Can paw paw trees survive in Wisconsin? Tell me all that you can. We are thinking about getting one for our yard.
Thank you for the question regarding Pawpaws (Asimina triloba (L.) Dunal ). Before I go any further, I don’t want to give you false hope. The possibility of growing a pawpaw in Wisconsin isn’t great. Pawpaws are zoned 5-9 and only southeastern Wisconsin falls into the beginnings of that range. The main concern with growing them is that the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -25°F — even with the northern cultivars.
In terms of other information…
This perennial tree or shrub grows from 9 to 15 feet tall in northern regions and up to 35 feet in southern regions.. The drooping, pear-shaped leaves are alternate, from 10 to 30 cm long, with smooth margins and pointed tips. The leaves are coated with fine whitish hairs on the upper surface with rusty-colored hairs on the under-side. Leaves are aromatic, with a smell reminiscent of bell pepper. Inconspicuous but interesting flowers (4 to 5cm in diameter) with 3 sepals, are green upon opening and turn to dark purple or maroon in color. From 1 to 4 flowers grow in the leaf axils before leafing, usually in April or May. The six velvety petals (2cm-2.5cm long) are stiff and curl slightly backwards. Yellowish green to brown, cylindrical, mango-shaped fruits are 7-16 cm long and grow solitarily or 2 to 4 together. The large fruits (5 to 16 ounces) ripen between August and October. Fruits have a thin skin, which contain a yellow custard-like pulp that is said to taste like papaya. Some varieties contain a whitish-green pulp that is less flavorful. Fruits contain several flat 2cm long seeds. The deciduous leaves turn bright yellow before dropping in the fall.
Pawpaw grows over much of Eastern North America from Ontario and Michigan south to Florida and Texas. Adapted Pawpaws grow in humid climates and are more frost tolerant. They grow in the shade in open woods usually in wet, fertile bottomlands, but can grow in upland areas on rich soils. Pawpaws occur as understory trees in oak-hickory forest in the mid-south where they are found in clusters or thickets.
The appearance of this tree gives a tropical flavor to temperate gardens and provides edible landscaping. Pawpaws can serve as a screen or can be grown in a container as a specimen tree. Both trees and shrubs have a conical pyramid-like shape when grown in sun, and a more open structure if grown in shade. They can be planted in the shade of tall, open trees or in partial shade, although they fruit best in sun. If planting in open sun, provide a shading structure to allow filtered sun for the first few years. The plants prefer moist, slightly acidic soils and require regular watering, but are adaptable to many conditions. They do not perform well in poorly drained soils and need protection from the wind. At least two plants are needed for cross-pollination.
Grafted trees use a basic pawpaw rootstock with the desired cultivar shoot. If you decide to go with seedlings instead, they need to be transplanted in the spring. Larger plants do not transplant well. The roots are widely spreading and brittle, so use care when transferring from containers. Water the transplants frequently during the growing season.
Both grafted plants and seedling plants spread quickly by suckers to form a “pawpaw patch.” Remove suckers as they form if a tree form is desired. Sucker formation slows as the tree develops. Other than control of suckers the plants do not require pruning. The plants are disease and pest resistant and they are not browsed by deer.
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