Cultivating chayote plants is a great lesson on trellises as they are great in vertical gardens. Once you learn how to grow chayote, you'll likely make it a part of your garden every warm season.
There are many varieties of chayote squash. Imported chayote is widely available. That's because this summer squash has been around for a while. Each species produces copious amounts of leaves and grasping vines, as well as plenty of fruit that you can eat or save for future planting.
It is a mystery why chayote fruit has not become popular with North American growers. Not only is the chayote vine beautiful, but its vegetable bulbs are also versatile and fit into a variety of cuisines. Cultivation is a worthwhile undertaking, especially in tropical and subtropical regions.
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Quick care instructions
Learning how to grow chayote will provide you with a very good supply of produce. Source: daniela.magallon
|Common name(s)||Chayote, Mirliton, Choko, Christophene, Chou Chou, Chow Chow|
|Scientific name||Sechium edule|
|days until harvest||30 days after flowering|
|water||1 inch per week|
|floor||Sandy, loamy, well drained|
|fertilizer||Slow release, high in phosphorus and potassium|
|pests||Leaffoot bugs, squash vine borers, root knot nematodes|
|Diseases||Powdery mildew, root or crown rot|
All About Chayote
When there is no trellis, chayote will crawl all over the place, as shown on this chayote farm. Source: rica1786
Chayote plants (Sechium edule) are also known as mirliton, chou chou, chow chow, christophene, and choko. Cultivated as a staple food by Mesoamerican peoples, it made its way to North America in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when Haitian immigrants moved to Louisiana after the Haitian Revolution. Chayote squash has been and still is a staple of the Haitian diet. It was touted among colonists for its productive nature and only admired as an ornamental plant. It was only after someone tipped them off that the plant was nicknamed the "vegetable pear".
The chayote squash will sprout and form a large, sprawling vine that can grow up to 10 to 12 meters tall. Therefore, chayote plants must grow along fences and arched trellis. Chayote enjoys tropical and subtropical regions, growing as a tender perennial in optimal conditions all year round. During cool seasons, chayote dies back and remains dormant until it warms up again. A plant produces 60 to 100 pounds of fruit annually.
The chayote plant belongs to the gourd family and grows for up to 8 years in a row. The vine grows 40-foot long branches that radiate slender tendrils. They are covered in heart-shaped leaves covered in trichomes. Light green to white male and female flowers bloom on the same plant in late summer to early fall. When successfully pollinated by insects, wind, or by hand, the flowers produce pear-shaped fruits that are curled at the ends. The fruit has a short shelf life, germinating within 30 days as the central seed feeds on moisture and nutrients from the fruit itself. Therefore, growers plant the whole fruit to propagate.
All parts of chayote are edible. Chayote squash is a staple and is great raw, cooked in dishes or grilled. The leaves are perfect for stir-fries. And the tuberous chayote roots are consumed much like a potato. The pulp of the chayote fruit yields to the flavor of the dish it is in. It tastes like an apple raw. The fruit is very nutritious and helps with heart and blood sugar problems by providing minerals and vitamins. The leaves have been used as a prophylactic in teas for centuries, particularly by Mesoamerican peoples. Fruit puree has also been used to treat skin rashes.
Plant a sprouted fruit or plants started from sprouted fruit in spring in a frost-free time and place. If you live in a cool region, grow chayote squash indoors first, then transplant when it's warm. If you live somewhere that doesn't get many days above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, avoid cultivating this summer squash outdoors. Choose a site with loamy, well-drained soil in full sun. Give your chayote squash a minimum of 12 feet in diameter if you plan to grow on an arched trellis and at least 3 by 12 feet if you plan to grow on a vertical trellis or fence. Chayote plants are too prolific to grow in most containers, although you may have success growing them in a 30-gallon plastic container with multiple drainage holes. If you are growing chayote squash in the ground, plant the fruit or transplant into the center of the prepared bed. This allows the roots of the Chayote vines to spread unhindered. Mulch heavily around the base of the plant to regulate soil temperature and moisture levels. Consider incorporating companion plants into your chayote garden. Peppers, squash, and corn make excellent companions.
