The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, April 6, 2003
Garden Life

Pamper the papaya plant
Satish Narula

The papaya tree is easy to maintain
The papaya tree is easy to maintain

OF all the fruit trees the one that bothers the gardener the least is the papaya. It bears fruits in a matter of few months, gives fruit in abundance and the plant dies and has to be replaced within two to three years.

An excellent source of Vitamin A, it is known for its high nutritive and medicinal value. The tree does not need much of open space, as it grows erect. However, it needs good amount of sunlight. Mostly, the gardeners plant them too near tall growing trees or under them. Under such conditions, the plant shows leggy growth and fails to flower and fruit due to shade. Another important point is protection from frost to which it is very prone. Under these lawn conditions, there is not much problem. Though there is usually no danger of strong winds but in areas prone to them, the plants need protection.

Most of the gardeners’ feel disheartened when the plants laden with fruit suddenly crumble and fall with the slightest of wind. In fact, this happens due to the rotting of roots caused by continuous wet feet. We are not even aware, at times, which way the natural slope of the garden is. The subsoil accumulation of water in a particular direction is the cause of root rotting. It is, therefore, a must to select a site that is well-drained and upward sloping.

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I have also seen people giving ‘support’ to the plant by making mounds of earth around the main stem. This is another mistake. The loose soil around the mound conserves moisture and the main stem remains continuously in touch with it, causing rotting.

Moreover, such mounds become the breeding place for insects.

Pusa Delicious and Pusa Dwarf are two excellent varieties of papaya that are recommended for this region. Fruit bearing in both these cases starts at a height of about a metre or so from the ground. The colour of the flesh is also attractive orange to deep orange and the taste is also very pleasing. The latter variety can withstand cold weather comparatively better. Propagation of papaya is done from seeds. Freshly extracted seeds can be planted in polythene bags. The emerging seedlings are prone to damping-off disease and they lodge even when these are an inch or so high. Drench the plants with captan, dissolved at two gram to a litre of water. The seedlings are to be later transplanted in a pre-dug and refilled pit with equal quantity of well-rotten farmyard manure, top soil and sand. Do not take this fruit tree for granted as it is a heavy feeder and should get due nutrition. A fruit-bearing papaya tree can be given about a kilogram of a mixture of urea, superphosphate and muriate of potash mixed in the ratio of 1:2:1/3, twice a year, in February and August.

The accompanying photograph is of a male papaya tree. You can identify it from the flowers, which is on long string-like extensions. Usually, the gardeners ask whether these should be allowed to grow or removed.

You can leave at least one such plant after ten of other types. The productive life of papaya is hardly two years or so and after it, there is drastic reduction in fruit size due to the shrinking of the node distance, as the tree grows high. It should therefore be replaced.