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Melonberry seeds

Melonberry seeds

Fact Sheet from the Just Fruits and Exotics Nursery
by Brandy Cowley Gilbert

Mandarin melon berry fruit

Mandarin Melonberry ( Cudrania tricuspidata ) is a beautiful, small rounded tree with broad green olive leaves. It’s also called Che or Chinese mulberry and is a member of the mulberry family. The tree flowers in mid spring and the fruit matures in mid summer. The fruit looks like a large, round raspberry, with a few seeds; the taste has a distinct cantaloupe-like flavor. Use fresh in fruit salad or eat out of hand. Mandarin Melonberry is one of the easiest, most problem-free fruits you can grow – a little care will go a long way with this tree. Female trees will fruit by themselves (ours did!). If you want to increase fruit yield you may want to add a male che later. Two types of trees are available. We graft some trees onto Osage orange rootstock to ensure early, heavy fruit production without root suckering. Cutting-grown trees are also available – these will spread into a hedge, but root suckers will be thornless.

Uses in the Landscape
Mandarin melonberry grow to approximately 30 feet tall. Trees can be allowed to grow into large fruiting shade trees or pruned into a smaller bush. Use as a small specimen tree or mix in with apples, peaches and plums for months of fresh fruit.

Mandarin melonberry female Norris tree

Planting and Culture

Site Selection
Well-drained sandy soils are preferred, but mandarin melonberry will grow on many soil types if good drainage is provided. Trees do not tolerate flooding. Trees will grow more vigorously and produce more fruit in full sun. Because space is usually limited, savvy gardeners have planted the male and female che in the same hole. The male is kept pruned to about ¼ of the total canopy for adequate pollination and best fruit production (see below for pruning tips).

Soil Preparation and Planting
Mandarin Melonberry prefers slightly acid soil (pH 6.0-6.5), but soils of up to moderate alkalinity are readily tolerated. If you are in doubt about the acidity of your soil, take a soil sample to the Cooperative Extension Agent in your county for a soil test.

Dig a planting hole approximately three times the width of the pot and at the same depth as the root ball. Set that soil aside and mix it 50/50 with either aged mushroom compost, aged manure, or rotted pine bark & aged manure/compost. Remove the plant from the pot, gently loosen the root ball and place in the planting hole. To avoid burying too deep, make sure plant is positioned with the top most roots at the soil line. Fill the planting hole with the mix of soil and organic matter; gently tamp it in. Water thoroughly to settle the roots and eliminate air pockets. Do NOT put fertilizer in the planting hole. Only apply fertilizer if it is the correct time of year (see Fertilization section below).

If desired, construct a water basin around the base of the tree approximately 36 inches in diameter. Mulch in spring and summer with approximately 4-6 inches of mulch. Pull mulch a couple of inches away from the trunk for good air circulation. Grafted trees should be planted on 20-foot centers. Non-grafted plants for hedgerows should be set 6 feet apart.

The type of fertilizer you choose may be chemical or organic. Make sure that the fertilizer contains iron, zinc, manganese, magnesium, molybdenum, copper and boron. These minor elements are very important to plants and most soils are low in these elements. Application rates vary according to age of plant. See chart below.

10-10-10 or 10-0-10
with minerals
1 cup per each year of tree’s life
– Max out at 9 cups for Mature tree
Espoma Citrus Tone
6 cups for 1 year old
10 cups for 2 year old (4-6ft)
18 cups for 7-9ft tree
24 cups for tree over 9ft

Spread the fertilizer evenly under the entire canopy of the plant avoiding a 5-inch area around the trunk. Water or rake in. For Zones 8a-10, fertilize 3 times each year in February, May and late July/early August. For plants further north (Zones 6-7), fertilize 2 times each year in March and June/July. Never fertilize after August (July in Zones 6-7) as this will promote new growth late in the year which will be subject to freeze damage.

The first year is a critical time for the establishment of a new tree. Water thoroughly twice a week on light soils and once a week on clay soils. Soak the entire root system deeply – this usually takes 40-50 minutes. Mandarin Melonberry should receive at least 1 inch of water each week for best growth and fruit production. Water regularly, especially during dry periods. Fruit may drop prematurely if insufficiently irrigated during dry spells.

Male Mandarin Melonberry Tree He’s the Pollinator!
No fruit is produced by the Male but without his flowers the Female won’t fruit. The Male will cause seeds to be produced in the fruit of any Female Melonberry variety within pollination range. If you have a Female Melonberry that isn’t producing well or drops all its fruit, and you don’t mind seeds in the fruit, then plant a Male Melonberry within 15-20ft of the Female.

Darrow Mandarin melonberry fruit

Pruning and Care
Trees fruit on the current year’s wood. Prune heavily in winter to encourage new growth for best fruit production. Remove approximately half the branches formed the previous year and head back remaining shoots by about half. If the male and female have been planted together, keep the male to about 25% of the total canopy. This may entail addition summer pruning of the male. The trees can be allowed to reach full height or kept smaller for ease of harvest. Mandarin melonberry appears to be free of pests and diseases.

Fruit should be allowed to thoroughly ripen on the tree for best quality and flavor. You’ll know the fruit is ripe when the stem doesn’t bleed white sap after picking.

Gilbert, Brandy Cowley. “Melonberry.” Just Fruits and Exotics nursery , Accessed 5 Jan. 2015.

Gilbert, Brandy Cowley. “Melonberry.” Just Fruits and Exotics nursery , Accessed 5 Jan. 2015.

Che, ‘Norris’ female Chinese Melonberry

Variety description: This under appreciated fruit is a relative of mulberry and fig, and is native to central China. In addition to be ing grown for its fruit, traditionally Che leaves were used as a secondary food source for silk worms. Trees bear a prolific crop of maroon-red, 1/2″ fruit. Ripe fruit hav e a sweet flavor which is often compared to that of a fig with notes of watermelon.

This female selection is said to bear seedless fruit in the absence of a pollinator. This may be true in areas with warm summers, but we have found that this tree only produces fruit when it is pollinated. PLANTING A MALE POLLINATOR TREE OR GRAFTING A MALE BRANCH ONTO AN EXISTING TREE IS RECOMMENDED for zones 6 and below.

We graft our Che onto Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) rootstock so that as the plant matures it will develop less of a bush and more of a standard tree form. Young plants have small thorns.

This cultivar was discovered by nurseryman Cliff England growing in an orchard of unusual fruit trees planted in the 1930s on the site of the TVA’s Norris Dam in northern Tennessee.

We grow several different varieties of che trees. See our full selection here.

Site requirements: Full sun location. Che will grow in a range of soil types provided that the roots stay evenly moist throughout the heat of the summer. Deep, well drained loam is ideal.

Size at maturity: 10-30′ tall, up to 25′ wide, depending on pruning. Keep it pruned for a smaller size. Very fast growing.

Hardiness: USDA zones 5b-9. There are some reports of Che growing in USDA zone 5. Cooler climates may have insufficient summer heat to fully ripen the fruit.

Pollination: This cultivar was advertised to us as being self-fruitful and thus seedless. Experience has shown, that at least in our cold USDA zone 6 climate, this tree needs a male pollinator for the fruit to fully ripen.

Pests and Diseases: None observed. Birds will eat the fruit if you are late to harvest and deer may browse both the fruit and foliage. We protect young trees with a circle of wire mesh to keep the deer away.

Plant size: Grafted tree, small sized 1-2′, large size 3′ tall. Both with strong central leader.

When we ship: FALL 2022.