Adding Pawpaw Trees to Our Arboretum

Last spring I came inside after walking the trails in the back meadow and announced to Jan, “I have a new hobby!” She looked at me incredulously. We both laughed because I have so many interests that keep me as busy as I want to be. Then she asked, “What’s your new hobby?” “I want to start an arboretum,” I answered. Our property is already a mecca for all kinds of wild creatures including a variety of trees, so adding a few more from time-to-time just seemed like a lot of fun for both of us.

Last year I planted two Franklinia trees I had purchased (check out https://bartramsgarden.org/explore-bartrams/franklinia-tree/), and a Sugar Maple tree I had dug from a nearby woodland. And I transplanted 14 Flowering Dogwood trees, seeded by other dogwoods on the property, into rows near the roadway in front of the house and along the entryway to our arboretum in back.

40 years ago, near where I worked, I transplanted young Pawpaw saplings to start a pawpaw patch . Last fall I collected a few pawpaws from that grove. (See our article: https://wvbirder.wordpress.com/2019/10/22/pickin-up-pawpaws-put-em-in-my-pocket-by-jan-runyan/ for information about pawpaws.)

Jan saved all the seeds from last fall’s pawpaws. She took 9 seeds to try to sprout them indoors. Three seeds she planted right away in a planter. Three more she put in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks and then planted them in the planter after putting a nick in the extremely hard seed coat. The last 3 stayed in the freezer for several weeks and then also got nicks in the seed coats before they were planted in the same container. I planted all of the remaining big seeds outside in the back meadow.

Pawpaw seeds (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

All winter long Jan kept the planter of 9 pawpaw seeds slightly moist in the sunporch along with the rest of our winter indoor garden. She tells me that, after a few months of no results, she had really given up since everyone says that pawpaws are almost impossible to grow from seed. But she just kept them moist anyway.

Finally in the spring we had an unexpected, exciting surprise! A couple of her seeds had germinated and we had very tiny Pawpaw Trees. Over the next few weeks we had more and more little stems trying to lift those huge heavy seeds. We didn’t want to help them for fear of hurting the baby leaves. Sometimes it took 2-3 weeks until the leaves finally grew large enough to shove off the hard seed coat.

Pawpaw Tree recently germinated from a seed. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

After a while we had 6 trees ready to transplant into taller individual containers. Pawpaw Trees have a well-deserved reputation for having substantial tap roots. The tap roots were actually longer than the above-ground stem and leaves of the little trees.

Large taproot on small Pawpaw Tree. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

The 6 Pawpaw seedlings flourished in their new individual homes. They drank a lot of water and reached for the plant lights. We were pleased to have gotten that many seeds to sprout. The different treatments (cold, freezing, nicked seed-coats) didn’t seem to matter for sprouting. All three ways gave us trees.

We thought that getting 6 trees was a great outcome from 9 seeds, but Jan kept watering the planter with the 3 unsprouted seeds. Eventually she was rewarded with 2 more baby pawpaws!

This week we transplanted the first 6 Pawpaw Trees into the arboretum.

Pawpaw Trees ready for planting. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

I chose a spot that is similar to areas where I usually see Pawpaw Trees in the wild. I got out the lawn mower and tiller to prepare the ground.

Photo (c) Bill Beatty

The area I chose for the pawpaw grove was covered with Japanese Stilt Grass so I mowed it as close to the ground as possible. And, knowing that mowing won’t kill stilt grass, I tilled the whole area about 3 inches deep to destroy their root structure. Luckily stilt grass has a shallow root system.

Japanese Stilt Grass in lower right and mowed/tilled area above. (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Then I fenced the area to keep out certain wildlife, especially raccoons and skunks. From experience I have discovered that after people transplant things, raccoons often dig up the transplants that same night. They don’t eat the transplants, they just dig them up. Just curious, I guess.

Fenced-in area (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Next I collected 5 gallons of our rich compost and a bucket of water.

The Compost King collecting compost he has made (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

I made sure the holes were deep enough to give the long taproots plenty of space.

Digging 6 holes (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Compost, Pawpaw seedlings and tools (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Each Pawpaw Seedling was gently surrounded by lots of rich compost made from plants on our property.

Planting a Pawpaw Tree and adding plenty of compost. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Planting the last Pawpaw seedling. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

I used rainwater from our rain barrels to get the seedlings off to a good, natural start.

Watering a Pawpaw seedling. (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)
Jan with her Pawpaw seedlings (Photo (c) Bill Beatty)

Of all the seeds that I had planted directly into our arboretum last fall, I have yet to see a seedling. So far, 8 of the 9 seeds Jan sowed in a container indoors have sprouted. (Yes, she is still watering the planter just in case that last seed still wants to sprout.)

The 2 last pawpaw seedlings are getting bigger in the planter, waiting to be transferred into individual, taller containers to allow their taproots to develop. Then they will join the 6 already planted outdoors.

Photo (c) Jan Runyan

We hope that we may live long enough to enjoy some fruits of our labor. But, as with planting any seeds, it’s all about believing and leaving something for the future. Maybe those people who say that you can’t get Pawpaws to sprout from seeds just didn’t wait long enough.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_9239-1.jpg
Photo (c) Jan Runyan

2 thoughts on “Adding Pawpaw Trees to Our Arboretum

  1. I forwarded this to my friend and paw paw enthusiast in Charleston, WV and this is her reply:
    Colleen Anderson
    10:36 AM (10 minutes ago)
    to me

    Thanks! I am a bit surprised that the seeds they kept indoors sprouted. Neal recommends putting them in the freezer or planting in fall so that the “striate” over the winter. But, really, what do I know? I guess I know they can sprout from seeds, because our Arlington Court tree is the “daughter” of one I grew from a seed. It is absolutely loaded with fruits for the second year in a row. Clusters of 6 or 7 fruits, and lots of them!

    I wish I still liked the taste of pawpaws, but I have also learned that one can ruin a good thing by overdoing it.

    Colleen

    Like

    • Thanks Nancy/Colleen. This pawpaw growing from seed experiment was new to us. The seeds I planted outside last fall haven’t sprouted… yet. I am glad Jan continued to care for the 9 seeds she planted indoors even though nothing seemed to be happening. Bill

      Like

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