A Warm Fall Has Meant a Great Papaya Crop

This papaya was a small potted plant that was set in the ground in May. Photo taken in November.
This papaya was a small potted plant that was set in the ground in May. Photo taken in November.

It’s been a very warm fall in Florida this year. As I write this it’s December 8, and there have been no freezes in the Gainesville area, and temperatures held steady with daily highs in the 80s though October and November, only slipping a bit into the 70s now that it’s December.

All that heat, and no damaging freezes, have meant tropicals planted outdoors have been performing spectacularly this fall. Papayas especially benefit from an extended warm fall. We plant out three-foot tall potted papaya plants in spring, and if we get them in on time and take good care of them and the weather cooperates, they ripen lots of fruit. They always make plenty of fruit that can be harvested in the green stage as a vegetable, but it’s a little tricky getting them to ripen lots of fruits. This year the weather cooperated.

Selling ripe papayas at the farmer's market.
Selling ripe papayas at the farmer’s market.

The warm weather has benefited the papaya plants inside the greenhouses, too. A greenhouse gets hot during the day as long as the sun is shining on it, even if the outside air is cold. But at night, the greenhouse indoor temperature dips down close to the outdoor temperature, (unless you’ve got big heaters running). So warmer night temperatures outdoors means warmer night temperatures inside the greenhouses, and that means sweeter fruit.

The long-term forecast still doesn’t have any freezes in store for our area (although beyond four or five days out, it’s pretty much a guessing game, of course). The last two winters have been fairly mild. Normally we let winter have its way with the papayas planted in the ground. This year we’re talking about maybe trying to protect some of the shorter, more compact-growing papaya plants, so that if it turns out to be another mild winter, they can have a huge head-start over the small papayas we plant out in the spring. Not sure exactly what kind of structure we’ll rig up protect them, but I’ll be sure to post pictures of whatever creative thing we come up with.


2 thoughts on “A Warm Fall Has Meant a Great Papaya Crop

  1. Hey Craig, nice post! I love the point made about how close we have to cut it to get ripe papayas in the cooler areas of Florida. What about doing what Josh does with the trees you choose to protect – cut them off at 3 ft and put a garbage can full of hay upside down over it?


    1. Hi Matt, thanks for stopping by and commenting! I’ve only dabbled a little bit in protecting papayas, but from what I’ve heard from a couple of other people who’ve tried Josh’s method, at least in the Gainesville area, you get slightly faster growth from planting out a new, potted, three-foot tall plant in the spring, than you do from the plant that regrows from a protected papaya stump. Which is surprising to me, but that’s what they say.
      One weird quirk about papayas is that they tend to have a largely hollow trunk, that is solid only at the tip, and for the first couple feet at the base. So either you protect the whole trunk, all the way to the top, or you cut it back to wherever it becomes solid and not hollow (if you cut it down at a point that’s hollow, it catches rainwater and rots from the inside out).
      I’ve wondered if perhaps you could pinch the growing point of a papaya when it’s maybe four or five feet tall, to create a solid section in the trunk to cut it back to in the fall. Haven’t tried yet.
      Another issue is that at least in the Gainesville area, papaya roots tend to die back during the winter, so the stump needs to regrow much of its root system in spring. That might be much less of an issue in Central Florida, with the warmer average temps in winter.


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