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All About Pawpaws

by Patti on 10/19/2010
pawpaw_ fruit

“What are pawpaws?”

Also known as the American Custard Apple, or Indiana Banana, pawpaws (Asimina triloba) are the largest edible fruit native to North America. This fruit was widely eaten and enjoyed by Native Americans back in the day. Currently, it can be found growing wild in the US as a shade-loving understory tree.

Pawpaws are actually very large berries, sometimes growing longer than 6 inches. They turn from green to yellow (or brown) when ripe. The fruit has a strong tropical flavor — similar to bananas, pineapples, or mangoes!

Ripe pawpaw fruits have a very short shelf life: about 3-5 days. This has made it impossible for pawpaws to be sold in most grocery stores, since they can’t be transported to market quickly enough. Growing pawpaws in your backyard is the best way for you to enjoy this fruit.

Young pawpaw trees can be sensitive to full sunlight and require filtered sun for the first year or two. This is because, in nature, pawpaw trees grow as “understory” trees, in the shade of other much larger trees. Once established, pawpaw trees produce the most fruit when grown in full sun. Pawpaws grow well in shade too, but they may produce less fruit than trees grown in full sun.

Pawpaw trees are cold-hardy fruit trees, meaning they grow well in colder climates. For proper pollination, plant at least two different varieties of pawpaws. They need insects to cross-pollinate the flowers, so it is important that your landscape is friendly to pollinating insects.

Pawpaw fruit forms in clusters, from 2 to 9 fruits per cluster. Pawpaws are low maintenance and, because they are native to the US, there are very few issues with garden pests making pawpaw trees great to plant if you practice organic gardening!

Grafted pawpaw trees purchased from Stark Bro’s start fruiting in about 3-5 years.

Begin harvesting pawpaws in mid August through the first frost (generally early- to mid-October). Pawpaws are great to eat fresh off the tree, but they have a lot of uses in recipes as well! Because of their banana-like taste and texture, pawpaws make a good banana substitute for recipes like banana bread. They are healthy, too, with more protein, vitamin C, iron, niacin, calcium, phosphorous, zinc, magnesium, cooper, and manganese than apples, oranges, or bananas.

Pawpaw fruit is nutritious, making it perfect fruit for healthy, delicious smoothies! Smoothies are quick, easy, and fun to make, as you can see in my video below. You’ll need to separate the skin and the seeds from the custardy flesh. The skin is edible, but doesn’t taste good and the seeds should not be eaten. Have fun and mix them with all sorts of other fruit!

Watch my video for the entire recipe:

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27 Comments

  1. sandra easton permalink

    can i get a pawpaw plant or seeds i remeber my mother saying that pawpaw apples are what theycalled them .they actually ate these from the woods in southern maryland years ago .cool iwould like to trythem.

  2. Dave permalink

    What climate zones tolerate paw-paw trees?

    • Meg permalink

      Hi Dave! The pawpaws we carry are hardy in zones 4-8. :)

  3. kurt baker permalink

    i have 3 pawpaw trees in central michigan, hopefully next year they will finally blossom!
    i have 2 different varieties , and this year , one actually put out a “sucker” which i let grow. they are about 6 foot tall , so maybe i am doing something right. Should i fertilize them ? , and should i continue to put mulch around the bases this time of year?

    • Meg permalink

      Great questions, Kurt. 2 varieties = perfect, as they do need a different kind to pollinate.

      You do NOT want to fertilize them this late in the year. You should probably bring your fertilization to a halt around mid-June, before the weather gets too warm. Here’s why:
      - fertilizing when it’s hot can cause chemical burn damage to the tree & leaves.
      - fertilizing when it’s cold can cause your trees to start growing… the exact opposite of what they should be doing in the winter. We want them to go dormant, to be protected from the winter weather.

      You can certainly mulch in the winter – it will help the roots stay warm & keep moisture in. Avoid piling mulch up around the trunk of the tree (will hurt the tree). Keep the mulch fairly level & about 3 inches away from the trunk.

      Best wishes for some blooms & fruit next year!

  4. Chengyu L permalink

    Can I grow Pawpaw trees in Denver Colorado?

    Thanks,

    Chad

    • Meg permalink

      Chad – it looks like Denver is zoned for 5A, & most pawpaws can be grown in Zone 4, so you should be good! Take care to follow some good winter advice (such as mulching). :)

  5. Mark permalink

    Ok so I’ve been asking about pawpaws on FB and I now have one planted in mostly shade that is large and one planted in partial sun that is small. I would like to buy one and plant it in full sun so that it bears more fruit, but what is the best way to build a shade for it for the first 2 years?

    • The pawpaw tree actually prefers shade, Mark, as it is a natural understory tree. Any sort of shade, whether it is constructed with shade netting or shaded by actual other trees, should work. ;)

  6. Chris Orzechowski permalink

    Regarding pawpaw you state” plants are very sensitive to full sunlight and require filtered sun for the first year or two. Once established, pawpaw trees produce the most fruit when grown in full sun.”

    What do you mean by filtered sun? Do you start the plant out in a partial shade then transfer them to full sun? I just bought two plants, where is the best place to plant them?

