The Bitter Melon is a vine with attractive, delicate leaves and exotic, edible fruits. The leaves are light green or bright green, palmate and deeply lobed. The lobes themselves are toothed and lobed so that the leaves have a lacy appearance. The fruits are quite unusual and colorful and make this vine a very interesting ornamental plant. The fruits are elliptic in shape with a bumpy surface and they are bright orange when they are ripe. They open in 3 sections to reveal several flat, bright red seeds. The fruits are edible and are usually eaten as a vegetable when they are green or when they are starting to turn yellow. It is also known as bitter melon and balsam pear. 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.
The seeds have a hard seed coat that has to be treated, or scarified, in order for water to enter the seeds so that they can sprout.
1. To scarify the seeds, nick or sand the seed coat with sandpaper.
2. Soak the seeds in water for several hours.
3. Sow the seeds in pots with a rich, well drained potting soil or sow the seeds outdoors in an area with good drainage. Bitter melon grows best in rich, sandy or loamy soils. Cover the seeds with a layer of soil.
4. Water the seeds.
5. 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.
6. Fertilize the plants when they have several leaves and then fertilize them every few weeks. during the growing season.