When you think of papaya you probably imagine a big, beautiful tree growing in the sun and full of orange fruit, right? Did you know that you can also grow the plant indoors? Or maybe you want to make a few trees a part of your landscape?
Regardless if you’re growing papaya indoors or out, this petite tree is fairly easy to grow, so long as you pick the right variety for your area. Within a few months, you’ll be enjoying piles of the delicious fruits.
Whether this is your first try or you’re just looking for some help making your papaya tree happy, this guide has you covered.
What Is Papaya?
Papaya (Carica papaya) is native to Mexico and Central America. This plant can grow fast but doesn’t tend to live for very long.
The trees tend to drop off in production after the third or fourth year, so commercial growers have to constantly replace their trees to keep up harvest numbers. In the home garden, you can enjoy your pretty plant and enjoy the fruits as they come, even if the tree produces less than it used to.
Of course, you can also choose to replace your plants every five years or so if you want to maintain a robust harvest.
Papayas grow well in USDA Growing Zones 9 and 10, but you can raise them ornamentally in Zone 8. The tree just probably won’t produce any fruit. You can also find cultivars that do well in Zone 11 if you check with local nurseries.
This plant might be referred to as pawpaw, papaya verte, papita, and papayer. Don’t confuse it with the American pawpaw (Asimina triloba).
When this tree is fully grown, it has a single, hollow stem and doesn’t produce any branches. It has a crown of leaves at the top. It’s a bit like a palm tree.
Botanically, papaya plants aren’t trees. They’re large, herbaceous plants.
The leaves are beautiful and worth growing all on their own. They are flat and palmately lobed with a deep green color. If you squint, they almost look like a huge, tropical oak leaf. They can look amazing in your home as an ornamental plant.
The leaves can also be juiced and many people use the juice medicinally.
Outdoors, the trees reach about 15 feet tall, though some can grow taller. Indoors, the plant will stay much smaller depending on the cultivar and the container that you use.
It tree has a shallow root system which makes it ideal for potting in a container indoors. However, that also means it isn’t great if you live in a windy area.
Best Papaya Varieties
Many types of papaya varieties have been genetically modified to withstand papaya ringspot virus, which has wiped out thousands of trees and several heirloom cultivars. Below are some popular varieties that can withstand the deadly disease.
This is the most important and widely grown papaya variety in Hawaii. It earned the name ‘Solo’ because the fruit is small enough that one person can finish it off themselves.
Look for ‘Kapoho,’ ‘Kamiya,’ ‘Waimanalo,’ ‘Sunrise,’ and ‘Sunset.’ ‘Sunrise’ has lovely red flesh, while ‘Sunset’ has firmer red flesh, stores longer, and is smaller. ‘Formosa’ is a hybrid of ‘Sunrise’ with pink flesh.
In Australia, you’ll find ‘Guinea Gold’ with golden yellow flesh, ‘Peterson’ with sweet, dark flesh, and ‘Bettina,’ with sweet flesh and relatively few seeds.
Mexican Red or Mexican Yellow
The red variety features rose-colored flesh, while the yellow variety has golden-yellow flesh. The latter is far sweeter, and both grow to about 6-12 inches long. ‘Royal Star’ is a hybrid bred in Texas with orange flesh that is sweet and juicy. The seeds cluster in a star-like shape.
The skin color of ‘Hortus Gold’ is a stunning, deep yellow encasing yellow flesh. The fruits are huge, up to 3-4 pounds. This variety is more common in South Africa.
As you might have guessed, the leaves of this type look slightly more like oak trees than some of the others on this list. It comes from the Andes mountains and produces green and yellow striped fruit.
‘Samba’ features deep orange flesh that is medium-sweet and incredibly soft. This is a relatively new papaya on the scene, having been released in 2018.
The easiest way of growing papaya is to buy a seedling and transplant it into your garden. You can also plant seeds.
You’ll need an area with lots of sun exposure. As well as providing the seeds with enough light, you should also be cautious about the wind around the area. Papaya doesn’t like windy spots so it’s best to pick a place that is shielded but in direct sunlight.
If you want to have a whole collection of papaya trees you will have to space the seeds 8-10 feet apart. Otherwise, your crops will be at risk of overcrowding.
The best papaya growing temperature is 68-90℉. If the temperature is too low the tree won’t produce fruit, and if the climate is too warm it will slow down production.
You can harvest the seeds from the fruit, rinse them clean, and dry them. Plant them in the early winter. This is a common method among papaya growers in Hawaii. Locally-grown fruits will generally give you the best results.
If you buy seeds, make sure you source them from a reputable seller. Otherwise, you might end up with something you didn’t expect.
Place the seeds where you want the tree to grow. Papayas don’t transplant well. Enrich the soil with well-rotted compost if the soil is clay or sand. Ideally, you should deep plow and mix in a lot of organic matter. This will give the seeds the nutrients they need to grow and be healthy.
