The dragon fruit (also called strawberry pear, pithaya, pitaya) is a tropical fruit with scaly spikes exterior and grows on a climbing cactus. While some would never trade another coin for its bland taste, others say its sweet, juicy, refreshing, and its little tarty taste is irresistible.
Dragon fruit’s US and Canada market was valued at US $129.15 million in 2018 and is projected to grow to US $194.10 million by 2027, marking a CAGR of 4.7 % between 2019 and 2027. We can as well describe it as a tasteless fruit that is so expensive while still attracting a soaring demand?
The taste of dragon fruit depends on the type, the conditions under which the plant was grown and when the fruit was harvested. While the yellow dragon fruit is sweeter than the red and white, locally grown dragon fruits are juicy and sweet.
So, are you looking to enjoy the home grown juicy taste of dragon fruit and its health benefits? This article teaches you how to grow, care and harvest dragon fruit at home.
You will also learn the types of dragon fruit to determine the best variety for your needs and a sneak peek into its health benefits.
We start with the health benefits.
Potential health benefits of dragon fruit
The cost and demand for dragon fruit can be associated with its potential health benefits, especially with the shift towards organic foods and healthy dietary patterns.
A study to establish the bioactive compounds of dragon fruit and its health benefits revealed that its anti-inflammatory and oxidative stress processes could potentially retard the development of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and some types of cancer.
Another study on the anti-oxidant and stability of dragon fruit peels found it a natural source of red-purple dye used in the cosmetics and food industry for decorations and a natural alternative for chlorogenic, gallic and quercetin acids.
Types of dragon fruit
Three varieties of dragon fruit (red, white and yellow) are commercially grown in the United States, specifically California, Florida and Hawaii. Let’s look at each, including their characteristics.
Red Skin/White Flesh Dragon Fruit
- Also known as Hylocereus Undatus or Selenicereus Undatus
- Available year-round
- Has red skin and white flesh with black seeds
- Least sweet of all dragon fruit varieties
- Used mostly for salad dressing
- Cultivars include Thompson (the largest of up to 1.5 pounds), Harpua (with a taste close to grapes), Neitzel (Californian native, sweetest when chilled)
- Popular varieties include David Bowie, L. A Woman’s Seoul Kitchen, Vietnamese Jaina
Red Skin/Red Flesh Dragon Fruit
- Also known as Pitaya Roja or Hylocereus costaricensis
- Has a bright magenta flesh, with a hint of berry and a texture similar to that of kiwi
- Sweeter than the white-flesh dragon fruit
- Available from summer to fall
- Mostly used with fruits like pineapple for smoothies and cocktails
- Popular cultivars include Zamorano, Costa Rican Sunset (Natura Mystic), and Red Jaina.
Yellow skin/white flesh dragon fruit (Pitaya megalanthus)
- Scientifically called Hylocereus Megalanthus or Selenicereus Megalanthus,
- Available throughout the year, though in varying peak seasons
- Sweetest of all types
- Native to South America
- Consumed mostly as is and as a salsa additive
How to grow dragon fruit from seeds
The easiest way to grow dragon fruit, regardless of your zone, is in a greenhouse or indoors in pots where you can control the temperatures as they are tropical.
When growing dragon fruit plants from seed in pots, you can look forward to harvesting 4-6 fruiting cycles in about 2-6 years. Here is a step-by-step guide from planting to harvesting dragon fruit.
1. Preparing the seeds
- Cut an overripe dragon fruit into halves
- Scoop out the flesh into a strainer under a faucet
- Gently squeeze out the pulp to separate it from the seeds
- Dry the seeds on a paper towel for about 24 hours
2. Preparing the growing medium
- Fill a pot (s) with a potting mix
- Water the potting mix until dumb
3. Planting the seeds
- Spread the dragon fruit seeds on the soil evenly
- Ensure about a ½ inch between the seeds
- Cover the seeds with a layer of potting mix so they are about a ¼ inch in the soil.
- Cover the pot(s) with plastic wrap to contain moisture
- Place the pot(s) in a warm, partially lit area (away from direct sunlight)
- Keep the seeds moist. You can use a spray bottle to water daily, ensuring the soil dries between applications.
- Your seeds should sprout in 1-2 weeks.
4. Thinning the seedlings
- Once sprouting occurs, uncover the pot(s) to allow access to light
- Keep the soil moist until the seedlings develop a third set of leaves and are about 2 inches tall
- Fill several and deeper pots with potting soil
- Spread the seedlings into the pots such that only one plant grows in each pot.
- You can add a light nitrogen fertilizer every 2 months to boost the soil nutrients.
- Water the seedlings each day until they are about 6 inches tall (in about 7 months)
5. Transplanting the seedlings
- You need a deeper container, about 15 x24 inches wide and at least 10 inches deep. A 15-gallon fabric container is also helpful.
- Fill the container with potting a low draining potting soil
- Water the potting soil until dumb
- Fix a climbing pole into the soil, preferably at the center. You can use 4-6 bamboo sticks.
- Transfer the 6-inch dragon fruit plants into the container
- Once the plants are firm in the soil, use an elastic material to tie them onto the climbing pole.
6. Pruning dragon fruit plants
- Dragon fruit plants can grow up to 20 feet tall if left unpruned
- Prune them annually to ensure a steady airflow and remove any dead foliage
7. Pollinating and harvesting
- Dragon fruit plant grown from seeds takes about 2-6 years to flower
- Once budding occurs, it takes about 21 days to bloom. The flower shows in only one night
- Some dragon fruit plants are self-pollinating, but others rely on insect pollination
- To be certain, you can use a cotton swab to transfer the pollen grains from one plant to another
- Fruits should be mature in about 30 days after flowering
- You will know a mature dragon fruit when the scaly spikes show signs of withering
How to grow dragon fruit from cuttings
The dragon fruit cactus grows into sections of leaves which can be planted outdoors for a quick harvest in hardiness zones 10 and above. Below zone 10, you must keep the plants covered through winter.
Here is a guide to growing dragon fruit from cuttings:
1. Preparing the cuttings
- Identify a healthy dragon fruit plant with several sections, preferably a mature plant (already flowered)
- Cut each top section, marked by a thinner white part, using a clean blade. Middle sections do not do well.
- Let the cuttings dry in a cardboard box for 2-3 days. Planting them directly may cause rotting
2. Planting the cuttings
- Fill your pots with a potting mix. You can use 80% potting soil plus 20% coconut coir.
- Dig a hole in the middle of the pot.
- Fix the dragon fruit’s plant cuttings with the white sections about 2-3 inches into the soil.
- Water the plants thoroughly and place them in a location that has access to sunlight (preferably next to a window)
- Let the soil dry between water applications (You can water thoroughly once a week)
- The cuttings should begin growing new shoots in a month.
3. Transplanting the cuttings
- Your dragon fruit cuttings should be ready to grow outdoors in 5-6 months.
- It takes about 14 months for a dragon fruit plant from cuttings to mature and bear fruits in tropical regions.
How long does dragon fruit take to grow?
It takes about 2-6 years to grow a dragon fruit from seeds and about 14 months to grow a dragon fruit from cuttings in tropical regions (hardiness zones 10 and above).