Watermelon & Cantaloupe
Help Growing Melons in Cool Climates
Fertilizing - Preparing Soil
Fungus and Pest Control
Harvesting Watermelon and Cantaloupe
Growing melons thrive in hot weather. If you live in a cooler climate, there are some things you can do to help your melons.
- There are several varieties of melons. Check with your local garden nursery and pick a variety that has a short growing season.
- Start your melon seeds indoors. Use large containers so the melon plants can get to the runner stage without getting root bound. You can use the bottom half of a gallon milk jug, a gallon planting pot, or an old bucket. See
Starting Seeds Indoors.
- Using black plastic when growing melons in cooler climates increases the quality and quantity of your melons.
The temperature of the soil under the plastic only increases by about 5°F; but the surface of the black plastic is 15°-20°F warmer than the temperature of regular soil. The heat is kept where it’s needed the most, under the vines.
Using black plastic helps retain the moisture in the soil and eliminates the weeds. When the melons begin to ripen, the black plastic reduces fruit spoilage by keeping the melons off the soil.
Immediately after laying the black plastic, cut a hole in the plastic for your growing melons. Then put a heavy rock next to your plant so the wind doesn’t blow the plastic off your melons. Put out enough large rocks to hold the plastic down. Once the vines begin to spread, they'll hold the plastic down.
If you plant your growing melons in a row, you can butt a piece of plastic up against the plants. The row runs between two sheets of plastic. This way you don’t need to cut holes in the plastic, and you can use the plastic year after year.
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There are hundreds of melons to choose from. We like to plant watermelon and cantaloupe. We have become fond of the French melon - Charentais. This melon is an heirloom variety that has a sweet distinctive flavor.
Growing melons are sensitive to frost. These are some of the last seeds you’ll plant in your garden. If you’re going to plant your seeds straight into the garden, plant them about 5 days before the last frost-free date for your area. See
Vegetable Planting Guide.
Melon vines need a lot of room to spread and grow. Growing cantaloupe spreads 5 – 6 feet and growing watermelon spreads 8 – 10 feet. Plan accordingly.
Plant the seeds 10-12 inches apart in a row. You can plant 5-6 melon seeds in a circle that’s about 18 inches in diameter. I prefer to use the row system because: the melons are easier to water, you don’t have to cut holes in the black plastic, and it gives the plants equal spacing to grow and spread.
Sometimes I plant the seeds a little closer together and then thin the plants after they germinate. This way I don’t have open spaces when some of the seeds don’t germinate.
If you spread a layer of manure or peat moss over the planted seeds, it'll help hold the moisture until the seeds have germinated and the plants are well established. Doing this reduces the number of times you need to water while the root system gets established.
If you’re not going to use the black plastic, keep the growing melons weeded. See
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If you’re saving seeds for next year’s planting you need to concern yourself with cross pollinating, but that’s another lesson. Seed to Seed teaches you how to saves seeds from one year to the next.
Cucumbers will not cross-pollinate with squash/pumpkin or melons. Melons will not cross-pollinate with squash/pumpkin. The have their own family: melon family, squash & pumpkin family, and cucumber family. They only cross-pollinate within their own family.
Add mulch or manure down the row along with 16-16-16 inorganic fertilizer and elemental sulfur. This is all tilled in the soil to a depth of 6 inches. Rake the soil smooth before planting. See
Types of Soil.
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Put your drip line in place before laying out your black plastic. You can also use a furrow system. An overhead sprinkler is not a good system to use. The growing melons are susceptible to fungus diseases, so it’s important to keep the leaves dry. See
Garden Watering Systems.
Water the seeds or seedlings immediately after planting. Three to four days later thoroughly soak the new plants.
Growing melons like to be watered deeply every 10 to 14 days. More damage is done by watering too much than by watering too little.
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Cucumber beetles and squash bugs are the two main insects that bother melon plants. Dust or spray the bugs with “sevin”. Make sure to get around the crown of the plant where squash bugs like to gather.
Oft time powder mildew will develop on the leaves if you have too much moisture from the morning dew, rain, or overhead sprinkling. If this is a problem, you may have to spray with a fungicide.
If you get a lot of rain or the soil that’s too wet, wire worms tend to infest the bottoms side of the ripening melons. If this starts happening, place a board or some other material under the melons to keep them off the soil. If you’re using black plastic, you won’t have this problem.
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Melons taste better when they’re allowed to ripen on the vine.
Most varieties of cantaloupe turn a yellow-tan when they’re ripe. The French melon (charentais) turns a grayish green. The stem will easily slip off the melon when it’s ripe. You don’t need to break it.
There are a few different ways to check if a watermelon is ripe:
- When the watermelons are ready to pick the curly tendril closest to the melon dries up. The tendril is the little curly growth that comes off the stem attached to the melon.
- You can use the thump test. Immature watermelon thumps at a high pitch. The overripe watermelon thumps a deep low thud. Just right is in between these two thumps.
- When the watermelon is ripe, the skin is looser. You can easily scratch it with your fingernail.
- Look at the spot where the watermelon sits on the ground. It will turn from a white to a pale yellow when it’s ready to pick.
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One of the challenges with growing melons is that they tend to ripen all at once. You have to eat fast.
We enjoy making a frozen fruit cocktail to eat during the winter. The cocktail is made with a combination the following fruits: grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe, nectarines, peaches, plums, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Take the fruit cocktail out of the freezer about 10- 15 minutes before you’re going to eat it, this way it’s stays slightly frozen and crunchy.
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