Honeydew or cantaloupe – whichever way you swing is fine by us. We won’t judge, so long as it’s a muskmelon.
Growing your own muskmelon is quite the treat, regardless of what type you’re hooked on. And it’s almost guaranteed that once you’ve tasted homegrown muskmelons, you’ll never be tempted to go back to store-bought varieties.
It takes some effort to grow muskmelon. It might not be the best choice for novice gardeners, but the hard work pays off with a delicious harvest. If you’ve had success growing pumpkins or squash, it will be easy enough for you to grow muskmelons.
- Basic Growing Requirements for Muskmelon
- Diseases and Pests that Affect Muskmelon
- Steps to Grow Muskmelon at Home
- Tips for growing muskmelon at home
Basic Growing Requirements for Muskmelon
- Muskmelon loves warm climates and grows best in areas that have long summers. The ground temperature should be above 70° F to successfully plant and grow muskmelon. Start the seeds indoors if the summers are short where you live. Like all cucurbits, they have sensitive roots, so be gentle when transplanting and do not let the seedling grow too large before planting.
- Quite like pumpkins, muskmelon is a heavy feeder and loves soil rich in organic matter that drains well. If you’re working with heavy soil, consider planting in raised planting beds, hills or mounds. Working compost into the soil is also beneficial.
- Nitrogen fertilizers can be beneficial in the plant’s vegetative state, but discontinue use once the flowering begins. Otherwise, you’ll get more foliage growth at the expense of flowers, just like in tomatoes. Once flowering begins, switch to a fertilizer higher in potassium and phosphorous.
- Muskmelon requires consistent moisture in the soil to ensure optimum growth.
- If you’re short on space, invest in 5 to 8-foot tall trellises. Using trellises ensures good aeration and even distribution of sunlight, thus keeping the plant disease-free and healthy.
- If you've got plenty of space, you can choose to let the vines spread on the ground.
Diseases and Pests that Affect Muskmelon
Muskmelon can fall prey to pests and diseases that affect the gourd family of plants.
- Watch out for striped cucumber beetles. They often damage the melons, chewing through the plant and spreading diseases like bacterial wilt and the cucumber mosaic virus. Use yellow sticky traps to catch cucumber beetles or cover the seedlings with row covers.
- Aphids can also be a problem. Flush the aphids off the infested plant with a forceful stream of water, early in the day.
- Flea beetles can affect the plant as well. Use floating row covers to protect the plant from insect damage until flowering appears.
- Keep an eye out for powdery mildew, which looks like talcum powder on the foliage and other parts of the plant. You may also have to deal with fusarium wilt, fungal leaf spot, and scabs. Employ routine scouting and immediately remove all weak and unhealthy plants. You can also use a broad-spectrum biocide for initial control.
- To discourage fungal diseases, keep the weeds in check and ensure proper aeration among the foliage. Weeding is best done before the vines start to run, as later you risk damaging the vines.
- You should also check for signs of squash vine borers. These large insects lay eggs inside the vines of the plant, and once hatched the larvae can kill an entire mature pumpkin plant very quickly. Check for holes at the base of the plant. If caught early it is sometimes possible to perform “surgery” on the vines by carefully slicing them vertically with a sharp knife, removing the eggs or larvae, and burying the cut section in the soil so new secondary roots can develop.
Steps to Grow Muskmelon at Home
Choose the type of melon that you want to grow, depending upon your needs and its growing requirements. If summers are short where you live, you’ll have more success with early growing varieties.
For growing muskmelon in containers, you should choose dwarf varieties. While they yield smaller melons, you get more fruits per plant.
If you’re planting in the ground and have ample space to let the vines run, large varieties can be grown easily. Large muskmelon varieties have more water content than the small ones.
Here are some easy-to-follow steps to grow muskmelon.
Things you’ll need:
- Fertile garden soil
- Vermicompost or any other organic compost
- Muskmelon seeds
- Garden pressure spray pump
- Gardening gloves
Step 1. Prepare the planting bed
- Mix 1 part vermicompost with 2 parts fertile garden soil by hand.
Step 2. Put the seeds in the soil and water the planting bed
- Dig a hole that’s ½-inch deep.
- Put in a couple of muskmelon seeds and cover them with soil.
- Wet the soil thoroughly with a garden pressure spray pump.
- You may want to mark the planting site with a garden label to easily identify the plant later on.
Step 3. Wait for the seeds to germinate
- Muskmelon seeds germinate within 3 to 5 days if the soil is warm (90° F). But if the soil is cool (between 60° F and 70° F), the seeds may take as long as 10 days to germinate.
- If you’re starting the seeds indoors, expose the plants gradually to the outside weather before transplanting the seedlings. This makes the seedlings sturdy and reduces the chance of any shock, leading to a successful transplanting.
Step 4. Care for the plant during flowering and fruit development
- Muskmelon plants bear yellow flowers, characteristic of the gourd family. Every plant bears both male and female flowers, and fruits develop after pollination. Female flowers have a swollen ovary at their base that looks like the beginning of fruit, while male flowers are slender.
- If pollinating agents like bees and butterflies frequent your garden, then you have nothing to worry about. In the absence of such pollinating agents, you may hand pollinate the flowers. Simply transfer the pollen from the male flower to the female flower with a soft-bristled, sterile brush.
- Don’t worry if the first flowers drop off within a day without pollinating. The first flowers are usually male, and their role is to attract the pollinators before the plant bears female flowers.
- Maintain consistent moisture in the soil until pollination.
- When the melons grow to be the size of a tennis ball, water only after the soil appears dry.
- Foliage plays a vital role in making the fruits sweet. The leaves manufacture the sugar that sweetens the fruit. Ensure a sweet yield by keeping the leaves disease-free and healthy.
Step 5. Pick the ripe muskmelons from the vine
- Depending on the variety, muskmelons reach their full size and are ready for harvest between 70 and 100 days after sowing. As the fruit ripens, the rind turns from green to beige to yellow, and the fruit gives off a sweet aroma. Another sign that indicates the fruits are ripe is when their stems turn brown.
- A healthy plant should yield fruits that are nice and firm. Fruits in some varieties tend to split before they reach maturity. In that case, allow the fruit to ripen anyway. You’ll only need to remove a small portion of it when you cut it to eat.
- To pick the melons, support the fruit with one hand and take hold of the stem with the other. Give it a gentle tug. A fully ripe muskmelon easily detaches from its vine.
- If it takes some effort to separate the fruit from the vine, the muskmelon is only half-ripe. Wait for a couple of days and try again.
Tips for growing muskmelon at home
- When using a trellis to grow muskmelon, set it firmly into the ground to protect it from blustery summer winds or storms. If it’s unsteady, the trellis, as well as the muskmelon vines, can get damaged.
- To speed up soil warming for planting muskmelon, you can cover the planting bed with plastic film.
- You can also plant marigold, foxglove, sage, lavender or basil in your garden to attract pollinating bees and butterflies resulting in a better yield from your muskmelon plants.
- If you’re letting the vines spread on the ground, protect the developing melons from insect damage by placing them on pots or blocks of wood.
- On trellis-backed vines, support the melons with slings fashioned out of some fabric or netting. Pantyhose would also work in a pinch.