Chayotes: [Cultivation, Irrigation, Care, Pests and Diseases]

The Sechium edule plant is a widely cultivated vegetable in Mexico and some Central American countries. It is a species of the cucurbitaceae family, the same one to which the melon, cucumber and pumpkin belong.

Although there are no historical records before the 15th century, it is considered that the chayote was used since pre-Columbian times.

In fact, it is believed that the Spanish introduced its cultivation to some islands in the Caribbean and that is how it spread to other regions.

Chayote is currently known to have antihypertensive and antioxidant properties. Therefore, it is not uncommon for it to be used in traditional medicine as a diuretic, anti-inflammatory, as well as to treat kidney calcifications and arteriosclerosis.

In addition to being a source of food, the chayote has a great economic impact since each plant can produce about 47 kilograms of fruit per year. In extensive crops, such a level of production represents a significant monetary gain.

Due to the fact that the seed and fruit of the chayote are not preserved over time, there is no archaeological evidence that allows us to specify data on the antiquity of its origin and handling.

Important points when planting a chayote:
  • Scientific name: Sechium edule.
  • Common name: Chayote, chayotera, guatila, papa del aire, hedgehog.
  • Height: 2 meters.
  • Light requirement: direct light and semi-shade.
  • Temperature: Temperate climates (13ºC to 21ºC).
  • Irrigation: Frequent.
  • Fertilizer: Organic fertilizer.

What characteristics does the chayote have?

The chayote is a plant perennial that is renewed every year and can grow up to 15 meters long and 2 meters high. It is a climbing species consisting of root, stem, fruit and seeds. First, the roots of the chayote are adventitious and fibrous.

Sometimes, reserve bulbs form at their terminal ends, which are known as «chayotextle» . These tubers are widely used in traditional Mexican cuisine. In the case of the stem, it has two classes, one underground, called the brachiblast, from which the second type of stem sprouts.

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The second type is composed of numerous young, climbing stems from which leaves, tendrils, flowers or branches grow . The chayote leaves are simple and alternate. They get to measure 8 to 15 cm long. The flowers are unisexual: the female ones are solitary and the male ones are grouped in clusters 10 to 30 cm long.

The fruit is a fleshy and edible berry which can have different shapes and colors, from pale green to dark green, and even yellow. It measures from 7 to 26 cm long and can weigh from 300 g to 2 kg. The seeds, or pips, have an oval shape. They are edible, smooth, compressed and very soft.

They are 3 to 5 cm long and germinate inside the fruit.

When to plant the chayote?

The time when traditionally sown plant of chayote is during the months of April and May to take advantage of the rainy season.

Where to plant the chayote?

The chayote needs wide spaces protected from strong winds, as well as supports and guides to grow. To do this, it is recommended to use the tutored technique, that is, placing sticks and stakes next to the plant to guide its vertical growth .

Likewise, this plant can be cultivated in temperate climates, in which the temperatures oscillate between 13ºC and 21ºC. However, it must be protected from temperatures below 5ºC as the plant can be damaged.

On the other hand, it is recommended to keep the chayote in the shade during its early stages, especially if the temperatures outside are high. However, problems will not receive direct light from the sun once it is established.

How to prepare the land?

The chayote plant requires moist soils with abundant organic matter. It is favored by clay-sandy soils, with good drainage and medium to good fertility.

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To prepare the ground, the soil must be removed, weeds removed , fertilized, the guides installed and the stumps dug.

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To fertilize the soil, it is recommended to apply organic fertilizers or manure.

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How do we water the chayote?

The chayote is a vegetable that requires frequent watering, especially during the dry season because the root system is shallow and evapotranspiration of the plant is very high.

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In the case of extensive crops, micro-sprinkler irrigation is recommended, as it allows the root area to be moistened. On the other hand, hose irrigation can be used in the case of small crops.

How often do we water the chayote?

The frequency of irrigation will depend on the type of soil and the climatic conditions. It is recommended to apply 1 or 2 times a week, increasing the regularity in the dry or hot season.

How to plant a chayote step by step?

The easiest and fastest way to grow the chayote plant is to use a mature fruit in which the seed has germinated. The steps to follow are shared below:

  1. Select a ripe fruit, whole, with good texture and shape.
  2. Keep it in the shade, in a humid environment, and wait until the seed produces a sprout.
  3. Ripe fruit can also be placed in a bed of moist substrate , leaving only the top of the fruit exposed.
  4. As soon as the sprout has grown 15 centimeters, gradually expose it to more luminous places and continue applying irrigation once a week.
  5. Transplant when the plant has reached 20 centimeters in height to a vine 25 centimeters in diameter, and 30 centimeters deep.

What care does the chayote need?

The chayote is an easy plant to grow and does not need much care after settling. Among the most important measures are the following:

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  1. Protect it from low temperatures.
  2. Maintain frequent watering to avoid water stress.
  3. Control weeds during the first months of growth.
  4. Prune the guides that are not born from the stem or that do not present good development.

What pests and diseases affect chayote?

Among the pests that mainly affect chayote are the screwworm and the cucumber worm , which attack the tender fruits and leaves of the plant.

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With regard to diseases, there are those produced by the Oidium , by the Colletotrichum , as well as the wart, caused by the fungus Mycovellosiella cucurbiticola .

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