Cucamelons (Melothria scabra) are a unique and fascinating fruit also known as 'Mexican sour gherkins' or 'mouse melons'. Despite their name, they're not a cross between cucumbers and watermelons, but rather a distinct species that belongs in the cucumber family. They are native to Mexico and Central America, where they’ve been cultivated for centuries.

Cucamelons are small, grape-sized fruits that resemble tiny watermelons and have a tart, citrusy flavour. They’re incredibly refreshing and can be eaten raw or used in a variety of culinary applications, such as pickling, salads, and garnishes. Cucamelons are also rich in vitamins and minerals, making them a healthy addition to your diet.

While cucamelons may not be as commonly grown as other garden plants, they are gaining popularity among home gardeners for their distinctive taste and appearance. As a result, they are increasingly being stocked in supermarkets. They're easy to grow and require minimal maintenance.

Cucamelons are typically grown as annuals, but they can be grown as perennials in warmer climates (unless you can overwinter them indoors). They need warm temperatures and are sensitive to frost, so they should be planted out from May, after all risk of frost has passed.

How to grow cucamelons

Grow cucamelons in moist, well-drained, fertile soil in full sun. Sow seed under cover from March and plant out after all risk of frost has passed. Water regularly and fertilise with a high-potash liquid feed weekly. Harvest cucamelons when they are around the size of a grape and still firm.

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Where to grow cucamelons

Grow cucamelons indoors or outside, in containers or directly in the ground. They are climbers and so require support from a trellis or wigwam of canes.

How to plant cucamelons

Planting a cucamelon seedling
Planting a cucamelon seedling

Cucamelons need a temperature of around 24ºC to germinate successfully, so sow seed in a heated propagator from late March. Sow seeds into the surface of moist peat-free potting compost and cover with a further 1m of compost. Firm gently and water with a watering can with the rose attached. As with other members of the cucumber family, it's important to plant the seeds with the long narrow edge facing upwards to reduce the risk of fungal infections.

Once the seedlings have reached a height of about 3cm, they can be transplanted into individual 9cm pots containing peat-free, multi-purpose compost, or directly into their outdoor position, if all risk of frost has passed. You may need to protect the young plants from slugs and snails.

Cucamelons are capable of thriving in all types of containers, planters, and even growbags. Make sure the container is at least 30cm deep and positioned in a warm, sunny area. Transfer the plants to larger containers when they reach a height of 10cm-15cm and once all danger of frost has passed. Support the plants on a trellis or wig wam system as you would with cucumber plants.

How to care for cucamelons

Cucamelon flower and leaf
Cucamelon flower and leaf

Water cucamelons regularly to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. They also benefit from regular feeding with a balanced fertiliser. While cucamelons do not require pruning, it's best to trim off any dead foliage to improve air circulation and reduce the risk of diseases.

Fruits start to ripen from July. Pick them at regular intervals to stimulate the growth of more flowers and fruits.

How to harvest cucamelons

Cucamelon ready to pick
Cucamelon ready to pick

Harvest the fruits when they are about the size of a grape but still firm to touch. Simply twist or cut the fruits from the vine, being careful not to damage the plants. Avoid letting cucamelons over-ripen on the vine, as they can become too soft and lose their crisp texture.

Cucamelons are best eaten straight away but you can store them in a perforated plastic bag or a container with a lid for up to two weeks in the fridge. Avoid washing cucamelons before storing them, as moisture can cause them to spoil more quickly. You can also freeze cucamelons, simply wash and dry the fruits, then spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until firm. Once frozen, transfer them to airtight containers or freezer bags and store in the freezer for up to three months. Frozen cucamelons are best used in cooked dishes, as their texture may change after freezing.

How to propagate cucamelons

Sowing cucamelon seed
Sowing cucamelon seed

Cucamelons can be propagated from seed or tubers. To propagate from seed, simply allow a few fruits to fully ripen on the vine until they turn yellow or brown and start to soften. Cut them open and scoop out the seeds inside, then rinse them thoroughly in a sieve to remove any pulp or debris. Spread the seeds out on a paper towel and allow them to air dry thoroughly, before storing in a cool, dry place in a labelled envelope or airtight container.

You can also propagate cucamelons from tubers, much like dahlias. Wait until the plant has been hit by frost, then use a garden fork or shovel to gently dig around the main stem to find the tubers, which may be quite deep in the soil. Be gentle when handling to avoid damaging them. To store the tubers, add some potting compost to the bottom of a 35cm plastic pot and place the tubers on the surface, covering them completely with more compost. You can layer the tubers with more compost until the pot is full, if you need to. Then store the pot in a cool, frost-free spot for winter, and replant from March under cover.

Pests and diseases

Cucamelon plants are relatively resistant to pests and diseases. However, they may sometimes be affected by powdery mildew or aphids.

To prevent powdery mildew, water the plant at soil level and allow plenty of air circulation around the plant.

Aphids are a natural part of the garden ecosystem and are eaten by several species of birds, ladybirds and lacewings. However, in large numbers they can be removed by spraying the affected areas with a strong jet of water or by manually crushing the insects (bear in mind you will almost certainly be killing some of their insect predators, too).

Advice on buying cucamelons

  • Buy cucamelon seeds or young plants from an established grower
  • Harden off before planting out after all risk of frost has passed
  • Always check over plants for signs of disease or damage before planting

Where to buy cucamelon seeds and plants