When to plant cantalope?

Growing Muskmelons in the Garden

Muskmelons originated in the hot valleys of southwest Asia and today there are numerous botanical varieties of muskmelons including: netted melons, cantaloupe melons, winter (casaba) melons, snake or serpent melons, and mango or lemon melons. Technically, cantaloupes are only those muskmelons with a rough, warty surface and a hard rind; however, the name cantaloupe has been applied to the varieties of muskmelons with a netted pattern on the melon surface. Whether you call them muskmelons or cantaloupes, nothing says “summer” like the sweet iconic flavor of a vine-ripened muskmelon.

Site Requirements


This melon shows the netted pattern on the surface.

Muskmelons are a warm season crop, adapted to average monthly temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees F, and needing ample soil moisture and nutrients for growth. During the ripening period the best quality melons are produced when hot, dry conditions prevail. Under Ohio’s humid summer conditions, choosing a site with adequate soil drainage as well as good air circulation can help to ensure the desired fruit quality. Keeping plenty of space between plants is important so the leaf surfaces can dry on a daily basis to control foliar diseases.

Suggested Cultivars

There are many very good cultivars available with more new releases every year. Try several cultivars the first year to find the ideal melon for your microclimate. The table below is a short list of proven cultivars. Discuss selection with seed companies to find melons that fit your area. Remember that newer varieties tend to have more disease resistance in their genetics. This can be a useful tool in controlling diseases like powdery mildew. A knowledgeable seed representative can help in this area.

Here are some proven cultivars that are favorites among growers in the melon industry. Most of these hybrids will produce high quality melons with very pleasant flavor.

Variety Fruit Size Days to Maturity
Athena 4–5 pounds 75 Older variety considered an industry standard
Avatar 7–8 pounds or larger 72 Shorter harvest period compared to other varieties
Goddess 4–5 pounds 68 Good early variety
Aphrodite 6–8 pounds 72 Long harvest window if vines are kept healthy
Considered an industry standard
Wrangler 4–5 pounds 83 Smaller, Tuscan-type melon
Prolific producer
Sugar cubes 2 pounds 73 Personal sized
Very sweet

Planting


Black plastic mulch is a cultural control for weeds in melons.

Using black plastic mulch to grow melons will conserve moisture, control weeds in the row, and provide an earlier harvest. Hills of two plants or seeds should be spaced three feet apart in the center of the strips of plastic. The plastic is placed on five-foot centers, with the center of plants in one row being five feet from the center of the plants in the next row. Melon plants can be purchased for transplanting or started in peat pots or pellets about 25 days before the anticipated planting time.

Melon seed will germinate more uniformly and rapidly at warm temperatures, so maintain newly seeded transplants at 85 to 90 degrees F for three days after seeding. Then, reduce the temperature to 70 degrees F until ready to harden-off, which means exposing the transplants to moderate environmental stress prior to transplanting into the field or garden.

Since melon plants are very sensitive to freezing temperatures, they should not be set out until all danger of frost has passed. Muskmelons can also be direct-seeded through holes cut in the plastic, but this can delay harvest.

Fertilizing

Fertilizer and lime applications need to be based on soil test results. Soil sample bags, forms, and instructions are available from your county OSU Extension office. In general, when using black plastic mulch, the following amounts of fertilizer nutrients per 1,000 square feet of plot space would be adequate: 1 pound of actual nitrogen, 2 pounds of phosphorus (P2O5) and 3 pounds of potash (K2O). On bare ground increase the amount of nitrogen by 25 percent as a sidedress application when vines begin to run (or grow) more than a few inches from the main plant. Excessive nitrogen fertilizer can delay maturity and affect fruit quality, especially in seasons with heavy rainfall. Lime should be applied only if indicated by soil test results to raise the soil pH to the range of 6.4 to 6.7.

Pest Management

Insect Management


Adequate spacing between plants is one tool to help reduce disease pressure.

