Papaya newbie...some questions

gardenguy_(z6b PA)June 27, 2005

I picked up a papaya plant this past May. It was maybe 4 inches tall when I got it. Now it's 16 inches tall. I have it in a large pot outside and it took off like crazy. I have it in Miracle grow soil, and water it with warm water. Since it's been so hot lately, I've been able to use the hose since when I first turn it on, the water is quite warm coming out at first. Here are my questions. Hopefully some experienced growers can help.

1. I take it, the papaya loves full sun, all day, correct?

2. What type of fertilizer and how much? Is the fertilizer that's in the miracle grow soil enough for a while?

3. Of course, living in zone 6b, I'll have to bring the pot in for the winter. Should I do the acclimating thing before bringing it in?

4. At this point, I'm not concerned about getting fruit. It would be a bonus tho. I just want it to survive the indoors over the winter. Any tips for overwintering it in the house?

5. I know that papaya plants are sensitive to having their roots handled during repotting. How big of a pot should I have this plant in so that I can minimize this?

6. Are papayas like bananas in the sense that once they fruit, they die off or do they just keep growing?

Here is a picture of my small papaya tree. I guess there is really no way to tell if this plant is male, female or self pollinating?

Here is my papaya plant.

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I can't tell you anything about acclimating it or bringing it indoors, but in Hawaii it grows well in either full sun or partial shade. You can't tell which sex you have until it flowers, and it won't die after fruiting, since the fruits come from the sides of the trunk and are not terminal. It just keeps going up and up and continues fruiting until it eventually gets too weak and spindly and topples over, or you can top it to make it branch out (but watch out for stem rot if you do). If you've got it in a pot and have seasons to contend with though, I'm not sure it will even get to that point.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2005 at 10:50PM
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gardenguy_(z6b PA)

Lisa, thank you for responding to my post. My main objective is to get it through the winter time. I will have it in the house because I live in a crappy zone ( zone 6 a/b ). What do you mean by topping it?

    Bookmark   June 28, 2005 at 1:45AM
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honu(z11 HI)

Topping is used to keep the tree at a manageable height and keep an older tree productive by cutting the trunk off and placing a coffee can over the cut stump. This will cause the papaya to produce new side shoots from the old trunk, and the side shoots will each produce fruit.
I don't know about growing it in containers, but it does have an extremely long tap root, and is very sensitive to drying out, especially when young.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2005 at 4:44AM
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Dave in NoVA • 7a • Northern VA

I might be able to offer a bit of advice. I grew this papaya in a pot the first summer, then I cut off the top foot or so and wintered it over under grow lights in my basement. For the winter you'll need to watch for spider mites. Might be best to use a systemic insecticide in the soil the first winter(since you'll not get any fruit). Be careful not to overwater during winter as the plant will not grow much (unless you have a greenhouse and warm, humid, bright conditions). You'll probably get a fair amount of leaf drop once you bring it in for the Fall (lower light levels, low humidity). Not much you can do about that unless you have a greenhouse. Cut back on water a bit. keep it in the same pot over winter. Don't repot to a larger container until summertime.

The second growing season I planted mine directly in the ground to get maximum growth (then let it freeze in the Fall). You'll probably want to repot to a larger container. It will grow outdoors in sun or part sun. I don't think it's finicky about fertilizer. When the plant is actively growing in summer, it's not very sensitive to repotting as long as tempertures are warm. Anyway, that's been my experience.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2005 at 8:08AM
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When it is summertime they drink up lots of water and fertilizer and the root system can actually crack open a small pot, but when you bring it in for the winter with low light and cold temperatures treat it like a cactus----very little water or it will rot. I like the males for their beautiful and sweet smelling flower stalks. In your zone I doubt you would ever be able to ripen a female fruit. Good luck.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2005 at 10:07AM
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what variety are you growing?

die back in winter, does regrow in spring, in your zone?


    Bookmark   June 28, 2005 at 6:24PM
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scottlk(San Diego)

Dave - I have a 2 1/2 foot tall papaya growing now (I suspect it was an agristarts tissue cultured self fertile variety).

Since planting it outside the leaves have gone from a solid even green color to an almost "speckled" complexion with lighter green spots. I can't quite tell from your picture - but did you notice any leaf discoloration when putting yours outside?

