Dragon fruit or Pitaya grows best in uniformly distributed rainfall throughout the year. It prefers free draining soil with sandy to clay loam types, 5.3 to 6.7 pH and high organic matter. However, Pitaya is also grown successfully in sandy soils. Pitaya is shallow rooted with most roots concentrated on top 15- 30 cm soil depth.
Dragon fruit or pitaya is a vining epiphytic cactus from the humid tropical rainforests of Central and South America. Like their desert counterparts they are able to tolerate harsh dry conditions but only for a limited time.
The fruit is round , often red colored fruit with prominent scales . The thin rind encloses the large mass of sweetly flavored white or red pulp and small black seeds. Some varieties are pinkish or yellow.
It can be taken as fruit, flower, vegetable, health product and medicine as well, called “priceless treasure”.
Dragon Fruit Varieties
1. Red Varieties – Fruits have been used to combat anemia
a) Hylocereus undatus:
* Climbing cactus with large, scented, night blooming flowers
* Fruit weighs 1 kg or more with light melon-like taste
* Fruit has bright red skin, with translucent white flesh and tiny black seeds
* With triangular cross-section of its stem and minimal spines
b) Hylocereus polyrhizus
* Fruit weighs up to 1 kg
* With red skin, dark-red flesh which contains small black seeds
* Stems have more spines
2. Yellow Variety
* Selenicereus megalanthus
* Smaller fruit with yellow skin and clear to white flesh containing edible black seeds
* Sweeter than red varieties
* Contains the heart tonic captine
Optimum elevation is 100 to 800 meters above sea level preferably with 30% shade to full sun as Pitaya grows slowly when shaded.
Pitaya is propagated by seeds or stem cuttings. The latter is more preferred. Stem cuttings were raised in the nursery for 2 -3 months.
Recommended planting distance is 3 meters between concrete posts and 4 meters between rows. A narrower spacing gives quicker production than larger spacing. Higher density plantings produce quicker returns, but plants will begin to crowd each other sooner.
Planting is done at 3 to 4 plants per post, Rooted cuttings may be planted directly or kept in 9″ x 13″ black polyethylene bags. For direct rooted cuttings, position them 15 cm away from the post at and angle leaning towards the post. Direct planting is 5 cm depth, while for transplants, hole depth should be same as height of plastic bag’s soil depth. Irrigate and protect newly emerging foliar buds from ants and other insects.
Apply a handful of complete fertilizer (14-14-14) 3 months after planting and continue fertilizer applications every 3 months thereafter. Pitaya also requires organic matter. Nitrogen is necessary during the vegetative growth of the plant and is reduced during dormant and pre-flowering stages (later December to mid-March). Apply foliar sprays every 2 weeks during vegetative stage and less during fruiting stage.
Frequency of fertilizer application varies according to personal judgment and preferences. Optimum frequency and quantity depends on the plant’s response. Pitaya is very responsive to soil and foliar fertilizer applications.
Major and minor pruning is a regular orchard operation regardless of age of Pitaya. Prune to obtain an open, manageable and productive umbrella shaped canopy.
Pest and Diseases
The roots, stems, foliar and flower buds, flower and fruit are attacked by a range of pests and diseases. Pests include mites, thrips, ants, scale insects, mealy bugs, beetles, slugs, borers, nematodes, fruit flies and rodents such as mice, birds, or bats. Chlorpyrifos-based insecticides may be used to control ants and other pests as well.
Copper-based fungicides (copper, copper oxychloride, dithane M45, cupravit, mancozeb, etc. can be applied at appropriate dosage and spray as needed. Systemic fungicides such as benomyl, carbendazim, azcxystrobin,etc. are also effective in wide range of pitaya diseases.
Avoid, however, pesticide spraying when nearing harvest time. Bagging of green fruit using clear perforated polyethylene bags (China-made) are recommended to protect fruit from fruit fly stings.
Gasoline-driven weedcutters are recommended for orchards. Handweed within the inner 30 diameter of each post to avoid damage to plants. Control weeds as they harbor pests and compete with soil nutrients.
Water requirement of Pitaya is similar to papaya. Irrigation is critical during fertilizer applications and fruiting. Excess drying of soil and less frequent irrigation results in abnormally high splitting of fruit. For newly planted Pitaya, allow soil to dry before irrigation to avoid rots.
Harvesting indices include full red coloration of the terminal petal and swelling of the navel end to the point of cracking. Based on Davao planting, harvest period include: First Cycle of harvest -June – October; 2nd Cycle of harvest – December – January.
* Fruit is harvested from 30-50 days after flowering
* 5-6 fruit crop cycles a year (between May and November)
* Stored at 5°C with 90% relative humidity and can be stored for up to 40 days
* Average weight per fruit ranges from 200 to 1.2 kg
Profit from Dragon Fruits
Since its establishment 5 years ago, many interested farmers who wanted to grow dragon fruit and even buyers in Davao City now frequently visited the techno-demo farm in Manambulan, Davao City. With the successful production technologies on dragon fruit, better opportunities, both production- and market-wise, lie ahead.
According to Mr. Estellena, the potential of dragonfruit is very much bright because it commands a very high price in the local market; it costs around P120-150 per kilo. He added that, a three-year old dragonfruit can produce 5-6 t/ha amounting to P720,000 in the local market alone. It is no wonder that dragon fruit is now dubbed as the new money crop-truly, a high revenue earner.
The group of Mr. Estellena, aside from showcasing the production technologies on dragon fruit, is now distributing planting materials to interested growers.
For more information, please contact:
Mr. Noel T. Estellena
DA-SMIARC, Bago Oshiro, Tugbok District, Davao City
Telefax; (082) 293-0109 or (082) 293-0136
Produced by: Knowledge Management– Farmer Information and Technology Service Center (KMFITS)
DA-SMIARC, Bago Oshiro, Tugbok District, Davao City
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