By Kat Yares, Garden Guides Contributor
Melons, Cucumis melo, command a lot of space in the home garden as their vines can sprawl up to 100 feet away from the center of the plant. Small melons such as muskmelons can be grown in smaller spaces, while watermelon needs as much room as possible. Muskmelons can produce up to a dozen fruits in a 16 square foot area, while watermelon produces only 2 fruit per vine. The familiar cantaloupe found in the supermarket is a species of muskmelon, while true cantaloupes are grown mostly in Europe and have deep orange flesh and rough, scaly skins.
Choose the sunniest spot of your garden to grow melons. They will also need to be in an area where they will dry quickly after a rain. Melon roots generally grow 2 to 10 inches deep into the soil so the soil must be loose and well drained. Compost or manure should be worked into the soil before planting the melon seed. Melons can be grown in rows, but typically do better when grown in mounds or hills spaced 4 to 6 feet apart.
Large, long vines characterize all melons. Melons can be grown on trellises if space is at a premium.
Choosing a Variety
Since melons do require a lot of space, gardeners should grow only those varieties that they know they like eating.
Melon plants can be started indoors 3 to 4 weeks before ground temperatures reach 70 to 80 degrees. Harden off the seedlings 2 or 3 days before planting by setting them outside during the daylight hours. When the ground is warm enough, transplant the seedlings into the rows or the hills.
Apply several inches of mulch around the melon plant once the vines begin to grow. This will help the soil retain moisture and help protect the plant against rust. Melons have a number of insect pests that can cause severe damage to the plant, including cucumber beetles, melon aphids and squash vine borers. Most pests can be eradicated using pyrethrins. Mildew can be a problem if the plant receives too much water or the leaves do not dry quickly after watering. Should mildew appear, remove affected leaves immediately.
Harvesting and Storage
Most melons should be harvested when the stem breaks cleanly without any pressure. Simply picking the melon from the ground should initiate a clean break. Watermelons are ripe when the ground spot turns from light yellow to a deep golden or orange color. Melons will keep in a cool place for 2 to 6 weeks.