Papaya help needed.

farmerkevin(USDA 9)February 4, 2014

Last year I bought a 4"-5" tall mexican papaya. It was lush and had many leaves.

Then it started dropping leaves until there were none. This was before winter. Here in sunny socal, we've been having weird weather. Now there are tiny tiny leaf "starts" growing on the tip and some buds along the side. The tree now is about 10" tall. But the leaves started on top have not grown one millimeter.

Is this normal? Obviously it's still alive because it's getting taller. But I'm worried about the leaf growth.

I had been keeping it outside, moving it around in the sun so it would get full sun all day. But we are expecting below freezing (30*) temperatures for the next few days, so I pulled it inside on a bench in front of a sunny window.

I've never had a papaya tree before and my buddys papaya tree has all its leaves still. Just wondering if mine is the oddball or not. I don't want it to die, I already lost a mango that was started from pit and was only 4"-5" tall.

Thanks in advance :)

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the trunk on a papaya is very soft
(its actually an HERB and not a real tree)
The cells actually freeze at 32 degrees on the soft parts.
since its not in the ground, the soil will get colder faster.
cold soil is not good for a papaya , if you cant bring it inside, keep it as dry as possible.
and if you get a few days of sun and good weather, soak it down.
I cant tell whats wrong with it, but they dont grow at all when its cold. If the roots are OK it should come back. mine have lost leaves several times due to cold. i have even chopped them in 1/2, many of them.
Enough sun, nutrients and water, they come back.

Can you tell if the trunk feels soft ?
Or, maybe you can hold the trunk and kind-of give the plant a little "wiggle" to see how well its rooted. not too hard to break any roots....

what kind of soil is it in? is it fast draining ?

    Bookmark   February 4, 2014 at 4:01PM
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mangodog(palm springs 9B)

greenman - it does look somewhat wilted to me at the top...meaning....there's a good chance the trunk has begun to rot (hate to guess that...but....)

I'm also guessing kevin kept the plant too wet when the weather cooled down and the base rotted...I hope I'm wrong. It's a painful lesson I learned more than once!


    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 12:11AM
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farmerkevin(USDA 9)

Thanks for the response :)

The trunk is still green and flexible yet firm.

The soil is what it was planted in when I bought it. I pulled it out of the pot last year and was going to repot it, but I didn't see roots around the edge. I know they're different, but I grow avocados from pit, and if the pots are too big, it leads to root rot (too much soil holding moisture the plant can't use). So I figured papaya were the same. So I left it figuring this spring it should be large enough for a 5 gallon.

I wiggled the papaya and it has a tiny bit of give at the base. But I can pick the whole plant if I wanted to (not that I did, just that's how solid it felt)

The soil in it, is fast draining yet it holds moisture fairly well. I water only on Saturdays and Wednesdays. It gets full sun since I move it around outside chasing the sun.

Since I've had it for about a year, is there a certain fertilizer I should use? I grow using organic methods, and use a seaweed liquid as a supplement on all my plants :) is that sufficient?

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 12:22AM
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farmerkevin(USDA 9)

Here's a better picture.

The sun keeps going in and out of the clouds and its warmer outside so I moved it outside.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 2:53PM
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it looks fairly healthy.
I think if you can keep it from freezing temps, you will be OK
You wont see any growth if its even just "cool" under 55 or so.
but they grow very fast when they get sun + heat

like mangodog said, its possible the roots took a hit, but it doest sound or look like its that bad.

They love organics. i use chicken poo on mine.
I add Chem ferts too, becuase they are such fast growers and hungry when they get a lot of sun, they need extra nitrogen. im sure you could get away with using just organics, they just might not grow quite as fast.
I read bat guano helps with sweetness of the fruit too.

The roots are fragile, and if you do transplant, try to move the whole rootball.
or most of it.
the small roots break off easily.
also, i learned to try and water away from the trunk, even in pots.
(as much as possible) side-water or bottom-watering is better.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 6:10PM
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They also like wood ash, so long as it doesn't have contaminants like rubbish, plastics etc., in it.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 8:16PM
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farmerkevin(USDA 9)

So it's fairly healthy then? That's good.

I do grow as organically as possible and I do have chickens. It may just be time to clean their run :)

And I do have a washing machine drum firepit that needs dumped.

