Updated: Jun 25
Papayas grow extremely fast and make beautiful summertime shade umbrellas. They grow as annuals here in Central Texas, though, and require a long growing season if your goal is to get fruit. If fruit is your goal, we recommend starting with small plants one year, potting them up into larger containers and overwintering them indoors until they’re a couple feet tall, then planting them in the spring as soon as danger of frost has passed.
If your goal is to grow them as seasonal shade during the harsh summer months, you can plant them anytime during the spring or summer. They'll shoot up fast and tall as soon as they’re in the ground. Its a pretty amazing process to watch. The leaves are edible as well as the fruits, and even if yours don’t ripen all the way before a freeze comes (Texas weather is unpredictable), the green fruits are great and can be cooked with like squash.
Below you’ll find some papaya-growing tips + a log of our personal experience attempting to grow papayas from seed in Central Texas thus far. We’ll keep updating this post as we learn and experiment more.
Our Experience Growing Papayas
In 2021, we casually planted four papaya seedlings we grew from seed. We overwintered them in our greenhouse, repotted them along the south side of our house in mid March when they were a few feet tall, and they shot up quickly with the wet and humid summer, rooting deep into the ground through their pots and growing taller than our roof! The idea with leaving them in pots was so we could drag them back into the greenhouse if it made sense, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen. We didn’t get our first real freeze until New Year though, so the papayas were lucky to have an extra month and a half of warm. Even that wasn’t enough for them to ripen all the way, however, so we ended up harvesting a lot of them and leaving a few on there to continue the experiment. Next time we’ll pot them into larger pots before we overwinter them. That way they’ll have a change to grow as large as possible indoors before we put them in the ground.
Here’s some pics of our papaya tree development month by month.
*notice the swallowtail butterfly photo bomber! 😂
This is what happened after 14+ hours of 20mph winds, some rain, and temps in the 20s-30s. We left the papayas alone to see if they’d come back from the roots in the spring, but they rotted.
More Experience Growing Papayas
Our plan this year is to overwinter small papaya seedlings in the greenhouse and plant them strategically out into the garden to curate some summertime shade as we do with okra and sunflowers. We'll update this post with pics as we go.
Growing Papayas in Texas: Lessons Learned
🌱Papayas don’t like wet feet and are prone to root rot. Soggy soil without enough drainage will melt them just as freezing temps will.
🌱Papayas come in three genders: male, female, hermaphrodite. Many are hermaphrodite, but since you won’t know what you have until you flower, it’s best to grow several to increase your chances of getting fruits.
🌱If you eat papayas from the grocery store and throw them into the compost, chances are you’ll end up with some volunteer papaya seedlings. They grow quickly in good conditions, but can be tricky to time right if you want to get ripe fruit before the freeze. Will need good protection/a greenhouse to fully develop. Green papayas are doable though, and good eating too.
🌱Papayas make a nice fast-growing tree for annual, summertime shade and the leaves make a great summertime canopy that becomes a home to frogs, lizards, and critters.
Cooking with Green Papayas
Here’s what we’ve made with the green papayas so far:
Green Papaya Curry
powdered dry roasted sesame seeds, powdered dry roasted peanuts, sesame seeds, dry unsweetened coconut, garlic, coriander, paprika, onions, curry leaves, chiles
Green Papaya Stirfry
-add olive oil and 1 tsp mustard seeds to a pan, splutter
-add 1 sliced onion, 2 cloves diced onions,1/2 tsp turmeric, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar, 2 stems curry leaves and stir fry
-add 1 green papaya (peeled and cut into thin strips)
Green Papaya Latkes
Stirfry shredded green papaya with garlic, green onion, salt, and pepper. Beat an egg into a bowl, add papaya mixture, and pan fry little pancake-sized portions until brown and crispy. Serve with aioli dipping sauce.