How Do You Grow Paw Paws?

How Do You Grow Paw Paws? (Image thanks to Stark Bro’s)

“I have heard that it is almost impossible to grow a pawpaw tree. Is it possible for someone that is not a master gardener to grow this tree?  I would love to have a few.” Question from Cheryl or Harrison, Arkansas

Answer: You are in luck! Pawpaws (Asimina triloba, USDA Hardiness Zone 5-9), also called custard apples, are easy to grow. Some varieties are self-fruiting, but most require cross-pollination, so you will need more than one tree for fruit development. Pawpaws are also growing in popularity, so there are more and more varieties with great tasting fruit from which to choose.

Pawpaws are native across eastern North America and look great as small specimen trees (15 to 30 feet) in sunny locations. In spring, the tidy, attractive trees produce unique, three-petaled purplish-maroon flowers, and in fall the large leaves turn shades of golden yellow. Pawpaw fruits are oval, greenish-yellow on the outside, and custardy, sweet and yellow on the inside with large black seeds. The fruits are ready to harvest by late summer or fall, depending on the variety. Wild fruits are sweet and taste somewhat like a ripe banana when mature, but new varieties have been selected for their improved flavor.

Five Great Paw Paw Varieties

  1. Mango‘: The late-to-ripen fruits have extra flavorful, orange flesh.
  2. ‘Pennsylvania Golden’: Super sweet, gold-fleshed fruits bedeck this tree.
  3. Shenandoah™: The extra-large pawpaws of Shenandoah have few seeds and taste very mild and sweet.
  4. Sunflower‘: The self-fruiting variety has fruits with a banana custard flavor.
  5. Susquehanna®: Expect large fruits with few seeds, smooth texture, and sweet flavor.

For more great varieties, visit Peterson Paw Paws.

How to Grow Paw Paws

These trees look very nice when planted in open, sunny lawns as specimen trees. They grow best in fertile soil with average drainage and a slightly acid to slightly alkaline pH of 5.5 to 7.5. At planting time, amend the soil with a little Black Gold Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss. (Click here for more details about how to plant trees.) Keep the trees well irrigated in the late spring and summer of the first year, especially during hot spells. Fertilize with a granular fertilizer at planting time. Space the trees at least 20 feet apart in anticipation of their mature size.

I hope that these tips help.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

How Do I Start Paw Paw Seeds?

“I want to start and grow paw paw seeds. Can you give me your recommendation on a planting mix? I’m planting seeds in 4×14 containers. They’ll be in the containers for two years in the shade in hot Texas conditions before I plant them in the orchard. Pawpaws are considered tropical. The nursery that sells paw paw seed said I might want to add a 50/50 sand mix to potting mix to help pull the seed husk off the seedlings when they emerge. I’m afraid I’ll introduce a disease like damping off if I add sand to the mix. My orchard soil is all sand, so I have plenty. I’m not so sure adding my sand is a good idea. Thanks for your help!”

Question from James of Pilot Point, Texas

Answer: Thanks for your question about paw paw (Asimina triloba) seed germination. There are several things that you need to know before successfully growing paw paws from seed. First, they are temperate trees that survive in USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9, and the seeds need a moist chilling period (stratification) before germinating. Seeds need to be chilled for 100-120 days before they will sprout.

I recommend starting your seeds in smaller containers. You can either cover and chill them in a refrigerator or keep them outdoors uncovered during winter for natural chilling. Just never let the mix get dry. A super well-drained seed germination mix of 50% peat and 50% purchased sand is recommended to ward off fungal diseases, like those that cause damping-off (Pythium and Phytopthera). The better the drainage, the more difficult it is for these fungal diseases to thrive.

After the chilling period, keep the soil moist and between 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit for best germination. After seedlings sprout, quickly move them into your 4×14 pots containing well-drained potting soil. Fafard -2 is the Sun Gro pro mix that I recommend. It is one of our top blends for forestry. If planting in Black Gold, choose our Natural & Organic Potting Mix.

Water your trees regularly, especially during your hot, dry Texas summers. Once they are ready for orchard planting, I highly recommend amending your soil. Paw paws grow best in rich, moist, slightly acid loams. Sandy loams are fine as long as they have enough organic matter. The liberal addition of compost or peat moss will greatly increase the organic content of your sandy soil.

I also suggest that you visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s informational page on paw paw trees. You may also consider contacting the Texas center for specific tips about growing these trees in Texas.

Happy paw paw growing!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist