The pepino bush is a hardy food producing plant that will work hard for you in the garden. So what is a pepino, what does it taste like and how can you grow it? Let’s find out.
What Is A Pepino?
Pepino melon fruit is a small oval fruit with firm, smooth skin that turns yellow with purple stripes when it ripens. The size of the fruit can vary from passion fruit size up to the size of an adult hand.
The pepino bush is a perennial plant, meaning it will live for several years.
The bush can grow up to 1 metre tall and 1 metre wide. They benefit from staking or caging, much like a tomato plant, or growing on a trellis.
Left to grow naturally, the shrub will sprawl on the ground and may attract fruit loving pests and animals for their dinner. If you don’t mind sharing your harvest, the pepino will spread as a ground cover.
Where Does Pepino Originate
The pepino bush originates from South America.
It is also known as Pepino Dulce to distinguish it from the Spanish word, pepino, meaning cucumber. Other names it can go by are sweet cucumber and melon pear.
Pepino (Solanum muricatum) comes from the Solanaceae family which is the same nightshade family with members of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and potatoes.
What Does Pepino Taste Like
The taste of pepino fruit has been described as a cross between a cucumber and a honeydew melon or a cantaloupe.
The fruit is mildly sweet and best eaten when completely ripe for the sweetest flavor.
Unripened fruit can be cooked like squash.
How Do You Eat A Pepino Melon
The entire pepino fruit is edible, including the skin and seeds, though the skin may become tough by the time the fruit is ripe. Instead, peel the skin before eating, or eat around it.
Here is a list of ways to enjoy eating pepino melon:
– Pepino can be eaten straight from the bush, like an apple.
– Slice pepino melon into quarters and eat it like a melon, leaving the skin.
– Peel the fruit, dice and add it to fruit salads.
– Top breakfast cereal with pepino.
– Cook pepino as you would a squash.
– Use pepino in salsa.
– Chargrill the fruit in halves, drizzle with honey and serve with ice-cream or yogurt for dessert.
Ideal Growing Condition For Pepino Melon
Pepino plants are ideally grown in a temperate climate. They prefer a neutral pH soil level, as do many fruits and vegetables.
The bush prefers a full-sun to part-shade position in the garden.
With healthy soil (helped by compost and mulched with sugar cane or similar), adequate water and plenty of sunshine, pepino will produce bigger and sweeter fruit. But the pepino is a hardy bush that will happily grow in many conditions, including clay, loamy and sandy soil.
While the pepino plant is said to be sensitive to frost, there are many gardeners who grow the plant successfully in climates affected by frost. The plant may develop yellow leaves and the leaves may drop if affected by frost but the plant will usually recover well when the weather warms up.
If you live in a frost-prone climate, try finding a sheltered spot to plant the pepino to protect it from the worst of the frost. Close to a wall or under the eaves of a house can work well.
Pepino can also be grown in pots and moved undercover to a sheltered spot during times of frost.
When Does Pepino Fruit
In warm climates, pepino can fruit year-round, though more commonly the plant will begin flowering in spring, or when nighttime temperatures are 65 F (18 C) or above. Fruit will then form throughout spring, summer and through fall.
New pepino plants have been known to fruit after 4-6 months, though will usually fruit within the first 12 months.
The pepino bush produces self-fertile purple and white flowers. From the time the pepino bush flowers until the fruits are ready to harvest is around 60-80 days.
You will know the fruit is ready to harvest when it turns pale to golden yellow with purple stripes (though stripes may not form if the fruit is shaded). For the tastiest fruit, leave it on the plant until fully ripe for the flavor to develop.
Should the fruit accidentally fall from the bush before it has fully ripened, try leaving it out on the kitchen bench. In many cases, the fruit will ripen up, just like a tomato.
How To Easily Propagate Pepino Plants
Pepino can be grown from seed or cutting. If planting seed, start them indoors 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost. Then they will be ready to plant out in the garden when the temperature warms up.
As cuttings give a faster result, it’s my preferred method, and in no time you will have more pepino plants.
To easily propagate pepino melon from cuttings, take a 10cm stem cutting and remove the lower leaves. You can then grow them in either water or soil.
How To Grow Cuttings In Water
Place the cuttings in a glass jar of water and position it in a well-lit spot out of direct sunlight. Kitchen windowsills are often a good spot.
Ensure the remaining leaves are not touching the water and then change the water every 3-4 days.
Within 2 weeks, roots will form on the cuttings and they can be potted up into soil.
Introduce newly potted plants slowly to direct sunlight, a process called ‘hardening off’. For more information on ‘hardening off,’ we have details in our 7 Tips To Successfully Grow Basil At Home here.
How To Grow Cuttings In Soil
Place 10cm pepino cuttings in pots of well-draining soil. Keep the pots in a well-lit spot out of direct sunlight. Water daily.
Within a few weeks, roots will form and plants can be ‘hardened off’ before planting into the garden.
Grow By Soil Layering
Pepino will also grow roots from branches that touch the ground. You can encourage this by laying a branch on the ground and covering a portion of the branch with soil.
Once the branch has developed its own roots, you can easily cut the branch from the original mother plant and transplant it elsewhere in the garden. Water the plant well and often until it is established in its new position.
Pepino fruit is susceptible to pest attack similar to those in the same nightshade family, tomato and chilli for example. A simple organic solution is to use an exclusion bag on the fruit. Simply tie an exclusion bag (organza bags work well and you can purchase them here) around the fruit while it is small, with a bag large enough to accommodate the fruit to full size.
If you’re growing pepino in a container to bring indoors during winter, it may come under attack by spider mite or aphids. You can use an organic neem oil spray to treat the plant. You can purchase Neem Oil here.
Pepino is a low maintenance perennial food plant that will work hard for you in the garden. Once you discover how easy it is to grow, you will be glad you came to know this easy plant with delicious fruit. So why not add a pepino bush to your garden?
Tomato Cage – support the pepino bush with a cage, stake or trellis.
Organza Exclusion Bags – protect pepino fruit from pests by tying an exclusion bag around the fruit.
Neem Oil – spray neem oil if the plant is attacked by spider mites or aphids.
Would you like to grow more fruit at home? Check out our article on How To Easily Grow Blueberries At Home.