Garden Oracle / Drought and Heat Tolerant Gardening / Tucson - Phoenix - Arizona - California

Growing Papaya:
Carica papaya

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Botanical Overview

A member of the Papaya family (Caricaceae), the Carica genus has 22 species, of which Papaya is the most well known.


Form: A single-stemmed, succulent, giant herb, taking the form of a palm as it grows. It is not a true tree, merely an overgrown succulent herb.
Lifespan: Up to 25 years. Productivity declines with age and commercial plantations usually replace each plant after 3 years. In residential settings, plants often last only four years, usually dying because of overwatering in winter or hard freezes.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Rapid.
Mature Size: Usually 8-15' high, but can reach 30' in its native environment.
Flowers: Five white to yellow-orange petals, bright yellow stamens, slightly fragrant. Individual plants have flowers that are only female, only male, or bisexual. Flowers grow on the main trunk just above a leaf stalk.
Bloom: Six months after sowing seed. The plant may flower repeatedly in regions without freezes.
Self-fruitful: Depends on cultivar. Bisexual flowers are self-pollinating. Most female flowers require pollination from another plant and will shrivel and die if not pollinated. Some female plants will produce seedless fruit automatically without pollination.
Years before fruiting: Plants normally fruit in their first year in year-round warm climates.
Fruit: Smooth skinned, pear, oval, or cylindrical shaped, with red, pink or orange flesh. The fruit may be seedless or contain large numbers of edible, black seeds that have a peppery taste when the fruit is ripe. Be warned, many people do not like the taste of this fruit, comparing it to dirty socks, or worse. The fruit are attached directly to the trunk, or side branches, of the plant.
Months for fruit to ripen: 4-5 months from flowering. The fruit should be picked when the outside is fully yellow. Papaya do not ripen significantly after harvesting and should stay on the plant as long as possible to improve their flavor. Unripe fruit contain latex but can be boiled and eaten as a vegetable.
Storage after harvest: Fully ripe papaya last 2-3 days after harvest. Partially colored fruit normally last 5-7 days.
Leaves: Deeply lobed, palmate, with long, hollow stalks. In warm weather, one new leaf may be formed weekly. Each leaf falls off the trunk after 4-6 months as the plant grows. Leaf production stops in cold weather.
Stems: The single straight trunk, usually unbranched, is succulent, herbaceous, hollow, and has scars where fallen leaves were attached. If a plant is top-killed by a freeze, or the top is cut off, it will grow branches to produce new leaves, flowers and fruit if the root system is well established. This plant can be damaged by strong winds.
Roots: Shallow. These plants are subject to root rot in wet soils, especially in winter. Root rot is usually fatal. They do best in soil with excellent drainage. The tree can be toppled in strong winds.
Cultivars of Note:
Papayas can be categorized as Mexican or Hawaiian. The Mexican are better adapted to hot, dry climates. The Hawaiian papaya fruit are smaller, usually pear shaped, and often considered better tasting.
'Dwarf Solo' Grows 6-10' tall. Grown from seed, two-thirds of plants are self-fruitful, one-third are female. Sweet, pink-orange flesh. Fruit weigh 1-1.5 lbs. Hawaiian.
'Strawberry' / 'Sunrise' Grows 10-12' tall. Sweet, orange-red flesh, often considered the best-tasting papaya. Fruit weighs 1.5 lbs. Hawaiian.
'Red Lady Dwarf' Grows to 10' tall. Self-fruitful. Orange-red flesh. Fruit weigh 4-6 lbs.
'Tainung #5' Grows to 10' tall. Self-fruitful. Red flesh. Fruit weigh 3-5 lbs.
'TR Hovey' Grows 6-8' tall and 4-6' wide. Self-fruitful. Reddish-orange flesh. Fruit weigh 3-4 lbs. Can be grown in a pot.
Wildlife: The flowers attract bees, butterflies and other insects. The fruit attracts birds.
Toxic / Danger: All parts, except ripe fruit, contain latex sap which may cause skin rash or allergies in sensitive individuals.
Origin: Central America.

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Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 10-11. Papayas stop growing below 65°F and young plants are killed below 32°F. Mature papayas may survive to 24°F.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Water more frequently over 90°F.
Drought tolerant: Somewhat.
Sun: Full sun.
Planting: Locate this plant in full sun, in well draining soil which can be a 3' diameter mound at least 1' high. Make a trench about 2' from the trunk so that the plant can be watered away from the trunk, to encourage roots to grow sideways for better stability, instead of down. The location must have wind protection. Keep away from overhead power lines. Space additional papaya 7-10' apart.
Potted plants suffer transplant shock unless replanted with great care. The planting hole should be filled with water and the plant placed in immediately after the water drains. The new plant should be shaded for 48 hours and well watered.
Soil: Very well draining, native soil, low in organic content, pH 5-8 (strongly acidic to slightly alkaline). Papaya are very salt sensitive.
Fertilize: During the growing season: apply organic fertilizer monthly; apply plant micronutrients in irrigation water every two months.
Water after becoming established: Water away from the trunk at the drip line. For young plants, water 2' away from the trunk. The amount of water needed depends on temperature, with temperatures below 70°F needing much less water. Never flood the root area as this may cause the plant to die before the soil dries. A primary cause of Papaya plant death is overwatering in cold temperatures.
Mulch: Apply organic mulch inside the drip line and 8" from the trunk to reduce soil evaporation and moderate soil temperatures.
First Year Care: Protect from freezing temperatures by covering in a cloth for the first two winters. The cloth must reach to the ground. A small heat source such as an incandescent lamp will help avoid freezing. Provide 50% shade when temperatures are over 90°F.
Prune: Remove dead leaves as necessary.
Litter: Dropped leaves and ripe fruit.
Propagation: Start seeds in the ground, well protected from critters, rather than in a pot, because papaya seedlings do not transplant well. The seedlings must be culled so that only a plant with bisexual flowers remains if you want only one, or only one male (for better pollination) to several bisexual and female plants.
Pests: Spider mites.
Uses: Ornamental, edible fruit.


Papaya plants are easily killed by freezing or overwatering in cool months.

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Carica papaya fruit By H. Zell - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=9438074

Carica papaya leaves

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Latest update: June, 2022