How to care for a Dischidia ovata

Watermelon Dischidia (Dischidia ovata)

Also called the Watermelon Dischidia, these hardy plants thrive in tropical or temperate climates with humidity levels between 40-90%. They grow in a diverse temperature range from 55-90°F and require little watering in cooler months. Fertilize from spring to fall using a diluted liquid fertilizer once a month. 

The Dischidia ovata is commonly known as the Watermelon Dischidia due to the small “ovata” or egg-shaped leaves that grow with an appearance similar to a watermelon skin pattern. They are epiphytes and will grow or climb on other trees and shrubs, collecting most of their nutrients from the air, water, and other surfaces nearby.

As a plant with aerial roots, they climb, creep, or hang from plants or surfaces, growing slender stems up to 8-10 feet in length that sprout small nodes and have distinctive green, oval-shaped leaves.

This hardy plant is a member of the Apocynaceae family and is native to New Guinea and parts of Northern Queensland in Australia. Nowadays, they have been propagated as a houseplant and are considered easy to grow and care for and will make a fantastic addition to your home or garden. 

Classification of the Watermelon Dischidia (Dischidia ovata)

Family: Apocynaceae

Genus: Dischidia

Species: D. ovata

Botanical name: Dischidia ovata 

Common name: Watermelon Dischidia

Native to: New Guinea/Australia/Indo-china regions

How difficult is it to look after a Dischidia ovata?

Dischidia ovata are very easy to grow and make ideal plants for beginners. Not only do their long stems and oval-shaped leaves look great, but they can also tolerate a fair amount of neglect and don’t require a lot of fertilizer or watering throughout the year. 

In this guide, we’ll run through how to care for your Dischidia ovata, and go in-depth into caring for your plant throughout all of the seasons. We will also look at where they grow best and identify some of the common issues people have when growing or propagating the Dischidia ovata. 

As a cousin of the more commonly known Hoyas plants, many of you may already have some of the basic knowledge for caring for your Dischidia ovata. There are a few things to take into consideration, and we’ll provide the best information to keep your plant healthy. 

Height and growing size

The Dischidia ovata’s growth rate is considered medium and will grow faster in humid conditions both indoors and outdoors. They can be easily propagated from a cutting and will grow up to 8-10 feet in length once they mature. 

The leaves of the plant will grow to a maximum size of 2-3 inches, sprouting along the stem of the plant and darkening in color as they mature. Occasionally during the growing season, they will grow small flowers that range in color from pale green to a pinkish-red color, although these flowers are not overly fragrant. 

Indoor vs Outdoor growing

When grown in the wild, the Dischidia ovata thrives in warm tropical climates with medium/high levels of humidity (between 40-90%). They are known to be epiphytes or lithophytes, and will usually be found growing around another tree, shrub, or rocks, creeping or climbing and using their small nodes and leaves to grasp objects with their roots. 

Growing Dischidia ovata indoors is easy, and they grow pretty much anywhere with the right light and humidity conditions. They grow really well when they can creep or climb around objects within the home, and planting them in a bathroom yields some excellent results.

They will naturally trace towards a light source so planting them in hanging baskets or in a pot on top of a bookshelf also provides great results as the small leaves will cascade down to the floor and present striking green and white stripes that appear to be small 2-3 inch sized watermelons. 

Indoor growing alternatives for your Dischidia ovata

Another great way to display your Dischidia ovata is by using a corkboard or trellis to encourage the plant to creep and climb onto. As an epiphyte, they will always grow best when attached to another plant, so a moss pole, corkboard, or something similar indoors will not only look great, but it will provide the ideal environment for your Dischidia ovata to thrive.

When your plant is smaller, using a terrarium is a great way to display your plant and provide it with a humid environment. They will climb and sprawl to the top of the terrarium and then as they grow the leaves will climb the glass terrarium. Be sure to re-pot them once the leaves start to crowd the terrarium. 

Best location for your Dischidia ovata

When deciding where to plant your Dischidia ovata take into consideration that they do not like too much full sun exposure. They will grow best when planted in bright, indirect light, similar to the light they would receive when growing in the wild and living below the forest canopy. 

