Dragon fruit is the most evocative Thai fruit. It’s sort of like a Dalmatian in a bright pink raincoat – utterly ridiculous, but you can’t stop staring.
Certainly, there are tastier fruits, but none more gorgeous. Some preliminary research told me that dragon fruit grows on cacti, sort of a cactus tree.
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Growing your own dragon fruit
Full sized, a dragon fruit tree is Medusa-inspired and basically unlovable.
In December 2007, I had the bright idea to grow my own dragon fruit. The plants don’t bear fruit for seven years. “It’s ok,” I told Mother Nature. “I have time”. Fast-forward way too many years, and here’s what I’ve learned.
How to grow your own dragon fruit?
1. In a hot, humid, sunny climate (like Thailand)… Here’s some not-at-all-surprising news: the dragon fruit seeds I planted on Koh Samui have grown about 1,000 times faster than those I tried to grow in “cold country with actual winter”. As a cactus of sorts, they’ll thrive on neglect as well. If you have warmth, humidity and sunshine outside (or anything approximating it inside), you’ll have great success.
2. Growing dragon fruit in a cold climate… I planted some seeds in a pot at home, too (about a million – you get a lot in a dragon fruit). My results, all these years later? It turns out I don’t live in a perpetually sunny, humid, tropical oasis. While most of the seeds germinated right away, I ruthlessly culled the weak and, today, have three or four 10-inch long “cactus sticks”. They seem happy enough with my total neglect, though it seems unlikely they’ll ever fruit. In this environment, they’re just a curious-looking houseplant but it’s definitely been worth the experiment.
Sound good? Want to try growing your own dragon fruit? If I can do it, it’s definitely a novice gardening activity. Here’s how to grow your very own …
1. Get a major head-start
To get a major head-start, begin with a dragon fruit plant. After twelve-plus years with my dragon fruit experiment (growing from seed with minimal sunlight), I basically have an extended dragon fruit cutting – do yourself a favour and skip the early stuff. (If you want to exactly replicate my methods, you would steal a piece of dragon fruit from a fruit plate at a hotel brunch and use those seeds. It’s free, but excruciatingly slow).
Otherwise, I recommend that you skip ahead and start with a cutting or a small plant. If you’re in “not tropical” conditions like me, this might save you a few years of wishful thinking.
2. Set it up for success
As a cactus, your dragon fruit wants really good drainage. It prefers mildly acidic soil, into which I chuck some earthworm castings (ph neutral) when I’m feeling generous. More than anything – it wants the sunshine its cactus-y heart deserves. If you can’t provide that at home, supplement with some fake sunshine to increase your success. I never provided this and, as such, we do not have a warm and loving relationship. It’s prickly =)
More tips for success: In a warm-ish climate, with decent sunshine (real or fake) and regular doses of worm castings or other nutrients, you should have good success with growing dragon fruit in a container – give it good drainage as well. My results (poor) involved none of the above. Do as I say, not as I did!
3. Water sparingly!
I like to play God with my dragon fruit babies – days/weeks/months of neglect and total drought and then, one day, a tropical storm from a vengeful watering can. If you’ve set your dragon fruit up in a cactus pot with good drainage, it won’t suffer from an occasional watering – but don’t water too often. (How do I know this? When your dragon fruit babies turn into rotten brown squoosh … you’ve Helicopter Parented them to death).
Then what happens?
Depending on your environment, you might one day end up with a fruiting dragon fruit – or certainly a flowering one. With such runaway success, you’ll quickly outgrow the houseplant phase and will move into larger containers and a dragon fruit that requires trellises or structural support. Otherwise – you might find yourself staring at a 6″ cactus-runt in twelve years’ time, slightly bemused at your personal science projects.
Are you now, officially, a Crazy Cactus Person in Training? In the meantime, here’s a taste of coming attractions:
P.S. If you’d like to expand your tropical expertise in the realm of Thai plants, you’ll want to read these: