How Fast Do Dragon Fruit Trees Grow?

Dragon fruit are incredibly fast-growing cactuses, but how long will it take until you harvest your first ultra-sweet fruit? In this article, garden expert Logan Hailey explains the key dragon fruit growth stages and how to speed up plant maturity.

The dragon fruit plant in its last growth stage features broad, triangular green stems with elongated, spiky leaves and produces vibrant pink fruits with scaly, leathery skin.

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Dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus), also known as pitaya or pitahaya, is a tropical cactus native to Latin and South America. This perennial vining cactus is hardy in USDA zones 10-11 but can be grown in containers and moved indoors for overwintering in cooler climates. This unique plant grows vigorously from cuttings, but it takes a bit of patience before it starts to fruit.

Let’s dig into the growth stages of dragon fruit and what to expect at each phase of development.

How Fast Do Dragon Fruits Grow?

With its broad, triangular green stems and elongated, spiky leaves, the dragon fruit plant bears nocturnal yellowish flowers and distinctive pink fruits with scaly, leathery skin.
This cactus can bear fruit within one to three years.

You can expect fruit one to three years after planting this cactus. In its native warm subtropical climate, this cactus grows up to one inch per day! If started from cuttings, it takes one to two years for the plant to begin fruiting. The first year is typically devoted to upward vegetative growth. Subsequent years are focused on production, with peak fruiting cycles beginning three to four years after planting

This cactus can live for 10-20 years, producing up to 220 pounds of fruit per plant in zones 9-12. In cooler zones, the cactus is typically grown in a container and must be moved indoors for the winter. It may take longer and produce less overall due to size and temperature limitations.

In the early years, these vines climb a trellis rapidly and then expand into a tree-like shape at the top. After your plant reaches the top of its trellis, you can begin “tipping” or “forcing” fruit. This simple method involves snipping off the tips of the vines to promote flower bud formation. Instead of channeling its energy into more vegetative growth, the cactus will focus on producing flowers and fruit.

Growth Stages of Dragon Fruit

This perennial cactus is known for its ultra-sweet, vibrant fruits and super-fast growth. If you plant a cutting in your garden, you can use a marker to track the growth on a wooden trellis post. 

The cactus will visibly grow in height every day throughout the summer. This rapid growth culminates in a tree-like shape at the top of the trellis. Once the plant has established sufficient vegetative growth, it begins producing floral buds and fruits. However, you must change your maintenance, pruning, and fertilization practices depending on the plant’s stage of development.

Here are the key growth stages and what to do at each stage: 

Cutting or Seedling (1-2 Months)

Close-up of seedlings, which are vertical, elongated, succulent stems with thin white spines on the ribs.
Starting from cuttings ensures consistent growth and fruit quality.

At this growth stage, these plants look like strange little green nubs with wavy edges. The best way to start this plant is by cutting it or buying it from an established store-bought plant. It is not recommended to start from seed because they take up to five years to reach maturity. Moreover, seeds do not always produce true-to-type varieties with the most coveted flavorful fruits. 

Growing from cutting ensures that you have the exact genetics as the mother plant. Cuttings are clones of the plant from which they are taken. As you can imagine, larger cuttings grow faster than smaller ones. If possible, take a 7-12 inch long stem cutting right at the point where the stems merge into woody nubs.

Be sure to identify the variety first and prepare cuttings. This method is extremely cheap and allows you to propagate a lot of cacti at once. However, you must have access to a mature plant with lots of extra foliage that can withstand pruning.

Buying Seedlings

Close-up of dragon fruit plant seedlings in black pots in a garden center.
Opting for nursery plants ensures quicker growth and earlier production.

Nursery plants are the next best option if you do not have access to mature cacti. Some nurseries sell Hylocereus undatus as small or medium-sized plants. You may need to find a nursery that specializes in succulents, cacti, or tropical plants. The plants should be clearly labeled with their cultivar. Ensure that the leaves are green, vibrant, and healthy. Check for any signs of pests or disease (like orange dots indicating cactus rust) before you take the plant home.

Since the plants arrive already rooted, you can have a jumpstart to growth. In the proper conditions, established seedlings can grow up to one inch per day, vigorously climbing their trellis! If you start with a one to two-gallon potted plant, the growth stage will accelerate. You may get fruit within the first year!

It is important to transplant the young cactus into a larger pot (ideally, 20-25+ gallons) as soon as possible. Use a bamboo or wooden stake to keep the cactus upright. You may need twine or garden tape to attach it to the trellis. It’s best to build the trellis and plant the cactus at the same time so you don’t have to transplant it again. When transplanting, handle the root ball gently, and be sure to keep the soil at the same level as in the container.

Roots and Stems (2-6 Months)

The leaf of the pitaya plant is elongated and spiky, with a deep green color.
Support and nourish young plants for optimal growth.