Cucumber beetles (both spotted and striped) are vectors, or carriers, of a potentially devastating disease known as bacterial wilt. Protecting the plants with insecticides (or row covers until flowering) is necessary, since there are no control measures for bacterial wilt once the plants are infected. Other common insect pests of muskmelons are aphids, flea beetles, and wireworms.

Disease Management

Several diseases can be troublesome when raising muskmelons, causing reduced yields or even plant death. These include powdery mildew, downy mildew, alternaria leaf spot, anthracnose, and fusarium wilt. Rotating the place where melons are grown, using resistant cultivars, and fungicides are important control measures. While other control measures can be used to reduce the need for some fungicide applications, the high humidity of Ohio summers makes melon production without fungicides very challenging.

In most years, a weekly treatment of a preventive fungicide is a good idea. In a crop year with very dry growing conditions, this may not be necessary. Growers using a weekly regiment to control fungal diseases should select multiple fungicides to rotate rather than use the same product every week. Fungicide rotation will help control and prevent resistance from developing in the disease organism.

Pollination


Melon flowers need to be pollinated to produce fruit.

Home gardeners sometimes ask why the earliest flowers on their muskmelon vines do not set fruit. This is because the first flowers developing on the vines are male or pollen-bearing flowers. Only the female, or pistillate, flowers are capable of developing into fruit, making pollination critical. Honey bees are the most effective pollinators of muskmelon flowers. Every effort should be made to protect the bees during the flowering periods to ensure high-quality melons.

Harvest

Melon ripeness can be tested by slipping the stem, which is applying finger pressure to the stem to see how easily the stem slips away from the melon. Many of the newer cultivars do not slip from the vine as easily as older varieities, so look at the description of the cultivar in the seed catalog to clarify this. Fruit that shows a change of color from green or olive-gray to yellowish brown should be considered ready to harvest. For best quality, walk the patch daily. In extremely warm weather the melon patch can be picked twice daily.

Acknowledgments

All photos are by Mike Gastier, Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Huron County.
Original author: Ted W. Gastier, Ohio State University Extension, 1993.

Melon seedlings

Melons are a tender, warm-weather crop.

  • Sow melon seeds or set plants directly into the garden in spring 2 weeks after all danger of frost has passed and when the soil has warmed to 70°F (21°C) or thereabouts.
  • Melon seed can be started indoors 4 to 3 weeks before plants are transplanted directly into the garden, sooner if transplants will be protected by a plastic tunnel or row cover.

Melons include cantaloupes and muskmelons which are called “summer melons” because they are the first melons to reach harvest, and casaba, Charentai, Crenshaw, honeydew, and Persian melons which are called “winter melons” because they come to harvest late.

  • Summer melons are usually ready for harvest about 3 months after sowing at the end of summer.
  • Winter melons, though planted at the same time as summer melons, take an additional month to reach harvest.
  • Summer melons mature 70 to 120 frost-free days after sowing.
  • Winter melons mature 110 to 140 frost-free days after sowing.

Melon Sowing and Planting Tips

  • Grow melons from seeds or seedlings.
  • Seed is viable for 5 years.
  • Direct sow melons in the garden in spring after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed to 70°F (21°C). In warm-winter regions, sow melons in midwinter for harvest in early summer.
  • Melon seeds will not germinate at a soil temperature below 65°F (18°C).
  • Start melons indoors 4 to 3 weeks before planting out into the garden; sow seed in peat pots in seed starting mix. The indoor temperature should be between 80° to 90°F (27-32°C) until germination. Grow melon seedlings on at 75°F (24°C).
  • Sow seed ½ to1½ inches (13-38 mm) deep.
  • Seeds germinate in 4 to 10 days at 80°F (27°C) or warmer.
  • Transplant melons into the garden after the soil has warmed to at least 70°F (21°C) for optimal performance.
  • Space plants in the garden 24 to 36 inches (60-90 cm) apart in all directions.
  • Plant melons on mounds or hills 12 to 24 inches (30-60 cm) high, space mounds 4 to 6 feet (1.2-1.8 m) apart; this will allow melon vines to run down the mounds allowing fruit to gain maximum exposure to the sun.
  • Keep the soil just moist during fruit development.
  • Fertilize with fish emulsion or a soluble complete fertilizer at half strength.
  • Add aged compost to planting beds in advance of transplanting.
  • Melons prefer a soil pH range of 7.0 to 8.0.
  • Grow melons in full sun for best yield and flavor.
  • Avoid planting melons where cucumbers or squash have grown recently.
  • Common pest enemies include aphids, cucumber beetles, flea beetles, squash bugs, squash vine borers, slugs, and snails.
  • Common diseases include bacterial wilt, fusarium wilt, downy mildew, powdery mildew, cucumber mosaic.