As they are a tropical native, they will always grow best in humid or temperate climates. Although they can withstand a wide range of temperatures from 55-90°F, they will not survive when exposed to prolonged periods of cold below 50°F.

If you’re planting your Dischidia ovata indoors, find a warm humid location that receives plenty of indirect sunlight: a south-facing or east-facing window is best. Try not to plant them too close to a window, around 3 feet away is ideal, as they will suffer from drafts or cold during the cooler months if too close to a window. 

They will thrive in most indoor temperatures, and using a water mist spray to moisten the leaves occasionally will go a long way to simulating their native tropical climate. Try not to place them next to air-conditioning vents. 

Soil

You’ll want to use light, aerated soil when potting your Dischidia ovata. Use a cactus potting mix and add an ingredient to improve drainage, such as perlite, vermiculite, orchid bark, or pumice (all available from any good garden store). 

Ensure that soil drains well, as Dischidia ovata do not like too much water around the roots. A mix of 60% cactus potting soil, 20% perlite, and 20% orchid bark is ideal, allowing for adequate drainage of the soil whilst providing nutrients. 

If you only have a general indoor all-purpose potting mix, it will be fine, just don’t overwater your plant as typical indoor potting mixes often keep the soil very moist. 

Best outdoor soil for your Dischidia ovata 

When planting your Dischidia ovata outdoors, ensure the area has good drainage. If unsure, it’s best to prime the soil by digging a larger hole and filling the bottom area of the soil with some perlite, pumice, or orchid bark mix to promote drainage. Then fill the sides around the plant with a cactus mix. 

If you’re planting your Dischidia ovata in more dry, arid soil, there’s some good news. As your Dischidia ovata is mildly drought resistant, they will grow perfectly well in dry soil with some additional care when planting. You’ll want to ensure that some moisture can be retained during the warmer months. 

Keep in mind that your plant will naturally climb onto other trees or shrubs nearby and will take nutrients from its host, the air, and other objects nearby. 

Planting your Dischidia ovata with cork or bark 

As natural climbers, the Watermelon Dischidia thrives when mounted on a cork or bark-based board that simulates a host in the natural environment. It’s quite a straightforward process, just follow the steps below:

  1. Use sphagnum moss and submerge it in water overnight. 

  2. Take a cutting from a mature plant, try to allow around 3-4 nodes per cutting. 

  3. Pack the nodes of the plants with soaked sphagnum moss and lay over the cork or bark.

  4. Use some twine or thread to carefully weave the moss and nodes of the plant into the cork or bark (don’t worry if the weave is a little messy, as it will get removed later).

  5. Place the corkboard or bark in a humid space (small terrariums are ideal as they simulate humidity.

  6. It should take around 3-4 weeks for the nodes to grow roots and graft onto the moss and cork or bark board. Once the roots are fully bonded, you can remove the string bindings. 

Watering guide

As a native to tropical humid climates, Dischidia ovata plants would normally receive a lot of water when growing in the wild on the forest floor. However, Dischidia ovata are somewhat drought resistant and don’t require a lot of water as their thick, succulent leaves retain a lot of moisture. 

They are tolerant to some neglect and can withstand infrequent watering, although if you’re looking to keep your plant in the healthiest condition possible, don’t let the soil dry out for prolonged periods of time. 

Watering your Dischidia ovata in a temperate climate

If you’re growing your Dischidia ovata in a temperate climate, the best way to water your Dischidia ovata is by letting the top 2 inches of soil completely dry out before watering again. During the summer months, this will be every 3-4 days, and much less frequently during the cooler months. 

Watering your Dischidia ovata in a humid climate

If potted in a more humid climate, your Dischidia ovata will take a lot of moisture from the air and will require less watering. A good rule of thumb is to allow the top 3 inches of soil to dry out between watering. This will be around once a week during summer and a little less frequently during the cooler months. Avoid overwatering in the cooler months. 

