Dragon fruit cacti are known for tasty, nutritious fruits natively called pitaya or pitahaya. The plants are also commonly used as rootstocks in crafting the moon of cactus. It is a fast-growing climbing cactus native to tropical Mexico, Central America, and South America.
In the United States, dragon fruit can grow outdoors in USDA plant hardiness zones 10a through 11. Growing it should not be a problem in Florida and some regions of Texas and California where temperatures are consistently warm.
You can also grow the dragon fruit plant indoors in areas with cold winters. However, you’ll need to plant it in well-draining soil and provide plenty of light, at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day. The vine will also need support when then it branches or expands.
Despite their tropical background, extreme heat or temperatures approaching 100 °F may damage or kill the plant. Some odd spots on the cactus stems have been reported in plants taken out for summer. The signs of a cactus sunburn may vary depending on the heat intensity.
In summary, here is what to know about the dragon fruit plant.
|Hylocereus undatus (botanical)
|Full sun, 6 to 8 hours of bright light.
|Neutral to acidic, well-draining sandy soil.
|Water when soil is nearly dry.
|From early summer through mid-fall.
|Zones 10 – 11 (USDA)
|65 to 85°F (18-29°C)
|About 8-20ft tall and 3-10ft wide
Dragon fruit cactus care
The dragon fruit cactus is one of the easy-to-care-for plants indoors or outdoors. Under the right care, this night-blooming cereus rewards with tasty strawberry-pear-like fruits. Here is what you need to provide:
Dragon fruit plant prefers a well-draining soil mix that is slightly acidic, with a pH of 6.5 to 7. Like other cactuses, this plant won’t survive in heavy or clay soils with too much moisture. Excess moisture in the soil can drown the cactus roots causing them to rot.
If you suspect the soil in your garden bed or pot has poor drainage, add sand, perlite, or other materials to reduce moisture retention. Ideally, when planting a dragon fruit cactus, use a soil mix formulated for cactuses and succulents.
Regarding the right pot size for dragon fruit, it’s best to choose one big enough to accommodate the plant’s root system but not so large that it holds excess water. If anything, this plant would prefer an open garden bed where roots can grow unrestricted.
A pot 14 -16 inches in diameter and at least 12 inches deep is a good starting size for a young dragon fruit plant. As the plant grows, you can gradually increase the size of the container to accommodate its increasing root system.
It’s also important to use a pot with drainage holes, as dragon fruit plants don’t like standing water around their roots. An unglazed terra cotta pot can be a good choice since it is durable and allows moisture to move through its walls.
Dragon fruit plant needs to be watered regularly, especially during the growing season, and less frequently during the winter months when the plant is dormant. Water it only when the soil feels dry to the touch, and make sure it stays moist but not waterlogged.
How long a cactus can go without water typically depends on factors such as the plant’s size, temperature, and the level of humidity around the plant.
When watering your dragon fruit plant, thoroughly soak the soil and let the excess water drain from the pot. It’s recommended you avoid getting water on the leaves or stems as this can lead to fungal rot infections.
Dragon fruit requires plenty of light to flourish. Ensure the plant gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. When grown indoors, it’s best to place the cactus near a south-facing window where it can get as much sunlight as possible.
However, young plants not well-acclimated to the sun may not do well in harsh sunlight. You may need to provide shading during the hottest day to prevent sunscald. If you grow it in a place with insufficient natural light, then be sure to use grow light.
Dragon fruit is a climbing plant that needs support to grow. The stems of the plant are quite long and heavy, and they may break under their weight without support. You can install a trellis or provide other support structures and train the plant to keep it upright.
In their native home, dragon fruit plants are epiphytic; they grow on other plants or structures around them to enjoy the sun and other benefits that come with the support.
Hylocereus undatus don’t require a lot of nutrients to grow. Excessive amounts of nitrogen and other nutrients can lead to overly lush growth and weak, spindly stems. However, you can fertilize your dragon fruit plant with a balanced fertilizer during the growing season to promote healthy growth and fruit production.
Fertilize your dragon fruit plant during the growing season, which typically starts in the spring and lasts until early fall. Avoid fertilizing during the dormant winter period.