    Thanks
    Chris

    • Hi, Chris! Pawpaw trees are natural understory trees that don’t require a lot of sunlight to grow well. They actually tend not to thrive in full sun especially their first few years of life. The best place to plant would be in the shade of other trees or even a building (as long as you mind its mature height and don’t plant where it may conflict with structures, etc.). Transplanting it into a more sunny location is possible, sure, but if the pawpaw tree can remain in the shady area it would be fine, too. :)

  7. This was my dad’s favorite. They grow wild near creek and river banks in Missouri and Kansas. So I got some Papaws from southern Missouri and saved & planted the seed. Well I gave up and bought plants from Stark Brothers. Then three year later I had a grove of several Papaws. I really enjoy August & September and new ways to use papaws.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, JD! Many people who grew up where pawpaws grow wild are excited that they can plant their own, especially if they have since moved away from places like Missouri and Kansas. ;)

    • Carol permalink

      JD, you answered my question before I had time to ask it! I live in Missouri and am excited to know Pawpaw trees grow wild here since I don’t have room in my yard for another large tree. There is a creek in my back yard that feeds into the Little Blue River, which was once the site of several Native American encampments. I have walked the banks many times looking for authentic arrowheads and Morel mushrooms. Now I have another reason to visit the beautiful shaded river banks I love so much. Thanks for the information!

  8. Kevin permalink

    I bought several trees from you this year including 2 pawpaw trees. I have done everything as suggested and they are doing just fine. I still need to put up protection from the sun but I don’t know how to go about it. Do you have any suggestions. I have 2×4 welded wire around it to keep deer out, I thought about weaving straw/branches in and out of the wire.. will that give it enough protection from the sun? any other suggestions?

    • Kevin, that sounds like a very creative way to provide shade for your pawpaw trees! There is no one right way to do it. If you think about how these trees grow in nature, as understory trees, they are provided shade by the taller neighboring trees. It’s not really an exact science as much as it is an adaptation. ;)

  9. Paige permalink

    Hello,Our name is Jessie and Paige. We are doing a project on Paw Paws and I was wondering what part of the fruit is able to be eaten.Thanks,Have aawwwweesssoooommee day. Peace out bro.

    • Hi, Jessie and Paige! Most people just eat the pawpaw fruit — the flesh part, not the seeds or skin/peel. Research is being done on the medicinal properties of the seeds and leaves, and the bark tends to be nice and fibrous, which is good for making rope or twine. I hope this helps! Good luck with your pawpaw project. :)

  10. Jayne Dombrowski permalink

    We have two different varieties of paw paw, a “sunflower” and a “mango.” We just planted them this spring and they grew really well, however I am wondering how to get them ready for our winters here in central Wisconsin. I see that you can mulch, but make sure to keep the mulch away from the trunk. Any other suggestions?

    • Fortunately, pawpaw trees are hardy for your zone there! They can stand the low winter temperatures of zone 4 without much trouble. The mulch will certainly help protect their root systems from hard freezes. Other than that, your pawpaw trees will do what they need to as far as shutting down for their dormant rest.

      One thing you might consider for the future is, if your area is prone to late freezes that happen in the early spring, your trees may need help protecting their tender new growth that may have developed. In this case, some people choose to wrap their trees in holiday lights and cover them with sheets when a freeze is expected in the forecast for that extra bit of warmth and protection.

  11. Joline Fleming permalink

    when is the best time to plant Paw Paws???

  12. ELISE MOSSBURG permalink

    I HAVE A QUESTION. WHAT KIND OF TREES WILL PAW PAWS GROW BEST WITH & WHAT TREES WILL MAKE THE GROWING ENVIRONMENT MORE DIFFICULT FOR THE PAW PAWS?

    THANKS,

    ELISE

    • Pawpaw trees are pretty friendly with other trees and plants growing around them. They even grow wild here in Missouri, next to and beneath black walnut trees!

      They’re a natural understory tree — meaning they grow in the shade of the canopies of larger trees — so it suits a pawpaw tree’s nature to be planted in a spot with partial shade, especially while they’re getting their roots established. They can take full sun after a couple years, though. A lot of pawpaw growers will build a shade cloth over the young pawpaw trees to filter the sunlight in an otherwise sunny spot until they’re a couple years older. :)

  13. Karen Berry permalink

    I live in Denver and planted two paw paws last spring on the north side of an arbor in light shade (less shade in winter) and watered them well through the fall and mulched the root zone. They did not make it through the winter. The lowest temperatures were about -10 degrees and it was a dry winter. I would like to replant and give paw paws one more try but do you have any suggestions for improving success rates.

    • It sounds like you provided your pawpaw trees excellent care this past year, Karen! One thing that may have been a culprit is the cold temperatures if the dry winter also left the soil dry. Roots in dry soil tend to be more susceptible to winter injury than roots that are in damp soil.

      The only other thing I can think of is that there may have been an underlying issue in the soil where the trees were planted. You may choose to take the time to get a soil sample and have it tested by your local county cooperative extension and see if they can tell you anything more about your soil.

      This past winter was harsh and relentless in most areas, so it may simply be a matter of “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. :)

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