Watering your Dischidia ovata in a cooler climate

If you’re growing your Dischidia ovata it’s likely that you’ll be growing it indoors. When watering in the warmer summer and spring seasons you should allow the soil to dry out on the top 2 inches between watering. 

During the cooler months, water your Dischidia ovata far less frequently, allowing for the soil to completely dry out between watering. This is likely to be once every two to three weeks, or once a month to be on the safe side. Whatever you do, do not overwater your plant during winter as this may cause root rot. 

Watering your Dischidia ovata when mounted on a moss pole

You’ll likely find that a plant mounted on a moss pole or on bark will dry out more quickly so it’ll require a little more watering than if potted in soil.

Using a misting spray two or three times a week is ideal in the summer months (although just keep an eye on how dry it becomes in your climate). Watering with a mist spray once or twice a fortnight during the cooler months will suffice. 

Don’t overwater your Dischidia ovata

One main thing to keep in mind is that your Dischidia ovata hates overwatering, as it causes root rot and discoloration of the leaves. So, if you’re unsure about watering, remember they are drought resistant, so watering less is better than overwatering. 

Humidity – tropical/temperate climate

As we mentioned, Dischidia ovata grows on the forest floor in the wild, amongst other plants and trees that live below the forest canopy. This generates a very warm, humid environment with around 40-90% humidity that the Dischidia ovata thrives in. To provide your Dischidia ovata with the best growth potential, you’ll want to simulate this climate as much as possible either indoors or outdoors. 

The Dischidia ovata is grown ideally in zones 9-11 in the US. 

If potted indoors, keep away from cold vents or air-conditioning as it will reduce the humidity in the air. As a trailing plant it is ideal for hanging baskets and they thrive in bathrooms that receive some bright indirect light throughout the day. 

If planted outdoors, try to plant your Dischidia ovata amongst other more mature trees or shrubs with some exposure to bright indirect light. As the plant matures, it will climb and find the best light for the leaves to thrive. Never expose them to direct sunlight as they will struggle to grow and the leaves may burn or turn brown. 

Temperature

Your Dischidia ovata can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and is happiest between 55-90°F making them ideal indoor houseplants. If you live in a cooler zone and have potted your plant outdoors, you’ll need to bring your plant inside during the cooler months to protect it from frost. 

If you live in a dry arid zone, you’ll also want to protect your plant from warm extremes over 90°F, as this may cause the delicate leaves to burn. If planted outdoors, use a misting spray to spray the leaves, just be very careful not to soak or overwater the plant during the hottest part of the day.  

Fertilizer

Dischidia ovata are not heavy feeders and do not require regular fertilizing. Use an organic liquid fertilizer or a succulent fertilizer and dilute to 30%. Fertilize your plant once a month during spring and summer. During the cooler months, they will not require any fertilizer at all. 

If you’re growing your plant on a moss pole or using sphagnum moss, you’ll want to use a small amount of diluted fertilizer to encourage growth without soaking the moss-based medium. 

Using a small turkey baster and diluting the fertilizer to around 10% is ideal. Place a few drops around each rooted node of the plant and do this once or twice a month during the growing period from early spring to summer. 

Growth rate and re-potting

The Dischidia ovata has a medium growth rate, meaning you won’t need to re-pot it very often. While a mature plant can be over 10 feet in length, it will take a few years to get to this stage. 

In ideal humid conditions and with plenty of indirect light, you should expect your Dischidia ovata to grow around 1-2 feet per year. The stems will grow nodes and sprout leaves every 3-4 inches. 

Your Dischidia ovata will require re-potting only every 2-3 years, and you’ll know when it’s time to re-pot it when the aerial roots have started to climb outside of the pot. When re-potting, use a slightly larger pot size, around 2-3 inches larger in diameter. 

Toxicity

Another reason that the Dischidia ovata is such a great indoor houseplant is that it is non-toxic to humans and animals. As they are often planted in a hanging pot, cats and dogs will often rouse interest in the cascading stems and leaves. Although they are non-toxic, when ingested in large quantities it may cause irritation to cats, dogs, and children. 

