Supplemental Foliar Potassium Applications during Muskmelon Fruit Development Can Improve Fruit Quality, Ascorbic Acid, and Beta-carotene Contents

in Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science

Muskmelon [Cucumis melo L. (Reticulatus Group)] fruit sugar content is directly related to potassium (K)-mediated phloem transport of sucrose into the fruit. However, during fruit growth and maturation, soil fertilization alone is often inadequate (due to poor root uptake and competitive uptake inhibition from calcium and magnesium) to satisfy the numerous K-dependent processes, such as photosynthesis, phloem transport, and fruit growth. Experiments were conducted during Spring 2003 and 2004 to determine if supplemental foliar K applications during the fruit growth and maturation period would alleviate this apparent inadequate K availability in orange-flesh muskmelon `Cruiser'. Plants were grown in a greenhouse and fertilized throughout the study with a soil-applied N-P-K fertilizer. Flowers were hand pollinated and only one fruit per plant was allowed to develop. Starting at 3 to 5 days after fruit set, and up to 3 to 5 days prior to fruit maturity (full slip), entire plants, including the fruit, were sprayed with a glycine amino acid-complexed potassium (potassium metalosate, 24% K) solution, diluted to 4.0 mL·L-1. Three sets of plants were sprayed either weekly (once per week), biweekly (once every 2 weeks) or not sprayed (control). Fruit from plants receiving supplemental foliar K matured on average 2 days earlier than those from control plants. In general, there were no differences in fruit maturity or quality aspects between the weekly and biweekly treatments except for fruit sugar and beta-carotene concentrations, which were significantly higher in the weekly compared to the biweekly or control treatments. Supplemental foliar K applications also resulted in significantly firmer fruit with higher K, soluble solids, total sugars, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and beta-carotene concentrations than fruit from control plants. These results demonstrate that carefully timed foliar K nutrition can alleviate the developmentally induced K deficiency effects on fruit quality and marketability.

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