Is this tree too small to transplant into the ground yet? Not right now but spring time. Because I'm tempted to prepare the planting site now so it'll be broken down and better for the tree this spring.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 9:28PM
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Hi, Farmerkevin. Your papaya tree looks healthy indeed. It is fine for your papaya to lose leaves because of lower temps.

Keep the watering at a minimal until the weather gets warmer and the leaves start to grow again. And you can surely plant yours into the ground as temps get warmer.

Papayas have very shallow root systems and it is best to plant them on a mound to avoid root rot. Choose the warmest spot in your garden with ample sun so that the fruits will be sweeter! They love the heat.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2014 at 4:57AM
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" I'm tempted to prepare the planting site now so it'll be broken down and better for the tree this spring. "

i am actually doing that too, i dug up an area and added coffee ground, compost and sand to it.
I actually read NOT to add too much stuff that is different from the local soil, because it can cause a pocket to develop that holds water.
It is good to make sure the soil is loose, so the tap can grow downward though. I am hoping the sand will make it drain faster, and my hole is pretty deep and wide.... just a thought.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2014 at 8:20AM
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farmerkevin(USDA 9)

Thanks for the tips greenman.

The spot where I'll plant it is clay and decomposing granite. Hardpan is about a foot down and 6" thick. Have to use a pick axe to bust through.

I usually add gypsum and some organic matter but usually just toss in the original material. But it's red clay and decomposing granite and packs solid when wet.

Can papaya go long periods without water? If so, I may put it in a different spot (have to switch hoses from totes to barrels to water that part of the yard. A bit of hassle)

    Bookmark   February 6, 2014 at 5:11PM
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The granite could be a good thing. minerals, and it helps drainage.
the clay, not so much.
I would probably add heavy sand (not the fine stuff) , compost, etc...
to make sure it drains well.
It would also probably be good to raise it as much as possible, at least 6-8 inches.

i had thrown some seeds in an old pot once that had lots of rock, and some sand, and very little organics.
it took off.
obviously they dont mind a lot of large rocks etc... they must like the drainage.

Papaya need a good bit of water if its hot and theres a lot of sun. if they get too dry, usually you will see the leaves droop, but sometimes thats too late.
the tips of the leaves turned brown on me once from water stress.
You can always figure out a water system of some kind.
bury a couple of 2 liter bottles, or 5 gallon bucket or - something like that...;.
make it sealed, where you can add water from above, and add a rope, or cloth, or something else to act as a wick.
i have been meaning to try this, just never got around to it.

If they are planted in clay soils, make sure that the soil does not stay too wet.
To avoid waterlogging in clay soil, make a ridge and plant the papayas on the ridge.

good luck

Here is a link that might be useful: growing papaya

    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 5:32PM
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sandy0225(z5 Indiana)

Mine drop leaves here in Indiana. The greenhouse is only 42 due to,lp shortage. Keep it pretty dry till it starts growing again.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 9:20PM
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farmerkevin(USDA 9)

Been feeding it seaweed kelp mix, and keep moving it around in the sun (shaded sun/morning sun, afternoon shade). Looks like it's doing good. The tiny leaves up top have grown out a little. Looks decent. Maybe in another month, it'll look way better :)

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 2:39PM
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great to hear!
im not sure though if long-term a lot of seaweed and kelp might hurt the soil ? They are high in iodine (or iodide?)
anyway, a little is really good, can help uptake of nitrogen, great for papaya, but i think it reaches toxicity fairly easily.


Did you plan on going natural/ organic, or synthetic ?

Some say you have to pick one, i am not sure i agree with that though.

Personally, i would give it plain water for 1 or 2 waterings, then give it a high Nitrogen fertilizer, at maybe 1/2 strength.
(or at the very least, chicken poo)
Papaya grow fast when its warm, and they need N to do so.

Here is a link that might be useful: Poultry Manure as a Fertilizer Source

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 8:50AM
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farmerkevin(USDA 9)

Great info greenman.

I do grow organically. No synthetic fertilizers or chemicals. The stuff I use is growmore, and I use it at half strength.

Started prepping the site yesterday, where it'll be planted. Got it partly dug out. Gonna clean out the chicken coop, fill the hole, then cover it up. Let it sit for a month or so, let it sink, then turn.

It's funny because a friends papaya grew accidentally and gets no special care. I doubt it even gets water. But it gives off the most delicious papayas.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 1:11PM
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farmerkevin(USDA 9)

Went ahead and planted it. Clouds rolled in, and it was fairly cool so what better day to transplant.