Baby chayotes start out very small, not much wider than their next tribe. Source: UnconventionalEmma
Planting chayote squash is a breeze as long as you do it after the last average frost date as well! Let's cover the basic care needs for these abundant garden pumpkins.
sun and temperature
The chayote is a tropical plant that has a prolonged growing season in warm areas. It prefers full sun with at least 6 hours of direct light per day. It can withstand even more and prefers high heat and intense sunlight. Growing chayote in partial shade is possible, although this will reduce fruit production. It is hardy in USDA zones 8 through 11.
Zones outside of this range are suitable for cultivation in the climate controlled greenhouse if space permits. Heat isn't a problem for growing chayote, although cold winter regions aren't great. Not only does the plant need to be frost free for at least 120 to 150 days, but it should also not be in an area that falls below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, unripe fruit falls off the plant. Chayote will not produce fruit at all when cold. Freezing temperatures will kill this fast-growing vine.
water and moisture
Water your chayote squash weekly at a rate of 1 inch per week. Keep water consistent with drip irrigation, which ensures a constant supply and prevents splashing on foliage to help prevent fungal diseases. Test the soil under the chayote squash up to your second knuckle. If you find the soil there dry, add water. Soil moisture should be moist but not soggy. Water the plant daily in hot seasons. When chayote wilts on a very hot summer afternoon, you know this is normal. Don't overwater, especially if it has rained.
Chayote squash prefers loamy, sandy soil that drains well. Chayote grows naturally in Central America and other tropical regions. Here the soil is often clayey or volcanic in nature. In home gardens, chayote requires a little supplementation with rich organic compost and possibly some agricultural sand. Sand or even perlite is useful in areas where the soil needs more drainage. Peat moss is a great addition to soils that need to retain moisture. If you plant the chayote in poor soil, it will still grow, but maybe not as richly. The optimal pH level for growing chayote is between 6.0 and 6.8.
Provide a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus and potassium, assuming your soil already has adequate nitrogen. Include well-composted chicken manure to provide a nitrogen boost early in the growing season. Otherwise, applications of 8-24-24 or 3-4-4 slow-release fertilizers a few times to every two months of the growing season will keep chayote production going for as long as possible. If you want to go completely organic, growing chayote with manure will give your chayote squash a nutrient boost.
When growing chayote squash, train the plant on a trellis. This not only produces more chayote (one chayote plant produces an average of 60 pounds of pear-shaped fruit), but also protects the plant from diseases and pests. However, you will need a sturdy trellis or fence for this very heavy plant. Plant chayote in a bed with a trellis that has a base at a 45 degree angle. This allows the plant to move up the trellis as it grows. Growing chayote on an arched trellis is also a great option.
Remove damaged or diseased leaves as soon as they appear. After the fruiting phase, the chayote squash will benefit from pruning to 3 to 4 short shoots. If you live in a place where it gets cold, cut the shoots close to the ground. Ripe tubers will sprout in spring when the air and soil are warm.
Since propagation by cuttings is not easy to do outside of horticultural expertise, we recommend propagation by seeds. Plant the chayote squash (whole fruit) either in the ground in spring in frost-free weather, or in a container in a warm spot in anticipation of transplanting. The chayote seed is, and should remain, in the chayote squash because it draws moisture and nutrients from the pulp that are essential for germination. It is easier to propagate from germinated chayote, which contains fertile chayote seeds. They will germinate within 30 days of harvesting the chayote squash. Use the planting section of this piece to determine what conditions to plant the entire fruit under.
Harvesting and Storage
Chayotes have a very mild flavor but can be eaten raw or cooked. Source: Thiago Gama Oliveira
Fresh chayote is delicious when eaten raw or fried. Let's talk about the harvesting process of this delicious, mildly flavored pear-shaped fruit.
