How to Grow Momordica Charantia
Bitter melon's fruit has a multitextured surface.
Momordica charantia, also known as bitter melon and balsam pear, is a climbing vine with distinctive, delicate foliage and exotic fruit. Native to Southeast Asia, it grows best in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 and 11. In colder climates, this fast-growing plant -- which can reach heights of 8 feet in one season -- is often grown as an annual. Some gardeners cultivate the plant for its edible fruit and vine while others simply enjoy the tropical appearance it adds to the landscape.
1.Select a warm, sunny planting location with soil that drains well. A raised garden bed ensures good drainage. Bitter melon grows best in rich, sandy or loamy soil with an average pH level of about 6.5 but adapts to soil with a pH level as high as 8.
2.Sow bitter melon seeds directly in the selected planting location's warm soil when all danger of frost has passed. Create holes about 3/4 inch deep and spaced 20 inches apart in the soil. Drop two or three seeds in each hole, and cover the holes with a lose layer of soil. Water the planting site well. The seeds should germinate in about one week.
3.Wait until each bitter melon seedling has four leaves, and then remove some of the young plants so that only one plant grows from where each planting hole was located.
4.Install a trellis or other support structure beside your bitter melon vines. The vines will climb on and be supported by a trellis. An alternative is to insert bamboo poles, metal pipes or wood stakes in the soil by each plant, and connect those structures to each other with string or wire, which will support the climbing vines. The vines develop lateral shoots two to three weeks after sprouting.
5.Fertilize each bitter melon plant when it has six leaves and every two weeks thereafter during the growing season. Use a fertilizer designed for fruiting vines, and follow the fertilizer package's directions on how much fertilizer to use for your planting bed's size.
6.Keep the bitter melons' soil consistently moist, but not soggy, to a depth of about 20 inches during the plants' growing period.
7.Surround your plants with a layer of organic or plastic mulch. Mulch conserves soil moisture and stifles weed growth.
8.Inspect the plants for pests. Fruit flies are especially destructive, but pesticides are not recommended to control that pest. If fruit flies are present, wrap each young, 1 1/4-inch long fruit in a paper tube, and leave room at the end of each tube for growth. Tie the ends of the tubes with string. Replace the tubes as needed. The paper tubes prevent fruit flies from infesting the fruits.
Increase bitter melons' fruit production by removing side branches until the plants climb to the top of their trellis or other support structure. Then let the plants spread.
Test your planting site's soil to learn which nutrients, if any, it lacks. Add a fertilizer with those nutrients to the soil to produce the best bitter melon results.