Let's find out how to get sweet-tasting dragon fruits:
Not too much sand
Sand is a well-draining material with very low Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC). It doesn't hold well onto the small nutrient particles. So although it lets water through easily, a flush of water might also flush out the good food we feed the plants, making it less sweet. Use sand, perlite or rocks for drainage but not too much. So that some good bits can retain for months of feeding, giving your dragon fruits more flavor. Some folks use some small amount of azomite, a type of clay, to help retain the nutrients.
Growers have found that dragon fruits harvested after summer (or in the fall) is often the sweetest. This may be because those plants enjoy some good summer sunlight to nourish their flowers & fruits. Off-season fruits, or those that bloom later when the weather cools down, are less sweet.
6 hrs of sunlight is usually a good amount for the vines. But not too much sun either because it might cause sunburn or chlorosis. Dragon fruits are semi-tropical plants. They like sun but not too much like the tropical ones.
When leaves turn yellow, there may be less chlorophyll (the green pigment). Less chlorophyll means less photosynthesis & less sugars made. To help dragon fruits with extreme heat or cold, people graft them on strong rootstocks like Maria Rosa, Vietnam White or Physical Graffiti.
Dragon fruits like moisture but not soggy feet. When completely soaked in water, they can withstand for about 6-10 days. After that point, it might not be able to save them. So make sure to water your plants a bit moist around the base & not directly on the stems too much.
If you use hay as mulch on the top surface, then you can water 1 day & rest 2 days. This means about 3 times/week. If there's no mulch, then you may water them daily. This varies depending on your soil condition, the local climate. Check them before adding water. It's good to rainbow-sprinkle your plants (you know that rainbow-like stream of water), and not a strong downpour of water all around.
Watering like this moderately can help make sweeter fruits. Also, don't water or overwater 1-2 weeks before the fruits are peaked. This minimizes cracking & can help with increasing the sugar content.
Staying on the vines
Sometimes, growers leave the fruits on the vines for too long. The taste then might be quite bland or quite weird. For example, this one Tricia was left on the vine for 3 months. It tasted like beet with a very low sugar count of 6.8% Brix:
Some varieties won't be able to stay on the vines for that long. The Purple/Pink variety fruits (we don't know the classification sorry) can stay on the vines for about a month, unlike some other red-fleshed dragon fruits which are good on vines for about 10 days.
So picking it at the right time can help the fruits taste better & sweeter. Some folks like the tartness taste so they pick them early. The other risk of leaving fruits for too long on the branches is fungi or other animals eating them for you.
Some of the sweetest varieties are:
- Ecuador Palora
- Sugar Dragon S8
- American Beauty
These are naturally sweeter varieties so they may get you off a good start.
Too much rain or cold can affect the pollen quality. This then affects the fruit quality. If you're doing hand pollinating, make sure you get fresh pollen as soon as the flowers open. Store them in the fridge for good viability. It's good to use them within 5 days. To pollinate American Beauty, for example, you can mix Sugar Dragon + Lisa pollen. Sugar Dragon is well-known for its strong pollen. So this may help with the fruit quality.
- Make sure the soil is well-draining but can also retain nutrients
- Water lightly because dragon fruits like some moisture
- Don't water or overwater 10-15 days before picking the fruits
- Get the fruits that are in season
- Pick the fruits at the right balanced time
- Choose sweet varieties from the start
- Use fresh pollen from strong species
Another tip: Some folks wrap a bag around the fruit after it has ripened for 1 or 2 days. From their experience, this helps with the taste. It's also a good protection against some birds, bats or pests that could damage the fruits.
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