My dragon fruit plants have flowers but bear no fruits: Why?

Dragon Fruit Plants 21 May 2020

Small branches on mother branch

If the main branch carries the load of 5-6 smaller branches, it may be a little too much for it to support. As a result, fruiting may be slowed down.

To focus more energy on matter-most things, prune off some smaller branches. Keep about 1-2 so that main branch has space to extend out, but still retains enough nutrients for fruiting.

(Locals on some mountainous areas harvest the young shoots. They stir fry them & mix them in various different dishes. It's said to be good for the stomach & tastes like cucumber. You can use the shoots as mulch around the mother tree as well.)

The age of the plants

From what we know so far, young flowers may get pollinated but the fruits don't set. One grower we talked to experienced this with his dragon fruit plant. On year 3, the plants started to put out fruits. Maybe it's still young.

On the other hand, maybe the branch is too aged? Sometimes older branches may have less fertility rates. And therefore, give out fewer flowers & fruits.

Some growers notice the yield for each dragon fruit post. It grows vigorously in the first few years. From year 7 on, it levels at around 60 fruits per plant per year. This is the yield noted when grown in a saline environment.

Year Fruits in kilos
1 17-20
2 30-40
7 60

If all is well, dragon fruit plants can live up to 50-60 years, giving you 2-4 pushes a year depending on your local climate & the varieties. That is a very long window to try & explore again. Don't give up hope just yet.

In a good push, 1 dragon fruit post (with 4 cuttings planted) can give about 15-20+ fruits. Some people just leave 1 bud for 1 branch to focus the energy to make bigger fruits. This is totally doable as we can expect about 5 fruits per 1 cutting. On average, that's about 40 lbs per post.

Place Dragon fruit yield per acre
California 8-12,000 lbs
Florida 30-40,000 lbs

Self pollination or hand pollination

Some dragon fruit varieties are self-fertile & may set fruit without hand pollination: Physical Graffiti, American Beauty, Seoul Kitchen (great for diabetics), Delight, San Ignacio, Vietnamese White, Ecuador Palora (the yellow spiky one).

In self-fertile flowers, the anther containing pollen (the male) is near the stigma (the female). Self-pollination is thus a bit easier. Usually the white-flesh ones are more self-fertile and the red-flesh ones are less so. Some hybrid dragon fruit varieties may need other hybrid pollen to get good results.

placement-of-stigma-dragon-fruit.jpg
Stigma near the center gets the pollen easier

In some natural environment, bees or bugs might help do this job in the morning. In others, there are some helper bats or moths that could help at night. Being self-fertile doesn't always mean it likes its own pollen (self pollination). Some growers plant 2 different varieties near each other so bees can help cross pollinate them.

And if all else fail, we can hand pollinate. This guy got some good results with hand pollination (bigger tasty fruits/better yields).

The red dragon fruit flowers like Asunta are almost always non self-fertile as of now.

asunta-red-dragon-fruit-flower.jpg
Long stigma of Asunta red dragon fruit flower

As you can see the stigma is very high up while the anthers containing pollen are lower down. Growers hand pollinate the pollen of white-flesh Tricia variety with this variety to get fruits. This one is a creation of Edgar Valdivia, a dragon fruit master & inspiration.

Self-fertile/self-pollinate Cross-pollinate
American Beauty Physical Graffiti
Voodoo Child Tricia
Sugar Dragon Red Jeina
Townsend Pink Delight
Colombian Yellow Hayley's Comet
Desert King Laverne
Peruvian Yellow Frankie's Red
Ecuador Palora Edgar's Baby
Sin Espinas Orejona
Pink Panther Bruni
Vietnam White Rixford
Dark Star S9 Maria Rosa
San Ignacio Connie Mayer
Royal Red Cosmic Charlie
Natural Mystic Lisa
Shayna Purple Haze
- Armando
- Asunta 1,2,3,4,5
- Paul Thomson G2
- Valdivia Roja
- Kathie van Arum
dragon-fruit-varieties-self-fertile-hand-pollination.jpg

If you want to read more about dragon fruit pollination later, check out:

How to pollinate dragon fruit
Let’s see how we can hand pollinate dragon fruit. It’s lots of fun.

Also, check the:

Pollen in the flower

In some cases, the plants bloom but there are few or no pollen in the pollen sacs. See an example here:

Around the edge of the petals, you won't see any dusty yellow powder grains sticking to them. In flowers with pollen, you'll see some light yellow dust around. With few or no pollen, you may not get fruits from the trees.

pollen-of-dragon-fruit
Pollen of dragon fruit plants | Source

Physical Graffiti is believed to be one that does not produce much pollen & the pollen tends to be quite weak. The Sugar Dragon has stronger pollen production. Some call it the universal pollinator because they use the Sugar Dragon to pollinate other species. Most other dragon fruit varieties have quite viable pollen.

pollinate-physical-graffiti-with-sugar-dragon.jpg
Pollinating Physical Graffiti with Sugar Dragon pollen | Source

Some even try mixing:

Pollen mix Pollen receiver
Lisa + Sugar Dragon American Beauty
Lisa + American Beauty Physical Graffiti

Also, look out for rain. Water getting into the flowers as they bloom might affect the pollen quality. Flowers that get some rain dropping in may bear fruit. But according to growers the fruits are almost always much smaller.

