Impact of potassium nutrition on postharvest fruit quality: Melon (Cucumis melo L) case study
Among the many plant mineral nutrients, potassium (K) stands out as a cation having the strongest influence on quality attributes that determine fruit marketability, consumer preference, and the concentration of critically important human-health associated phytonutrients. However, many plant, soil, and environmental factors often limit adequate uptake of K from the soil in sufficient amounts to satisfy fruit K requirements during development to optimize the aforementioned quality attributes. The objectives of this review are 1) to summarize published study abstracts on the effects of soil and/or foliar K fertilization as well as diverse K forms, on fruit phytonutrient concentrations; and 2) to illustrate the important role of K forms on fruit quality with a case study of Cucumis melo L (muskmelon) fruit produced with optimal soil applied K . The muskmelon studies will compare commercial sources (forms) of K applied to examine seasonal effects (spring vs. autumn) and the number of foliar K applications during fruit development on fruit marketability (maturity, yield, firmness, soluble solids, sugars, relative sweetness), consumer preference attributes (sugar content, sweetness, texture), and phytochemical concentrations (K, ascorbic acid, and β-carotene concentrations). Numerous studies have consistently demonstrated that specific K fertilizer forms, in combination with specific application regimes, can improve fruit quality attributes. Potassium fertilizer forms in order of effectiveness (Glycine (Gly)-complexed K=K2SO4≥KCl>no K> KNO3) when applied wet (foliar or hydroponic) vs. dry (soil) were generally superior in improving fruit marketability attributes, along with many humanhealth nutrients. The muskmelon case study demonstrated that two K forms: Gly-complexed K and K2SO4, combined with a silicone-based surfactant, applied weekly, as a foliar spray, during fruit development, from both autumn and spring-grown plants, had the greatest impact on improving fruit marketability attributes (maturity, yield, firmness, and sugars), as well as fruit quality attributes (human-health bioactive compounds K, ascorbic acid, and β-carotene). Among several foliar applied K salts studied under field conditions so far, salts with relatively low salt indices appeared to have the greatest impacts on fruit quality when applied during the mid- to late-season fruit development periods.