Pawpaw tree-a native fruit

Pawpaw is a fruit tree native to eastern Kansas and is often overlooked by many gardeners as a plant to consider for the edible landscape. The pawpaw tree has fruit resembling a fat banana, as big as 6 inches long and 3 inches wide. This pale green, tropical looking fruit brings to the Kansas plains an exotic taste. The fruit is often described as a cross between a banana and a pineapple. With a custard like texture it is best eaten raw and fresh from your garden.

Pawpaw is rarely grown commercially because the fruit are difficult to ship and do not store well. Ripe fruit will only hold 2 to 3 days at room temperature and up to a week under refrigeration. But for Central Kansas homeowners who don’t need to ship the fruit, the pawpaw makes a great addition to the edible garden or landscape. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind before making a decision to plant pawpaw.

Growing requirements

Pawpaw tree form

The pawpaw is a small tree that may reach 20 feet high but is less broad. Trees require cross-pollination and so plan to plant at least 2 and preferably 3 different varieties. Pawpaw trees are pollinated by insects other than bees such as beetles and flies and must be planted close together. Trees should be no further than 30 feet apart in order to insure good pollination. 

In the wild, the pawpaw is an understory tree and often does better in partial shade, especially during the first 2 to 3 years. Protection from high winds is also recommended due to the large leaves. Pawpaw does not tolerate a location where it is consistently exposed to intense and direct wind exposure.

Pawpaw leaves

Pawpaw prefers a well-drained, moderately acid (pH 5.5 to 7.0), moist soil and high organic matter content. Organic mulch is also recommended. Pawpaw will not tolerate poor soils that are lacking in nutrients are heavy clay or are extremely sandy soils. Irrigation will be needed during drought to keep trees thriving.

Planting time

Pawpaw trees have fleshy roots and are better planted in the spring (April) rather than fall unless container grown. Container-grown plants can be planted virtually anytime the soil is workable.

Before planting

A containerized pawpaw

The soil for planting should be prepared in advance of receiving the trees. Amend the soil with organic matter in the area where the trees will be planted. Do not amend just the soil from the planting hole especially if the soil is heavy and has high clay content. If you do, you have essentially made a pot that will hold water and may drown the tree. Rather, add organic matter to the area in which the tree will be planted before digging the planting hole; add organic matter to at least a 10- by 10-foot square. Add 2 inches of organic matter to the surface of the soil and then till in. 

The planting hole should be the same depth as the root system of the tree to be planted but 2 to 3 times as wide. Keep newly planted trees well watered. The soil should be moist but not waterlogged. Keep the planting area completely free of weeds or any other type of vegetation within 3 feet of the trees. Mulching is also recommended.

Varieties and more information

There has been a significant amount of work done on pawpaw by Kentucky State University.  You can reach their pawpaw site at .  Information on growing pawpaws is available from Peterson Pawpaws at  Neil Peterson’s pawpaws are the result of over 25 years of research and have been widely tested. Though Neil no longer sells his varieties directly, he does list a number of nurseries that carry them.

The Kansas Forest Service ( ) has seedling trees available for sale though it is best to plant named varieties instead if you wish to plant only a few trees. The fruit from named varieties will be of a higher quality than that from a seedling tree.

Named variety pawpaws are available from Stark Brothers ( and Raintree Nursery (  Also check with your local garden center for trees.

The University of Missouri also has pawpaw cultivar trials. You can find results
from one of these trials at