Apply a balanced fertilizer with equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, such as 10-10-10 or 16-16-16 fertilizer starting spring to early fall. You may also use a fertilizer specifically formulated for cacti and succulents.
Mix the fertilizer with water as directed in the manufacturer’s instructions. Apply it to the soil around the plant without getting it on the leaves or stem, which can cause burns. Be sure to water the fertilizer into the soil.
Pruning a dragon fruit plant promotes new growth and fruit production. It also helps to control the size and shape of the plant and remove dead or diseased branches. Late fall or winter is the best time to prune a dragon fruit plant for better results. Be sure to use sanitized shears for pruning.
You may use the cuttings to propagate new plants that you add to your garden or share with friends and family. Diseased branches should be kept in a tight plastic bag for disposal.
Growing dragon fruit cacti in a pot give full control over the plant’s growing conditions. You can easily move the plant around or being it indoors during winter. However, in time, the plant may outgrow the container and become root-bound.
Therefore, there is a need to repot the plant after 2 to 3 years. This replenishes the soil nutrients and provides more room for potential growth. Be sure to use a pot slightly bigger than the current one and a well-draining soil mix.
How to plant dragon fruit from cuttings (Propagation)
Planting dragon fruit from stem cuttings is arguably the quickest way of starting new plants. Propagation through seed germination may take longer and even fail when ideal conditions for growth are not met. Here is how to plant dragon fruit cactus from stem cuttings.
- Take a stem cutting from a mature and healthy dragon fruit plant sung a clean, sharp knife. A 4 to 5-inch section from the tip of the stem should work, but I prefer longer cuttings of about 12 inches long for quicker growth.
- Place the cutting in a clean, dry, and cool area for three to four days until the cut end has callused over. This helps prevent the cutting from rotting upon contact with moisture in the soil.
- Prepare well-draining soil in a garden bed or pot. You may add organic matter and sand to boost fertility and drainage. Preferably use a soil mix formulated for cactuses and succulents.
- Plant the cutting in the soil and mist it with water without getting the soil wet. You may cover it with a plastic bag to prevent it from drying.
- Place the cutting in a warm place with bright indirect light and water it only when the soil feels dry. Do not fertilize the cutting until it has rooted or formed new growth.
- It may take several weeks to months for the cutting to form roots or new growth, depending on humidity, temperature, and light condition provided.
Dragon fruit is typically a fast-growing plant. Under the right temperature, light, and soil conditions, the cactus can grow up to more than one inch per day. This means the plant will produce fruits anywhere from 1 to 2 years. However, the cactus growth rate may slow down as the plant matures.
Potential dragon fruit problems
Like any plant, dragon fruit can face several problems affecting its growth and production. The cactus can be susceptible to various fungal diseases, such as root rot, commonly caused by overwatering, poor drainage, or high humidity levels.
Dragon fruit plants can also get infested by various pests, such as mealybugs, scale insects, and spider mites. These pests feed on plant sap which can damage the plant, reducing its growth and fruit production. Treatment with insecticidal soap or agricultural oils like neem can fix this problem.
It is also common for dragon fruit plants to experience nutrient deficiencies. The plant may show symptoms such as yellowing leaves, stunted growth, and poor fruit production. Fertilizing or repotting the plant in fresh soil may solve this problem.
Last but not least, dragon fruit cacti require cross-pollination to produce fruit. If there are no pollinators around, such as birds, bees, and butterflies, you may not be able to get any fruit harvest. Polling the flowers manually with your hands can be a solution.
Dragon fruit plants need great care to grow healthy and produce generous fruit harvest. When growing them, use well-draining soil, provide ample sunlight and warmth, and monitor the plant for pests and fungal infections. Extreme temperatures, overwatering, and drought conditions can stress the plant leading to poor growth.
- “Dragon Fruit,” University of Guam
- “Selenicereus undatus,” North Carolina State Extension
- “PITAYA (DRAGONFRUIT) GROWING IN THE FLORIDA,” the University of Florida Extension
My name is Diane M Lewik, and I am the founder of this website. I am a degree holder in plant biology from the University of California – Berkeley. Over years, I have cultivated a vast collection of succulents and I have learned a great deal about how to grow and care for these unique plants.