Once a cutting or seedling is established, it begins building its root zone and growing its foliage. Do not expect fruit from a baby plant! Just like humans and animals, the plant must go through a juvenile (vegetative) phase where it focuses solely on root and stem growth. At this point, it doesn’t have enough energy and resources to devote to producing.

Pitayas don’t technically have true leaves; instead, these wavy-edged green stems have a succulent texture and spines along the branches. You will notice that the stems form in increments. Every 12-18 inches, a stem will conjoin with the next at a woody nub. These chunks or sections of stems look like dangling sausage links as they grow.

At this stage, it is important to provide plenty of nutrients. Use a slow-release all-purpose fertilizer at the time of planting. A higher nitrogen ratio is desirable to fuel the vigorous growth that will ensue. Feed your plants regularly—up to once per week! Fish emulsion is an ideal organic fertilizer because it promotes rapid growth without risking fertilizer burn. 

It is also very important to keep your plant upright. If you didn’t stake it at the beginning, it is absolutely crucial now. Continue using garden tape or twine to attach the new stems to the stake so they don’t flop over. Keep them pointed toward the sky!

Climbing Stage (7-18 Months)

The dragon fruit plant attached to a wooden support, features thick, fleshy green stems that are ribbed, supporting long, slender, and spiky leaves.
Watch your plant rapidly climb trellises.

The vegetative growth continues with the rapid climbing stage. A plant with established roots and increasingly more stems can grow much more quickly. This part is crucial for the plant to build its structure and climb its trellis.

If you use Epic Gardening founder Kevin’s trellising method, you will notice that the plant is rapidly climbing along the vertical part of the trellis. This stage continues until it reaches the upper square of the trellis and begins drooping over in a tree-like shape.

YouTube video

You can expect lots of new green growth in this stage. More green stems mean more surface area for photosynthesis. Like all plants, they use sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to produce sugars that fuel growth. 

Photosynthesis happens in chloroplasts, which are green cell organelles in the stems. Vibrant to dark green color is a good sign that the plant is growing well. If the stems appear yellow or pale, they may not be conducting photosynthesis properly. This can be linked to underwatering, lack of sunlight, or a nitrogen deficiency. 

Fertilization 

Close-up of a gardener applying granular fertilizer to growing plants attached to a vertical support, with mulched soil.
Keep feeding with slow-release nitrogen fertilizer for vigorous growth.

Continue providing the plant with slow-release all-purpose fertilizer with significant amounts of nitrogen. Nitrogen is key for vegetative growth, but you don’t want to overdo it. Slow-release organic fertilizers are ideal because they gradually make nutrients available to the plant over a long time frame. If you fertilized at planting, you may want to continue side-dressing or applying a liquid fish fertilizer every couple of weeks during the climbing stage.

Pruning

Close-up of a gardener in a red and blue shirt, beige apron and blue gloves trimming leaves using pruning shears.
Prune side shoots to boost production and maintain plant health.

Pruning is also ideal during the climbing stage. Just like tomatoes or cucumbers, Hylocereus undatus produces “suckers” or side shoots. These side shoots can suck energy away from production down the line. Pruning reduces excess vegetation and helps keep the plant tidy. It is especially important in the fall, but you can remove side shoots throughout the growing season.

Use sharp, sanitized shears to cut off any side branches growing along the lower parts of the stem. These side shoots will be obvious as they emerge from the edges of the main vine. It’s best to remove anything shorter than six inches

This stage is complete when the pitaya reaches the top of its trellis. At this point, the cactus should begin vining outward and drooping down, looking somewhat like a funky exotic tree. Important pruning and maintenance begin once the cactus has covered its trellis! Congrats—this means that the plant is mature and ready to start its reproductive phase.

First Floral Buds (1-2 Years)

Close-up of a man's hand showing green to pink buds forming at the tips of the plant's stem.
Tip the stems to trigger flower bud production and fruiting.

Finally, your cactus has covered its trellis and matured enough to produce floral buds. The most important thing to do at this stage is called “forcing.” Forcing, also known as tipping, is the best way to ensure your plant shifts out of the vegetative phase and into the reproductive phase. 

Tipping means removing the growing tips. Use sharp, sanitized shears to cut off one to two inches of growth at the terminal ends of each upper stem. Removing these tips communicates to the plant, “Hey! You’re done with vegetative growth. It’s time to produce flower buds!” It’s best to tip your plants in mid-to-late summer to prepare them for fruiting.

The seasonality of bud formation depends on your growing zone and the weather. It can happen any time, from late spring to early fall. Some plants go through several flushes of growth, producing many harvests throughout the year. However, in the first year, don’t expect a massive harvest. The juvenile cactus has just shifted into maturity. Patience is key!

