Melon Essentials

By National Gardening Association Editors


  • Melons need 80 to 100 days to reach maturity. If your season is long enough, you can sow seeds directly in the garden after all danger of frost is past and the soil is warm. Otherwise, start seeds indoors in separate peat pots 3 to 4 weeks before the average last spring frost date.
  • Melons need lots of space. Plan on leaving 6 to 8 feet between rows or beds.


  • Choose a site in the warmest part of your garden, preferably a south-facing slope.
  • Enrich the soil with aged manure or good compost at least a few days before planting.
  • To increase soil temperature and hasten growth, cover the planting area tightly with black plastic mulch just before planting.


  • Add 1/2 cup of bone meal to each foot or so of row at planting time.
  • Set transplants 1 1/2 to 2 feet apart in rows 6 to 8 feet apart. Keep the plants in their peat pots so as not to disturb roots. Water transplants with a starter solution high in phosphorus.
  • If seeding directly, plant seeds 1 inch deep and 4 inches apart. Thin when plants touch each other, leaving healthiest plants about 2 feet apart.
  • If desired, cover rows with row covers to maintain warmth and promote fast growth.


  • When fruits have formed, side-dress. Use liquid fertilizer such as manure tea or fish emulsion for side-dressing when you mulch with plastic. Side-dress unmulched plants with approximately 1/2 cup of 5-10-10 or similar balanced fertilizer for every four to five plants, in sandy soils, side-dress again 3 to 4 weeks later.
  • See our article Summer's Bad Guys by Charlie Nardozzi for controls of common melon pests such as cucumber beetles and squash vine borers.


  • Allow melons to ripen on the vine.
  • Ripe muskmelons develop a crack at the point of attachment to the stem and slip off the vine with little help.
  • A ripe watermelon's underside turns from white to yellow and tendrils nearest the melon turn brown and dry. The melon's skin also becomes dull and is difficult to penetrate with your fingernail when ripe.

Other articles in this series:
1. Getting Started with Vine Crops
2. Cucumber Varieties
3. Getting to Know Squash
4. Melon Varieties
5. Pumpkin Varieties & Growing Big Ones
6. Ornamental and Unusual Gourds
7. How All Vine Crops Grow
8. The Facts of Life About Melons and Squash
9. Cucumber Essentials
10. Melon Essentials ← you're on this article right now
11. Pumpkin Essentials

This article is a part of our Vegetable Gardening Guide for Vine Crops / Getting Started.

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