The dragon fruit, Hylocereus undatus, also called the pitaya, is native to the tropical Americas and is widely grown in South Florida, Hawaii, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. It is a fast-growing, vine-like cactus; the stem sections have aerial roots. The sweet fruit, about 4 1/2 inches long, has a thick yellow or red peel, both with and without spines. It is best cultivated in subtropical or tropical areas.
Climate and Soil
Dragon fruits grow best in climates that are frost free and temperatures do not exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit. They are able to recover from a light freezing. Although they can be injured by extreme sunlight, they are considered a full sunlight crop. They will tolerate some shade. The best temperatures to grow Dragon fruits is between 65 and 77 F.
About 30 percent shading is best during the first three to four months after planting. Dragon fruits are grown on trellises or supports so they are vulnerable to high winds and hurricanes. They are considered moderately tolerant of saline conditions in the soil. They adapt to a wide variety of soils, provided they are well drained.
Dragon fruit can be grown from seed, but up to seven years might be required before they bear fruit. Propagation by stem cuttings six to 15 inches long is better. The cuttings are treated with a fungicide and left for seven to eight days in a dry shaded location so they can dry and heal. Cuttings take four to six months to be ready for planting and can produce fruit in six to nine months.
Dragon fruits spread widely; place them 15 to 25 feet from electrical lines and trees. They should be grown on a trellis that can support several hundred pounds. Uncovered wires can cut the plant, which can be grown on a post and with something at the top for support.
All species can pollinate with one another. Several species have been reported as being unable to pollinate themselves. Cross pollination between two or three genetic types will yield more and bigger fruits. Bats and moths are good pollinators. Bees are inactive at night when the flowers are open.
Remove lateral stems from the main stem until it reaches the trellis, then tie it in place. After plants reach the top of the trellis, cut their tips to induce branching.
Prune one to three times a year after harvest. Prune damaged, diseased or dead stems and those that reach the soil.
Mulching, Disease and Insects
Mulching helps retain moisture in the soil and reduces the growth of weeds. Apply a 2- to 6-inch layer of bark or wood chips spread 8 to 12 inches from the base of the plant.
Dragon fruit plants are susceptible to fungal diseases if the soil is not kept well drained. Ants, beetles, borers, fruit flies, mealybugs, mites,slugs and thrips can also damage them.
Watering and Fertilizing
Dry weather is needed to produce abundant blooms. Plants should not be watered after the spring or summer rain begins. Soil should be well-drained to prevent the growth of fungal diseases.
Apply one-fourth lb. of 6-6-6, 8-3-9, or 8-4-12 fertilizer per plant every two months for the first year. Also in the first year add four pounds of decomposed manure or compost around the base of the plant without touching it. During the second and third years, gradually increase the dry fertilizer to one-third lb. per plant; increase the manure or compost to about 6 lbs. for each plant. During the fourth year and thereafter apply half to three-quarters lb. of fertilizer per plant.