Growing Chayote

Growing chayote is a great option if you live in a warm or tropical climate. Once established, a single plant can bear 50 to 100 fruits a season.

  • 066 growing chayote
    Growing chayote is fun and provides you with a savory, squash-like treat.

  • 066 growing chayote

Any home gardener who likes to experiment with new and unusual varieties of vegetables should try growing chayote vines. They’re easy to grow, have a high yield of savory and nutritious fruit, and really aren’t new at all, but were a favorite crop of the ancient Aztecs and are still grown by many present-day Mexicans.

I had assumed — when I was introduced to the squash-like treat while on vacation in Mexico — that the chayote was a tropical product to be enjoyed only south of the border. Therefore, I was delighted, upon my return home, to find the fruit in our California supermarket. (It’d probably been there all along and I just hadn’t noticed it.)

I found out, too, that these Mexican fruits, which the Aztecs called chayotli, are now widely grown in tropical and subtropical areas around the world. They are known as christophine or mirliton to Caribbeans, chocho to Madeirans, pipinella to Italians, and pipinola to Hawaiians. (The plant’s scientific name is Sechium edule, but most North Americans call them “vegetable pears.”)

Being a home gardener myself, I wanted to grow my own “patch” of chayote, and wondered if they’d survive in California’s central valley. A little research soon told me that my area’s climate would suit the import well. The vine requires a 150-day growing season (between hard frosts) and is planted occasionally in gardens across the southern United States. (A light winter frost kills back the greenery, but doesn’t destroy the roots, which — come spring — send up new plants. And in even more northerly areas, the vegetable pear can sometimes be grown as an annual, or be wintered over in a greenhouse.)

In the course of my studies, I also discovered that almond-sized chayote seeds can’t be dried and saved for planting: It germinates only inside the fruit — and will often do so while still on the vine — so the seed must be planted with its fleshy “shell” intact. The vegetable pear grower’s first step, then, is to locate a market (try an area with a large Spanish-speaking population) where chayote is sold in late fall. (It doesn’t matter if the fruit has been in cold storage and plastic-wrapped.) Buy several ... put them away in a dark, cool (not frosty) place ... and wait. The seed sprout will emerge and lengthen in the darkness. By February it should be approximately six inches long.

Then, if your area — like most parts of North America — isn’t yet frost-free, put the sprouted chayote in a pot with the tip of the new growth just peeping out of the soil. Set it in a sunny window, keep it watered, and plant it outdoors once the weather is warm enough. (Should you live in a zone, like ours, that usually stays above freezing in February, you can simply plant the germinated fruit wherever you want it to grow.)

2/3/2021 3:16:57 PM

Where can i get chayote seed organic please help

1/15/2021 3:57:54 PM

I started growing mirlitons about 50 years ago when I bought my grand father's house just before he died and his shed was completely covered in vines and fruit. Now I am part of a small group of people, headed up by Chef John Folse and the Ishreal Thibodeaux White Mirliton Project, trying to get the white mirlitons back to heavy yields, here in south Louisiana. Dr. Lance Hill of Tulane University in New Orleans started after Hurricane Katrina nearly wiped out the mirliton crops here and it is a magnificent site to find recipes, pictures, buying and selling sites of heirloom varieties and much more wonderful information. I have thoroughly enjoyed this article by Mother Earth News, of which I have been a subscriber since Issue #1. Thank you.

10/2/2017 7:31:00 PM

V Barnett -- yes you can grow it in southern BC -- I live in Vancouver and grow it in my yard, as do many of my neighbours. My landlord has been growing one for many years using a horizontal trellis, and it comes up like magic in the late summer, bearing fruit in September. It's popping now! I'm looking at it and there are probably 2 dozen fruit ready or almost ready to pick, and I've been picking a dozen or so each week for the last few weeks. It grows incredibly fast. Also note that you can eat the shoots and smaller leaves, and use the bigger leaves to make tea or mulch. Apparently you can even eat the roots (like potatoes) but as we only have the one plant I wouldn't want to do that. I grew a second chayote plant this spring from a fruit I picked last year -- I did exactly what this article said: I put the chayote in my dark cool pantry over the winter on a piece of cardboard so it wouldn't moulder, and then presto, in Feb or Mar it had a little sprout and I planted it in a pot as described in the article in March; I let it enjoy the sunshine but brought it inside in the evening. I planted it in the garden in April or May and waited. As it's younger than our other chayote vine, and planted in a less sunny spot with a vertical trellis, it started bearing fruit about a month later than the older one, and so far we've only got a half dozen fruit. I plan to mulch it in December depending on the weather to help the root survive frost. You should go for it! They're wonderful plants and super prolific.

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