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December 29, 2015

Growing Papaya in Florida

If you like potatoes, you will love Papaya.
If you like zucchini, you will love Papaya.
If you like melons, you will love Papaya.

Even if you have a brown thumb, you can grow Papaya.

Papaya is arguably the easiest fruit/vegetable to grow in Florida. It did not originate here, but it is easily adapted. The climate is just perfect for this hardy and non-demanding plant. It does get damaged by the frost, but then quickly regenerates from the stem or root, in most cases, and continues on growing and fruiting.

Sadly, spoiled by the convenience of pre-packaged and pre-processed traditional vegetables, even Floridians are not too familiar with this incredible plant. It is believed that it originated in Central America, however, it's been grown in Asia for many centuries. Knowing how easy, even invasive it can be when a few seeds are dropped on the ground, I would not doubt that once the fruit got on board of some ancient vessel, it spread over different continents with little help from human gardeners.

It is still an "exotic" fruit in the US, however it is getting more attention throughout "health nut" community due to its unbelievable concentration of all the good enzymes, vitamins, and minerals, as well as being a low-glycemic vegetable despite tasting just as good as a potato or squash, cooked.   

Usually, people buy papaya ripe in the store and eat it like fruit, or melon. But green papaya from your own tree in the backyard is even more versatile. It is next to impossible to buy green papaya in the regular store, that's why very few people know how to cook it or what to do with it.

Pictured above, is my preparation for a delightful low-guilt baked "potato fry". This is green papaya sliced to about 1/8 or less of thickness, then baked at 400F for about 30 minutes, or until done. If you like potato chips, you can slice papaya even thinner and they will come out almost as crunchy. Believe it or not, this whole tray is baked on just one tablespoon of coconut oil. But if you want, you can "shake and bake" them in oil and spices for a richer taste.

Papaya is a neutral vegetable in taste, just like zucchini or squash. Therefore, it responds well to any type of seasonings. I like my "fries" spicy, so I sprinkle salt and cayenne on these fries, but I also tried sprinkling cinnamon and paprika for a more Holiday taste, and they came out delicious. 

Thai people long used green papaya in grated salads - just a mixture of papaya, carrots, ginger, garlic, rice vinegar, and oil. Absolutely delicious. Or, they also make papaya soup (I have not ventured that far yet).

Papaya is extremely prolific. If you are into "prepping", what better plant than papaya to prep. Most people, even native Floridians, will walk right past it, not giving it a second thought. Some people think it's poisonous. If you are not into prepping, it is still a great substitute for potatoes and zucchini, because it is lower in carbs, has lots of fiber, and it is mainly water, so it is good for dieters. All that refers to green papaya. The ripe ones are high in sugar and carbs, but nevertheless, delicious and full of vitamins.

It is practically impossible to buy organic squash in the store, and if you are able to find it, it is outrageously expensive. Green papaya is just as good, grows organically with no issues, and is essentially free. I rarely water it, don't fertilize it, and just collect the harvest.

Papaya is a pretty tree, tropical looking, and decorative. Even if you are in a subdivision, I doubt you will have much push back from the HOA Nazis for growing an "unapproved" vegetable. It's just plain pretty and requires very little care.

So, where do you get it and how do you care for it?

I got my first one at Publix, many years ago. Being naturally curious, I put some seeds in the garden, and some time later, I don't even have to plant it anymore. It magically grows all throughout the garden for reasons unbeknown to me.  

Pick the elongated, oval type. The round ones don't have seeds, and are tough and tasteless. Take the seeds out, rinse them, and sort the darkest and largest ones. Then, after the danger of frost, put some seeds in the garden. Thin them to a foot distance, and once you have some trees growing, thin yet more. Papaya needs at a minimum of 4ft by 4ft square to itself. But you don't need many trees. Just a couple, or a few, depending on your family tastes, will be enough.

It likes a semi-loose soil. It will not grow just on a lawn. It has shallow, rope-like roots that spread out in all directions. You can plant other shallow rooted vegetables right next to it. I am experimenting with planting tomatoes next to the papaya trees that act as natural support. 

Sometimes, when the tree is loaded with fruit, and there is heavy wind or rain, the tree will fall over. Oh, well. Just chop it up to the compost, and before you know, you will have dozens of papaya seedlings sprouting all over the place, providing you with a delightful sight, and a versatile organic food.


  1. Very cool! I never knew papaya could be harvested/eaten green! I'm trying this. Off to Publix for a papaya!

  2. After reading about papaya, I realize I will need at minimum one male and one female plant. Can you tell me how old the plant(s) will be before they start to flower, so that I can identify its sex?

  3. It takes about six months for it to flower. I never knew it needs to be male/female. All my trees are flowering and fruiting without exception. Don't make it too complicated. This is one fruit/veg that grows like weeds, seriously.

  4. OK, that sounds good! I've planted about a dozen seeds and will start them all in containers on my patio. I've also read that papaya seeds are an amazing health food (for example, did you know eating a teaspoon of papaya seeds daily can/may reverse liver damage? There are many other health benefits, as well. I tried them; tastes like pepper. Some people say to dry the seeds and grind them like pepper in a pepper grinder and use them in place of pepper.) I am amazed that this easy-to-grow fruit/veg has had so little attention in our society. Go figure. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  5. Well, I finally harvested my first papaya from a seed I grew last year. When I cut it open, it was full of 1/2 inch long white larvae -- I have since discovered it was stung and injected with eggs by fruit flies. On youtube, it seems many people protect their papaya fruit with some kind of bags. Are you doing this, also? Unfortunately, after inspecting the fruit, I realized every single one of the 18 or so papaya that were on the tree regardless of size and certainly nowhere near ripe, had the characteristic dark blemishes of the fruit fly sting. That's gardening in central Florida. :(



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