The pepino melon, or tree melon, is a delicious, unique fruit that you can grow at home from seed. Read on to find out how!
Pepino melons, tree melons, pear melons and melon pears are all the same fruit. As the names suggest, pepinos have an exotic taste, which is a cross between pear and melon.
Here is everything you need to know about the pepino melon, as well as some top tips on growing and harvesting the fruit from seed.
Characteristics and origin of the pepino
Pepino (Solanum muricatum) belongs to the nightshade family (Solanaceae) and is closely related to the tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), chilli (Capsicum) and aubergine (Solanum melongena). Originally from South America, tree melon requires warm temperatures and is therefore grown as an annual in Europe, although it is actually a perennial.
Pepino melon tends to be 60 to 120 centimetres tall, although it can hit 150 centimetres in exceptional cases. Its leaves resemble that of a chilli; they are lanceolate, spoon-shaped and dark green. While its flowers are similar to an aubergine’s; think five, purple-striped petals.
The tree melon plant flowers between June and September, however its fruits form one after another, and ripen from July to October. Tree melons are elliptical, apple-shaped or egg-shaped fruits that grow to an average size of 10 to 20cm and weigh up to 400g.
These two-stemmed fruits have light, sunny yellow skin, which, when ripe, is covered in dark purple, horizontal stripes. The soft, tasty flesh of the tree melon is golden yellow to yellow-orange and can be enjoyed raw and with the skin on. A ripe tree melon is sweet and fruity; similar to both a melon and pear.
There are only a few varieties of pepino, and they are often nameless. Here are two of our favourites:
- ‘Sugar Gold’: Golden pepino with overhanging growth up to one metre long. Ideal for hanging baskets. These golden yellow, pear-sized fruits taste sweet and fruity.
- ‘Copa’: Late ripening pepino, which also grows to around one metre. Ripens from September to October.
How to grow pepino
Pepinos can be cultivated like small tomatoes; they need a similar location and similar care.
Where to grow pepino melon plants
Pear melons prefer a well-drained, nutrient-rich soil. They are ideal for balcony gardens, hanging baskets and plant pots. But do choose a sheltered, warm location. Pepinos are sensitive to the cold, so do not plant them outside until after mid-May.
How to plant pepino melons
You can plant pepino melon seeds directly, or make use of a pre-grown, young pepino plant from your local garden centre. Pepino grows well in plant pots, hanging baskets and balcony boxes, but make sure your container can drain water well and hold at least five litres of soil.
To plant out a young pepino plant, fill your chosen container with potting soil, place your plant in the soil, no deeper than it was in its previous container, press down, and water generously. It is important to use a nutrient-rich potting soil for this, like our Plantura Organic Tomato & Vegetable Compost. This provides your plant a loose soil with high compost content, which stores water, but prevents waterlogging.
- Perfect for tomatoes & other vegetables such as chillies, courgettes & more
- For strong & healthy plant growth as well as an abundant vegetable harvest
- Peat-free & organic soil: CO2-saving composition
Care of the tree melon plant
The pepino plant is very easy to care for. It doesn’t need thinning – you can simply allow its branches to spread and flower – and only requires the support of a wooden or metal stick if it is overhanging in one direction.
However, to ensure a rich harvest, you will need to provide your pepino with plenty of water and nutrients. Fortunately, you can water and fertilise your plant simultaneously by using a liquid fertiliser, like Plantura Liquid Tomato Food. Simply add this fertiliser to your water, and water the plant about once a week. The nutrients will flush directly to the roots and resolve any nutrient deficiency.
Tip: If you plant your pepino in the ground, spread a layer of mulch around it. This way, the large, overhanging fruits will stay dry and not rot when they come into contact with the soil.
Overwintering melon pears
Pepino is a perennial that can be overwintered in just the same manner as a tomato plant. Once the temperature sinks below 10°C, place your pepino in a cool, light location and water it infrequently. You can also overwinter pepino cuttings.
How to propagate pepino
You can grow pepino directly from seed. When ripe, tree melons usually contain a few seeds, which can be removed, dried and stored for several years. Sow these seeds early, from February, in compost on a warm windowsill, before planting them out in mid-May.
Or, alternatively, propagate a pepino from cuttings in early summer. This is a much easier and quicker technique, which you can do by collecting 10cm long cuttings from the tips of your pepino shoots, and rooting them in water or growing soil enriched with sand. Be sure to do this in a bright place at about 20°C. With a bit of luck, the young plants will flower the same year or, after a successful overwintering, the following year.
Harvesting and using tree melon
You can harvest tree melons from July until the last fruits ripen in October. Be sure to harvest ripe fruit immediately. They will feel soft to the touch and slightly fragrant. Unfortunately, tree melons do not store in the fridge. They quickly lose flavour and turn mushy in the cold. At room temperature, melon pears keep fresh for a few weeks.
You can eat pepinos raw, prepare them as a dessert with ice cream or preserve them. Chutney or preserves made from pepino melon fruit let you enjoy the taste of summer throughout the winter. But do make sure the fruits are ripe! Unripe melon pears are poisonous and can cause stomach cramps and nausea due to their high solanine content.
The tamarillo (Solanum betaceum) is also a close relative of tomato and chilli. Have a read of our article to find out how to cultivate and harvest this exotic shrub.