The Q&A Archives: Growing Papayas

Question: The weather here in Southern California has allowed me to experiment with many plants that I couldn't grow back home in Ohio. In the past two years, I've been trying many tropical fruit trees such as guava (a spectacular success), mango (stilltrying to fruit), orange (of course), fig (even though I don't like them very much), and papaya. The papaya is my problem right now. It started out as a group of three small trees. They've grown to over 8 feet tall now and have looked beautiful. Recently, however, the leaves have begun to yellow, curl and drop off. There is still new growth at the top, but it just doesn't look healthy. There is a white powder on the leaves similar to the powdery mildew I just got rid of on my roses. (They are not close to the tree.) I've assumed that it isn't a watering problem because of the symptoms. I've sprayed with Orthenex hoping to stop the loss of leaves, but haven't seen any improvement yet. Help! I'd really like to save this tree.

Answer: A papaya's natural habit is to develop a long trunk topped by what seems like a disproportionately small amount of foliage. Yellowing of lower leaves is quite natural. Papaya's require a warm, exceedingly well-drained location. Although papayas, being the tropical beasts they are, love water, cold wet soils often result in root rots which causes foliage drop and a stunted look at the top. Make sure the location drains well (such as a slope) and receives some reflected heat in winter. If you're planning to continue growing papayas, keep in mind that they are short-lived and you should always keep a fresh crop coming along.

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