Save Your Papaya Trees After Cold Damage

papaya freeze damage

Papayas are susceptible to high winds and freezes, but do not let that prevent you from growing papayas in zone 9a or 9b. In our experience, papayas are pretty cold hardy, but they do not like temperatures below freezing, especially not a sustained time with freezing temperatures. Temperatures below 40 degrees F/4 degrees C will make the papayas begin to look sad, but it is not until the temperatures hit freezing, that the papaya trees will sustain damage enough to kill the papayas. 

Last winter we had two quick freezes here in St. Augustine (growing zone 9a), and while our tallest papayas looked sad after the first freezing night, it was not until the second freeze that they were defeated.

How to Save Papayas After a Freeze:

  • After a freeze wait and see for a week or two to determine where you need to cut your papayas.
  • If another freeze is imminent before your wait or see period is over, make the cut low, cover and protect.
  • Look for new growth or a firmer trunk.
  • Cut the papaya trunk at an angle with a sterilized sharp knife or hand saw.
  • Covering the cut is optional, we just covered the papaya trunks that had deep holes to prevent water from settling and causing additional damage.
  • We used zip bags, but you can use anything that will keep water out. 
  • Your papayas will likely shoot up with additional branches when recovering, so take it for a win and enjoy more papayas.
papaya freeze damage

We had papayas that were two-three years old as high as our roof, some still with papayas on them, and all papayas taller than our fence except for one suffered severe damage.

I recommend picking the fruit asap, if your papaya suffers frost damage, because a frost-damaged papaya plant likely won't be able to handle the weight, and it will topple over.

You may also want to pick the papayas green, if you know you'll get hit by a frost. There are many green papaya recipes, so don't worry if they did not have time to ripen.

How to save your papaya after a freeze

We took about two weeks, where we watched for new growth, and then we began making decisions.

papaya with freeze damage

We used a small handsaw to cut any large papaya with severe damage, but you can use a knife or pruners for smaller papaya. 

How to cut a papaya tree after frost damage

We checked for firmness, then cut them at an angle to prevent water damage, and then we placed Ziploc bags over a few with deeper holes inside the trunk.

How to cut a papaya after a freeze

After a week or two, we began seeing signs of new growth and after a month we determined that we lost about five papaya plants, which still left about 15 bigger plants.

We had already begun planting new papaya seedlings under a plastic cover. And almost all smaller papaya trees below the fence line survived.

By May the cut papayas were beginning to get good new growth.  This one had been our tallest papaya.

papaya recovering after a freeze

papaya after being cut down
The top of the cut.

papaya after being cut down
July 10th

These two papaya trees are at the front of our house, which means they were fully exposed to the cold wind. The bougainvillea must have protected the papaya on the right, because it was our only tall papaya, which did not get cold damage. However, the papaya on the left was cut, and it is working hard on growing back.

Papaya after freeze to cut or not to cut
July 15th

Six months later the papayas are thriving, few branches shot up at a easier-to-pick height, and only two of the larger plants which at first looked as if they survived eventually died.

Fast forward to today, the second day of our unusual 2022 Christmas freeze here in St.  Augustine, and it is an omnious feeling of deja vu. The papayas are looking an awfully lot like during the second day of the last freeze, but we're expecting a third night with freezing temperatures, so we're expecting greater damage than last year.

Even though this freeze is badly timed, we're going to take the same wait and see approach for a week or so and then make the cuts. We didn't cover any papayas because they were all too tall, but after the cut we'll probably cover some if/when we get another freeze.

If you do not make the cut, chances are that the papayas will start rotting from the top, so do not wait too long before making the cut.

Growing papayas in Northeast Florida can be a challenge,  but it is not impossible. We've had papaya fruits on the trees this year, and we will again next year.

Tips for Growing Papayas in Northeast Florida:

  • Plant your papayas close to your home. If possible on the east or southside. The morning sun will help your papayas suffer less damage.
  • Plant your papayas close for better pollination.
  • Plant lots of flowers with varying bloom times to bring in the pollinators.
  • Create microclimates by planting between structures, close to fences and near other larger plants such as bananas, moringa etc., this also serves as wind protection. 
  • Plant enough papayas in various location and stages, so when you do lose a few, it will not matter as much.
Oh, it is a sad sight to see papayas struggling, but they're resilient and with a little help, growing papayas in Northeast Florida, or in other areas with the occasional freeze, can be possible and well worth the occasional trouble.

Read more about how to grow papayas here at Dancing Treetops. 

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