Haven't enjoyed a truly tasty, sweet melon (Cucumis melo) in years? Few people have, unless they've grown one themselves. Melons don't become any sweeter or more aromatic once they've been cut from the vine, and they are generally harvested and shipped well before their peak flavors and sugar levels have developed. To enjoy a succulent, flavorful melon, you'll have to grow your own. Fortunately, melons are easy to grow if you have the space, especially if you choose a variety that does well in your climate.
For more growing tips on vegetable varieties, visit our Vegetable Growing Guide.
Habit: Long, rambling vines.
Days to Harvest: 68 to 80 for most; 70 to 90 for watermelon (Citrullus lanatus var. lanatus).
When to Plant: Seeds are best direct-sown once the weather is consistently warm, but in cold climates or for long-maturing varieties, start seeds indoors no more than one month before all danger of frost has passed. Roots must not be damaged during transplanting.
Light: Full sun.
Soil: Fertile, well-drained soil. Amend average soil with compost before planting.
Watering: For best flavor, water melons only occasionally once fruit has set. It is preferable to water deeply and irregularly -- if plants wilt in the morning, water them, but afternoon wilting in the heat of summer does not necessarily indicate that water is required.
Fertilizing: Growing in a well-maintained, nutrient rich soil is preferable to applied fertilizers.
Pest Problems: Cucumber beetles will eat the foliage, hindering production. Handpick them and look for their yellow eggs on the undersides of leaves.
When to Harvest: Pick melons when full ripe -- fruits develop sweet fragrance and a crack develops where stem attaches, so fruits slip off vine with little effort. A watermelon's skin turns dull and resists piercing by a fingernail. Cantaloupes will easily slip from the vine when they are ripe; however, most other varieties are overripe by the time this happens. Look for other cues, such as the tendril or leaf at the base of the fruit's stem withering or turning yellow. The white spot on the underside of a watermelon should turn to a yellow color when it is ready to harvest.