How to Grow Dragon Fruit

Growing this fruit-bearing cactus is the ultimate test of patience but well worth the wait.

Close-up of dragon fruits growing on cactus

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Known for their hot-pink, spike-covered exterior, dragon fruits are one of the more tropical fruits widely available in American supermarkets. Also known as pitaya, dragon fruit has white and sweet, seed-speckled pulp. It grows on a climbing cactus called Hylocereus, which is native to Mexico, Central America, and South America but will grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 10 through 12.

Growing this fruit-bearing cactus is the ultimate test of patience—it can take up to seven years to see the literal fruits of your labor—but if you're willing to wait, you'll be rewarded with an abundance of tropical sweetness. Learn how to grow and care for Hylocereus.

Botanical Name Hylocereus
Common Name Dragon fruit, pitaya
Plant Type Perennial, cactus, fruit
Mature Size 10-20 ft. tall, 5-10 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Loamy, sandy, well-drained
Soil pH Slightly acidic (6.0 to 7.0)
Bloom Time Late spring to early summer
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 10-12 (USDA)
Native Area North America, Central America, South America
Toxicity Non-toxic

How to Plant Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit can be grown from the seeds that speckle its white flesh or from a cutting. When it's ready to go outside, it's best to plant in the spring—April or May in most temperate areas.

Growing From Seed

Two dragon fruits, one cut in half, on blue background

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You can procure a bounty of seeds just by cutting open a grocery store-bought dragon fruit and scooping out the fleshy center. Pick the black seeds out and rinse them (it's fine to leave a bit of the pulp attached). In a small pot filled with seed starter, mix your seeds thoroughly into the top quarter-inch layer of soil. Use a spray bottle to moisten, then cover the pot with cling wrap and place in a sunny window.

Always keep the soil moist and warm. Usually, seeds germinate within four weeks.

Growing From a Starter

Many see more success with growing dragon fruit from a cutting than from seed. To propagate a pitaya plant, make a slanted cut of a new piece of growth, about six to eight inches, and leave the cutting to air-dry in a dry, shady area for a full week. After that week, you can plant the cutting directly in soil either in the ground or in a container. It should establish roots in a couple weeks, and after that, it's safe to transplant.


Repotting the dragon fruit cactus is tricky because its roots are delicate and easy to damage. You'll need to transplant your Hylocereus if it becomes root-bound in its pot, which can happen any time after the first year. If keeping inside, the cactus will eventually need a 20- to 30-gallon pot. If transplanting into the garden, be sure to give the plants plenty of space—a recommended diameter of 12 feet.

Whether growing in pots or in the garden, this vining plant will need to be staked with poles or trellises.

Dragon Fruit Care

The trick to growing dragon fruit is keeping it warm in temperate regions where it doesn't grow naturally. The pitaya is most content in 65 to 85 degrees and will likely immediately die in 32 degrees or below. If you live in the northern swath of its USDA growing zone or higher, it's probably best to keep it in a container and move it indoors over the winter.

Newer plants benefit from regular fertilizing (every month or two) at least in the first year and during the active growing season. If growing outside, mulch makes for a great insulator in cooler temperatures. If given the right care, a dragon fruit cactus can live for 20 years.

Dragon Fruit Varieties

Many yellow dragon fruits in a pile

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There are many dragon fruit cultivars but only four species, three in the genus Hylocereus and one outlier in the genus Selenicereus.

  • Red-white dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus): The dragon fruit most widely available in supermarkets is this variety with white flesh and pink skin.
  • Sour dragon fruit (Stenocereus): This variety is juicier and has a stronger, more tart taste.
  • Red dragon fruit (Hylocereus costaricensis): Different from the red-white or just "white" kind, the red dragon fruit has a red skin and matching flesh that runs sweeter than the white variety.
  • Yellow dragon fruit (Hylocereus megalanthus): The sweetest and arguably tastiest of the bunch, this fruit is unique in its namesake yellow skin.

How to Harvest Dragon Fruit

When the color of the skin changes from green (unripe) to yellow, pink, or red (ripe), you know it's ready to harvest. Pick the dragon fruit from the cactus by twisting a couple times and pulling gently. If it doesn't want to come off the stalk easily, it probably needs more time to ripen.

How to Store and Preserve Dragon Fruit

You can keep a dragon fruit on the counter at room temperature for a few days but note that this will allow it to ripen (and overripen) fast. To slow the ripening process or maintain the stage of ripeness it's in, store it in an air-tight container in the fridge.

To keep it for longer and use in smoothies or baking recipes, cut it into chunks and freeze on a baking sheet. Once frozen, transfer to an air-tight container and use within about three months.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How do you protect dragon fruit from pests and diseases?

    Dragon fruit can sometimes attract diseases like anthracnose, causing lesions on the stems and fruit, and, less common, pests like the sap-sucking leaf-footed leptoglossus, which can also spread fungal infections. Avoid disease by maintaining sanitary gardening practices. Always discard infected stems, and keep the area weeded. Monitor carefully for pest infestations, and combat those accordingly with natural insecticides.

  • How long does it take for a dragon fruit to bear fruit?

    Dragon fruits can produce fruit after a year, though two years is more common and seven years is about the maximum it could take. Once it does start to produce, you could see up to six fruiting cycles per year.

  • How often should you water a dragon fruit plant?

    Dragon fruit plants are succulents (cactuses) that, like other desert plants, are sensitive to "wet feet." Water only every two weeks in normal conditions. Soil should mostly dry out between waterings.