Growing Pawpaws Is Challenging

Growing pawpaws can be challenging. Good years like this one with a bumper crop make the challenges worthwhile.

Challenge 1

Several nurseries do sell pawpaw trees. Growing pawpaws begins in the fall for us when we gather pawpaws and select the biggest, best flavored ones to save seeds from.

growing pawpaws starts with seedlings

A pawpaw seed germinates like a pea does, the shoot goes up and the root down. The seed sits still and is used for food by the seedling.

You do need two trees. They will not self pollinate.

The seeds require cold treatment. Our refrigerator didn’t seem to work so we put the seeds in a jar with a lid and buried it for the winter.

The seeds are slow to germinate in the spring as the seedlings like it warm. Our pots are 18 inch lengths of four inch PVC pipe with a small can on the bottom.

The seedlings grow in the pots all spring and summer. Fall is time to set them out.

Challenge 2

Finding the right spot is important. Pawpaws are an understory tree and grow in the shade. The sun’s UV light will kill them the first few years.

growing pawpaws begins with fall planting

In the fall a pawpaw seedling is about a foot tall and ready to plant out. The PVC pipe gives lots of root space and they slide out easily into a hole dug with a post hole digger.

Pawpaws like moisture as along a wet weather creek, creek or pond. However they do not like to be in the water.

The trees grow best in rich soil but tolerate others. It does need to have some depth to it.

Challenge 3

Pawpaw trees go dormant over the winter. Their leaves turn a lemon yellow, very impressive as the trees get big.

The trees do need protection from mice and voles who would make a meal of them. We put a chicken wire cage around them later using reinforcing wire for taller trees.

As the trees get taller, they become deer magnets. Deer do not munch on pawpaw leaves. The bucks love to rub their antler velvet off using the young trees.

Pawpaw flowers hang down

Pawpaw flowers appear before the leaves from large hairy buds. A twig can have a line of flowers on it in various stages of opening.

Challenge 4

This is the delicious challenge. Your trees have grown up for four or five years. Now they have flowered.

Pawpaws are not bee pollinated. Flies and beetles are the main pollinators. Paint brushes work well too.

In late August to early September the fruits ripen. Now the challenge is to get there before the deer, raccoons, possums, gray foxes and more gobble them up.

growing pawpaws means fruit

This is one fruit cluster. A cluster can have one or up to six fruits in it. Most are three fruits. They are slightly soft to the touch when ready to pick.

The fruits can be eaten fresh, used in any banana recipe, even freeze the pulp to use later. And save the seeds from the best ones to start next year’s seedlings.

Challenge 5

We didn’t know there was this challenge until this year. Our trees have grown twenty-five feet or more tall. They are forming their patches of root sprouts.

An aside here: we have never had any luck transplanting root sprouts.

growing pawpaws is growing trees

Understory trees tend to hide in the background for pictures. A pawpaw tree has a pyramidal shape. One growing in the shade is open with the leaves out flat. One growing in the sun keeps the leaves vertical and seems to close up on itself.

This year there was a bumper crop of pawpaws. Most of them were far out of reach. A picker won’t work as the fruits ripen individually.

We bought a ladder. We learned to watch for any that fall on their own.

Growing pawpaws is very rewarding. Bumper crops are a little too rewarding.