One of the most unusual looking fruits in the store, dragon fruit bursts with color and nutritional benefits. From a healthier heart to stronger bones and even a tougher immune system, this little fruit has a positive impact on your body. Dragon fruit, also known as a pitaya, comes from a cactus – and it's also easy to grow.
High-fiber, low-calorie foods are a dieter’s dream, especially when they taste good. Even if you aren't trying to slim down, dragon fruit offers myriad vitamins and minerals such as fiber, phosphorus, calcium, and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and C.
The flesh of the fruit is riddled with tiny black seeds. The edible seeds of this fruit contain omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, which help to reduce the risk of heart disease. Even though this fruit will satisfy your sweet tooth, it doesn’t contain any complex carbohydrates.
It doesn't stop there, though. There are quite a few home remedies that involve dragon fruit. It can also be used to treat acne and relieve sunburned skin.
Even if all previous attempts at gardening have failed, it’s likely you’ll be able to grow your own dragon fruit. Start with a self-pollinating variety for even easier maintenance. Unless you want to wait a few years for your cactus to bear fruit, skip the seed stage and just use a stem cutting.
Once you've acquired a stem cutting, allow the cut end to dry over. Keep the cutting out of sunlight for this time period, too. Allowing the cut end to seal up helps to prevent fungal infections that can occur if you plant the cutting without first letting it heal. This normally takes about a week.
Now for the hard part. Plant the cutting in potting soil – only between 1 to 2 inches deep – and set the pot in a sunny window. Remember, this is a cactus, so you only need to water it once every two weeks. If the soil dries out, don't panic – it’s supposed to.
Eventually, the cactus will develop wispy tendrils sprouting from all over its surface. Congratulations, you have a healthy plant! If you've ever grown ivy before, you'll recognize how strong these little roots can be. They will happily latch on to nearly any surface, so it's important to provide the plant with a trellis.
Move the cactus to a larger pot, but no bigger than 25 gallons. Keep the soil high in phosphorus but low in nitrogen. You can buy soil with these qualities or make your own. Once repotted, gradually move your cactus into more and more sunlight.
Your goal is for the cactus to have at least half a day of sunlight, with a full day as the optimal amount. Keep in mind that moving the plant too quickly into direct sunlight can have adverse effects.
It's important to encourage the dragon fruit cactus to grow up instead of out. That means that you need to remove many of the roots from the sides of the cactus – leaving the tendrils on the top of the plant – to encourage upward growth. Also, make sure that you're directing the stems towards their trellis as it grows.
Continue this process until the cactus is at least 2 feet tall. That might sound big but, in order to bear fruit, the cactus will need to build about 10 pounds of mass, so it needs plenty of room to grow.
Your goal is to get the cactus to flower, and these flowers will produce fruit – unless they need pollination – in about a month.
Even though dragon fruit is easy to grow, it does take time – so don't wait to get started. Have patience and don't worry, this is one of the few plants that you can forget to water for a few weeks at a time. Soon you'll have healthy snacks at the ready.
Photo by Flickr/tippi t
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