|Common Name||Cucamelon, Mexican Miniature Watermelon, Mexican Sour Cucumber, Mexican Sour Gherkin, Mouse Melon, or Pepquinos|
|Botanical Name||Melothria scabra|
|Plant Type||Annuals, Perennials, Fruit, Vine, Tubers|
|Mature Size||Vine: 1 ft. tall, up to 10 ft. wide Fruit: 1 in. tall|
|Soil Type||Well-drained, Rich|
|Soil pH||Acidic, 6.1 to 6.8|
|Bloom Time||Spring, Summer|
|Hardiness Zones||Zones 2-11|
|Native Area||North America, Central America|
Cucamelon plants love warm weather, so summer in the South is an ideal environment for them. It’s best to plant them in the spring so they can germinate in plenty of time to enjoy the hot summer sun. You may want to grow them in pots to bring them indoors to keep warm when nighttime temperatures begin to drop. For daily care, cucamelon plants need full sun, regular watering, and well-drained soil to ensure they bear fruit. The cucamelon plant is a vine and will also need a trellis structure to climb as it grows. As a vine, it can spread and become invasive in areas when not correctly trained to climb a trellis or pruned.
Cucamelons need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily to bear fruit. In some areas, cucamelons can tolerate partial shade, especially in the afternoon in hot climates.
Cucamelons grow in similar soil conditions as most vegetables, which means amending it with organic matter. If your soil quality does not contain rich, fertile nutrients, add compost and a layer of mulch to help enrich the planting area. The soil should be well-drained, slightly acidic, and humus-rich. Maintaining a consistently warm soil temperature will also help cucamelons to grow. As vines, cucamelons have shallow roots. Provide a trellis for them to have space to grow.
Fairly drought-tolerant, the soil should never be water-logged but should remain moist. Cucamelons need, on average, at least one inch of water weekly, which should focus on the roots. Avoid wetting cucamelon leaves at night because this can cause fungi to grow. During periods of drought, be mindful to water cucamelon more often, so the top few inches of soil remain moist.
Temperature and Humidity
Cucamelons need warm temperatures to survive. During the cold weather, you can dig up cucamelon tubers and move them indoors in container pots. These vegetables are frost-sensitive and grow best in environments mimicking their native regions in Mexico and Central America.
Cucamelon plants need light fertilization with a high-potassium liquid fertilizer once or twice during the growing season. Apply the first fertilizer when cucamelon seedlings first emerge and the second in the middle of the summer during the humid season to encourage more fruit.
Cucamelon vines need a trellis to grow. Without pruning, it can become invasive. Prune cucamelons in the spring and summer. It’s best not to plant anything near cucamelons to protect its roots from spreading or for other plants to absorb the nutrients it needs. Additionally, pruning can help aerate cucamelons, which stimulates more growth. After vining to around eight feet tall, pinching the growing tips will encourage new growth, branching, and fruiting.
The easiest way to propagate cucamelon is to save seeds from the previous fruit-bearing season. Here’s how to propagate cucamelon using seeds:
- Using last year’s fruit, cut the cucamelon in half and remove the seeds and pulp. Gently separate the pulp from the seeds and leave them in water for a few days.
- Remove floating seeds as they are not viable—place remaining viable seeds on a paper towel to dry.
- Keep seeds in a cool, dry spot until a month before the final frost. Use a seed starter to propagate cucamelons.
- Plant seeds in nutrient-rich soil a quarter or a half inch deep. For about two weeks, keep the soil moist but well-drained in the seed starter tray.—Place it in a sunny location, at least 70°F.
- When spindly sprouts emerge, delicately transplant cucamelons to their final growing location. Be sure to plant near a trellis, so these plants have space to grow.
How to Grow Cucamelon From Seed
- Start four to six weeks before the final frost by sowing seeds in a four-inch deep container.—This provides enough room for the roots to develop.
- Harden off the new plants by incrementally exposing them to the colder weather.
- Once the chance of frost passes, transplant new plants to their final location near a trellis in full sun and well-draining soil.
- Add a nutrient-rich fertilizer to amend the soil quality and encourage new growth.
If growing cucamelons as annuals, then overwintering is not necessary. If growing as tender perennials, dig up the tuber and bring it indoors as the best way to protect this sun-loving plant throughout the winter. Perennial cucamelons are typically grown in containers, so the roots have an opportunity to develop roots and tubers as a strong storage vessels for nutrients. Tubers also indicate a plant is entering dormancy, which means the temperatures are dropping too low for it to continue bearing fruit. Once this occurs, move containers indoors and keep them in an area that remains warm throughout the winter.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Cucamelons do not have too many pest concerns, making them easy to grow once established. Some common diseases include powdery mildew and cucumber mosaic virus. Powdery mildew can be prevented by watering cucamelons in the morning, so the leaves have enough time to dry. Also, avoid soaking the roots before the soil has time to drain.
Since there is no cure for cucumber mosaic virus, remove leaves with dark green irregular marks appear. Remove all infected leaves and dispose of them so that it does not infect the entire plant.
How to Get Cucamelon to Bloom
Good pollination is essential for cucamelons. For cucamelons to bear fruit, they need to produce female flowers, which will develop into fruit after pollination. Male flowers do not bear fruit. Pinching vines can encourage new growth, which should appear within two to three months after transplanting. Harvesting cucamelon also helps maintain a healthy plant as old fruit that remains on the vine softens and turns yellow, stopping fruit production because the plant is dormant.
Common Problems With Cucamelons
Leaves Turning Yellow
The most common reason for leaves to turn yellow is overwatering. When cucamelons are overwatered, it deprives the plant’s roots of oxygen. Double-check that the soil is well-draining. Adding fertilizer or mulch can also help absorb some excess water and restore the plant to its normal state.
If the plant is wounded, possibly by Cucumber Beetles, it increases its susceptibility to bacterial wilt. Bacterial wilt can spread throughout the cucamelon, preventing the plant’s water and nutrient transportation. Drooping or wilting leaves might appear in one or two leaves at first, but if left untreated, the bacterial wilt will spread. Treat by removing all infected areas down to the crown. Test for bacterial wilt by removing a branch near the base of the roots and snapping it to see if a sticky sap releases—a sign of bacterial wilt.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you grow cucamelons inside?
Grow cucamelons indoors or outside, in containers or directly in the ground. They are climbers and so will require support from a trellis.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does the cucamelon plant live?
Cucamelons are a tender perennial, meaning that they are sensitive to frost. If cared for properly, this plant can live for several seasons. Over the course of a season, cucamelons develop an underground tuber.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I encourage my cucamelon to bear fruit?
Once vines reach about 8 feet, pinch back growing tips to encourage branching and fruiting.
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