Planting Pawpaws

brandon7 TN_zone(7)December 15, 2010

Anyone who has ever planted a pawpaw knows about the taproot, but I still get asked quite often about how to plant small pawpaws, and I still hear from people who loose pawpaws when they try to transplant them. Someone recently brought it up, so I figured I'd provide a few links that might answer questions for any potential Tennessee Pawpaw farmers.

I always recommend planting pawpaw seeds at the location where the tree is desired, rather than trying to grow the seed in a pot and then take the chance of loosing it after transplant. One instance where that is not feasible is when a pawpaw cultivar is purchased already grafted to its rootstock. In that case, transplanting is necessary.

When I collect pawpaw seeds from my pawpaw orchard, I always make sure they are fresh seeds, thoroughly clean them, float test them for viability, and place them into cold/moist stratification for storage. Sometimes I use paper towels sprinkled lightly with cinnamon (for an attempt to eliminate/reduce any fungal/mold growth) as a stratification medium. I have had excellent results so far from doing it that way. I also keep a close check (every few weeks) on moisture levels in the plastic bags, because the refrigerator can suck all the moisture out of the bags pretty quickly if there are any holes in the plastic. Pawpaw seeds are recalcitrant, BTW, so they go bad relatively quickly if allowed to dry out for more than a day or so. I keep the seeds in stratification until early spring.

When planting the seeds, I plant them about an inch or less below the surface and cover with a light layer of mulch. No amendments are necessary, and I wouldn't suggest using any. It is important, in cases where pets or wildlife may be present, to protect the seeds from predation.

Pawpaw seeds typically take a really long time to germinate. Germination around the end of summer or even later is common. The seeds will develop a decent sized taproot before sending up any foliage, so don't give up on your seeds too early. Even if you don't see any signs of life, you still need to ensure that the soil is moist even down to, at very least, a foot deep. Don't make a swamp, but do water kind of like you would with a newly planted sapling tree.

Pawpaws are more productive in full sun, so I would recommend a permanent location with at least mostly full sun. The trees are found in the wild as understory trees, so they will do just fine in a shady area but won't produce much fruit. One important consideration is that the trees really need partial shade for the first couple of years of their life. Small seedlings can easily cook in full sun. I recommend providing them with a 50% shadecloth covering for their first two years. Remove the covering in very early spring (before they leaf out) of their third year. A single layer of loosely-woven burlap or some other material can work if shadecloth is not readily available.

Probably the most widely known and respected center of pawpaw research is the Kentucky State University Cooperative Extension Program. Here's a link for part of their site that discusses many aspects, including the extra care needed to deal with the taproot when transplanting a small pawpaw:

Here's a more technical paper that discusses various aspects of container production of pawpaws. It has a nice picture of the huge taproots present on even very small pawpaw seedlings:

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Brandon you do realize there are several types of paw paw.

Paw paw is a common name for manyyyyyyy trees, from native to sub tropical to tropical.

So to reference a plant by a common name instead of botanical can sometimes (most all of the time) result in confusion of the plant. Especially when gathering information for growing!!


    Bookmark   December 16, 2010 at 10:16AM
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I forgot to post a link for you for the Asimina triloba!!


Here is a link that might be useful: In Depth info for Asimina Triloba

    Bookmark   December 16, 2010 at 10:38AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

While botanical names are preferred in most cases, I'm not really concerned about it in this case. It's kind of like not having to refer to an apple as a Malus x domestica.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2010 at 1:12PM
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I didn't think the botanical mattered to you, but for anyone else they should know, that there is many to grow.

It is like the common name black eyed susan. Do you realize how many plants are named black eyed susan??

To compare a hybrid apple to a native pawpaw or to even compare a tropical pawpaw to a native is like comparing race car driving to foot ball. It is not comparable!!

    Bookmark   December 16, 2010 at 1:29PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

I was only comparing the name. And for the football/race car driving, it's like calling football "football" but having to call race car driving "directional navigation of high-speed competitive automotive vehicles". I think pawpaw (at least in this context) is probably good enough.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2010 at 5:40PM
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Point of me mentioning it is that not all "pawpaw's" are grown the same. :D

The only true method to find the true and factual growing method of any plant is to have the true botanical. Still even then getting the correct information is hard. Which is why I understand why you sent me the wrong information. :)

    Bookmark   December 16, 2010 at 6:00PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Actually, Carolyn, the pawpaw info sheet that I sent you with our seed exchange was almost identical to the information in my first post. It is based on years of research and is in complete agreement with the experts in the field. If you read the links in my first post, you'll see that the advise was very similar to the advice given by the foremost experts in the field.

Oh, and BTW, I noticed when I was cleaning out my spam filter that you had sent me some emails. Sorry, but I unfortunately don't have time to read them. If it's something important, you can let me know here, I guess. Based on your first email, I decided that filtering was probably best.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2010 at 6:37PM
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Also once again you can not categorize all plants into one category just simply for the name. In order to find accurate info you need the botanical. For the seed I received the information you sent was not accurate.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2010 at 8:16PM
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I will say though at least you tried. That is more than what some do, including myself.

My entire point is the information was wrong for the seed I received from you.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2010 at 8:20PM
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maternut(7 west tn)

Brandon I have three pawpaws two were purchased and grafted for bigger fruit, the other I started from seed. The one started from seed is about five feet tall probably three or four years old. The ones I purchased haven't grown over three or four inches and all planted at the same time. Any suggestions why the purchased ones are not growing. Thanks for any info.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2010 at 8:24PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Carolyn, I sent you Asimina triloba seeds. The only info I sent was for Asimina triloba (common pawpaw) and is presented above in the first post. At any rate, hopefully you found whatever other info you needed.

