Back when this website was a blog I got a few great questions from a reader about growing dragon fruit cactus.
Since these questions come up quite a bit, I am re-posting them here with additional updated information.
Frank from LA asks:
“I have a 2 year old dragon fruit plant in the garden (L.A.), but it hasn’t flowered so far. How old was your plant when it bloomed and what care did you give it?”
How old were they when they bloomed?
- The dragon fruit cacti aka pitaya (Hylocereus spp) in the photos are just under 2 years old. They started as 1.5 foot long cuttings.
- However, for the first year they didn’t do anything. In fact they barely grew.
- As a result, I began to research. The first thing I discovered was that there is a bit of conflicting information out there about how to grow the Dragon. So then I researched the plants native habitat and that changed everything.
- In the process I discovered my plants were initially not doing well because I treated them more like desert cacti than the tropical plants that they are.
- After making some dramatic changes, the plants grew 5x-8x their original size the following year and are now flowering prolifically. I treated a 10 month old cutting from one of the plants this way and it both flowered and fruited in its first year!
- August 20, 2014 update: I put a dragon fruit vine cutting in the ground about 4 months ago… and I just noticed today that a flower bud is already growing on it! Amazing!!!
What care did I give it? (short answer):
- I have sense created tow follow up articles that should cover what you need to know (see below links)
- The major take-home lesson is that this plant should not be treated like a cactus.
- Treat it like a tropical/subtropical plant and it will be very happy.
- A happy dragon fruit cactus will bloom/flower.
Second Question (cont):
What care did I give it? (long answer):
- The pitaya is an odd cactus because it is native to the jungles of Central America and northern South America. The cacti evolved in (and is best adapted to) this hot and wet tropical environment.
- The plant is unlike a typical cactus in several other ways. It has a vine like growth habitat and cannot hold up its own weight without support. In its native Central/South America, this support structure comes in the form of big old jungle trees. Therefore this plant is often considered an epiphyte (an epiphyte is just a name for a plant that grows on another plant without being a parasite).
- The cactus loves the deep organic leaf litter/organic material of the jungle floor. However, the plant is often found growing within collections of decomposed leaf litter in the upper reaches of sun exposed deep branch angles or crevices.
- In this elevated spot the plant seems to do better which is likely a result of the improved sun exposure and perhaps the lack of competition for soil nutrients.
- I suspect there is also a lot of bird fertilizer in the leaf litter in these high tree locations and it’s no surprise that this plant loves organic fertilizer.
- With this information, I dug up my year old dragon fruit cacti that were struggling in the dry sandy soil I initially planted them in. Basically, I starter over. My new goal was to recreate a jungle experience for the dragon fruit cacti.
Dragon Fruit Cactus Soil:
- I mixed up potting soil, peat moss and grow mulch. I only added a small amount (perhaps 10%) of my native soil. It was very organically rich mix.
- The peat moss was added for moisture retention and mild acidification.
- The grow mulch was added for lots of organic fertilizer.
- The potting soil was to add in for a balanced mix of other organic material and aeration.
- I am sure compost would also work great, but I didn’t have any on hand when I transplanted them.
- Since then, I continue to pile organic material (grow much/worm castings, compost, etc) around the base of the cacti about 2x a year.
Dragon Fruit Cactus Water:
- Don’t let the soil dry out!
- Organic soil, frequent watering and heavy top mulch will help to keep the roots nice and moist.
- However, be sure there is good drainage because these cacti will not tolerate standing water either.
Dragon Fruit Cactus Support:
- I created a support system which is similar in design to the ones used in Vietnam where the dragon fruit is grown commercially.
- In Vietnam they use cement structures so they don’t rot in the naturally wet climate of South East Asia. However, cement poles in my yard did not seem that appealing. Therefore, I used redwood because its natural resistance to water damage/rot. I did not use pressure treated wood because (in my opinion) there are way too many odd chemicals in there to preserve that wood.
- But really just about anything will work. Many people use fences or palm trees as a support structure for the plants to grow on.
Dragon Fruit Cactus Sun:
I planted them in full sun.
Side note: Full sun may not be the best option if you are in more of an inland desert environment because the sun may be too strong without the moisture in the air to deflect some of the strong Southern California sun’s rays. Again, this is not your typical cactus and it does not belong in the desert. However, if you have some ocean/marine influence to your climate, full sun or perhaps partial shade would be the way to go. Full sun works for me and I am 10 miles inland from the ocean, with the property on the ocean-side of a big hill.
Dragon Fruit Cactus Planting Location:
- I planted them at the top of a slope that I could easily access.
- I chose this location because there is full sun and great drainage.
- An elevated location is also a good idea to avoid areas where cold air collects in the cooler months. This jungle plant is rather cold sensitive.
Update August 20, 2014:
Time-lapse video of dragon fruit flowers opening:
- Here’s a video I just put together of beautiful dragon fruit flowers opening (see below).
- The following 20 second video was created by taking a picture every 15 min for 2 days.
- But I didnt stay up all night taking pictures with a stopwatch; I set things up to happen automatically and walked away.
- FYI: If you want to make a cool time-lapse video like this yourself, you just need to get a simple plug-in tool for your SLR.
- The tool is called a “Release Timer Remote Control” and it is what allows you to set the time and interval for when the pictures will be taken automatically.
- The prices for this category of product is all over the map. The one I got has great reviews and is very reasonable compared to the others. It was only about $30 on Amazon. Here’s the link if you are interested; Release Timer Remote Control
- This particular Release Timer also has a ton of other-additional features that I am only starting to explore.
- Its actually pretty darn cool.
- The only major drawback about this product that I have read about on the reviews is that it doesn’t have an on/off button. Therefore, you need to take the two AAA batteries out between uses… Which is probability a good idea anyways.
For complete details on how to get your dragon fruit to produce fruit, check out the recent post from 7/30/13. http://tastylandscape.com/2013/07/30/how-to-get-dragon-fruit-cactus-to-fruit/
Stefanie from Southern California has sent in some lovely pictures of her dragon fruit cacti in bloom (see below). Thanks Stefanie!