Nothing says summer like the sweet, juicy taste of fresh melons harvested from your garden. Growing melons is easier than you might think. All you need is fertile ground, full sun, and warm temperatures. Even if you live in an area that doesn't provide all three, there are planting tricks you can use to grow a productive melon patch.
When they hear the word "melon" most gardeners think of orange-fleshed cantaloupes or red-fleshed watermelons. However, you can plant a number of different melon varieties that offer an array of colors and flavors. Try growing the Mediterranean-type melons such as 'Passport' which features pale green flesh and an aromatic scent or the sweet green fleshed honeydew melons such as 'Tam-Dew' which can store longer than other melons. For watermelons, try an orange seedless variety such as 'Orange Sunshine', or a yellow fleshed variety such as 'Desert King' which is also drought tolerant.
Plant melons where they will have room to run, and provide plenty of water and good fertile soil. Work a 3 to 4-inch thick layer of compost or composted manure into the melon patch before planting. If you have poor soil, consider adding a complete granular fertilizer such as 5-10-10 to enhance growth.
Whatever melon variety you choose there are some basic planting tips that will help them grow well. Melons are warm-season crops and seeds or transplants shouldn't be planted until the soil temperatures reach at least 60F. In northern areas, this may mean you'll have to warm the soil by forming raised beds and covering the bed with black or infra-red transmitting (IRT) plastic mulch. Make a bed 3 to 4 feet wide, 10 to 12 inches high, and as long as you wish. About 1 to 2 weeks before planting, lay the plastic over the bed. Poke holes in the plastic every foot along the top of the bed and plant 2 to 3 seeds per hole. After germination, thin to one plant per hole. You can also jump start the season by soaking melon seeds: Just soak seeds overnight in warm water and plant the next morning. The seeds will germinate faster.
You can also plant melons in hills spaced 4 to 6 feet apart. Plant 6 to 8 seeds per hill and thin them to the strongest 3 to 4 seedlings after germination.
Melon seeds should germinate within 1 to 2 weeks. Since melons are mostly water, they will grow and taste sweetest if you provide a consistent water supply. If you're growing melons on plastic mulch, consider placing soaker hose or drip irrigation under the mulch. On bare soil, place straw or hay mulch around plants once they start vining to retain soil moisture and prevent evaporation. Side-dress melons with compost or fertilizer once a month and within a few months it will be melons for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at your house.
For more great melon growing tips visit our Vegetable Guides.
Question of the Week
Q. I don't get it. Where do the seeds come from that I plant when I grow a seedless watermelon variety?
A. Seedless watermelons are sterile hybrids that develop fruits, but no seeds. The seeds for growing them are produced by crossing a normal watermelon with one that has been changed genetically by treatment with a chemical called colchicine. The seeds from this cross produce plants that, when pollinated with pollen from normal plants, produce seedless melons.
In seedless watermelons, there are actually seeds, but they never develop. If you look closely you'll see small, soft, white, tasteless, undeveloped seeds. They can be eaten right along with the flesh of the melon and you'll hardly notice them.