There is nothing like
a vine ripened melon picked right from your own garden.
Bite into a slice of sweet juicy watermelon on a hot
July day, smell the aroma of a vine ripe muskmelon, or
savor a sweet honeydew or specialty melon you grew
yourself and it's love at first bite.
melons are readily available in the grocery store there
are many reasons to grow your own. Home growing allows
you to try many new varieties and old heirlooms not
available in the supermarket. Organic gardeners can
avoid using any pesticides or synthetic fertilizers on
Flavor is another reason to grow your
own. While a muskmelon will continue to ripen after
harvest, sugar content no longer increases after it is
detached from the vine. Let's face it, for a melon to be
put in a field truck, rolled down the belt of a packing
house, boxed and trucked across the country it needs to
be a little less ripe than one that need only be hand
carried from the garden to the back porch! And last but
certainly not least, it's just plain fun to grow your
own at home. There's a sense of accomplishment in
growing it yourself.
gardeners have avoided growing melons because of the
space required. A single plant of some melons can grow
into a sprawling patch 20 feet across. Unless your
garden is large there may not be room for including a
traditional melon patch in the summer plan.
growing allows almost any gardener to find a space for
melons. There are many advantages of going vertical with
your melon vines. Space is the most obvious. What may
have engulfed a 10 to 20 foot wide swath through the
garden can be trellised to take up no more than a 3 foot
wide "footprint" of garden space.
A sprawling melon
patch means there is a lot more ground to keep weed
free. Once melon vines enter an area weeding can become
more difficult. With trellised melons the small space
beneath the vine is easy to access for weeding or better
yet mulching to deter weeds.
Walking through a melon
patch to inspect or harvest fruit usually resembles some
new slow motion dance or an outdoor version of the game
Twister as we carefully turn and step to avoid crushing
a vine. Melons laying on the ground are more prone to
rotting and attack from certain chewing pests such as
pillbugs and sowbugs. The foliage too is more prone to
disease because of splashing soil and reduced air
movement. The foliage of vines on a trellis dries out
quickly after a rain and is generally less prone to
Melons are not that
difficult to grow if provided with a few basic growing
conditions. First of all they need good sunlight. Leaves
need sun to make carbohydrates and without it yields
will suffer and flavor will be disappointing at best.
Melons grow best in a well drained loamy soil. Sandy
soil is great if you make sure to provide adequate added
nutrition and frequent watering. Clay can be improved
with compost to help increase its internal drainage. If
your soil is heavy clay you may do best to create a
raised bed by importing some loamy or sandy soil mixed
with a generous supply of compost. This effort need not
be justified for the melons alone as such a bed is great
for fall strawberry planting, for summer southern peas
as well as for several other garden crops.
melons when the soil warms up in mid spring. This would
be about mid April in north Texas, late March to early
April in central parts of the state and mid to late
March along the coastal region. Prior to planting work 1
to 2 cups of a complete fertilizer into the soil per 50
square feet of garden bed area. If using an organic
product double the rate to 2 to 4 cups per 50 square
feet. For trellising, plant two seeds every 3 to 4 feet
for muskmelons or 4 to 6 feet for watermelons. Thin to
one plant in each location a week or so after the plants
emerge. Optimum spacing will vary with species of melon,
variety and soil conditions.
You can get a little
head start on the season by starting transplants for
setting out into the garden about 2 to 3 weeks later.
Just don't grow them for too long in the seedling tray
as large melon plants don't respond well to
Keep the seeded areas moist until the
seeds sprout, then water as needed to maintain even soil
moisture. Melons can take our summer heat but need moist
soil to grow and bear well. Gardeners in sandy soils
will find regular watering to be especially important.
Watermelons can develop blossom end rot, just like
tomatoes do, when soil moisture varies from one extreme
After the plants have four true leaves
(the two original "seed leaves" don't count) fertilize
them again at about half the above rate. Then install
the trellises if you haven't already done so. In light
sandy soils the vines may benefit from one more
fertilization when the vines grow to about 2 feet long.
