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Have you seen a weird-looking exotic pink fruit at the supermarket or grocer? It’s oval with green-yellow ‘scales’ or wings on the skin. You may be surprised to find that this strange fruit is dragon fruit. You may have even had it before, as it is popular in Acai bowls and fruit salads. Depending on the species, the inner flesh can be white, red or pink-purple, and peppered with small, black edible seeds. This mildly sweet fruit can be expensive to buy, often fetching prices as high as $20/kg! It certainly pays to grow your own; and if you live in a warm frost-free zone, you can.


Dragon fruit is easy to grow in the garden or in a large pot. It’s a climbing cactus, so it requires a frame or trellis for it to grow up and trail over, but once that is in place, it’s relatively easy-going. Plus, you can grow dragon fruit from seeds or cuttings, so if any of your friends or neighbours have a plant, pay them a visit and ask if you can have some fruit or cuttings. 

Location

Dragon fruit are native to parts of Central and South America, so will grow best in tropical, subtropical or warm temperate frost-free climates. Position in full sun and protect from strong winds.

Soil

Grow dragon fruit in well- to free-draining soil. As a cactus, dragon fruit will rot in poorly draining soils. If the soil does not drain well, consider growing in raised beds or large pots (at least 500 mm wide) filled with a free-draining mix. Before planting, enrich the soil with organic matter, like Yates Dynamic Lifter Soil Improver & Plant Fertiliser and horticultural lime.  

Support

As a climbing cactus, dragon fruit need support to grow. You will need a sturdy frame, made up of a central vertical post, at least 200 mm in diameter and 1.5-1.8 m high, and a sturdy square frame or horizontal supports mounted on top.

To train the dragon fruit to climb, position 2-3 plants around the base of the frame and secure them to the post, using garden ties or similar. Remove any side shoots and this will encourage the stems to grow up. Once the desired height is reached, cut the ends of these stems to encourage branching shoots. These branches will eventually grow and hang over the horizontal supports.

Fertiliser

Feed dragon fruit in spring and summer with Yates Dynamic Lifter Soil Improver & Plant Fertiliser.

Water

Water weekly during summer. During the cooler months, reduce watering to once every two-to-three weeks. Take care not to over water, as dragon fruit will not tolerate wet feet.

Harvest

Fruit is usually ready one month from flowering or when the scales or wings on the fruit have slightly withered. To harvest, use a sharp knife to cut the fruit off the vine or simply twist the fruit away from the vine. Make a small incision in the skin and peel it back to reveal the edible flesh.

Pests and diseases

There are a few pests that may occasionally bother dragon fruit, but generally it’s tough and can handle small numbers of insect pests. If you need to control sap-sucking pests like aphids or mealy bugs, spray with Yates Nature’s Way Vegie & Herb Spray. Certain cacti can be sensitive to sprays, so always do a spot test on a small inconspicuous area and wait for a few days to see if there are any adverse reactions. If none are observed, go ahead with a more widespread spray.

Snails and slugs may find young plants attractive. Sprinkle Yates Blitzem Snail & Slug Bait around the base of the plants, taking care not to contact plant parts.

Maintenance

It’s natural for the crown to become crowded and wild, but after a few years, it can become congested and unruly. This can also impact the fruit quality, so it’s a good idea to prune once every couple of years or as needed. To prune, wait until fruiting has finished, then use a sharp pair of secateurs or loppers to cut back the longer branches. Use the clippings to grow new plants (see How to grow dragon fruit from cuttings).

After pruning, spread compost and Yates Dynamic Lifter Soil Improver & Plant Fertiliser around the base of the plant and water in well.