Norm, that's a hard one. It could be from a number of things. One thing might be if the ones that aren't growing were potbound and that condition wasn't addressed when they were planted. Another thing is if they are still suffering from transplant shock/root disturbance, but you'd think they would have overcome that by now. You might want to add just a little weak, but mostly nitrogen fertilizer to see what that does. Most current studies have found that fertilizer rarely benefits trees, but, in this case, maybe at least it wouldn't hurt.

Years ago when I was planting one group of pawpaws, I planted a row of small seedling plants (about a foot tall, the best I remember). All of them did great except for one which died in no time at all. I replaced it with another tree from another order of pawpaws. Again, the one in that spot died but the others did fine. I think I tried it a third time with the same result. Finally, I moved the planting location a little and tried another tree, which did fine. I never could figure out why that one spot kept killing pawpaws. At least yours didn't just keep dieing.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2010 at 8:51PM
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Some big label or big box stores treat their plants with retardants, this is so they will not get root bound as easy, but this also takes several years for the residual to wear off of the plant. Sad thing is that local nurseries around these parts are starting to use the growth retardants as well.

This is another fine example of why seed saving and growing from seed are so important!!

    Bookmark   December 16, 2010 at 9:08PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

But if it was because of retardants, I'd think that, like with the transplant shock/root damage, the effect would have long since worn off by now.

Norm, do you remember what the taproot and overall root system looked like when you planted it? Also, where did you get 'em?

    Bookmark   December 17, 2010 at 1:18AM
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I don't know, but I use to be in pest control which is a total different category than agriculture. Pest control was category 7 and agriculture is category 12 (I think). Our chemicals would have residuals that last for years. Yet we would tell a customer we needed to spray every three months in order to guarantee the service.

Category 12 is a totalllllll different ball game. The chemicals used are 10 times stronger. I know I haven't researched the residual effect but in my opinion with my previous knowledge of chemicals I would say the residual could last up to 5 years. That it may take that long just to start acting normal.

From experience, I know plants I have bought that take at least 3 to 4 to start acting normal compared to others. Those were just perennial flowers, not trees. Trees have a less turnover rate in the store.

Not only did I start growing from seed because of economic reasons I started for reasons like this also. I wrote a big reason on that lol which I am not going to retype at this time.

Anywho back on subject, I would say give any plant at least 5 to 6 years after you buy it from any brick and mortar store to start acting normal. Or to produce as if you had grown it from seed with no chemical influence.

Oh and any plant that was totally root bound when I bought it. The plant did awesome for me, it took off like it had been a caged animal. As a matter of fact when I bought plants from retail that is what I looked for. If the roots weren't busting out of the bottom and if it didn't have 3 to 4 crowns I didn't buy it.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2010 at 11:51AM
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Brandon when planting by seed how long before you get any fruit

    Bookmark   December 17, 2010 at 12:32PM
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I have never grown the asmina tribola or pawpaw till this year which really I will be growing it this year. I plan to start mine in a few days.

The info I have read says it takes 6 years. Though production may be slim cause of the fact of low pollination rates through open pollination. So hand pollination may be best.

Which really 6 years is not long for a short tree tall shrub to produce fruit. Pecan take 15 years, mulberry take 10.

To hand pollinate is extremely simple. Simply take a soft paint brush and rub from the stamen (outside of the flower bloom) to the pistol (the inside of the flower bloom). This technique works for anything that needs to be open pollinated in order to produce seed.

Here is a link that might be useful: hand pollinating & seed saving

    Bookmark   December 17, 2010 at 1:39PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Carolyn's right on target about pawpaw precocity. Usually 5 to 7 years is considered typical. Grafted trees produce more quickly, and the time is dependent on the size of the plant and other factors.

Pollination may be difficult in a partially isolated system (where the next closest pawpaw is not close by), but where multiple trees are present, pawpaws don't normally need human intervention to pollenize. My mature trees get loaded down with fruit on their own, and some cultivars even benefit from thinning.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2010 at 2:22PM
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Thanks for the info. Where can you get a grafted PawPaw?

    Bookmark   December 19, 2010 at 9:00AM
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Why not graft one your self?? A grafted pawpaw or grafted tree is simply a tree started by cuttings.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2010 at 1:21PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

My favorite commercial source for multiple cultivar varieties is Nolin River Nut Tree Nursery. The reason I think they are among the best is because they have a great reputation AND a great selection. They are one of the very few nurseries that carry the Peterson cultivars (probably the most sought after group of cultivars). Their supply is not great right now because of a really bad flood that destroyed a lot of their crop, but things should improve in a year or two.

The Kentucky State University pawpaw program has an extensive list of suppliers that can be found at the location linked below. They have sources for about any pawpaw cultivar.

Pawpaws are not impossible to graft, but are a little harder than other fruit trees, like apples. Older/larger pawpaws are particularly difficult to graft, and even the pros don't consider it practical for production. I would personally only graft a pawpaw if I just happened to have a rootstock already planted and happened to be able to easily get a scion for a cultivar that I couldn't find easily, or, if I wanted to do it just for the fun/experience.

Here is a link that might be useful: 2009 Pawpaw Cultivars and Grafted Tree Sources

    Bookmark   December 19, 2010 at 7:07PM
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Thank you so much for the help

    Bookmark   December 20, 2010 at 10:45AM
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