get your plants locally, or have to order them? How do they deal with the sometimes windy conditions you have there? Do you find their water needs to be all that different from other plants you grow?

Thanks again, I'm just ecstatic about this news...

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 9:10AM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)


I purchased two from One Green World about three years ago. I kept them in pots thinking they needed to be babied when they were young. I did not water them much one winter and one did not make it through. The other has grown quite a bit and I plan to plant it now.

I agree with vywild142 regarding the shade issue. I plan to plant mine where it will get partial shade from my maple tree. Here in Denver they got sunburned too easily but did well in the shade. I bought NC-1 and Pennsylvania Golden. Unfortunately I don't know which one survived.

I have an order placed for Shenandoah and Allegheny with Forrest Keeling.

I emailed Neil Peterson with some questions I had and here is his reply to me:

"Zone 5 winters are not difficult for pawpaws to survive. They are hardy down to -25F and are native around Omaha, NE, and in Michigan, both of which have tough winters.

In answer to your specific question: experiments testing cold hardiness have not been done. Scientists cannot say what variety is the hardiest.

Also, remember that there is an issue of the rootstock, which is not clonal, but is always a seedling whose characteristics are unknown.

In Colorado the issues for pawpaws are (1) soil pH, it must be acid, including the subsoil; (2) summer rainfall, you are fairly dry and they need irrigation; (3) at high elevations summer temperature may be too cool to ripen the fruit and harden the wood for winter."

My family comes from Arroyo Hondo and it is quite different there than in other parts of N.M. The two cultivars I selected are supposed to ripen the earliest. I don't know if length of growing season will be too much of a problem for you. I guess that will depend if you are in the mountains or the desert S.W. area.

After I placed my order with F.K. I noticed that One Green World is also selling the Peterson cultivars. I haven't ever had any problems with the orders I have placed with them.

I haven't had any fruit yet, obviously, so I cannot comment on that.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 1:12PM
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Thanks milehighgirl!

I'm in the Santa Fe area, but a tad lower in elevation... overall a bit milder than Arroyo Hondo.

Interesting what Peterson had to say about growing them in CO. I don't imagine having any problems with cold hardiness, or ripening/hardening off here since we tend to have a warm enough growing season to please most things (as you certainly also have in Denver).

But the part about acid soil... I always guessed as much, but never read it anywhere. I just hope that good, neutral garden soil is sufficient. If they are true acid-lovers like blueberries, it won't be worth the trouble in my book.

Hopefully the three of us will be around on this forum long enough to compare notes on the pawpaws we are growing, or attempting to grow!

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 2:04PM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)


I tried to grow blueberries in the same soil I have my pawpaw planted in and they did not do well. The leaves took on a reddish tint and they did not put out much new growth. I ended up trading them for garden seeds with a member on the East coast.

I don't get the impression that they need as much acid in the soil as blueberries do.

Wind may be a concern because the leaves are quite large and the stems seem more pliable (good or bad, I don't know). The branches remind me of peaches more than say, apples. They are quite beautiful. I've spouted avocados and the leaves look similar to me.

This is just my perspective as a newbie to pawpaws. I've never even seen or tasted a pawpaw before!

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 2:23PM
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Bradybb WA-Zone8

What may also work are real big containers.I've seen them in greenhouses with other trees about thirty feet tall.The pH could be controlled that way.
It depends on how serious a person is and how far they want to go. Brady

    Bookmark   September 15, 2012 at 12:44AM
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Brady: you're right about the container idea. It actually would not be any more work, since the pot could stay put outside all the time.

