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All About Pawpaws

by Patti on 10/19/2010
Pawpaws

“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 how to make pawpaw smoothies:

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28 Comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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). :)

  3. 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?

    • Young pawpaw trees do better in shade, but they do yield more fruit in a sunny spot when they’re older and established. As long as you can provide some sort of temporary shade, like with shade cloth or netting, it should do the trick!

  4. 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 get started. They actually tend to thrive in partial sun, especially during 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. It will still fruit, but perhaps not as much as a mature pawpaw tree in full sun.

  5. 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!

  6. 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. ;)

  7. 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. :)

  8. 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.

  9. Donna permalink

    Can paw-paw trees be grown in pots and treated as patio plants, taken inside for winter (zone 6), until they are old enough to withstand a full sun location? I planted 3 paw-paws this spring after over-wintering them in my enclosed porch. We provided burlap strips for shading. I lost one, and the other 2 look fine, but didn’t grow as much as I would have liked.

    • Yes indeed! You can grow pawpaw trees in containers until they are ready to be planted in full sun. Just be sure they are getting nutrients in their container’s soil/potting medium since they don’t have access to the nutrients they might normally find in the ground.

      I’m sorry to hear you lost one of your new trees. Pawpaw trees generally aren’t “fast growing”, but being in full sun may affect their vigor as they become established. If the young pawpaw trees are already planted in the ground — or even if you’re already growing them in containers — you can find a material at your local garden center called “shade cloth” or “shade fabric” and use that to provide temporary shading while the trees are outside during the growing season.

  10. Do deer eat young paw paw trees? They have cleared out the undergrowth in my back 40 which is still heavily forested but only with trees/shrubs taller than a deer.

    • Deer around here tend to prefer the pawpaw fruit and leave the foliage of the trees untouched. Not sure what it is, but pawpaw trees aren’t among their favorite to browse. Deer may try to rub their antlers on young pawpaw trees, though, so if you can, you might try building a temporary sturdy wire cage around the trees until they’re a few years old.

  11. Charles permalink

    How susceptible is the Paw Paw fruit to squirrels, birds, etc.? I have a lot of squirrels on my property.

    • Hi Charles — believe it or not, the animals have their “favorites” when it comes to what they will eat and what they won’t. Birds around here tend to like pawpaws. I haven’t seen squirrels show too much interest in them, but raccoons do. Deer will also eat the fruit, but they tend to ignore the foliage.

      If you already know squirrels are problematic there, I would assume they’d show interest in your pawpaw fruit as well. Pawpaws have a soft flesh with a bit of juice, and squirrels will often eat a fruit for the moisture it provides. You might need to net your pawpaw trees to keep those pesky critters out!

  12. Tony Fisher permalink

    I have three trees the oldest is 4 years. Ate my 1st fruit just last week – not crazy about the taste. Fruit was mushy, did I wait too long?
    Great folage tree. Bright yellow in the fall.Everyone who sees it wants one. Saved the seeds and will try growing some from them.

    • I don’t think you waited too long, since this is the time of year when pawpaws begin to ripen. The texture of your pawpaw also sounds right — they’re very soft (often compared to “custard”). I haven’t ever been able to eat a ripe pawpaw without a spoon. :)

      The taste may not be for everyone. I think pawpaws taste like a piña colada (coconut x pineapple), but our horticulture expert here (Elmer) thinks pawpaws taste like melon rinds! If you don’t like them on their own, they make great additions to smoothies and pawpaw ice cream is pretty popular here in Missouri.

      You can try this recipe if you want to make homemade pawpaw ice cream: http://straightfromthefarm.wordpress.com/2009/11/29/pawpaw-ice-cream/

  13. Janice permalink

    It’s always recommended to plant young pawpaws in partial shade. Would painting the trunk and branches provide the needed protection from the sun?

    Thanks

    • The painting is an interesting thought, Janice. Young pawpaw trees struggle with direct sun, so it may reduce heat-related stress to paint the trunks with 50/50 water/white latex paint solution – and this is useful as winter-injury protection as well – but I’d still recommend constructing some form of temporary shade until the trees have been in the ground with you for few years (3 years on average).

      There are a lot of good tips bouncing around this gardenweb thread. Check it out! :)

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