Known for their hot-pink, spike-covered exterior, dragon fruits are one of the more tropical fruits widely available in American supermarkets. Also known as pitaya, dragon fruit has white and sweet, seed-speckled pulp. It grows on a climbing cactus called Hylocereus, which is native to Mexico, Central America, and South America but will grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 10 through 12.
How to Plant Dragon Fruit
Dragon fruit can be grown from the seeds that speckle its white flesh or from a cutting. When it’s ready to go outside, it’s best to plant in the spring—April or May in most temperate areas.
Growing From Seed
You can procure a bounty of seeds just by cutting open a grocery store-bought dragon fruit and scooping out the fleshy center. Pick the black seeds out and rinse them (it’s fine to leave a bit of the pulp attached). In a small pot filled with seed starter, mix your seeds thoroughly into the top quarter-inch layer of soil. Use a spray bottle to moisten, then cover the pot with cling wrap and place in a sunny window.
Always keep the soil moist and warm. Usually, seeds germinate within four weeks.
Growing From a Starter
Many see more success with growing dragon fruit from a cutting than from seed. To propagate a pitaya plant, make a slanted cut of a new piece of growth, about six to eight inches, and leave the cutting to air-dry in a dry, shady area for a full week. After that week, you can plant the cutting directly in soil either in the ground or in a container. It should establish roots in a couple weeks, and after that, it’s safe to transplant.
Repotting the dragon fruit cactus is tricky because its roots are delicate and easy to damage. You’ll need to transplant your Hylocereus if it becomes root-bound in its pot, which can happen any time after the first year. If keeping inside, the cactus will eventually need a 20- to 30-gallon pot. If transplanting into the garden, be sure to give the plants plenty of space—a recommended diameter of 12 feet.
Whether growing in pots or in the garden, this vining plant will need to be staked with poles or trellises.
Dragon Fruit Care
The trick to growing dragon fruit is keeping it warm in temperate regions where it doesn’t grow naturally. The pitaya is most content in 65 to 85 degrees and will likely immediately die in 32 degrees or below.
Newer plants benefit from regular fertilizing (every month or two) at least in the first year and during the active growing season. If growing outside, mulch makes for a great insulator in cooler temperatures. If given the right care, a dragon fruit cactus can live for 20 years.
Dragon Fruit Varieties
There are many dragon fruit cultivars but only four species, three in the genus Hylocereus and one outlier in the genus Selenicereus.
Red-white dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus): The dragon fruit most widely available in supermarkets is this variety with white flesh and pink skin.
Sour dragon fruit (Stenocereus): This variety is juicier and has a stronger, more tart taste.
Red dragon fruit (Hylocereus costaricensis): Different from the red-white or just “white” kind, the red dragon fruit has a red skin and matching flesh that runs sweeter than the white variety.
Yellow dragon fruit (Hylocereus megalanthus): The sweetest and arguably tastiest of the bunch, this fruit is unique in its namesake yellow skin.
How to Harvest Dragon Fruit
When the color of the skin changes from green (unripe) to yellow, pink, or red (ripe), you know it’s ready to harvest. Pick the dragon fruit from the cactus by twisting a couple times and pulling gently. If it doesn’t want to come off the stalk easily, it probably needs more time to ripen.