growing your own paw paws

Learn what is needed to successfully grow a paw paw tree

Over the years Perry Paw Paws has successfully grown paw paw trees from seed to tree in the great state of Michigan. We’ve learned a lot through the process and can share proper growing environments that have worked best.

The Requirements

In the eastern half of North America, paw paws generally grow quite well. After all, they are a native species. They are well adapted for the climate east of the Mississippi River, as far south as northern Florida and as far north as southern Michigan. While there are pests that will effect paw paws, they generally are not detrimental and the tree can typically fend for its self.

Planting – From Soil to Spacing

Paw paws do better in sand than clay, but prefer a sandy loam rich in organic matter. Paw paws found in the wild will almost always be found along river banks. Seasonal flooding in the spring is tolerable but the trees don’t want to have wet feet when they come out of dormancy.

Soil amendment is necessary if your site has heavy clay soil. A large hole should be dug and refilled with compost. If your site has sandy soil, amendment is recommended but not necessary. Sandy soil is well draining, which is good, but has trouble holding nutrients. More frequent applications of fertilizer will make up for this.

To best mimic their natural growing conditions, heavy applications of compost and mulch will create the ideal soil for pawpaws to grow in.

When placing trees in your back yard, a spacing of no more than 10-12 feet apart is required. At full size the trees are not more than 30 feet wide. A little bit of crowding is okay as the fruit should remain shaded so as to not get sun scald.

In an orchard setting, 10-15 feet between trees in a row is sufficient and 15-20 feet between rows. The distance between rows is more dependent on the equipment used to maintain your orchard.

Paw paw saplings being prepped and grown in a climate-controlled greenhouse.
Grafting pawpaws. Image taken by Perry Pawpaws/Perry Permaculture.
Soil health is very important for any crop, especially paw paws. Ensuring your soil is nutrient-filled and suitable for growing is best done before planting.

Climate – Keep Your Paw Paw Warm and Welcome

Paw paws are also fairly forgiving as far as the climate in which they will grow. Paw paws need a dormant period to produce fruit the following spring. Certain cultivars are suited for growing as far south as northern Florida to northern Louisiana. Further south and the winters are too mild and the summers are too hot.

Paw paws can grow as far north as Michigan and southern Ontario, CA. Much further north and you’ll see tip die back after a hard winter or the trees could out right die if the winter is too cold.

The USDA growing zones best suited for paw paws are zones 4-9. But zones 6-8 are the most preferred. Paw paws are most commonly found in Appalachia, which is a sure bet for prime orchard settings. That being said there are instances of the trees being grown in Europe and the Pacific Northwest.

Nutrients -Keep Your Paw Paw Growing Healthy

Paw paws are fairly heavy feeders. Once established, they have a deep taproot to obtain the nutrients needed. While establishing your young trees, regular applications of 21-7-7 fertilizer will get your trees off to a good start. Once established, regular applications of fertilizer will help achieve heavy fruit sets, but certainly isn’t required.

Growing Paw Paws in Michigan

While paw paws are native to Michigan, we are at the northern end of their range. Certain precautions should be taken to achieve optimal results this far north.

The fruit belt of Michigan, the western coast, is an ideal place to grow the fruit. The lake effect helps alleviate late spring frosts which can effect fruit set by killing the flowers. More inland areas of the state can still be a suitable place to grow the fruit as long as site selection is carefully taken into account. Trees on the top of hills can see tip die back from cold winter winds. Low areas at the bottom of hills can see more frost pressure. The side of hills with wind protection is the ideal space to plant trees in the interior of Michigan.

Finally, cultivar selection is important in Michigan. Some varieties are late to fruit and won’t fully ripen before the first frost. Check out our paw paw cultivar page to learn more about which cultivars are best for you.

A greenhouse with a pickup truck in front of the entrance. Image taken by Perry Pawpaws/Perry Permaculture.
A spring delivery of a few thousand pots, ready to be filled with seedlings.

How to Harvest The Fruits of Your Labor

Learn when to harvest & what to expect.

Harvesting the Fruits

Paw paws need to be mostly ripe when picked. If the fruit is too hard, it will not ripen on the counter. If the fruit is firm, but has a little give, you can harvest and leave for a few days to finish ripening. A sure way to know your fruit is ripe is to pick them up off the ground. These fruits will be dead ripe and will need to be eaten ASAP.

When Should I Harvest in Michigan?

Fruits in Michigan are ready from the last weeks of September through the first frost. Usually at the end of October.

Storing the Fruits

Paw paw fruits are perishable. They do not store like apples and pears. A ripe fruit will only last a day or two on the counter and maybe 5 days in the refrigerator. A fruit that is not quite ripe will ripen over the course of a few days on the counter or will last a week to 10 days in the refrigerator.

Tips and Tricks to Harvesting

Want your fruits to last longer after harvest? Take a pair of pruners with you and cut the pedicel, just above the fruit cluster. This will allow you easily more than a week to enjoy your fruits if stored in the refrigerator.

What Comes Next?

Have you heard enough? Check out our shop to get your own paw paw trees!

Need a little more information? Check out this article from our friends at Cornell to learn even more about Michigan’s best kept secret: The Paw Paw