However, when pruning your Dischidia ovata, take care not to touch the sap from the stems, as the stems will leak when cut or damaged and the sap causes mild dermatitis when exposed to the skin. 

Maintenance, Grooming, and Pruning

Dischidia ovata are very hardy plants so they are very easy to keep happy. They are drought resistant, pest resistant, and do not require any special maintenance throughout their life. The most important part of keeping your Dischidia ovata in a healthy condition is making sure they receive enough light and avoid overwatering. 

While there is no need to prune your Dischidia ovata, you may want to groom some of the long stems that grow to give them the desired look. Try not to prune off too much of a stem as they will suffer and may take a long time to grow back. Remember that the sap should be avoided as it causes mild dermatitis.

When your Dischidia ovata has finished flowering, trim off the flowers at the nearest node and the flowers will grow back the next year in the same spot. 

Propagation

Much like many trailing vines, the Dischidia ovata is very easy to propagate, and you can take a cutting from the stem along with a root node for propagation. The node will take a few weeks to root and works best when put into water or a growing mixture, planted in rich potting soil or stitched onto a moss-covered corkboard or bark. 

Steps to propagating your Dischidia ovata:

  1. Use a sharp knife or pruning scissors and cut a stem with a root node from the mature plant. You’ll want a cutting around 8-10 inches long. 

  2. Place or plant the cutting into a jar of water or planting mixture. If placed in water, change the water once or twice a week to keep it fresh. If planted in a planting mixture, be sure to water regularly so that the mixture never dries out. 

  3. Position your planted cutting in indirect light, and every few days use a misting spray to cover the leaves of your cutting. 

  4. It should take around 3-4 weeks for the node to root and start to grow. If grown in water, allow the roots to grow for around 6-8 weeks and then transfer them into a well-drained soil as mentioned in the “soil” section above. 

FAQ – common issues with your Dischidia ovata

Whilst the Dischidia ovata is a relatively easy plant to grow for a beginner, there are some common issues that may occur when you grow your plant for the first time. Here are some of the most common signs your Dischidia ovata isn’t happy and how to improve the health of your plant. 

Overwatering

The most common issue that novice gardeners face when growing a Dischidia ovata plant is overwatering. Be careful not to overwater your plant. Be extra careful in the cooler months as they require virtually no watering. If in doubt, less water is better. 

Root rot

This is a common side-effect of overwatering your Dischidia ovata. Always plant your Dischidia ovata in soil that drains well and keep watering levels low. 

If you find root rot while re-potting your plant, rinse the old soil from the roots with water, and prune any blackened parts of the root. Then re-pot your plant in well-drained soil and cut back on watering in the future. 

Poor lighting

A lack of light will also cause issues for your Dischidia ovata. If your plant does not receive enough light, you’ll find that the stems will grow thinner and the delicate leaves will grow infrequently along the stems. Another sign that your plant is not receiving enough light is when the leaves yellow or fall off when touched. 

If your Dischidia ovata is receiving too much direct sunlight, this will burn the leaves and they will brown or fall off. A tell-tale sign is when you see brown or black spots appear on the leaves. 

To keep your Dischidia ovata healthy and happy, avoid planting them in direct sunlight, especially during the warmer months of the year. They only require bright, indirect light around 4-6 hours per day for them to thrive. 

Conclusion

Growing a Dischidia ovata is a very rewarding experience for a beginner gardener. Not only are they very resilient, require virtually no maintenance, and grow exceptionally well indoors, they also look great, especially when planted in a hanging basket or on a bookshelf. 

The long stems will crawl and climb most surfaces and the egg-shaped leaves are very striking with their plump, green body and patterns that resemble tiny watermelons. They grow virtually anywhere in indirect light and they thrive in more humid rooms of the house such as a bathroom or beside a kitchen. 

Best of all, the Dischidia ovata is very easy to propagate, allowing you to take cuttings and grow multiple plants that are great gifts for a family member or those friends with green thumbs. 

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