TRELLISING THE VINES
Melon trellises can be made
of many different materials as long as they are strong.
I have seen everything from hog fencing to wooden
lattice. My favorite system for trellising melons is to
use livestock panels (16 feet by 4 feet) and steel posts
driven into the ground. The panels can be set upright or
leaned slightly toward the support posts.
least three steel posts per 16 foot panel into the
ground about 8 inches away from the row of plants along
the shadier side. Then set the panels so the base sits
on the soil about 8 inches away from the plants along
the sunnier side of the row and lean the tops over
against the posts. Attach the panel to the posts with
jute twine or wire. This creates a slightly leaning
panel which provides good sun exposure and seems to help
to keep the fruit toward the lower, shadier side of the
trellis. Another option is to lean the panels against an
existing fence such as a privacy fence.
panels are very strong, last forever, and are easier to
handle and store than wire. A 16 foot section is
difficult for one person to handle so you might want to
cut it into two lengths with bolt cutters. You'll find
many uses for these 4 feet by approximately 8 feet panel
sections in the garden.
As the melons grow they'll
need some encouragement to train them onto the trellis.
Melons are poor climbers and can grow quite rapidly.
Plan on going out every day or two and orienting the
vines on the trellis to create a solid fill of vines and
foliage. While they have tendrils to help them attach to
the trellis you will probably want to tie them to it
here and there as they grow. Pieces of hosiery cut
across the leg into inch wide strips work great. They
are easy to tie and give a little to allow the vine room
Planted at the spacing mentioned above
melons will more than fill a trellis during their
growing season. I find it best to train the main vine up
the trellis and orient the side branches more
horizontally. In good growing conditions you'll find the
vines reach the top of the trellis fairly rapidly and
can be allowed to grow back downward again.
Additional fertilizing will most likely not be needed in
good soil conditions but be ready to apply a little
extra if the vines appear to be lacking. Excessive
nitrogen will result in delayed maturity and poor fruit
Maintain good soil moisture but don't keep
it excessively wet. Drip irrigation works best. As an
alternative in heavier textured soils you can build 3
foot diameter berms of soil around the plants and
between plants down the row. This makes it easy to
provide a good soaking by filling the berms with water.
The berms prevent water from running off of the bed
surface before it has a chance to soak in.
SUPPORT YOUR MELON PATCH
By now you may be thinking,
"Yeah but what keeps the fruit from pulling the vines
off of the trellises?" Melon fruit do indeed require
support and it's old hosiery again to the rescue.
Keep in mind that as a father of 5 daughters I am
acutely aware of the fact that a new pair of hose will
likely have a run in them before you even arrive at your
first destination. There is little to be done with old
hosiery but throw it away, unless you are planning on
robbing a convenience store, so such recycled usefulness
in the garden is a welcomed idea.
To make melon
supports, cut a leg off of an old pair of pantyhose. Tie
a tight knot in the hose about 8 inches from the toe end
and more tight knots on up the leg about 8 inches apart.
Then cut an inch below each knot to create the
individual fruit supports. Slip a section of hose over a
fruit when it is tennis ball to golf ball size and then
tie it to the trellis pulling it up a little higher than
it was originally as it will stretch the hose and sag
down a bit as it grows in weight and size. Don't wait
too long to attach the support as ripening muskmelons
are ready to release from the vine and large fruit of
many types of melons can pull the vine off of a trellis.
Hosiery works great for smaller melons such as
muskmelons and if the hose are the heavy duty type (!)
for the smallest of watermelon varieties. Heavier fruits
such as watermelons will usually require something
stronger such as a section of onion sack or other mesh
material, or pieces of old T-shirt formed into slings by
tying each end to the trellis. Use your imagination to
come up with other support options.
melons are definitely the easiest to trellis but if your
trellis is strong and the supports up to the task even
large fruited melons can be grown vertically. Just make
sure the fruits are adequately supported as growth and
wind movement can cause one to take a tragic "jump."
