Pawpaw, commonly referred to as a “tree”, is properly a large herb growing at the rate of 6 to 10 ft (1.8-3 m) the first year and reaching 20 or even 30 ft (6-9 m) in height, with a hollow green or deep-purple stem becoming 12 to 16 in (30-40 cm) or more thick at the base and roughened by leaf scars. The leaves emerge directly from the upper part of the stem in a spiral on nearly horizontal petioles 1 to 3 1/2 ft (30-105 cm) long, hollow, succulent, green or more or less dark purple. The blade, deeply divided into 5 to 9 main segments, each irregularly subdivided, varies from 1 to 2 ft (30-60 cm) in width and has prominent yellowish ribs and veins. The life of a leaf is 4 to 6 months. Both the stem and leaves contain copious white milky latex.
The fruit of pawpaw is high in vitamin C. You can also pick the fruit when it is green and cook it like a marrow.
Female and male flowers do not grow on the same tree, so you must have male and female trees in the garden.
- Pawpaw grows best in hot areas.
- It can tolerate mild frost if it is protected from cold winds.
- It can grow in most kinds of soil, but the soil must be well-drained.
- The roots can get diseases if the soil stays too wet.
- Loamy soils are best.
Pawpaws can be planted at any time of the year, but preferably in late summer.
Plant pawpaw 1,5 metres between plants and
3 to 4 metres between rows.
Growing pawpaw from seeds
It is easy to grow the ordinary pawpaw tree from seed.
- Wash the seeds from ripe pawpaw.
- Squeeze the seeds from the jelly bag that covers each seed. The seeds will only grow if you remove the bag.
- Dry them in a shady place.
- Store in a tightly-closed container and keep them until December.
- Plant the seeds in December. Put 5 seeds into a hole. Do not put any compost or manure into the holes.
- Keep the small plants moist.
- You can only tell which trees are female and which are male when the trees start to flower. Therefore, you should always have more than one tree per hole, because then you can select the female trees.
- closer to the branch than the male flowers
- very small
- there are many flowers that grow on long branches of the stem.
- only female trees give fruit but they need male flowers to pollinate them. Leave 1 male tree for 10 female trees.
- Dig a hole about twice the size of the bag in which the young tree is growing.
- Remove the soil from the hole and add some compost and manure. Mix this with some of the soil that has been dug out.
- Take the plant out of the container. If it is a plastic container you just cut it open at the side.
- Do not disturb the roots.
- Place the tree in the centre of the hole. When you fill up the hole hold the tree so that its base is level with the surrounding ground.
- Raise the soil around the tree to dam the water (rain or irrigation).
- Do not plant the tree deeper than it was in the container.
- Do not cover the stem with soil because it will rot.
- Pawpaw needs little water.
- It will, however, give more and bigger fruit if it is watered every 2 weeks in the dry season. The flowers will drop if they do not get enough water.
- If it is planted in clay soils, make sure that the soil does not stay too wet.
- To avoid waterlogging in clay soil, make a ridge and plant the papayas on the ridge.
Compost or manure
Give the tree:
- 1 bucketful in September,
- 1 bucketful in November
- another bucketful in January.
- Sprinkle a few handfuls of manure evenly around the tree each month from September to the end of March.
NB: Do not apply chicken manure on trees younger than 2 years as it can burn the young pawpaw trees.
- Give the trees 4 tablespoonfuls (115 g) of 2:3:2 in September, November and January.
- Sprinkle evenly around the tree, not against the stem.
- Keep the trees mulched all the time (use grass, leaves, etc).
- Do not grow other plants next to the trunk because it is quite soft. If the trunk is damaged the pawpaw tree can get diseases.
- If the fruit shows humps the tree may be short of boron. Sprinkle 2 tablespoonfuls of borax around the tree.
Pruning and thinning
You can cut the tree (remove top) so that it does not grow too tall. This encourages branching. Cut into winter wood, where leaf scars are close together. Paint the cut with a sealant.
- You can pick the fruit when the skin starts to become yellow.
- The fruit will ripen after you have picked it.
- Handle it carefully because it gets bruised easily.