If your plants bloom near the rainy season, you may tie them close with a rubber band. People do this to protect the flowers from the rain & other stuff in it. Doing this also reduces the risk of rotting.

rubber-band-on-dragon-fruit-flowers.jpg
Hair bands closing dragon fruit flowers

Shade & sun

In the summer, dragon fruit plants will enjoy the most sunlight. This helps tremendously with fruiting. But they might also get sunburned & turned yellow because of too much heat. So growers put a shade or some canopy over the trees, which blocks out about 75% of sunlight.

Too much shade can affect fruiting. The plants may still flower but they haven't gathered enough bits & pieces to make fruits. Be sure not to shade your plants too much. But also not to place them under extreme heat for too long. 6 hrs of sunlight a day is good for the plants.

You can, for example, let the plants climb on the wall & use the heat reflected by the wall to keep them warm (even in the winter):

dragon-fruit-on-the-wall-edgar.jpg
A different angle from direct sunlight but still keep them warm

If it's really cold in the winter season, the plants may go dormant & won't be fruiting at this point.

The branch umbrella

Many growers have shared something similar that if you just let the dragon fruit cactus vines grow up & up, flowering & fruiting will always be much slower.

It's the same in the rain forests, where dragon fruit plants naturally live. They climb up a tall tree and when they reach the top with no more room to shoot up, they start to branch out & set fruits.

dragon-fruit-vines-on-a-tree.jpg
Growing dragon fruits on a tree in Hawaii

What we can do is make the vines branch out or umbrella out a bit. Lean them more horizontally on the top of the post if you're growing them this way. Another way is to prune off the top. From this, multiple branches will umbrella out. Keep it around 1-2 small branch for 1 big branch like you saw earlier.

leaning-the-branches-horizontally-on-the-post.jpg
Leaning the branches horizontally on the post

As you often see on dragon fruit farms:

umbrella-dragon-fruit-plant-post.jpg
Umbrella dragon fruit post

This hanging down creates some stresses on the undersides of the vines. It helps with inducing flower & fruit growth. If you don't like doing it this way, you can just lay the trees on the ground or some rocks. Flowers & fruits will usually grow out from branches with round tips.

dragon-fruit-on-boulder.jpg

A drawback of growing them this way is chickens & other small animals. They get most of the fruits (if you're not quick to harvest them first). Fruits & flowers may be touching the ground.

Some phosphorous & potassium

At the early growing stages, the goal of the dragon fruit plant is to extend more branches. This is the job of nitrogen (the building muscle). Near the flowering & fruiting stages, the plants need more phosphorous (P) & potassium (K).

Too little of these in the soil may trigger the reaction of slowing down fruiting. The plant may think "We don't have enough resources now, it's not a good time yet to fruit".

Check if:

  • You've been feeding your babies enough before flowering & fruiting
  • There's any little guys stealing the good food inside the soil
  • The roots of your plants are strong enough to suck up the nutrients
  • The soil is too hard or clayey

If your plants have been 'visited' by some bad guys, we can counteract this with:

  • Some beneficial root fungi & microbes to improve strength
  • Copper-based fungicide (blue or greenish) as a strong measure
  • Neem oil as a prevention to keep them away

More tips to get more dragon fruits

Check out this cool video by Self Sufficient Me. He shares some good tips on getting more dragon fruits:

His 8 tips:

  1. Water: dragon fruit vine is a rain forest cactus that likes some good moisture, just not wet feet. A grower in Australia has found that giving the plants small regular waterings make the fruits sweeter.
  2. Hand pollinate
  3. Grow different varieties
  4. Make it branch out
  5. Don't over-fertilize: especially during the 'pregnant' fruiting stages. Too much food can actually be counterproductive & make the fruits slow-growing and smaller.
  6. Grow from cuttings
  7. Grow in the right conditions
  8. Grow varieties with good fertility

Some growers also share that if you play the stress game with the dragon fruit plants, that is, let the base dry & cut water for 2-5 days, the plants will produce more flowers in response. This can be done with some fertilizer addition + artificial lighting for the plants. They're put in fear mode & often speed up the reproduction for the survival of younger generations.

Enjoy the fruit

If you've downsized the plants, give it enough good bits gradually as it grows & give it just enough protection, then sooner or later the plants will start to fruit.

Don't give up hope. You're not doing anything wrong, maybe it's just not time yet. Some folks have seen their trees flower & fruit within the 1st year of growing. Certainly, your plants can too! Best of luck.

In summary:

  • Look for smaller sucker branches
  • Check the age of the plants
  • Does the variety need hand pollination
  • Is the pollen good or is there any pollen inside
  • Is there enough sunlight & water for the plants
  • Are the branches umbrella out or shooting up
  • Have you fed them good phosphorous & potassium

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