Watermelon Seedling Growth, Fruit Yield, and Quality following Pretransplant Nutritional Conditioning

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  • 1 Department of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7609
  • | 2 Coastal Research and Education Center, Department of Horticulture, Clemson University, 2865 Savannah Highway, Charleston, SC 29414

Pretransplant nutritional conditioning (PNC) of transplants during greenhouse production may improve recovery from transplanting stress and enhance earliness and yield of watermelon [Citrullus lanatus (Thumb.) Matsum. & Nakai]. Two greenhouse experiments (Expts. 1 and 2) and field experiments in South Carolina and North Carolina (Expt. 3) were conducted to evaluate N and P PNC effects on watermelon seedling growth and their effects on fruit yield and quality. `Queen of Hearts' triploid and `Crimson Sweet' diploid watermelon seedlings were fertilized with N from calcium nitrate at 25, 75, or 225 mg·liter–1 and P from calcium phosphate at 5, 15, or 45 mg·liter–1. In the greenhouse, most variation in the shoot fresh and dry weights, leaf count, leaf area, transplant height, and root dry weight in `Queen of Hearts' and `Crimson Sweet' was attributed to N. Cultivar interacted with N, affecting all seedling growth variables, but not leaf area in Expt. 2. To a lesser extent, in Expt. 1, but not in Expt. 2, P interacted with cultivar, N, or cultivar × N and affected shoot fresh and dry weights, leaf count and leaf area. In the field, transplant shock increased linearly with N, regardless of cultivar or field location. The effect of PNC on plant growth diminished as the growing season progressed. For both cultivars at both locations, N and P PNC did not affect time to first staminate flower, fruit set, fruit width or length, soluble solids concentration, or yield. Vining at Charleston for both cultivars was 2 days earlier when N was at 75 rather than 25 mg·liter–1, without further change with the high N rate. At Clinton, the first pistillate flower was delayed linearly the higher the N rate for `Crimson Sweet'. At Charleston, hollow heart in the `Queen of Hearts' increased nearly 3 times when N PNC rate was tripled (from 75 or 225 mg·liter–1), while N had no effect on hollow heart in `Crimson Sweet'. In contrast, at Clinton, hollow heart in either cultivar was affected by P PNC, not N. PNC with 25N–5P (in mg·liter–1) can be used to reduce seedling growth and produce a more compact plant for easier handling, yet not reduce fruit quality or yield.

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