How to Grow: Paw Paw

Learn about growing this unusual tree in your yard with its tropical-like fruit.

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Okay, just call me a sucker for fruit. I drink fruit smoothies for breakfast and drool over durians and dragon fruits in Asian Markets. To no surprise, my wife Wendy and I are planting a fruit orchard at our new home. Yes, we’ll have pears, plums, cherries and peaches. But what I’m really excited about is growing paw paws. With a name like paw paw how can you not like this fruit!

Paw paw is a temperate climate relative of tropical fruits such as cherimoya. It’s native to the Eastern United States, hardy to zone 5, and grows wild as an understory tree in the forest. When grown in the open, paw paws can reach 20 feet tall in a pyramidal form. The 1 foot long leaves are reminiscent of its tropical cousins, but it’s the fruit that’s the real treat. Paw paw fruits form in clusters, are oblong or round shaped and weigh up to 1 pound. The flesh is orange or yellow colored with a soft, custard-like texture. It tastes like a blend of banana, papaya, and mango. Yum.

If you’re as hooked on the idea of growing paw paws, as I am, here’s what to do. Buy two different varieties for cross pollination. ‘Sunflower’ and ‘Wells’ are good choices. Plant in full sun on well drained soil. If growing paw paws from seed, give the plant some shade the first two years.

One drawback of paw paws is the flowers are not easily pollinated. Bees don’t seem to like them. It’s best to hand pollinate trees to get fruit. You can do this at flowering with a paint brush transferring the yellow pollen to flowers between the different trees.  Eat paw paws fresh or make pies or ice cream with them.

From the Vermont Garden Journal on Vermont Public Radio.