Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Plant your own pawpaw trees

As I scooped out pawpaw flesh from the fruits last night and put it into my food processer to puree and freeze, I thought about all I had learned over the weekend about growing the trees this wonderful fruit comes from. There are many fine points to learn that experienced growers can share. I’ll give you the basics. For more information, be sure to visit the Kentucky State University pawpaw page.

Dr. Kirk Pomper, Principal Investigator of Horticulture at KSU, presented the session on growing pawpaw trees. Remember that growing conditions vary geographically (some attendees were from Romania, the Netherlands and Canada) but you can learn how to adjust tree care for your local climate and soil conditions.

1) You can save seed from the pawpaw you buy. Do not let it dry out. Store it in moist peat moss or in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel in the refrigerator for at least three months before planting.

2) There are a few nurseries that sell seedlings if you prefer to start that way. Growers sometimes raise seedlings to sell, also, so if you find someone to purchase the fruit from, ask about the fruit tree.

3) Look for an appropriate site for the trees. Although they are shade tolerant and grow naturally in the forest, without sun the tree will be less productive. Once you select an area for planting, begin eliminating the weeds. An organic way to do this is through “solarization” in which you cover the area with clear plastic for one year to let the sun kill the weeds. Follow that with an organic ground covering such as hay or a nitrogen-fixing plant.

4) Test the soil for a pH between 5.5 and 7.0. The site should also have good drainage.

5) Dr. Pomper recommends spacing trees 6.5 feet apart in rows 18 feet apart. If planting at home, remember to leave adequate space around the plant but also keep in mind that you’ll need to mow around them.

6) During the first year of growing, the plant needs to be shaded for protection. Growers seemed to have some disagreement with this recommendation but there are tree shelters you can use if it sounds like something you want to try. I didn’t hear any disagreement about the importance of irrigation during the first two years.

7) Another important factor—fertilization. Organic growers say there are organic fertilizers available that work well.

8) Pruning is important. The pawpaw tree is tough (stands up against ice storms) but delicate (the wind can blow off a limb filled with heavy fruit). To strengthen the tree, Dr. Pomper recommends pruning. Pruning might result in waiting for a longer time for the tree to produce fruit, but the results can be better.

9) These trees seem to be relatively unharmed by pests and diseases. Leaf and fruit spot have been the most common problem KSU had identified. One way to diminish its occurrence is to clear away any fruit that drops onto the ground and rots.

Before planting, take note: pawpaw seedlings begin producing fruit in seven to eight years; grafted trees produce in five to six. So while you wait for your trees to grow, don’t lose track of your local pawpaw grower.

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