Harvest the chayote squash about 30 days after successful pollination. The mature chayote should be hard-skinned and not yield to thumb pressure. If it gives way, give it some more time. If left on the vine too long, the pulp becomes hard and fibrous, making it difficult to eat. Remove the chayote from the vine with a sharp knife or hand shears. Save some to eat and use the remaining fruit for another staple. Harvest leaves by cutting off the tops of the vines up to a foot or two. Remove the tubers at the end of the growing season. Remember to leave something behind to enjoy another harvest next year. To overwinter the tubers, be sure to put a thick layer of mulch over the soil to protect it from the cold.
Store fresh chayote in an open plastic bag at room temperature to extend its shelf life. But even under these conditions, they will germinate within 4 to 6 weeks. Freezing or refrigerating raw or diced chayote is not recommended. Instead, you can pickle chayote or make it into a jelly that will keep in the fridge for 5 to 6 months. Try storing chayote in the dehydrated format—like chips—in an airtight container at room temperature for a few weeks.
A chayote is barely visible among its vines. Source: Winston Wong
Chayote is so prolific that it doesn't seem to have many issues associated with it. However, here are a few to watch out for.
Try growing chayote in it cold weather, and you will have trouble getting started. This pumpkin does not tolerate cold. Likewise if you are growing in an area where this is not the case good drainage, it can weaken the plant and create optimal conditions for disease. The same applies overwatered chayote. If you are growing more than one strain and want to preserve genetic purity, cover the plant to keep it Cross-pollination by insects at bay. ONE lack of nitrogen leads to yellowing of the leaves at the base of the plant. Just add some composted chicken manure or nitrogen fertilizer to correct this. Too much nitrogen however, prevents flowering and fruiting. If you're having trouble there, higher levels of potassium and phosphorus can help.
Leaf-footed stink bugs feed on flowers and pumpkins, causing bruises in the process. Chickens are an excellent way to control insects in your garden. If that doesn't work, try applications of neem oil in temperatures of 85 degrees. Pyrethrins are a more intense control that work under the same conditions as neem oil.
Pumpkin Vine Borer are either larvae or adult moths. The moths lay eggs in the soil and at the base of the vines. When the larvae hatch, they burrow into the vine and eat the middle before moving upward to be fully grown. Most garden squashes eventually compete with SVB. Luckily, Chayote amply offsets the SVB damage. The adult moth looks like a red-bodied wasp and evidence of larval feeding comes in the form of sawdust-like feeding on vines. To control them, wrap the base of the vines in foil. Check for and discard small disk-shaped brown eggs daily. Permethrin or pyrethrin are insecticides that can be sprayed on vines, although their effectiveness is limited to the adult moth once the larvae have burrowed into the vine. BT spray can also be used.
root knot nematode is a pest that feeds on the roots of the chayote, causing nutrient and moisture deprivation over time. They do not kill a plant instantly, making them difficult to identify. Rotate the chayote every three years and replant in an area that has been adequately solarized to prevent deficiencies. Because beneficial nematodes have a hard time in warm soil, they are not the best control for these pests in very hot climates.
powdery mildew is common in chayotes due to the number of leaves on a plant at one time. Remove affected leaves as soon as the powdery appearance appears. To stop an infection, use potassium bicarbonate sprays applied every 7 to 10 days from the time the infection appears until it stops. Liquid copper fungicides are also effective.
crown rot is a fungal blight that occurs when the seasons are unusually wet or when the soil does not drain well. To prevent rot, pile up the soil at the base of your plant and add agricultural sand. Then keep a close eye out for brown and spongy plant matter at the base of the plant. Unfortunately, there is no control for this fungal disease. Remove infested plants and dispose of with household waste.
frequently asked Questions
Some heirloom chayotes have small spines, as seen on this immature fruit. Source: UnconventionalEmma
Q: How long does it take for chayote to bear fruit?
A: Only 30 days after flowering!
Q: Is chayote easy to grow?
A: Yes, it is a very uncomplicated and lush plant.
Q: How long does it take for chayote to sprout?
A: The seed will sprout from the buried gourd within 4 to 6 weeks.
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