Floral buds can form anywhere along the stem where there is a thorn. You will notice that the thorns start looking like little warts. A wart is a positive sign that flowers are on their way. Once the first flower buds form, they will develop into fruit within 35-70 days, depending on the variety. 

Flowers (30-35 Days After Budding)

The dragon fruit flower is large and showy, with vibrant colors ranging from white to yellow, and has multiple petals arranged in a star-like shape around prominent reproductive structures.
Watch for dazzling night-blooming flowers that signal dragon fruit growth.

Within about one month of bud formation, flowers will begin to open. Pitaya plants have some of the most dazzling flowers in the plant kingdom! These night-blooming cacti often bloom around the new moon or the full moon. 

The gigantic blossoms usually open for only 10-12 hours. Their ephemeral beauty makes them extra special to witness, but it also makes pollination timing critical. It’s important to monitor your plants closely in this stage and keep reminders in your calendar to go outside when the blossoms are opening.

The bright white flowers are naturally pollinated by bats in the wild. In your garden, they may pollinate themselves or need a little help. You can use a little paintbrush to transfer pollen between blossoms. If you have a self-fertile, self-pollinating variety, no human intervention is necessary. These cultivars pollinate themselves.

About four to five days after the blossom closes, the flower will hang dead from the plant. Don’t worry! A dead flower usually indicates that pollination was successful. The plant doesn’t need the blossom any longer. It should be replaced with a little ball-like nub at the base of the withered flower. This nub will develop into a fruit.

If you don’t notice any flowers, several issues could be the cause:

Lack of Sunlight

They need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. Indoor plants often struggle to receive enough light.

Temperature

Nights below 65°F (18°C) will hinder blooming. This subtropical cactus needs very warm weather! A greenhouse may be necessary.

Lack of Water

These cacti need more water than your standard desert cactus.

Maturity

The plant may not be old enough to produce blossoms and fruit yet. Be patient, as it can take several years for the plant to start blooming.

Forgetting to Tip Prune

Tipping is crucial for dragon fruit cultivation because it “forces” flowers.

Diseases and Pests

Scale insects and fungal infections.

Fruits (35-70 Days After Budding)

The dragon fruit on the tree is oval-shaped, with a vibrant pink skin covered in small scales.
Wait until fruits ripen fully before harvesting for the best flavor.

The entire process of flowering and fruiting can take up to eight weeks. The speed of development depends on the variety. ‘Vietnam White’ is one of the fastest varieties to develop, and it is very beginner-friendly. 

This stage is very obvious because you will see the warts at the base of the withered flowers growing larger every day. The fruits typically grow in an oblong oval or pear shape. Gradually, the skins change color from green to pink to vibrant fuschia

Do not harvest until they are fully ripe!

Ripening and Harvest

Close-up of a gardener in a plaid shirt harvesting dragon fruit with red pruning shears amidst lush, green tree stems.
Harvest before rainy weather affects ripening.

The most exciting stage is the final ripening! You’ve carefully tended your cactus and anxiously awaited buds, flowers, and fruit to form. As the skin turns to bright fuchsia, it’s essential to monitor them for peak ripeness.

Growing your own pitaya is particularly rewarding because store-bought fruits typically lack flavor. This is because they are harvested underripe. Hylocereus undatus is different from many other fruits because it stops ripening as soon as you pick it. In contrast, tomatoes and bananas continue to ripen on your countertop as they’re exposed to more of the hormone ethylene. 

Ultimately, when you cut them from the vine, they are at their maximum ripeness. Patience is essential for the best flavor.

The key signs of ripeness include:

  • Bright fuschia-pink to reddish skin (depending on variety, rare varieties have yellow skins)
  • Slight softness or “give” when gently squeezed
  • Reducing amounts of green on the bracts (the dragon-tongue-shaped growths on the outside of the fruit)

To harvest, use sharp pruners to cut each fruit at the base. It’s OK if it removes a small part of the stem with it. You can eat them right away or refrigerate them. Many people believe chilled pitaya tastes even better!

A Note on Rainy Weather: If there is rain in the forecast and they are close to ripening, it’s best to harvest as quickly as possible. You don’t want to leave partially ripened fruits out in the rain. They don’t ripen very well in rainy weather.

It’s a lot easier to show you ripe fruits than it is to describe them. This video is amazingly helpful for the harvest stage:

YouTube video

Final Thoughts

This cactus takes one to two years to grow from cutting to the first harvest. You can speed up growth by starting with larger cuttings or established plants. The key growth stages include cutting, root establishment, climbing (vegetative) growth, floral budding, flowering, fruiting, and ripening. 

Tipping is the most important technique for “forcing” them to produce floral buds. After about one year of growth, your plant should be mature enough to start removing the tips and inducing buds. Once buds start growing, flowers and fruit are on their way within two months!

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