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Xiaofeng Yang, Lianzhu Chen, Ming Cao, Xuebin Zhang and Shaopeng Li

Nitrogen and potassium are two crucial nutrient elements that affect the yield and quality of crops. The aim of this study was to quantify the impacts of potassium on growth dynamics and quality of muskmelon, so as to optimize potassium management for muskmelon in a plastic greenhouse, and develop a coupling model of nitrogen and potassium. For this purpose, four experiments (two experiments with different levels of potassium treatment and planting dates, and the other two experiments with different ratios of nitrogen and potassium, and planting dates) on muskmelon (Cucumis melo L. ‘Nanhaimi’ and ‘Xizhoumi 25’) were conducted in a plastic greenhouse located at Sanya from Jan. 2014 to Sept. 2015. The quantitative relationship between leaf potassium content and growth dynamics and yield of muskmelon was determined and incorporated into a photosynthesis-driven crop growth model (SUCROS). Independent experimental data were used to validate the model. The critical leaf potassium content at the flowering stage for muskmelon ‘Nanhaimi’ and ‘Xizhoumi 25’ were 55.0 and 46.0 mg·g−1. The result showed that the coefficient of determination (r 2) between the predicted and measured values of leaf area index (LAI), direct weight of shoot (DWSH), direct weight of stem (DWST), dry weight of leaf (DWL), dry weight of fruit (DWF), fresh weight of fruit (FWF), soluble sugar content (SU), soluble protein content (PR), vitamin C (Vc), and soluble solids content (SO) of potassium model were 0.93, 0.98, 0.83, 0.96, 0.98, 0.99, 0.94, 0.94, 0.89, 0.85, and 0.90, respectively; and the relative root-mean-squared error (rRMSE) were 10.8%, 19.6%, 30.3%, 21.1%, 11.9%, 17.2%, 13.9%, 27.8%, 20.6%, and 10.1%, respectively. The two ways of nitrogen and potassium coupling (multiplicative coupling and minimum coupling) were compared, and the multiplicative coupling was used in model development finally. The r 2 between the predicted and measured values of LAI, DWSH, DWST, DWL, DWF, FWF, SU, PR, Vc, and SO of nitrogen and potassium coupling model were 0.78, 0.91, 0.93, 0.94, 0.83, 0.89, 0.92, 0.95, 0.91, and 0.93, respectively; and their rRMSE were 9.2%, 12.4%, 11.8%, 43.2%, 6.6%, 7.2%, 6.85%, 4.98%, 6.61%, and 4.35%, respectively. The models could be used for the optimization of potassium, nitrogen, and potassium coupling management for muskmelon production in a plastic greenhouse.