Growing papayas – Part 2

A papaya orchard’s four-year lifespan makes the cost of planting material an extremely important economic factor.

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Growing seedlings is the easiest and most economical way to propagate papayas. Seed can be sown directly in seedling trays or planting bags, or it can be germinated in special containers and transplanted within 14 days of germination at the two-leaf stage. The advantage of the latter method is that the germination trays can be moved to a warm spot at night.

The number of seeds planted in a container (seedling tray, cell or planting bag) will depend on the germination vigour and the cultivar. Generally, more seeds will be planted per container than needed (about six seeds/bag). Thinning takes place in the land when the plants start to flower and can be sexed.

Growth medium

Composted pine-bark can be used without fumigation if from a reliable source. It usually contains adequate phosphorus and potassium, but is low in available nitrogen. Fill the bags with the compost two to four weeks before sowing and irrigate regularly. Sowing in a dry medium will result in poor and uneven germination.

As a general rule, apply 0,5g of LAN per planting bag just before germination. In practice, this means adding a few granules of LAN in every bag when the first seedlings start to emerge. Thereafter, irrigate the seedlings weekly using a balanced water-soluble fertiliser with high nitrogen content.

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Soil mix
Use equal parts of sandy soil and compost, or equal parts loam soil, sand and compost, as a growth medium in the bags. Sterilisation is necessary, as is a soil analysis to correct deficiencies. Fill and irrigate the planting bags well in advance of sowing. Any free water must drain away within 30 seconds of application.

Damping off
Seedlings sometimes develop water-soaked spots at the soil line and topple over. This often occurs in warm, wet conditions and is caused by various fungi. To prevent further plant losses, decrease the interval of irrigation, and time the irrigation so that the top layer of soil dries out before the next irrigation.

Time of planting
The best planting time for papayas is February/March. The plants will then mature before and during winter. Growth will be slow; when the plants start to flower in October, the flowers will be nearer the ground, enabling the harvesting of more papayas from the trees without using ladders.

An advantage of March/ August plantings is that the first crop is harvested from more mature trees, giving better quality fruit and, specifically, a higher sugar content.

For March/April plantings, sow seeds in January/February.

Source: Directorate Agricultural Information Services, DAFF, in co-operation with the ARC. Please note that the foregoing is merely intended as an overview of papaya production.