Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of bitter melon. But my family enjoys them a lot. That’s why I wanted to try growing some in my container garden.
You can grow bitter melon in a pot that is at least 12 inches in size or a 5 gallon container. You’ll need to provide support to the bitter melon plant using a trellis so the vines grow vertically and develop bitter melons. Place the pot in a location that gets 6-8 hours of direct sunlight.
There’s a lot more you need to understand when trying to grow bitter melon in a pot. But I have you covered with my post below.
1. Pick the best time to plant bitter melon
The best time to grow bitter melon is in the spring/summer when the temperature is at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The plant needs a warm temperature to germinate and grow well. If the climate is too cold or too hot, it will not grow.
Make sure that you plant the seeds only after the last frost date has passed. I would suggest waiting a couple of weeks after the last frost date just to be safe.
If you live in a place with a long growing season, you can germinate the seeds in the pot outdoors and continue growing the bitter melon plant. But if you have a short growing season, you may have to start seeds indoors three weeks before the last frost date. Then you can transplant them outdoors once the weather has warmed up.
Make sure to use a heating mat or place the seed starting trays on top of a refrigerator or an oven so they get plenty of warmth to germinate.
You can also consider buying seedlings from your local garden center or nursery. This saves you the time to start the seeds and worry about the germination. But you are restricted in the variety you’ll be able to grow. That’s because you only get a few to choose from when purchasing a seedling.
2. Figure out how long it takes to grow
Bitter melon does take a little time to grow till the fruit is ready for harvest. It may take 12-16 weeks from planting seeds till you can harvest the bitter melons.
You should check the seed packets to know the exact number of days it will take for the bitter melon plant to mature. If you bought a seedling from a garden center or nursery then check the tag that would be on the plant. If there is no tag, you can figure out when the plant has matured by looking at the color of the fruit.
The bitter melon fruit will change color from dark green to light green to orange as it grows ripe. The best time to harvest the fruit is when it’s dark green in color and measures 4-6 inches in length.
3. Choose the right pot to grow bitter melon
Bitter melon plants will need a pot that is at least 16 inches deep and 12 inches wide. A 5-gallon pot is a good choice for growing bitter melons as it can hold the required potting soil.
Make sure to only grow one plant per pot as too many plants will overcrowd each other and compete for resources.
You can choose a pot made of any material but I would recommend using a plastic one. It is lightweight, durable, and inexpensive. The plastic pot will also not lose moisture as fast as something like terracotta.
You should make sure the pot has drainage holes at the bottom. This helps it drain out the excess water and protect the roots from getting root rot. If there are no holes, you can drill some before using the pot.
4. Prepare the pot to grow bitter melon
You can buy a new pot or reuse an existing pot to grow bitter melons. But make sure to sterilize it before use. This will help remove unwanted pests and diseases from the pot that may harm the bitter melon plant.
The best way to do this is to soak the pot in a solution that contains 1 part bleach and 9 parts water. Soak it for at least 1 hour and then you can rinse it with clean water. Let the pot dry in the sun before you can start adding potting soil to it. If there are no drainage holes at the bottom of the pot, you can drill some yourself.
I would recommend using good potting soil rather than garden soil in your pot. The garden soil may have too much sand or clay that is not the right texture for growing bitter melons. The garden soil may contain pests, diseases, and chemicals that can harm the plant.
You can buy potting soil suitable for growing bitter melon plants from your local garden center or online. Or you can make your own mix using 1 part vermiculite, 1 part perlite, and 1 part peat moss. I also like to add compost to the potting soil as it gives a boost of nutrients to the plant. It also adds beneficial microorganisms that improve the texture and nutrients in the soil.
Fill the container with the potting soil till there’s a space of 2 inches left from the rim. This will prevent the soil from spilling out when watering.
5. Add support to the bitter melon plant
Since the bitter melon is a vining plant, you’ll need to provide support so it can grow vertically. This will help the plant to grow well and avoid touching the soil. This reduces the chances of pests and diseases from the soil reaching the plant. It also helps the bitter melon fruit to grow straight and healthy.
Growing the plant vertically will also make it easier to prune the vines as well as harvest the bitter melons from the plant.