In addition to preparing the soil, you should also check that it’s loose. Papaya trees need moisture so there should also be good drainage. In terms of pH levels, the soil must be around 5.5-7.0.
Keep the soil moist as the seeds germinate, which can take a few weeks.
If you purchase transplants, be aware that the trees don’t like being moved and they might be stunted by the shock. Do your best to disturb the roots as little as possible. This means prepping the soil in advance and cutting the plant out of the container.
Prep the soil as described above and place the plant in the hole. Fill around with soil and water well.
Papaya Tree Care
Overall, the papaya tree is fairly easy to look after. The most important thing is that you water the plant frequently, especially during dry seasons when they produce more fruit. As soon as the top inch of soil is dry, you should water deeply.
Remember that the roots are fairly shallow, so you need to stay on top of watering as best you can.
Fertilizer is also a key part of caring for papaya trees. Apart from placing well-rotted compost on the soil around the tree when you plant it, you should feed the tree every four weeks for the first six months. A gentle fruit fertilizer is a great choice for feeding your plant.
Growing Papaya Indoors
Planting papaya indoors is not too different from growing it in your garden. It needs similar climate conditions. For instance, you will have to place your plant somewhere there are six to eight hours of sunlight a day. It also needs to stay warm.
It’s useful to rotate the position of your plant every so often to avoid it growing crooked. Papaya plants will also need warm conditions to grow and should not be kept near a drafty window or ventilator.
Most people who decide on growing this plant indoors place the pot on a patio or balcony and bring it indoors during the cooler months. If you go this route, you might want to put your plant on a wheeled base, because it will be heavy!
Container Planting and Care
Papayas can become large when fully grown, so you should pick a big container to plant the seeds or plant in. Look for a 15-20 gallon container at least 18 inches in diameter.
It’s essential to give your plant a lot of room. If you can’t find or afford a container that’s big enough you can always refurbish an old barrel, feed bucket, or another large container. Whatever you use needs to have good drainage.
Place the container in a sunny location. Fill it with a water-retentive, well-draining potting mix.
Once you’ve planted the seeds or seedlings in your container, you will have to do regular checkups to ensure your papaya is happy. That likely means you’ll need to create a watering schedule. You will likely have to water often in the beginning stages of planting.
The soil should never be allowed to dry out, but it shouldn’t be too wet, either. You’re aiming for the texture of a well wrung-out sponge at all times.
Caring Tips for Growing Papaya Indoors
Along with watering, you should fertilize your papaya with a well-balanced liquid every few weeks. This plant will need nutrients to thrive so you shouldn’t skip this phase when caring for your papaya!
Don’t prune papayas in an attempt to make them smaller. The only way to keep a papaya small is to buy a smaller variety and plant it in a smaller container to constrain the roots.
You can’t prune the plant because it has terminal growth and if you cut the top, it will stop growing and producing fruits. It might send out some shoots, but these will be smaller than the original tree.
Pests and Diseases to Watch Out For
The main pests that can infect papaya plants and trees are spider mites, black vine weevils, aphids, leafhoppers, and whiteflies. It can help to take a preventative approach and spray your plants with neem oil or insecticidal soap.
You may also come across root knot nematodes, which our guide can help you address.
Papaya ringspot virus is a devastating disease that can quickly kill your plant. It has wiped out orchards and entire cultivars in places like Hawaii. Head to our guide to learn how to identify and deal with this serious problem.
The best option is to plant a variety that is resistant to the disease.
Papayas growing in areas with high humidity with warm days and cool nights may contract the fungal disease powdery mildew. Powdery mildew is a common problem in a huge range of different species. Our article can guide you through controlling it.
Growers in Hawaii have also struggled with Phytophthora blight, which also infects English ivy, coconuts, cocoa, and some orchids. It causes water-soaked spots and collapsing foliage.
To avoid it, make sure you plant in well-draining soil and treat preventatively with a copper-based spray during any rainy periods.
Papayas are ready to harvest when they turn their mature color, which varies depending on the variety.
Since the colors can vary so much, an easier way to tell if they’re ready is to cut the stem above the fruit or score the fruit and see if the latex that emerges is milky or clear. If it’s clear, it’s ready to harvest.
Normally, you can begin harvesting the fruit 9-12 months after initial planting. When picking the fruit you should wear gloves and be gentle when taking the fruit off the tree. Leave a bit of stalk behind rather than cutting it off.
Recipes and Using Papayas
Before eating, you want to peel the fruit and remove the seeds. You can actually eat the seeds if you want, so don’t toss them. They’re great sprinkled on dishes either raw or dried.
Of course, you can always devour these delicious fruits fresh and raw off the plant. They’re also a classic choice for chopping up and placing them on yogurt, ice cream, frozen yogurt, or oatmeal.
Papaya salsa is also delicious. You can make it as spicy or mild as you want.