milehighgirl: pawpaws are a real treat! I sometimes order them from Integration Acres, which sends delicious wild harvested fruit from the Ohio Valley. The closest thing to pawpaws available in the markets is definitely Cherimoya, which is a close relative and eaten the same way, with a spoon after getting soft (if you have not tried cherimoya you can find South American as well as California grown cherimoyas at most any Mexican or Asian market, among other places). I'm still confused as to why cherimoyas are widely available, while pawpaws are not, even though the latter are native and can be grown throughout much of North America.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 9:54AM
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Pawpaw do well for me in Colorado Springs. I am in a protected area near the mountains. This helps the pawpaw avoid the worst hail and wind damage we occasionally receive. My soil is near neutral pH and is mostly clay. I add lots of organic matter yearly with plenty of fall leaves which I leave on to decay naturally. I water 1-2 times a week in the growing season. When it is extremely dry or hot I water a bit more. Sometimes a few leaves on the trees get a bit of scorch from sun and dry air but not much. They seem to be happy with the 160 day growing season and the get enough heat or growing degrees to mature fruit and wood perfectly. I can say from observation that they will do well anywhere peaches can grow, and probably a few places too cold for peaches in winter. They have been amazingly easy to grow. Deer do not bother them, and while squirrels have eaten them, they seem to like other fruit much more. I love my pawpaws. They are my most recent favorite fruit to grow. I do hand pollinate them when they bloom. They bloom later than peaches, plums and apples and escape late snows and freezes. In winter, they do not mind widely fluxuating temperatures. Their wood is weaker and more brittle than most fruit trees so I grow mine in between peach trees. This gives them part shade and a little branch support. I have NC-1, Wells, Taytoo, and some unknown trees from Michigan. I also have new trees of Shenandoah and Susquehanna from Forest Keeling. Just ordered several from England's: Kentucky Champ.,Summer Delight, Halvin and Prima 1216 so will have quite a collection. Since they do not need near as much sun as other fruit trees, they can go in more shady locations. I also think they taste very unusual and quite good.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2012 at 2:15PM
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Thanks again Ivywild!
I guess we were rambling on about some things you already knew from experience, such as the pH question... It was not clear from your first response that you actually had got them to fruit. Now I have a better idea of the scale and success of your pawpaw growing, and it's so great to hear!

I also really appreciate the peach comparison, that should be a useful observation for many folks on this forum. Right now I have 6 peach trees which do well here, so I guess I have no excuses about growing pawpaw anymore. To me it's a very worthwhile thing to grow, not only because I love the taste, but also because I can't get fresh pawpaws anywhere within hundreds of miles from here. When I order pawpaws online I pay about $8/pound when all is said and done.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 2:25PM
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Just want to let all you Front Range Gardeners interested in pawpaws that my 9 pawpaw trees are doing well in my yard and 4 of them have flower buds set for next spring. It appears they are quite pH adaptable, and seem quite happy in my clay based soil. They do grow very slowly in their early years, but have now been picking up the pace. Next year I expect good growth and hopefully some fruit. I have them in sheltered locations in the proximity of other fruit trees. The largest one is over 7 feet tall now and is a 6 year old seedling. All of my others I have planted are named cultivars, including some Peterson varieties. Tried a Susquehanna and Shenandoah fruit this fall. They are really unique, and I thought delicious. Can't wait till mine fruit for me-maybe a year or two away. Anyhow, they can do fine here, it's just a matter of a good site. They really like more shade and the company of other plants in our climate. Very exposed locations in full sun are too stressful for them here. A north or east exposure has worked well for mine in Colo Springs.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 1:37AM
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I live along the Wasatch front in Utah and planted a NC-1 and a seedling 2 springs ago. When I planted them the NC-1 lost all of its leaves and then grew them back. Later this spring when the 2 trees were coming out of dormancy the NC-1 died at the graft but the seedling grew pretty well this past summer. I planted a third tree to replace the NC-1 and it was also doing fine until my neighbors cats found it. The cats may have finished it off and we will see if the little stick that is left decides to putt out some leaves next spring.
The growing conditions here are as follows. The elevation is 4700 ft and we get about 16 inches of rain a year. The USDA hardiness zone is 6B and last years coldest temp was around -7. The summertime temperatures are usually 90-103 with very low humidity. The soil is calcareous clay and the irrigation water is extremely hard. I was really worried about the fact that my soil was basic but I think they are more adaptable than people give them credit for. This really isn't surprising when you consider that many parts of their native range in Indiana and Kentucky have calcareous soils as well.

My seedling pawpaw is in direct sunlight and also receives additional reflected light from the white siding on my house. I didn't shade it at all this summer and it got burned on about half of the southern and western facing leaves. Even with getting some leaf damage it not only survived but managed to grow about 6 inches and put out 4 branches, it isn't a stick any more! It seems to be doing just fine although it is a much slower grower compared to my other fruit trees, but apparently this is normal for the first few years.

I tried my first pawpaws form integration acres this fall and they were a big hit for me and my family. Not to mention they are so unique compared to other fruits I highly recommend people grow them and I can't wait until my trees are producing.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 11:34AM
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Wow greg, thanks for reviving this old thread of mine! So there is still hope of growing pawpaw yet.

My climate is nearly identical to yours, at least by the numbers. I'm just below 7,000 feet, also zone 6b, and average 14 inches annually. I'm guessing the differences are the bigger monsoon influence in summer here, as well as the stronger sun at my higher elevation farther south. Seedlings are sounding better and better, and I know they can produce excellent fruit. Only drawback is the longer wait to fruiting.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 1:41PM
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