The simplest form of support is to use a trellis where you can tie the vines as they grow. You can make one yourself or buy one from the local garden center or online.
An easy way to build one is to use an inverted tomato cage and stakes. Push the stakes through the holes of the cage in an alternating direction. Make sure to use 2-3 stakes in total on different sides of the cage.
It’s best to place the tomato cage in the potting soil when you sow the seeds or do the transplant. This helps prevent the stakes from disturbing or damaging the full-grown roots when the plant has matured.
You can tie the growing vines on the tomato cage or the stakes using a gardening tie. Make sure to tie the vines loose enough so you don’t harm them.
6. Plant bitter melon seeds in the pot
It’s best to start bitter melon plants from seeds because it’s inexpensive and you have a lot more varieties to choose from. Starting seeds is also useful if you have a short growing season. You can start the seeds indoors even if the outside weather is not yet suitable for growing. Once the seedlings have sprouted and the weather has improved, you can transplant them outdoors.
If you have a long growing season, you can directly sow the seeds in the pot. This is beneficial because the roots won’t get disturbed and you’ll have a better chance of growing the plant.
You can start the seeds indoors in a seed starting tray or peat pots. The benefit of using peat pots is they are biodegradable and you can plant them directly in the pot once the seedlings have sprouted.
Put some seed starting mix in the peat pot. Then plant 2-3 bitter melon seeds 1/2 inch into the mix.
Bitter melon seeds need at least 70 °F so they can germinate. You can use a heating mat underneath the pots to create a warm environment.
You should water the potting soil every day but make sure it’s not soggy. You should also keep the peat pots near the windowsill where they can get plenty of sunlight to germinate.
Spray enough moisture on the potting soil every day so the seeds can get it. The seeds will germinate in 8-10 days. Once the seedlings have grown a few inches, you can transplant them outdoors.
7. Plant bitter melon seedlings in the pot
If you don’t want to spend time starting seeds, you can buy seedlings from a nursery or garden center. The disadvantage is that you have a limited variety to choose from. And you need to be careful to pick healthy seedlings.
You’ll get the seedlings in a small container and you’ll need to transplant them to the pot when the weather is suitable. It’s important to harden the seedlings before transplanting them outdoors.
Hardening is a process where you help the seedlings get used to the outdoor conditions so they don’t get stressed when you transplant them. You do this by keeping the seedlings outdoors for a few hours every day.
It’s best to keep them out of direct sunlight and wind when you start. After a few days, you can keep them outside for more time and even in the sun. After a week, the seedlings will have hardened and you can move them to the container outdoors.
Gently squeeze the container they are growing in so the root ball comes out. Make a hole in the center of the potting soil you added to the pot. Place the root ball in this hole and cover it will potting soil so they are not exposed to air.
Press the soil near the base of the plant to give it stability. Now you should water the potting soil well so it can settle and the roots can get comfortable in the new container.
8. Pick a good location to place the pot
Bitter melon is a warm-season plant so you’ll need to provide it at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight every day. However, you need to be careful if the weather gets too hot as the leaves will start to curl and the plant may not grow. It’s best to move the pot to shade especially in the afternoon heat.
As the season changes, the position of the sun will change and you need to move the pot so the plant can keep getting the required amount of sunlight. You’ll also need to water the potting soil several times a day when the weather is hot.
9. Water the bitter melon plant in the pot
Bitter melon is a summer plant that needs a lot of water especially when it’s developing fruit. It’s good to check the potting soil every morning whether it needs watering.
Put your finger 1-2 inches in the potting soil. Check if the tip of your finger feels moist. If not, you’ll need to water the potting soil. If the weather is too hot, the potting soil may dry out even after this watering. And you’ll need to water it once more during the day.
You should water the potting soil deeply so the water can reach the bottom of the pot. The pot must have drainage holes at the bottom so the excess water can drain out. This helps you prevent the problem of underwatering or overwatering that will stunt the growth of the bitter melon plant or kill it.
If you are afraid to water the plant, you’ll give it less water and stunt its growth. If you give too much water and it remains in the pot it will lead to overwatering. This will cause root rot or fungal diseases and cause the plant to die.
