It might seem daunting to grow your own melons if you’ve never done it before, but they’re actually one of the easiest fruits to grow. Melons grown for commercial purposes are picked before they are completely ripe in order to better survive shipping to remote destinations. Melons acquire much of their natural sweetness just before reaching their peak ripeness, so growing melons at home allows you to pick them when they are at their best. Here’s how to grow melons.
Watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew are just three popular varieties of melon that can be grown in a home garden. Some varieties need a lot of space, up to 12 feet between plants. However, many bush melons need only 2 feet between plants. Watermelons and cantaloupe (sometimes referred to as muskmelon) are popular choices for most home gardens. Most melons need ample heat over the course of the entire summer. Be sure you have sufficient warmth and length of growing season for the type of melon you choose to grow. When in doubt, speak with local growers to find out which varieties thrive in your area.
WHEN TO GROW
Most melons need at least 3 to 4 months of summer heat in order to thrive. Soil temperatures should be at least 70° F for the seeds to properly germinate, otherwise they may not bear fruit. Do not plant melons outside until at least 2 weeks after the last average frost for your area. For best results, you should sow melon seeds indoors and transfer the seedlings outside only once the threat of frost has vanished and soil temperatures reach 75° F during the day. Be sure to time it out so that you are transferring seedlings that are 2 to 4 weeks old. If melon seeds are chilled, they may not bear fruit.
WHERE TO GROW
As you might imagine, most melons need ample amounts of space in order to thrive, up to 12 feet between plants in some cases. Others need only be spaced 6 feet or so part, 2 feet for some bush melons. You may need to determine where to grow your melons based on the variety and space you have available. Whichever variety you choose, be sure the spot you select gets full sun exposure, as much as possible. Melons need warm soil, lots of light and good air circulation to bare fruit and stay healthy all summer long.
Melons need rich, loose soil in which to thrive. Fortify your soil with compost before planting. Be sure it is deeply tilled so the roots have plenty of room to stretch.
Melons do best if planted in hills so the roots can go very deep and the water can drain well. Plant about 6 seeds per hill, spaced 4 to 12 feet apart depending on the variety. You can also plant melons in rows. Be sure to pace rows 4 to 6 feet apart. Melons should not be planted earlier than 2 weeks after the last frost. Thin to the strongest 2 or 3 plants per hill (leave only 1 in shorter grow zones to expedite the process).
Alternatively, you can sow melon seeds indoors 2-4 weeks before temperatures permit you to transplant them outside. This will likely be necessary in regions with short growing seasons. Sow seeds about ½ inch deep in 4-inch pots. Place them in a sunny window and provide bottom heat, if necessary to keep the soil temperature above 70° F. Thin to the strongest plant once they reach 2 inches tall. Transfer outdoors after they are 2 to 4 weeks old. Space transplants at least 12 inches apart. Harden them off before transplanting outside.
Melons should be watered generously, particularly as they begin to bear fruit. Keep the soil consistently moist but no need to make it soggy. Avoid overhead watering, which can foster disease.
Melons will benefit greatly from a feeding of liquid fertilizer or compost tea several times throughout the growing season. Feed once as soon as they are transplanted, as soon as they bear fruit and again 2 weeks later.
In colder regions, remove small fruits and all flowers. This will allow the plant to develop its larger fruit more quickly before the cool weather sets in.
Many melons, like cantaloupe and muskmelons, will have a vibrant smell when they are ready to harvest. Melons are usually ready when the vine where the melon is attached turns brown. You can also check the bottom surface of the melon, which will turn from a light straw color to gold, orange or rich yellow once it is ready for harvest. Some may also choose the “thump” test. Thump the melon and listen closely. A ringing melon is not yet ripe. A dull sound, with no ring, means they are ready for harvest.
Be sure to pick melons as soon as they ripen on the vine. They will have a much sweeter flavor. Once ripe, the melon should pull right off the vine. No need to cut or clip.
TIPS & ADVICE
Wintermelons may take 100 days to harvest and ripen when the weather begins to turn cold.
Use mulch to warm the soil and maintain moisture, particularly in cooler climates.
Male plants blossom first and then females a week or so later. Only female plants will bear fruit.
Try to keep the fruit off of the ground as they develop. This will help protect them from pests and discourage disease.
Don’t pinch off growing shoots as they fruit begin to ripen. The plant needs all of its leaves to produce the sugar needed to make the melons delicious.
Do you have advice or questions about how to grow melons? Let us know in the comments section below.