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Pawpaw Planting Guide

Introduction

Congratulations on purchasing your very own pawpaw tree! 

The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is North America’s largest native fruit and has been an important part of forest ecosystems for millions of years. While habitat loss, changing forest composition, and a lack of awareness has made pawpaw trees difficult to find in some areas, these trees are superbly adapted for growth in USDA Hardiness Zones 5-8, and pawpaws have been successfully grown as far north as Ontario, Canada! Follow this guide to help give your new seedlings a strong start. Happy Growing!

Site Selection

Pawpaws prefer well drained, fertile soil. While pawpaws are commonly found as an understory tree, they really only tolerate shade and will yield more if planted in a location with full sun. Pawpaws planted in extremely windy areas may sustain damage on account of their large leaves and dense canopy.

It may be helpful to choose a location that has easy access to a hose or other water source, as pawpaws can benefit from supplemental irrigation during long dry spells or in the intense heat of the summer. Irrigation can be particularly important during the first growing season while trees are getting established. 

When To Plant

Plant pawpaw seedlings in the spring or early fall, as these planting times will minimize heat and water stress on the newly transplanted trees. Dormant trees can be planted before the last frost in the early spring, but after budbreak seedlings should only be planted after the threat of frost has passed. Seedlings can be planted in the fall, but growers in USDA Hardiness Zone 6a or colder may have more success with a spring planting. 

Storing Seedlings

If you aren't planning to plant your tree right away, then you'll need to know how to store it. If your tree has leaves and is actively growing, keep your tree in a shady area and remember to water it! To store a seedling over the winter, wait until the seedling has lost its leaves adn gone dormant before placing it in a protected area such as a garage, basement, or unheated stairwell. Remember to check on teh seedling occasionally and to keep the soil moist. 

Planting Essentials

Planting Your Tree

It is recommended to plant two or more pawpaw seedlings to ensure pollination. Trees should be planted 5 to 15 feet apart to facilitate wild pollinator activity. 

To plant, dig a hole that is slightly wider and deeper than the pot in which your seedling came. Gently remove the seedling from the pot and place it in the hole, taking care not to break the tap root or any of the delicate secondary roots. Fill in around the roots, burying the seedling up to where the trunk meets the soil in the pot. Be sure to thoroughly water your seedlings after planting.

Protecting Your Tree

For their first growing season, pawpaws require shade to protect them from harsh sun while they are getting established. This can be accomplished by planting your pawpaw under existing shade such as other trees, but more commonly growers elect to use a material such as shade cloth or burlap which can be removed after the seedlings are established. Be mindful that whatever you use for shade must be secured so that it will not be removed by high winds or curious animals.

If you purchased a seedling tree from Project Pawpaw, you also received a recycable paperboard tree protector. This protector will provide shade and protection from deer and other animals. Use a wooden or fiberglass stake to secure your tree protector (bamboo stakes aren't quite strong enough!) and mound some soil around the base of the protector to keep if from spinning on the stake in the wind. 

Other methods of tree protection include plastic Tree Pro tubes or using burlap / shade cloth secured over a cylinder of wire fencing. 

Grower holding tree protector
tree protector with stake
Spring Plantings

Plant your tree in the early spring just as the pawpaw seedlings are starting to break dormancy. After planting, place your tree protector over the seedlings. The tree will continue to grow through the tree protector throughout the season. Keep the tree protector on your tree for the first growing season and through dormancy, removing it in late winter before the tree begins to leaf out.

Remove any grass or weeds that grow around the base of the seedling to minimize competition for water and nutrients. After one month of active growth, apply the manufacturer recommended amount of a broad-spectrum fertilizer to the base of the seedlings and surrounding soil.

Fall Plantings

If planting your seedlings in the late summer or early fall, place the tree protector over the tree imeediately after planting. Leave the protector on through the first winter and for the following growing season. The protector will start to degrade towards the end of the first growing season, at which point it can be removed. 

Remove any grass or weeds that grow around the base of the seedling to minimize competition for water and nutrients. Do not apply fertilizer in the fall, as vegetative growth that occurs late in the season will not have time to harden off before winter. Apply the manufacturer recommended amount of a broad-spectrum fertilizer to the base of the seedlings and surrounding soil in the late spring and early summer of the following growing season.

After Establishment

Yearly Care

Continue to control weed pressure around the base of the trees and consider applying a broad-spectrum fertilizer once or twice per growing season to ensure that the trees have adequate access to macro and micronutrients. 

As the trees get larger they may begin to put up “suckers”, which are small clones that grow from the roots of the mother tree. If you wish to have more of a pawpaw patch, you can leave these suckers and they will grow into full sized trees. Otherwise, cut them off at the base with hand pruners.

Pawpaw trees do not require pruning, however some growers do prune trees to increase light and airflow through the canopy, to control tree size, and to improve fruit quality. Pruning is a complex topic, and those interested in learning proper pruning techniques should consult some of the many excellent resources available online.

A 2 year old seedling can typically be expected to produce fruit 4 to 6 years after planting, but this may be shorter or longer depending on many factors. The soil quality, fertility, sun exposure, microclimate, weed pressure, water availability, and a myriad of other factors all can impact the rate at which your trees grow and fruit. By following the recommendations in this guide, you are setting yourself up for the best chance of success as you start or continue your pawpaw journey. 

Happy Growing!

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