The spot I had planned didn't drain very well. I dug down and found clay, on top of hardpan.

So I had to pick a different spot. This spot drains extremely well, and still will get sufficient sunlight.

My sister is coming down in a couple months for summer, and this year, I'd like to actually spend time with her instead of working on the yard. So now that the weather has been upper 70's and decent, everything is getting planted.

Plus I need everything in the ground so that it starts growing and producing. I won't be able to really afford my sister down here, but having the food in the yard helps tremendously.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 6:06PM
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You should put up a little sign so the chickens know where to poop.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 10:30PM
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Wow, that does look like hard clay.
You may want to get some compost, or even strw/grass cuttings etc...
to throw on top of the soil to reduce evaporation.
i would make it about 6ft across

and when watering, water AROUND it, not right on the roots.
i would say on the outside of that dirt ring now, and even farther out later on when the roots start to really move out.

If the soil really is compacted underneath,
the roots will grow OUT, not down.
ou might wind up with a lot of roots 2-3 inches below the soil, running 10ft or more from the plant.
(just an FYI)

i love the fact that during the summer and fall, i was able to eat papaya everyday (i had 4 fruiting trees)
it actually reduced my food costs by about %20
i had some Guava and oranges too though.

This year, i planted a LOT of seeds
i have 7 different varieties of seed, those will all be planted,
but i also had a fruit from the store which i had about 400+ seeds from.

I planted seeds EVERYWHERE i had extra room :)
i just found higher spots with sun, broke up the ground and added a bit of compost.
If they all grow i will have a dozen trees or more.

in some areas i planted 5-6 seeds per hole, and 4-5 holes within a couple of feet of each other.
I can wait till they get a few inches high and pick the biggest one. Then pick the biggest of each of the holes, so i wind up with only 1 tree every 4-5 ft - if that makes sense.

That way, it should be the biggest/healthiest one
of dozens of seed.

Good luck
keep us updated...
hope you are eating Papaya soon :)

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 12:05PM
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mangodog(palm springs 9B)

yes, like greenman says, GET SOME MULCH on there, especially when it starts to warm up. When it starts growing - give it lots of water...they LOVE the heat and will grow fast when it comes....


    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 7:00PM
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just wanted you to see what i have.
a couple of mine didnt like the cold either.
the one that has almost no leaves, is a Hawaiian variety, and i really want to keep that one alive. its supposed to be really sweet.

i planted like 5 varieties of seed already from Brazil, 3 from Hawaii, 2 from Malaysia.
- and i planted about 200 seed from the fruit i bought at the store.
- -


- -


    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 4:32PM
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Pardon this hijack, but while I have the attention of some of you papaya folk, does anyone have any experience with the Jacaratia genus papayas?

I have a volunteer that grew out of one of my pots that I am fairly sure is Jacaratia (J. corumbensis possibly). I have no memory of collecting these seeds but the foliage looks very similar to the photo in the link (never mind, the GW spam blocker won't let me post the link b/c it is to another gardening site) and considering I collect a lot of random fruit seeds from travels to Latin America, it would make sense.

Mine is without leaves at the moment and got knocked off a 6 foot shelf a month ago but I'm hopeful it will survive. It has no caudex, just a thin stem with a similar texture to the large plant in the link.

Oh, here I just found an old photo of my plant. This was several years ago. It sadly isn't a lot bigger and is certainly shorter now that it got dropped but the stem is thicker and erect as opposed to in the picture. At first I thought it was some sort of vine.

Here is a link that might be useful: search engine results instead of the link I wanted to post

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 1:26PM
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" I have no memory of collecting these seeds"

i do that all the time.
i have 3-4 things i have no idea what they are, but i know they are not local :)
i figure i will know when they get bigger.

I dont know what this is, it doesnt look familiar at all, not like a mountain papaya / Vasconcellea etc...

start looking through Wiki, i guess ?

i wanted to grow this, never found the seeds till now, but i got too much stuff to handle as it is...

Here is a link that might be useful: Jacaratia+mexicana

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 5:53PM
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Jacaratia corumbensis


Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 6:02PM
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Interesting, the link says they have separate male & females... guess not much chance of ever getting any fruits on this thing.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 12:38PM
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