How to grow pawpaws

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Pawpaw fruit can be used in place of

Pawpaw fruit can be used in place of bananas Photo Credit: Missouri Botanical Garden

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Jessica Damiano Jessica Damiano, Newsday columnist

Jessica Damiano is a master gardener and journalist with more than 20 years experience in radio, television, print

These pyramid-shaped trees also are called Hoosier banana, poor man's banana and false banana. They have large drooping dark green leaves that measure up to 12 inches long and 5 inches wide. Interesting but off-smelling, 2-inch-wide maroon flowers grow directly from branches in spring, giving way to heavy 3- to 5-inch elongated, banana-flavored fruits that grow in clusters and become dark and crinkled as they ripen.

The highly nutritious, creamy fruits are rich in vitamins, minerals and amino acids and can be eaten out of hand or cooked in any recipes calling for bananas.

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A lone tree will not bear fruit; two different cultivars are necessary to ensure the necessary cross-pollination.

Look for container-grown trees - as opposed to those that have been field grown, dug up and balled and burlapped - because pawpaws have a long taproot that can be damaged when removed from the ground.

Trees thrive in well-drained, slightly acidic (5.5-7 pH) soil in a sunny to partly sunny area that offers some protection from wind. Provide a 20-20-20 fertilizer monthly in April, May and June.

Protect young transplants from direct sunlight for the first year or two by setting a light-filtering screen over them until they're established. There are no special care requirements, but you'll have to prune out suckers regularly to retain a tree form and prevent a thicket.

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