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The dragon fruit
What is it?
While the dragon fruit can look a little strange at first, it’s actually pretty similar to other tropical fruits. In fact, if you know how to eat a kiwi, you know how to eat dragon fruit. They have similar textures, flavours, and even appearances as they both have tiny black seeds inside of them!
Where is dragon fruit from?
Dragon fruit or pitaya comes from a special kind of cactus that climbs up plants and other structures like a vine.
Originally, the cactus only grew in the tropical parts of the Americas and Southeast Asia. Today, you can even find dragon fruit plants for sale here in Australia as the white-fleshed H. undatus and the red-fleshed H. polyrhizus varieties are both grown locally.
What is dragon fruit good for?
Like most fruits, dragon fruit is full of important vitamins and minerals. It’s also a good alternative for unhealthy snacks as it’s a lot less calorific than most sweets.
Materials and other considerations
Before you can start planting dragon fruit, you’ll need to make some preparations.
For starters, you need the right kind of soil. Any kind of well draining soil will do, but sandy soil can give you the best results as the plant needs to be in a slightly acidic environment. Sandy soil also drains water faster than other kinds of soil, which is ideal for the cactus-like dragon fruit plant.
You also need to get some fertiliser. The plant’s natural habitat is full of nutrients, so it needs the extra boost from the fertiliser to thrive in your garden.
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.
The last thing you need to prepare is the planting site itself. As a subtropical plant from warmer climates, the dragon fruit plant can only grow somewhere hot, so the temperature of your planting site should hover around 18 - 26 °C. The site should also have a lot of sun exposure as certain varieties like H. undatus need a lot of light.
If you live in the warmer parts of the country, you should be able to grow the plant in your garden without too much of a problem. But, for those farther south, you’ll be better off growing your dragon fruit plants in pots; this way, you’ll be able to move them around when the plant isn’t in its growing season. Any large well draining pot from your local Bunnings will do as long as it’s around 250 mm deep and 600 mm wide.
Growing your plant
When planting dragon fruit, you can grow the plant from either seeds or stem cuttings. If it’s your first time growing dragon fruit, we suggest you use cuttings as they’re generally more reliable than seeds and take less time to produce fruit after propagation. That said, plants grown from seeds can be just as productive as plants grown from stem cuttings when fully-grown.
How to grow dragon fruit from seeds
If you’re growing your plant from a seed, be prepared for a long ride as it can take six to seven years for your plant to start producing fruit.
To start off, you need to place the seeds in a seed-starting tray with moist soil. After two weeks, the seeds should have grown into young seedlings, which you can then place in your prepared planting site.
As the seedling grows, you only need to water it sparingly. If the soil is still moist to the touch, then you probably don’t need to water it for the day.
You also don’t need to add a lot of fertiliser all at once; a little bit of fertiliser every month or so can go a long way for your dragon fruit plant.
How to grow dragon fruit from cuttings
If you’re using a stem cutting, make sure that it comes from a productive plant and it’s at least 30 cm long. The cutting should also be completely dry before planting to promote growth. Once it’s dry, take it to your planting site and plant it 5 cm into the soil.
Like with seed-grown plants, your cuttings only need a little bit of water and fertiliser. Remember – the key to a healthy plant isn’t soaked soil but moist soil.
After about a month, the cutting should have newly propagated roots and start showing new growth. From there, you only need to wait one to three years before your plant starts flowering and producing fruit.
Harvesting dragon fruit
Once your plant’s flowers start blooming, you only need to wait around 28 days after pollination to get your hands on some sweet, delicious dragon fruit. For most dragon fruit plants in the country, you’ll know when to pick your dragon fruit once its skin gets the signature blood-red colour. But, if you’re growing uncommon varieties like H. megalanthus, the fruit’s skin would be yellow when ripe.
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.
What should I watch out for?
For one, you need to watch out for pests like ants and mealybugs that feed on your plants. You can deal with these pests however you want, but we suggest you try out these eco-friendly solutions before resorting to more synthetic alternatives.
You’ll also need to watch out for rot on your dragon fruit plant. In cases where the rot is caused by extreme weather conditions, you can safely clip away the rotting parts of your plant without much worry. However, if the rot is caused by bacteria, be sure to sterilise your clippers before using them on a different plant.
Is the dragon fruit plant worth it?
For our money, it definitely is! As a low maintenance plant that produces delicious fruit every year, the dragon fruit plant is one of the best things you can add to your garden.