Interplanting: Plant melons with bush beans, corn, dill, eggplant, lettuce, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes.

Container Growing Melons: Melons are not a good choice for container growing. They require significant room to spread and grow.

Melon Planting Calendar

  • 8-6 weeks before the last frost in spring: start seed indoors for plants that will be transplanted into a plastic tunnel in 4 weeks.
  • 5-4 weeks before the last frost in spring: start seed indoors for seedlings to be transplanted into the garden.
  • 4-2 weeks before the last frost in spring: transplant seedlings to a plastic tunnel.
  • 1-2 weeks after the last frost in spring: direct sow or transplant seedlings into the garden; minimum soil temperature is 60°F.

Sow melon seeds or set plants directly into the garden in spring 2 weeks after all danger of frost has passed and when the soil has warmed to 70°F. Use black plastic to pre-warm the soil and keep plants from direct contact with soil.

Recommended Melon Varieties

Choose from these melon types and varieties:

  • True Cantaloupe: ‘Charentais’ is small; ‘Savor’ is sweet with orange flesh.
  • Muskmelon: ‘Ambrosia’ is sweet and juicy; ‘Sweet ‘n Early’ is a good choice in short-season regions.
  • Crenshaw: ‘Burpee’s Early Hybrid’ is pink-fleshed; ‘Morning Dew’.
  • Honeydew: ‘Honey Pearl’
  • Casaba: ‘Casaba Golden Beauty’ is spicy-sweet.

Botanical Name: Cucumis melo var. cantaloupesis includes netted muskmelons and true cantaloupes; Cucumis melo var. inodorus includes honeydews, casaba melons, and Crenshaw melons.

Melons are a member of the Cucurbitaceae family; other members cucumbers, squash, watermelon, and pumpkins.

More tips: How to Grow Summer Melons–Cantaloupe and How to Grow Winter Melons.

The cantaloupe or muskmelon is a tender, warm-weather plant. Cantaloupes grow best in very warm to hot weather.

  • Sow cantaloupe (muskmelon) seed in the garden or set out transplants 3 to 4 weeks after the last average frost date in spring.
  • Start cantaloupe seed indoors about 6 weeks before transplanting seedlings into the garden. Start seed indoors in biodegradable peat or paper pots that can be set directly into the garden.
  • Cantaloupes require 70 to 100 frost-free days to reach harvest; cantaloupes will tolerate no frost.

The tan, netted melon commonly referred to as cantaloupe is actually a muskmelon. A true cantaloupe has a rough warty rind.

Muskmelons along with watermelons are termed summer melons because they come to harvest from mid to late summer.

Winter melons—which are grown during the summer like muskmelons–are ready for harvest in late summer and autumn. Winter melons include casaba, Crenshaw, honeydews, and Persian melons.

Cantaloupes, muskmelons, honeydew melons, and other summer melons, as well as winter melons, have the same growing requirements.

Pre-warm the soil by placing black plastic or permeable black garden fabric across the planting area. When planting cut x-shaped slits in the covering.

Where to Plant Melons

  • Plant melons in full sun.
  • Melons grow best in loose, well-drained, loamy soil rich in organic matter.
  • Add several inches of aged compost and aged manure or commercial organic planting mix to the planting bed before planting. Turn the soil to 12 inches deep.
  • Melons prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8.
  • Melons can be grown on mounds, raised beds, up trellises, or in flat planting beds. Pre-warm the soil by placing black plastic or permeable black garden fabric across the planting area two weeks before planting. When planting cut x-shaped slits in the covering.

Melon Planting Time

  • Sow melon seeds in the garden or set out transplants 3 to 4 weeks after the last average frost date in spring.
  • Start melon seeds indoors about 6 weeks before transplanting seedlings into the garden.
  • Start seeds in biodegradable peat or paper pots at least 4 inches in diameter that can be set wholly into the garden so as not to disturb roots.
  • Starting melons indoors is recommended in short growing season regions where the soil warms slowly in spring.
  • Melon seeds will germinate in about 10 days at 65°F.
  • Melons grow best in air temperatures ranging from 70° to 90°F.
  • If temperatures exceed 90°F for several days, flowers will drop without setting fruit.
  • Melons require 70 to 100 frost-free days to reach harvest and will tolerate no frost.
  • In cool or short-season regions, grow smaller varieties that come to harvest quickest.

More tips: Melon Seed Starting Tips.

Plant melons on raised mounds or hills that are 24 inches across or wider. Mounds warm quickly in spring and stay warm through the growing season.

Planting and Spacing Melons

  • Sow melon seed 1 inch deep.
  • Space seeds 18 inches apart in the garden.
  • Plant melons on raised mounds or hills that are 24 inches across or wider. Mounds warm quickly in spring and stay warm through the growing season.
  • Sow 4 to 6 melons seeds on each mound; when seedlings have developed three or four true leaves, thin to the 2 or 3 strongest seedlings on each hill.
  • Cut the thinned seedlings at soil level with scissors so as not to disturb the roots of the remaining plants.
  • Space mounds 4 to 6 feet apart.
  • Mounds can range in height from a few inches to more than 12 inches tall; mounds will allow vines to run away down the slope.
  • Move an inch or two of soil across the top of the mound to form a rim around the top of the mound. The rim will protect young plants from heavy rains that might wash away the soil leaving shallow roots exposed; the rim will also hold irrigation water during hot weather.

More melon planting time tips: Planting Melons and Squash Early.

Muskmelons can be trained to grow on a trellis. Don’t worry, they won’t fall until they are fully ripe.

Growing Melons on Vertical Support

  • Muskmelons and other summer melons can be grown up trellises or fences.
  • You can also train melon vines up an A-frame. Lean two trellises into each other and tie them together at the top.
  • A trellis set against a solid fence or the wall of a building will benefit from reflected heat.
  • Make sure the vertical support is well anchored. Heavy fruits can tip a trellis late in the season.
  • Space melons at the base of vertical supports 12 inches apart.
  • Train vines up a trellis or other support with elastic horticultural tape.
  • Melon plants can grow up to 8 feet tall and wide or more.
  • Most melon vines will support the weight of a melon, but you can use garden netting tied to the support to support melons.
  • Melons grown on vertical supports will get full sun exposure and good air circulation which can help prevent fungal diseases.

Growing Melons in Containers

  • Melons are usually too large to grow in containers.
  • Select a bush, dwarf- or mini-cultivar to grow in a container.
  • Choose a container at least 18 inches wide and deep that can support a vining plant.
  • Place a trellis or other support next to the plant to save space and increase yields.
  • In short growing season regions, extend the season by starting melons in containers indoors then move them outdoors when the weather warms.

Melon Companion Plants

  • Plant melons with corn, radishes, beans, and nasturtiums.
  • Plant herbs such as dill or bee balm near melons to attract pollinators.

True cantaloupe and other melons require consistent water to ripen sweet.

Watering Melons

  • Melons require plentiful regular, even watering for quick growing.
  • Give melons 1 inch of water (16 gallons) or more each week.
  • Water with drip irrigation or a soaker hose to avoid wetting leaves. Wet leaves are susceptible to fungal diseases.
  • Keep the soil around melons evenly moist from planting until the fruit begins to develop.
  • You can cut back on watering once fruit begins to develop but don’t let the soil go dry. Less water will enhance sweetness.
  • Dry soil a week before harvest will produce the sweetest melons.
  • Avoid watering plants overhead which can result in mildew.

Feeding Melons

  • Prepare planting beds with aged compost; add aged manure to beds the autumn before planting.
  • Side dress melons with compost or manure tea every 2 to 3 weeks during the growing season.
  • You can also feed melons a diluted solution of fish emulsion every 2 weeks.
  • Flat, tasteless melons may suffer from a lack of magnesium or boron in the soil. Fruits can be sweetened by giving them a dose of Epsom salts and borax. For home garden use, use about 6½ tablespoons of Epsom salts and 3½ tablespoons of household borax added to five gallons of water. Spray-mist the vines with this solution.

Prune away flowers so that each melon plant grows no more than four fruits at a time.

Caring for Melons

  • Cultivate carefully around vines until they cover the ground and smother out competing weeds.
  • Mulch around melon plants with straw or dry, chopped leaves to retain soil moisture, slow weed growth, and keep fruits off of the soil.
  • Support melons on a low tripod or A-frame trellis to keep them off wet ground; use netting or a bag to support trellis- or fence-grown melons.
  • Pinch back flowers to permit just 4 fruits to form on each vine. Fewer melons on a plant will be larger, sweeter, and come to harvest quicker.
  • You can also pinch away some flowers so that a newly pollinated flower begins growing a new fruit every two weeks. This can stagger the harvest of fruit from one plant.
  • For melons sprawling across the ground, place a shingle, tile, half milk jug, or clay pot under each melon to keep it dry and prevent rot. These items will also soak up solar heat and keep the fruit warm at night.
  • Avoid pruning leaves off of plants until just before harvest. Leaves help produce the sugars melons need for sweetness. Pull back leaves that cover fruits to give fruits maximum sun exposure.
  • Remove all new blossoms that appear within 50 days of the first frost in autumn. This will allow the plant to ripen fruit already on the vine before the first frost.

Melon flower

Melon Pollination

  • Melons produce male and female flowers on the same plant.
  • Male flowers appear a week before female flowers. Female flowers have a small bulge (an unfertilized fruit) near the stem end of the blossom.
  • Bees or other pollinators must carry pollen from male to female flowers for pollination, flowering, and fruit set to occur.

Melon Pests

  • Aphids and spotted and striped cucumber beetles will attack melons.
  • Hose away aphids with a blast of water or pinch out infested foliage.
  • Handpick and destroy cucumber beetles promptly; they can transmit cucumber bacterial wilt to melons. You can also dust or spray adult beetles with rotenone or a pyrethrum-based insecticide.

More tips: Melon Growing Problems: Troubleshooting.

Cucumber beetles will melon leaves and can spread diseases including bacterial wilt.

Melon Diseases

  • Melons are susceptible to wilt, alternaria leaf spot, stem blight, powdery and downy mildew, and root rot.
  • Plant disease-resistant varieties.
  • Keep the garden clean and free of weeds and plant debris that can harbor pests and diseases.
  • Remove and destroy disease infected plants immediately.
  • Bacterial wilt is spread by cucumber beetles.
  • Bacterial wilt and stem blight will cause melons to suddenly wilt and die.
  • Control cucumber beetles as soon as they appear.
  • Powdery mildew and downy mildew are fungal diseases that will cause melon leaves to turn gray-white late in the season. Protect leaves against fungal disease by spraying with compost tea or a solution of 1 part skim milk to 9 parts water.
  • Select disease-resistant varieties.
  • Improve air circulation by spacing plants properly.

Smooth-skinned honeydew melons will turn from green to cream-colored as they ripen.

Harvesting Melons

  • Cantaloupes will be ready for harvest 70 to 100 days after sowing.
  • Most melons on a single plant will come to harvest within a 3 to 4 week period.
  • Limit water for a week in advance of the harvest to concentrate fruit sweetness. Too much water will dilute the sugars in the fruit.
  • When muskmelons reach full-size rinds change from green to tan or yellow and stems turn brown they are ready for harvest. The skin under the netting will turn yellow-brown when the fruit is ripe and the netting will become more pronounced
  • Smooth-skinned honeydew melons will become cream-colored when ripe.
  • A ripe melon will develop a circular crack where the stem attaches to the fruit.
  • Ripe melons will have a sweet aroma at the stem end.
  • Ripe melons will slip easily off the stem; a half-ripe melon will require more pressure and may come off with half the stem attached.
  • Harvest melons when they are dry.
  • A ripe melon will soften after harvest but it will not continue to sweet off the vine.
  • Leave melons on the vine until they are ripe.

More tips: How to Harvest and Store Melons.

Storing and Preserving Melons

  • Melons will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week, but sweetness and flavor may diminish.
  • Melon slices or balls can be frozen or pickled.

Casaba, Honeydew, and Honey White melons

Muskmelon (Cantaloupe) Varieties

More on melon varieties: Muskmelon Varieties: Best Bets.

About Muskmelons and Cantaloupes

Muskmelons differ from true cantaloupes:

  • A muskmelon is round with a yellow-tan netted rind. A muskmelon has salmon, white, or green flesh and weighs 2 to 3 pounds (.9-1.3 kg). Muskmelons are very sweet to taste and have aromatically perfumed flesh
  • A true cantaloupe is oval or globe-shaped with a hard, rough, scaled or warted-rind (not a netted skin). The flesh can be gray-green, yellow-tan and orange, or salmon-orange. A true cantaloupe weighs about 2 pounds (.9 kg). It is sweet-tasting and aromatic
  • The muskmelon or cantaloupe is a long trailing annual plant.
  • Botanical name: Cucumis melo
  • Origin: South Asia, tropical Africa

More tips: How to Grow Winter Melons.

Also see: How to Grow Winter Melons.

By: Joseph Masabni and Patrick Lillard

Melons most commonly grown in Texas include honeydew, muskmelon and watermelon. Muskmelons are often mistakenly called cantaloupes, but the true cantaloupe is a small, warty fruit and is not usually grown in the United States.

Varieties

Site Selection

Melons are vining crops that require a lot of space, especially watermelons. For this reason they are not well suited to small gardens and should be grown only in lot-size gardens in urban areas or larger gardens in rural areas. Muskmelons can be grown in small gardens if the vines are trellised and the fruit is supported (Fig. 1).

Melons grow best on a deep, well drained, sandy or sandy loam soil with plenty of organic matter. Heavy soils with a lot of clay often cause small, weak plants that produce fewer melons. Melons prefer soils with a neutral pH, and if the soil is too acidic the plants will drop their blossoms.

Figure 1. One method of support for melons grown on a trellis.

Soil Preparation

Dig or plow the soil 8 to 10 inches deep in winter or early spring. If organic matter or manure is added, it should be well composted. Apply manure or compost at 50 to 100 pounds per 1,000 square feet, or about 2 to 4 tons per acre, to build the organic matter content of the soil. Turn the soil over so all organic matter is covered completely.

Since melons require well-drained soils, work the soil into ridges or hills 4 to 8 inches high and 12 to 14 inches wide for planting. Heavier soils require higher ridges.

Place the rows of muskmelons and honeydews 6 to 8 feet apart, rows of irrigated watermelons 10 to 12 feet apart, and rows of un-irrigated watermelons 12 to 16 feet apart.

Planting

Melons are warm-season crops and are easily injured by frost. Do not plant seeds until the soil warms in the spring and all danger of frost is past. Black plastic mulch can increase the soil temperature, giving melons an earlier start on growth. Plant the seeds in hills. Plant groups of six to eight seeds at a depth of 1 to 1½ inches. Fine sandy soils or heavy clay soils often crust when dry, so if the weather is dry after planting, the hill may need moistening to soften the soil. Planting several seeds per spot helps plants push through. Place the hills 2 to 3 feet apart for muskmelon and honeydew and 4 to 5 feet apart for watermelon (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Proper spacing of hills is important.

