Melons have been pleasing palates since the days of ancient Rome. Crenshaws, honeydews, cantaloupes and all their relatives crave heat and take their time maturing. They'll grow in USDA zone 4 and warmer, but north of zone 7, grow short-season varieties and protect plants from chilly temperatures.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Melon Seeds
- Fish Emulsions
- Potting Soil
- Black Plastic Mulch
- Fertilizer Analyzer
- Planting Containers
- Floating Row Covers
- Compost Makers
Choose a site that gets full sun and good air circulation. Make sure the spot is protected from strong winds - melons won't perform at all if they're cold.
Amend the soil with plenty of compost or well-rotted manure to ensure fertility and good drainage. (Construct raised beds if your climate is cold or humid or your soil is heavy.) The soil's pH should be from 6.0 to 7.0.
Prepare the bed a few weeks before planting time by making hills (see "How to Plant Vegetable Seeds Outdoors," under Related eHows) and covering the space with a sheet of black plastic mulch - assuming that yours is not an ornamental garden.
Buy melon plants at the nursery; otherwise, start seeds indoors one or two weeks before the last expected frost.
Harden off seedlings, whether homegrown or store-bought, and move them to the garden three weeks after the last frost.
Cut a slit in the plastic sheet to accommodate each transplant, and set it into the soil at about an inch deeper than it was growing in its container. Check your seed packet or plant label for spacing. It will vary from 4 to 6 feet for most varieties, 2 feet for bush types.
Mulch with straw, salt hay or compost if you haven't used black plastic, and water thoroughly with compost tea.
Cover the planting area with floating row covers to protect plants from insects and cold winds, but remove the covers as soon as flowers appear: Unless insects can pollinate them, you'll have no crop. When plants begin to set fruit, spray them with fish emulsion or compost tea.
Slide a board under each melon when it's about half-grown to prevent it from rotting.
Make sure plants get at least an inch of water a week at the beginning, but unless a prolonged dry spell strikes, stop watering when the fruits begin to ripen - they'll develop better flavor if they don't get too much moisture during the last week or two.
Wait until melons are fully ripe before you harvest them - they won't ripen off the vine.
Tips and warnings
- In warm climates, sow melon seeds directly in the garden no earlier than two weeks before the last expected frost and when the soil temperature has reached about 70 degrees F.
- Not all melons need room to roam. Small-fruited varieties like 'Jenny Lind' will grow on trellises, saving space and providing vertical interest in an ornamental garden. (Just be sure to put them where they won't shade other sun lovers.)
- Melons make good container plants if you choose a compact variety like 'Minnesota Midget' or 'Musketeer'. Use a container that's at least 2 feet deep, with good drainage. Fill it with good-quality potting soil enriched with compost, water plants frequently, and feed every two weeks with manure tea or fish emulsion.
- Where growing seasons are short, look for early-maturing melons like 'Charmel' (78 days), 'Earli-Sweet' (70 days) or 'Fastbreak' (69 days).
- If you use plastic mulch, make sure you anchor the sheet securely at planting time. If it shifts to cover the tiny plants, it will smother them almost instantly.
- Melons can fall victim to a number of pests and diseases, but you can foil most of them by giving plants the growing conditions they like (including soil rich in organic matter), encouraging insect predators, and growing disease-resistant varieties like 'Templar'.