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planting pawpaw seeds

October 14, 2009

The other day I stopped by the house on Washington St that has pawpaw trees growing in the yard.  A nice lady named Ruth greeted us in her driveway and we spoke for awhile about her trees.  They were planted 45 years ago by her husband who saved a few seedlings from a grove that was about to be bulldozed on campus.
pawpaw stand on washington

Happy to share her bounty of fruit, she graciously served us slices of freshly ripe pawpaw and sent us each home with a few fruits.  When I told her I was interested in growing my own, she gave me a container with hundreds of seeds. I also saved all the seeds from the fruits she gave me.

Eating Ruth’s pawpaws was the first time I’d ever eaten a fully ripe one. I thought they were incredibly delicious.

Normally people plant the seeds in deep containers and transplant the seedlings after they’ve grown a bit. First, however, the seeds need to experience a period of cold lasting 90-120 days, called stratification. This is achieved by refrigerating the seeds during the winter. Of course this is a lot of work and it requires patience, a quality that I can’t always depend on myself having.

My plan is to plant all of the seeds in our shady front yard. The grass grows terribly under an old Maple tree, and pawpaws can tolerate a lot of shade. I chose to plant the seeds directly into the soil, allowing them to stratify naturally during the winter. This reduces the overall amount of work. Instead of planting a few seeds and carefully watching them, I planted a lot of seeds and allowed nature to do the rest of the work.

Using a rebar spike I stabbed the ground and dropped a seed, over and over, until over 100 were planted. The idea to plant this way came from this movie. If none of them come up, no biggie, the whole process took less than an hour. However, if some come up, then a lot will, and the chances of a few surviving are better than slim.
handful of pawpaw seeds

After I planted them I received this email back from a paw paw expert: “Maples are difficult trees to plant pawpaws under because the maple roots are so aggressive and out compete the pawpaw roots for water and nutrients. At least that is true in general if not very every situation. Pawpaws grow very often in association with tulip poplar and ash. If your soil is deep and rich, then maple is probably okay.”  So I guess I have to hope our soil is “deep and rich.”

The seeds will first grow a 10 inch taproot before emerging above ground next Fall. Sometime in August 2010, I’ll be looking for tiny seedlings and hoping that somehow they’ll survive the following Winter and grow into trees.

I zipped up all my pawpaw research and you can download it here. Also, this page is loaded with info.

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