“Dragon fruit” refers to several species of climbing cactus native to the tropical forests of Mexico and Central and South America and grown in tropical regions worldwide. South Florida has a few hundred acres of commercial dragon fruit production, and these unique fruits are also grown in backyards throughout Central Florida.These mild-tasting, strange-looking fruits can be eaten fresh or made into beverages, desserts, or jam.
Grow your own dragon fruit
Dragon fruit plants are fast-growing perennials that will live about twenty years. There are many different types with pink or white flowers, and fruits with white, red, or magenta flesh. Spineless varieties are available. To increase fruit production and size, plant at least two different varieties of cactus in the same area that can cross-pollinate. Since flowers open mostly at night, they are primarily pollinated by moths.
Plants can be purchased from nurseries, or you can start your own plants if you know someone with a dragon fruit cactus. To start a plant, cut one-foot cactus stem sections, leave them for a week in a dry, shady location, then plan in containers. These cuttings can then be transplanted into the ground in about five months. Dragon fruit plants should be grown in sun to light shade in well-drained soil. Mixing compost with planting soil can be beneficial. These cacti are damaged by temperatures below 32°F, so a somewhat protected area is best in Central Florida. Your plants can produce fruit within nine months.
Dragon fruit plants become quite large and spreading; plants should be located about 15ft. away from trees, structures, or electrical lines. A strong trellis that can hold several hundred pounds of stem weight should be used. A trellis for an individual plant should consist of a post and a structure at the top to support the plant. The structure should be low enough to allow for fruit harvesting without a ladder.
Water established dragon fruit during flowering or prolonged dry periods. Over-watering will cause disease issues. Fertilize dragon fruit every other month with very light applications of granular 8-4-12 palm fertilizer. A dragon fruit plant needs to be trained as a single stem until it reaches the trellis, and the main stem should be tied to the trellis post. The upper portions of the plant should be tip-cut to encourage branching, and the new branches should be tied to the trellis. Prune out select stems after fruit harvest to allow light and airflow in the “canopy”.
Dragon fruit will produce fruit every 12–18 months, providing 20-60 pounds of fruit per plant. Unopened flower buds can be cooked and eaten as a vegetable. Harvest fruits with hand pruners, cutting the stem to the fruit surface. Harvest only well-colored, mature fruit. Dragon fruit can be stored a few weeks in plastic bags in the refrigerator.
To eat or process, simply cut the fruits in half and scoop out the edible flesh (I recommend putting some lime juice on it to bring out the flavor). Small, soft, edible seeds are embedded within the pulp. Fruits can to be eaten fresh in fruit salad or yogurt, grilled, or the pulp can be frozen and used later in smoothies, ice cream, jam, juice, wine, or candy.