What is dragon fruit?
Once you get past the unusual appearance of dragon fruit, you'll find that it's actually pretty similar to other tropical fruits. In fact, if you know how to eat a kiwi fruit, you know how to eat dragon fruit.
Dragon fruit is a white-fleshed fruit with tiny black seeds and vibrant pink skin. Each fruit weighs between 150-600g and is commonly used in fruit salads, smoothies and salads. It has little flavour and its texture closely resembles that of kiwi fruit. To prepare all you to do is to cut the fruit in half and then scoop out the flesh.
There are a couple of different types of dragon fruit the most common varieties are:
- Hylocereus undatus: white flesh with pink/red skin (most popular in Australia)
- Hylocereus Megalanthus: white flesh with yellow skin
- Hylocereus costaricensis: purple/red flesh and pink/red skin
Climate & Aspect
As mentioned above, dragon fruit is native to South America, but you’ll also found it grown in parts of Indonesia, Taiwan, Southern California and most recently Australia. Dragon fruit grows on cactus plants which love warm, humid climates and needs very little water. They are subtropical plants which need at least six hours of sunlight per day. They will also grow well in a warm and sunny spot indoors.
How to grow dragon fruit from seed
To grow dragon fruit from seeds you need very little equipment but a lot of time. Grab an organic dragon fruit from your local supermarket and scoop out the seeds.
Wash the seeds and dry them overnight before planting them in a seed-starting tray with moist soil. The seeds should germinate within two weeks.
Water seedlings sparingly and check that the soil has completely dried out before watering again.
Don't expect to have a healthy harvest of dragon fruit right away - it can take anywhere from five to seven years for a plant grown from seed to mature and produce fruit. This is why many dragon fruit growers like to grow dragon fruit from a cutting (which will take just one to three years to fruit).
How to plant dragon fruit cuttings
Propagating a dragon fruit tree from a cutting is relatively easy, all you need to do is find a friend with a tree and you’re good to go. Snip off a 30cm section of a dragon fruit tree and leave it to dry out for 5-6 days or until the cut end turns white.
Once it has dried out simply place cut side down into sandy cacti soil and water monthly. Your plant will send out roots and make itself at home within a month and then continue to grow. Easy peasy!
You’ll need to wait between one and three years for fruit using this method.
Growing dragon fruit in pots
Growing dragon fruit in pots is a great idea, especially for those who live in cooler parts of Australia, as you can move your plant to a warmer position whenever necessary. In the right conditions, dragon fruit plants grow can grow quite tall and will put down aerial roots. When choosing a pot, look for one that is about 250mm deep and 600mm wide. Fill it with good quality cacti potting soil that is a bit sandy and slightly acidic.
Dragon fruit plants are climbers so support them with a stake, trellis or something else to climb on.
Growing dragon fruit outdoors
Growing dragon fruit outdoors in your garden is a great way to add colour and personality to your garden. To prepare, remove weeds in the area as well as any rocks and make sure that the soil is slightly sandy and acidic. You can always add a bit of extra potting mix to the bed to help make it cacti-proof.
As your dragon fruit plant grows invest in a trellis or plant it near a fence something that it can climb on, just be wary they are heavy plants so it needs to be able to support the dragon fruit plants weight when it is bearing fruit too.
How to harvest dragon fruit
You'll know that fruit is on its way when the plant begins to flower. Once fruit starts to appear, it will take around four weeks to ripen. You’ll know the fruit is ripe when the skin turns a vibrant shade of pink. Use a pair of sharp secateurs to cut the fruit off and store it in the fridge for up to two weeks.
If you’re growing an uncommon variety like H. megalanthus, the fruit’s skin will turn yellow when ripe.
Like strawberries, Pitaya doesn’t continue to ripen after harvest so make sure that it has fully ripened before picking. The fruit can last for around two weeks as long as you keep it inside a cold container with a temperature between 7 - 10 °C.
Caring for dragon fruit plants
Generally speaking, dragon fruit plants are not prone to pests, but when their prized fruit starts to appear, you will need to protect the plant from hungry bats and birds. Use bird netting to keep your fruit safe.
If you notice spots on the stems and leaves of the plant this could be a sign of infection. Dragon fruit is prone to a bacterial infection which causes the stem to rot. If you notice spots don’t worry in most cases the dragon fruit plant will fight it off themselves.
If your dragon fruit plant is getting a bit out of control, cut it back in the summer months. Watch for signs of rot on your dragon fruit plant caused by extreme weather conditions. Rotting parts of the plant can be clipped away safely using sharp clippers.
One of the easiest ways to kill dragon fruit plants is by over-watering it. Make sure that the soil is never sopping wet and, if in doubt, hold off on watering for a day or two. If you water the plant too often, you could cause the roots to rot.
The plant’s natural habitat is full of nutrients, so it needs the extra boost from the fertiliser to thrive in your garden.
Supporting dragon fruit plants
As a climbing plant, you’ll also need to provide it with some kind of support. A trellis is ideal, but you can also use a wall or a wooden post if you’re short on time or resources. Just make sure the wood you’re using isn’t treated timber.
You might also like: