Chayote is an edible gourd. These lumpy, green cousins to squash and pumpkins grow on perennial vines.
Also known as Buddha’s palm, chocho, mirliton, or sayote, chayote (Sechium edule) is a relatively bland, highly productive plant.
While chayote has been cultivated in Mexico and Central America since pre-Columbian times, archeologists have not been able to find any evidence of its existence back in those times. Apparently, chayote was not a food that lent itself to preservation.
Chayote fruit, roots, tubers, seeds, young leaves and stems are all edible. That being said, many people find raw chayote to be rather tough. In cooking, chayote is handled much like summer squashes, such as zucchini. Cooked chayote sprouts are very popular in many Asian dishes.
Chayote plants have thick roots and slender vining stems. Those vines can reach 30 feet in length. Fruits are oval and green, similar to pears, with deep wrinkles or ridges. When you slice a chayote open, you will find a large, flattened pit, similar to a mango seed.
Leaves are heart-shaped with three tips, and petioles (leaf stems) are grooved (sulcate) and 3” to 6” long. Tendrils occur along the stems. There are both male and female chayote flowers. Male flowers occur in clusters, while female chayote flowers are solitary.
How to grow chayote
You can start growing chayote with seeds or a chayote fruit. If using a fruit, allow it to sprout first, then lay it on its side and cover it with soil, leaving the sprout exposed. Personally, I like to get chayote seedlings from my local Master Gardeners’ fall plant sale.
Chayote is known as a short day plant. This means that flowering is not triggered until each day has less than 12 hours of daylight. In San Jose, California, that means chayote can be planted April through October.
These are sprawling plants that need a significant amount of room to grow, unless you train them up a trellis. Tendrils will grab hold of fencing, trees, a pergola, or cattle panels, lifting the fruit up off the ground. Similar to hops, chayote vines will grow as far upwards as they can, reaching 30’ to 36’ when a supporting wire or structure is available. While the vines can get quite long, your harvest will be better if vines are pruned back to a more manageable length. Plants should be spaced 7 to 11 feet apart.
Chayote can grow in full sun or partial shade. Fruits exposed to full sun will tend to be a light yellow color, while shaded fruits are a darker green. Before feeding your chayote plants, get a soil test to see what is already available. Chayote plants do not need a lot of nitrogen. In fact, too much nitrogen can cause flower drop (abscission).
After flowers have been pollinated, fruit will reach harvestable size in 1 - 2 months. Harvestable fruits are 4" to 6” in diameter.
Chayote pests and diseases
While these plants grow best in the rainy season, they do like soggy soil. Chayote needs good drainage to stay healthy. To offset the risk of root rot, plants are often installed in mounds or raised hills.
Being a member of the cucurbit family, chayote is subject to many of the same pests and diseases. Chayote diseases include downy mildews and certain tropical fungal diseases, most of which are not yet seen in North America.
Nematodes can be troublesome, as can chayote stem borers (Adetus fuscoapicalis), cucumber beetles, squash ladybugs, and squash vine borers.
While chayote is a perennial vine that can remain productive for up to 8 years, many pest and disease problems can be reduced or eliminated by replacing individual plants every 3 years.
Give these lovely vines a try in your garden this fall and let us know what it was like in the Comments!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!