I also like to add mulch to the potting soil as it helps insulate it. This means the temperature in the soil will not rise or fall rapidly and remain regulated. You can use an organic material like grass clippings, dried leaves, straw, hay, or moss as mulch.
Add 2 inches of such material on the potting soil after the seedlings have germinated and grown 2-4 inches in height. Otherwise, the mulch will block the sunlight and prevent germination.
10. Thin the bitter melon seedlings
I recommend planting 2-3 seeds per pot when you’re starting bitter melon from seed. This increases the chances that at least one seed will germinate from them. But what if all 2 or 3 seeds germinate? Then you will have an issue where they compete for resources.
That’s why you need to thin the bitter melon seedlings. Thinning means you keep one of the seedlings and pull out the remaining as you only want to grow one of them. You can move the remaining seedlings to another pot if you wish to grow more plants. Otherwise, you can dispose of them.
The best time to thin the seedlings is when they have grown at least 3-4 leaves and the height is about 3-4 inches. You don’t need to do any thinning if you buy the seedlings from the garden center or nursery. You can just transplant one seedling in the pot. Just make sure you pick the best possible seedling when you buy.
11. Provide fertilizer to the bitter melon plant
I prefer adding compost to the potting soil when preparing the pot. This gives it a good texture, adds nutrients, and beneficial microorganisms. You can even apply the compost every month to the potting soil so it keeps adding nutrients to it.
If you don’t have compost, you can add a slow-release granular fertilizer to the potting soil when preparing it. This can be a balanced fertilizer having an N-P-K of 5-5-5.
Once the plant has grown large with plenty of leaves, you can use a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen. This prevents the plant from focusing on growing leaves and much more on developing fruit.
You can also use liquid fertilizer instead and spray it in the potting soil every couple of weeks. The liquid fertilizer can be fast-action especially if you spray it on the foliage.
Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using any fertilizer. It will give you information on how much fertilizer to use and how often. I would also recommend using an organic fertilizer rather than chemical.
12. Pollinate the bitter melon plant in the pot
Bitter melon plants are self-pollinating which means they develop both male and female flowers. Once the pollen from the male flowers reaches the female flowers, the fruit will start to develop.
The best way to pollinate bitter melon plants is to attract pollinators like bees to the container garden. You can do this by growing native plants with flowers that attract such insects.
But sometimes it can be a problem that pollinators won’t visit your garden. That’s when you can use hand-pollination.
The male flower has the stamen that holds the pollen while the female flower has the stigma where you need to put the pollen. Make sure the flowers are fully open when you try to hand-pollinate or it will not work.
You can pluck a male flower and remove the petals so only the stamen with pollen remains. You can then brush the stamen into the stigma of the female flowers to pollinate them.
The other option is to use a paintbrush to collect the pollen from the male flower. You can then gently brush the pollen into the stigma of the female flowers for pollination.
13. Prune the bitter melon plant in the pot
Pruning is a process where you cut the foliage, branches, and even fruit off the plant. These could be dead or diseased parts of the plant but could also be some healthy ones.
The purpose of pruning is so the plant can spend more energy on growing fruit rather than on the foliage or dead parts. If you prune the leaves when it’s growing, the plant will grow more leaves. If you prune the plant when it’s developing flowers, it will grow more flowers.
Make sure not to prune more than 1/3rd of the plant at a time. If you prune a lot, it will stress the plant and it won’t be able to grow the required flowers and fruits.
I suggest using a bypass pruner when doing the pruning. They will help you get a clean cut and reduce the chances of infection. Make sure to clean them before and after use with rubbing alcohol.
14. Harvest bitter melons from the pot
The best time to harvest bitter melon is when the fruit has grown 4-6 inches in height. The color of the fruit will be a light to dark green in color. The darker the color of the fruit, the bitter the taste will get.
Check the seed packets or the seedling label to know exactly when the bitter melon plant will mature and the bitter melons will be ready for harvest.
I suggest using a pair of pruners to harvest the bitter melon. This prevents the plant from infection by fungal or bacterial diseases near the cut.
You can cut 1 inch of the stem along with the bitter melon as this will help it stay fresh for a longer period of time. You can store the bitter melon for several weeks in a cool, dry place.