Q: I have several papaya trees in the yard. Two have many papayas, some very large. When will they ripen?
K. B., Miami Shores
A: For papaya, you can pick them when at least 80 percent of the skin has color. That’s when it’s at peak flavor.
When growing papaya, keep in mind that they don’t like wet soil and are the first plants to die when we have even a brief flood. So if you live in a flood-prone area, plant papaya on a hill or in containers.
If you want to start new plants, sow seeds from the oblong-shaped fruit from the grocery store or from your papaya plants. Oblong-shaped fruit will produce more productive (50 percent hermaphroditic [bisexual], 50 percent female) plants than the seeds from rounder fruit which will produce 50 percent male and 50 percent female plants.
To propagate by seed, remove the seeds from a ripe fruit and place in a colander. Press the seeds against the side of the colander to break the sac surrounding the seed (this sac inhibits seed germination). Rinse seeds thoroughly and place on a paper towel to dry on your kitchen counter. Once seeds are dry they may be placed in a plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator for several years for later use.
In general, propagating and planting two to three plants is best to insure fruit production from at least one plant. Well cared-for plants may begin to produce flowers four months after planting and fruit seven to eleven months after planting. The amount of fruit produced by a papaya plant varies with the general climate, weather conditions during the year, and plant care.
Temperatures above 90°F may cause flowers to drop, and temperatures below 59°F may inhibit flowering or cause misshapen fruit.
To learn more about caring for your papaya, please read this University of Florida fact sheet: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg054