Aside from tomatoes and zucchini, there’s nothing that screams “Summer!” in the garden quite like melons. Watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew — whatever kind you prefer, melons offer that tropical sweetness that is difficult to get from any other fruit. And compared to store-bought melons, the taste is a hands-down winner. To be successful at growing melons, you need plenty of moisture, sun, and heat — and if you’re new to growing melons in your summer garden, follow these tips to get you off to a good start.
Prepare your soil. All that deliciousness comes from somewhere, right? You got it — melons are heavy feeders, and their fruit will taste best if the soil is fertile. Before planting, add several inches of compost to your planting bed. Poultry droppings are great as well, but be sure they are well rotted so they add valuable nitrogen to the soil without “burning” the plants.
Plant transplants or seeds. You can start seeds indoors under grow lights, then set them outside after about three weeks. If you’re planting directly in ground, do so after your last frost. Whichever way you start your plants, the soil temperature should be above 70 degrees. Space them out 36 – 42” to allow plenty of room for their vines to grow, or plant them 12” apart at the base of a large and sturdy trellis. This year, I’m experimenting with growing personal-sized watermelons both on the ground and on a trellis — so far, the growth is similar, but the trellis-grown melons will have the benefit of not sitting atop of soil, which can add to the risk of rotting. One way to combat this if you choose to grow your melons on the soil surface is to put an overturned plant saucer underneath each melon as it develops.
Water consistently. Notice I didn’t say “water abundantly,” because over-watering will rot your melons out. While melons need a steady supply of water, your aim should be for the soil to be moist but not wet. Melons are particularly sensitive to drought conditions between planting time and when the fruit starts to develop, so be sure to water consistently. Avoid overhead watering if you can — drip irrigation or soaker hoses are best, but if you’re using your handheld hose, water earlier in the morning and try to avoid getting water on the leaves.
Northern climate growing tip: Because melons need a good 2-3 months of heat to produce, you may find growing them to be a challenge. One way to heat up your soil quicker is to add a permeable black tarp or landscape fabric on top of the soil, then cut holes for your melon plants at planting time. Floating row covers also do a good job of trapping warm air, but remember to remove them as flowers develop so they can be properly pollinated.
About the Author:
Jenny Peterson is a landscape designer and urban farmer living in Austin, Texas. She comes from a family of gardeners and her gardens include drought-tolerant plants, herbs, veggies, and a wildflower pollinator garden. As a breast cancer survivor, Jenny specializes in gardens that heal from the inside out.