Gardens can be harvested 10 to 12 days earlier if you use transplants. Plant seeds in peat pots 2 to 4 weeks before transplanting. Transplant them into the garden before the second true leaf opens (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Plant transplants before the second true leaf opens.

Fertilizing

Melons do best with small amounts of fertilizer in two or three applications. Apply fertilizer in a band along the row for best results (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. Apply fertilizer in a band along the row.

For watermelons, apply a fertilizer high in phosphorous, such as 10-10-10, at a rate of 4 pounds per 1,000 square feet (60 to 90 feet of row). Make a trench on the planting bed 4 to 6 inches deep and 2 inches from the side of the row. Cover the fertilizer and plant so seeds do not touch the fertilizer. Before the runners on the vines are about 6 inches long, scatter 2 to 3 pounds of fertilizer per 60 to 90 feet of row 2 to 3 feet to the side of the row and mix it lightly with the soil.

Fertilize muskmelons and honeydews with 2 to 3 pounds of fertilizer for every 60 to 70 feet of row. Phosphorous, the second number on the fertilizer label, is most important for muskmelons at planting, and nitrogen is important when the vines begin to run. Make the second fertilizer application to the side of the row when vines begin to run.

After Planting

Melon plants break through the soil 10 to 12 days after planting. After the plants are up, thin them to three to four plants per hill. After the plants have two or three leaves, thin them again, leaving two plants per hill. Insect or other damage often makes another thinning unnecessary.

Keep weeds away from the plants, especially at the beginning of the season while the plants are getting started. When hoeing, be careful not to cut too deeply into the soil near the melon plants, or the roots will be damaged.

Melon plants have separate male and female flowers on each plant, and bees must be present to cross-pollinate the flowers. Poor pollination causes female flowers to fall off the vines or fruits to be poorly shaped, which is a common problem with watermelon (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. Melons need bees to cross-pollinate the flowers.

Fruit size can be increased by pruning watermelons to two fruits per plant for large varieties or four to six fruits per plant on small varieties. Pruning also increases the size of muskmelon fruits, but usually it is not needed.

Before using a pesticide, read the label. Always follow cautions, warnings and directions.

Insects

Diseases

Rotating crops is very important in disease control. To prevent the buildup of diseases, do not plant melons in the same place more than once every 3 or 4 years. If spots do appear on the leaves and no insects are present, a fungicide may be needed. Ask your county Extension agent about what to use.

Judging the ripeness of watermelons requires skill and experience. Some signs of ripeness in watermelons are:

  • Dull sound when thumped. This varies with the gardener and the size and type of melon and often is inaccurate.
  • Change in color of rind. Ripe melons often lose their glossy color.
  • Change in color of soil spot. The spot where the melon rests on the soil takes on a creamy, streaked color.
  • Death or drying of the tendril. The tendril near the point where the melon is attached to the vine dries when ripe. This is the most dependable sign (Fig. 6).

Figure 6. A melon is ripe when the tendril nearest the vine is dry.

Use a knife to cut watermelons from the vine.

Harvest muskmelons when the fruit rind changes to a yellowish-orange color, the stem begins to separate or slip from the fruit, and the odor gets strong. If left long enough, the stem will naturally separate from the fruit. This is called “full slip.” Fruit at this stage should be used within 36 to 48 hours as it will spoil soon. For better quality, harvest fruits at the “half slip” stage when the stem is partially separated from the fruit (Fig. 7).

Harvest honeydew melons when the skin begins to turn yellow and the end of the fruit opposite the stem (blossom end) begins to soften.

Do not harvest melons too early because the sugar content does not increase after harvest. Muskmelon can improve in flavor after harvest, but this is caused by mellowing of the flesh.

Most melons require 80 to 100 days from planting to harvest.

Figure 7. Harvest muskmelons when the stem begins to separate from the fruit.

Serving

Melons can be served many ways, but they are usually sliced and served fresh. They can also be used in fruit salads or salsas, in melon sorbet, or even in a watermelon margarita. No matter how you cut it, melons are a traditional summer treat in Texas.

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