Whatever melons you decide to grow, a trellis with
supported melons growing on it is quite a conversation
piece ... like your neighbors needed something to talk
While I have
generalized about melons as a group up to this point,
when it comes to harvest things get more specific. It is
important to harvest your melons at the proper time: too
early and they lack flavor and sweetness, too late and
they become mealy and lose quality.
their harvest over a longer time period requiring
repeated harvests over several weeks. Watermelons
generally ripen their fruit almost all at once for a
much shorter harvest period.
Muskmelons are the types
with a netted fruit surface which we commonly but
mistakenly refer to as cantaloupes. Muskmelons naturally
break loose from the vine when they are ripe. The spot
where the vine attaches to the fruit begins to crack
around the perimeter of what will be the "belly button"
on the fruit, which is called "slipping." Once they are
at about 3/4 to full slip they are ready to harvest.
Most gardeners prefer to leave them until they reach
full slip for the sweetest fruit and top quality.
ripe muskmelon will detach when slight pressure is
applied to the vine. As a muskmelon ripens the color of
the fruit behind the netting turns from green to a
creamy tan hue and the fruit gives off a rich aromatic
Harvest honeydew melons when the rind color
turns creamy yellowish white. When pressed gently at the
blossom end the melon will be a little soft and the
fruit will have a faint, pleasant odor. Charentais
melons turn from grey green to creamy white when they
ripen. Charentais melons and most honeydews do not slip
from the vine and should be cut leaving about an inch of
vine attached. Most other melons including Casaba and
Crenshaw types must also be cut from the vine.
are numerous other melon types and in recent years many
new hybrids between types have appeared on the market
making it difficult to generalize about how to determine
the optimum point to harvest them. With these less
common types it is best to read the information from the
seed supplier and gain personal experience with a
particular type of melon to determine the best harvest
Watermelons are a bit more of a challenge when
it comes to deciding when to harvest the fruit. They do
not detach naturally from the vine when ripe nor do they
have a distinct fragrance. When watermelons are grown on
the ground the spot where the fruit sits on the ground
will change from green to cream colored when ripe.
Trellised fruit won't show that distinct ground spot but
some change in rind color or sheen may be discernable.
The tendril across from the watermelon on the vine will
dry up. The ripe fruit develops a more dull, muffled
sound when thumped. However the sound of various
watermelons will be quite different and so it takes some
experience with a particular variety to become better at
judging ripeness, much less discerning the distinctive
thump! Cut the watermelon from the vine leaving about an
inch of stem attached.
CREATIVE MELON SPACES
Growing vertical opens up the possibilities of growing
melons in the home garden and landscape. This space
saving technique means you can find room to grow melons
in medium to small sized gardens. It also means that
melon enthusiasts can grow a lot more melons in a given
space by planting several rows about 4 feet apart.
you have a privacy fence around the property a sunny
fence line can become a productive melon patch. Melons
can also be grown adjacent to a patio or deck by
planting them in a small bed beside the patio and using
the trellis to create an outdoor wall to the patio or
Gardeners in apartments, garden homes and
town houses without a spot of earth in which to garden
can select a large container such as a half whiskey
barrel and along with some trellis material create a
melon patch on a sunny balcony or driveway. Use a
quality potting mix for the container rather than garden
soil and make sure the container drains well.
Container grown melons will require more frequent
watering to prevent stress and lots of sunlight like
their garden dwelling counterparts. They'll also need to
be fed a little more often since their root zone is
A full size (16 feet) livestock panel can be
bent into an arch shape using stakes to hold the two
ends in place on the ground. This creates an arch tall
enough to walk under. Plant a melon on each side to
create an attractive addition to the landscape or
Use your imagination to come up with some
other creative ways to grow melons in less space. Start
with your favorite varieties but experiment with others
to find which perform best for you and which spacings
and cultural techniques work best in your garden's soil.