Growing dragon fruit from cuttings is usually much faster than growing them right from seeds.
To start, let's see how to choose good dragon fruit cuttings:
Choosing dragon fruit cuttings
- Length about 12-80 inches / 30-80 cm
- Age from 6-24 months
- Appearance green, strong, no disease
- Nodes looking good for good sprouting rate
When selecting dragon fruit cuttings, look for those about 6-24 months old. These have grown up quite a bit & have had a good amount of 'meat & muscles' inside to do okay & propagate on their own. Transplant shock may affect them less than the younger branches.
Look for green, healthy branches with thorns or the bumps (nodes) looking nice & strong. They feel firm to the touch. The length of the cuttings depends on your trellis design & the branch's age. This one is a good firm branch:
This other one is a bit soft & dry:
Usually, growers pick cuttings from around 12 inches up to 80 inches. If the cuttings have roots already, then flowering & fruit time may be reduced to around 8 months.
And now just for fun, let's try selecting the best cutting out of these potential four:
In the picture above, from the top down, we can see the first branch has good length. But based on its color, we guess it may be too young.
The second branch is too young & may be it is the youngest of all. You can tell from its light green color.
The third one is probably older than the 1st & 2nd but it is quite skinny. The last branch, although quite short, has good plumb to it. It's thick, has a good green color & is probably at a good age.
So Miss Dragon Fruit Universe goes to: The Last Branch! Out of these four, it can be our best selection.
Tip: When choosing, look for a good aged branch that is juicy, feels firm & has a good weight to it when held on your hand. A 1-year-old plant usually have branches about 28 in. (73 cm) on average. An older 2-year-old plant on average is 32 in. (82 cm) long. You can see some of their growth here:
How can we tell which dragon fruit branch is older?
You can look at:
- The size of the core
- The sub branches
- The color of the branch
Let's try comparing these two branches of the same Red H14 variety.
In box 1 in the pic below, the branch on the right has a much bigger core than the left one. It's even a bit harder and somewhat more woody.
In box 2, the right branch has some remnants of the sub-branches. These may be where the branch has shot out flowers and fruits. They are also quite woody.
From these two hints, and also as the right branch also has a darker green skin to it, as you may have guessed correctly the right branch is the older branch.
After the cutting selection:
When you first get the cuttings
...Be careful with the thorns! If it's your very first time handling the dragon fruit cactus, you'll probably get some "Ouch" moments here and there. But it's tolerable.
If your cuttings haven't got any roots yet, let them dry in shade for about 2-7 days. The wounds will dry out & callus over. You'll see some brown color at the end of the cactus.
You can also use fungicide like Benlate C (0.1% concentration) to soak the cuttings for 5 minutes to cleanse off some bad guys. Once it's dry & clean, pre-plant the cuttings in the ground or containers. Doing it this way significantly reduces root rot. If you plant it straight away when you first get it, it might get some rot.
Make sure we put some good perlite, rocks or similar things to increase the drainage. It's good if the nursery medium has the same or similar pH as the soil/medium you're about to plant your cuttings in.
After about 10-20 days, you can see some new string roots shooting out. After about 2 months, you can see bigger roots development. Then, take them out to the posts & plant them to get fruits.
Some folks cut off about an inch of the dragon fruit outer flesh, revealing a hard vascular core inside, to promote faster root growth. The hard inner core is where the ground roots shoot out. They look something like these ones right here:
Alternatively, you can let the cuttings sit dry or in dry, well-draining soil for 10-30 days (depending on local weather). When new roots shoot out, move them out to more sun & plant them in the ground or containers.
When the cuttings are ready to be planted:
When planting the cuttings
If you're planting the cuttings in a container, plug them about two palm-long length in the soil. Some people like to place them quite slanted like this "/" or like this "\".
If you have a square trellis, place the flat side of the dragon fruit cutting against the side of the trellis. This creates a good surface for the growing roots & air roots to lean on and develop. Then tie the cuttings to the post with some strings or tape so the wind won't knock them over. Do the same for the other three sides.
A 15, 20, 50 or 100 gallon pot would be great for dragon fruits. These plants don't develop a long deep tap root. Instead, their roots expand outward & are quite shallow. This makes them an excellent plant to grow in containers–a little-known fact to many growers. Just don't overcrowd them or mix too many different varieties in one pot. Although different species may live happily together, overcrowding could cause slow growth due to root bound & root competition.
Reducing transplant shock & Moisture
To reduce transplant shock, some growers spray the cuttings with vitamin B1. This also helps with faster root growth. Then water the plants lightly. The important thing is to keep the growing post moist.
You can choose a post material that can retain good moisture, doesn't cause rot & has no toxic stuff in it. Pine, red wood, bamboo, coco coir are great choices. They have this thing called the coco poles, or basically poles made from coco coir, that could work well for this. We've seen a guy on Reddit done this, pretty cool.
Spread some hay or mulch around the surface to keep the base cool & moist. The hay will decompose into the soil after some time & enrich it with extra nutrients. Dragon fruits like it moist but not overly wet.
The plants also seem to love chicken manure. Every 6 months or so, sprinkle some on the top soil. But not too much because that can make the soil acidic. A good pH for dragon fruits would be around 6.5-7. Most California soil are slightly alkaline so they should be fine in ground conditions too.
And voila, that's all there is to it. If all goes well, you can expect flowers in about 8-12 months. Within about 50-60 days after flowering, fruits will start to form.
Dragon fruit plants produce much faster than other fruit trees like mango, pineapple or banana (which take on average 85-140 days). It's a truly rewarding process. Fingers crossed & have fun getting started.
Responses to Readers' Questions
Do they need lots of sun or can they grow better in part shade
--> For rooting cuttings, part shade is okay. You could put them in perlite or water. About a month later, you'll see some root development. As they grow bigger, you could gradually bring them out to some more sunlight. Sunlight does help make the plants flower easier and the fruits taste sweeter. But lots of sunlight, especially in a consistently hot climate (100F/37.8C) may burn the plants. They may dry up and turn yellow. Around 65-85F (18-29C) is good for dragons as they are semi-tropical plants. If you can, give it about 6 hours of light daily. And they'll be happy. I hope this helps!
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