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How to Grow Dragon Fruit in a Garden

  1. Choose a large sunny spot with well-drained soil. Enrich the soil with Yates Dynamic Lifter Soil Improver & Plant Fertiliser. If the soil is clay based, add gypsum and fork in well. Consider mounding the soil to improve drainage, if necessary.
  2. Install the support frame as described above in Support.
  3. Dig planting holes near the base of the support frame, making them twice as wide and to the same depth as the root-ball. Remove plants from the container, gently tease the roots and cut away any circled or tangled roots.
  4. Position in holes and backfill, gently firming down. Water in well. Mulch around the base with organic mulch like sugarcane or pea straw, keeping it away from the main stem.
  5. Prune any side shoots off the plants and secure the main stems of each plant to the support frame with garden ties or similar.
  6. Feed with a complete fertiliser, such as Yates Dynamic Lifter Soil Improver & Plant Fertiliser in spring and summer.
  7. Prune the ends of each main stem once they reach the horizontal supports.
  8. To harvest, look for fruit with slightly withered scales or wings. Use a sharp knife to remove fruit or simple twist and pull away. Don’t allow fruit to over-ripen, as this will spoil the taste.
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Images above: Dragon Fruit flower (left) and immature fruit (right)
(Images courtesy of Tammy Huynh)

How to Grow Dragon Fruit in a Pot

Dragon fruit are well suited to growing in pots, provided they are least 500 mm wide.

  1. Choose a pot at least 500mm wide and deep. Position in full sun and protect from strong winds. 
  2. Fill pot with free-draining cacti and succulent mix. 
  3. Install a support system into the centre of the pot (see Growing Tips for more ideas on supporting dragon fruit in pots). Dig two or three planting holes around the base of the support.
  4. Remove plants from containers, gently tease the roots and cut away any circled or tangled roots. Position plants in holes and backfill, gently firming down. Water well.
  5. Prune any side shoots off the main stem and secure the stems of each plant to the support frame with garden ties or similar.
  6. Feed with a complete fertiliser, such as Yates Dynamic Lifter Soil Improver & Plant Fertiliser in spring and summer.
  7. To harvest, look for fruit with slightly withered scales or wings. Use a sharp knife to remove fruit or simple twist and pull away. Don’t allow fruit to over-ripen, as this will spoil the taste.
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Image above: developing but still immature fruit
(Image courtesy of Tammy Huynh)

How to Grow Dragon Fruit from Seed

It’s easy to grow dragon fruit from seed, but it can take between 5-7 years before it reaches fruiting maturity. Here’s a step-by-step guide to growing dragon fruit from seed.

  1. Wash the seeds to remove the flesh. Line a plastic container with a moist paper towel and evenly space the seeds on top. Cover and position in a warm spot, out of direct sunlight. Seeds should germinate within two weeks.
  2. Pot seedlings up into a seedling tray filled with Yates Seed Raising Mix when seedings are 25–30 mm tall. Water lightly to keep the soil evenly moist.
  3. Repot seedlings into individual pots filled with cacti and succulent mix when seedings are 70–120 mm. It will take a few years before they reach fruiting size.
  4. Repot plants into the garden or pots once ready. See How to grow dragon fruit in a garden or How to grow dragon fruit in a pot.
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Image above: Dragon Fruit growing over the top of a framework
(Image courtesy of Tammy Huynh)

How to Grow Dragon Fruit from Cuttings

Like all cacti and succulents, dragon fruit propagate readily from cuttings. Plants can easily be shared between family, friends and neighbours or bought online with little risk of the plant dying in transit. Cuttings reach fruiting maturity faster than seeds, taking between 2-3 years, instead of 5-7 years.

Follow our step-by-step guide to grow dragon fruit from cuttings:

  1. Cut a 30-50 cm segment from a healthy plant. Place in a cool, dry spot out of direct sunlight and allow the ends to form callus.
  2. Pot up in a free-draining mix and water in well. Position in a cool, dry spot out of direct sunlight and lightly water once a week.
  3. After 4-6 weeks roots will form (it may take longer in cooler conditions). Plant out in the garden or in a pot when ready. See How to grow dragon fruit in a garden or How to grow dragon fruit in a pot.

Dragon Fruit Growing Tips

  • If growing multiple pots, consider fashioning the horizontal support system that can be shared between pots.
  • Star pickets can work well as support systems in pots.

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