    Bookmark   June 29, 2005 at 10:14PM
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honu(z11 HI)

scottlk, do you have an extension where you can bring the leaf for diagnosis?
Below link shows what ringspot virus looks like.

Here is a link that might be useful: papaya ringspot virus

    Bookmark   June 29, 2005 at 11:44PM
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scottlk(San Diego)

Hmm - I found a few other pics and I think my poor little guy may have ringspot virus. According to a USDA list it is a prevalent plant virus in California.

Oh well, it's still growing well at this point so I guess as long as there's nothing else nearby for it to infect (squash, cucumber,...) I won't worry too much about it.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2005 at 12:10AM
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scottlk(San Diego)

Okay - now I think it looks more like powdery mildew... I'll check the underside of the leaves tomorow, it does get hit with realtively high salintiy San Diego water lawn sprinklers every day too... I'n not sure if my $10 plant is worth taking to get checked out - so whatever it is I'll probably just watch and see how it does.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2005 at 12:30AM
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Dave in NoVA • 7a • Northern VA

Hydro: No, I let it die completely the second season. There was no way I would have been able to protect it.

Scott: I can't remember if the leaves took on a sort of mottled coloration (sort of like a summer squash leaf). If you have low humidity, you may need to watch for mites though.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2005 at 8:02AM
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virgilevetts(Auckland, NZ)

I think the spotting is normal in temperate climates. Im in a zone 10 region, averaging about 5C overnight at present and my 3 Papaya [in ground, outdoors] are showing some yellowy spots. The plants are otherwise healthy, although barely growing at all right now, so Im not too worried.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2005 at 5:23PM
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scottlk(San Diego)

Thanks - that's good to hear. Mine appears to be otherwise healthy so I'll keep my fingers crossed.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2005 at 12:13AM
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wackywherehouse(z9 FL)

I have some papaya trees that have grown from seed. They have big green fruit, but each fruit has many holes with white juice oozing out. I picked a couple of the fruits and cut them open and the inside was all mush with small white seeds that were not fully formed. What kind of pest could be causing this damage?

    Bookmark   September 1, 2005 at 1:15PM
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I've got two of these growing from seed from store bought fruit up here in tropical Syracuse, NY. I almost lost them this summer from too much rain or repotting, or both. (I put them outside for the summer) but although all the lower leaves died and fell off, the top ones came back with a vengence! It's been quit hot and humid this summer. It would be great if I could get them to grow fruit up here, but I'm not keeping my hopes up. They're over a year old now and they're only about 16" tall. But if I can grow them up here in this zone, anyone can. It's my hobby to grow tropical plants up here though. (I have 15 different palm trees although I lost a coconut palm after a year. I also have a Dwarf Banana, two Pineapple plants, Passion Fruit vine, Kiwi plant, Kumquat plant, a blooming Aloe Vera, a Sago palm, a Bird of Paradise and several Kiwano or African Horned Melon Vines.) About the only thing I have trouble getting started is a Mango. Tried it sevral time from seed but can't get it started without the seed rotting.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2006 at 10:35PM
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I grow papayas every year. The easiest way is to start the seeds mid summer and when they are less than 4 inches tall move them into large pots, one plant per pot. I overwinter them inside under lights or in my simple hoophouse (which gets down to 40 degrees). The next spring I plant any survivors outside in a mound of potting soil/compost/mulch with lots of slow release fertilizer added to it. Once the summer temps get hot the plants take off and start blooming around now. I've never gotten fruit to ripen fully but you can cook the green ones - tastes like squash. I'm not a huge fan of papaya fruit anyway, but I do like the seeds which taste like radishes.

When the weather is really hot and humid you cannot over feed them or over water them if you have them airy compost/mulch-y soil.

When you grow them in a pot they can rot if over watered - especially in the winter when they want more intense light and longer days. So I keep them very dry in the winter. You can't let them completely wilt either - they don't always recover. Growing them in fluffy/airy media helps out a lot.

Sometimes when mine are first placed outside in the late spring or when first planted in the ground - the leaves will get a speckled look. It eventually goes away with the next flush of leaves. I think it is related to the fertilizer mixed in the water splashing on the leaves. All my tropicals get it that first month outside.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2006 at 4:38PM
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