Growing the Desert Garden

Welcome to the Desert Garden, with garden coach Tyler Storey, where we talk about everything having to do with gardening and landscaping in the Desert Southwest. From composting to Cercidium and agaves to arugula — we'll cover everything you want to know to grow your own beautiful Desert Garden.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

From the Inbox: Melons

From a Correspondent:

I noticed on the Maricopa vegetable calendar that melons should be planted in March from seed. Since I've never grown them before, I'm wondering what conditions they need: lots of water; mulched soil; partial shade or direct sun; protection from bunnies?
Kristen in Carefree
Kristen, I'm glad you asked.

I haven't grown melons in a couple of years, and this year I'm making up for lost time. Here at The Ranch, this will be, you might say, the Year of the Melon.

In the Desert Garden, Cantaloupe and Muskmelons can be planted from seed now through the end of July; watermelons from now until mid-April. All melons need plentiful Sun, so they are star perfomers in the desert, and with a little care the Summer extremes won't faze them.

Prepare a seed bed of deep rich soil; that's another way of saying dig in plenty of compost or manure. If you use manure, be sure to wait a week or so before planting.

Shape the bed as a basin, pulling soil to the side to provide a wide sunken area. In that sunken area is where you'll plant your seeds. The "walls" that you form by pulling the soil to the edges will allow you to flood the planting area, providing the deep and even water that melons need.

Be certain to use some netting to protect the sprouting seeds from avian predation, and once the plants are up and growing, use a thick layer of an organic mulch to cut down on evaporation and to help maintain even water levels. If you have a rabbit problem, do fence the area to forestall damage.

Melons of all types tend to sprawl and take up valuable acreage in the garden. My favorite method for getting around this is to use trellises. Use a sturdy trellis, anchor it over the planting area, and then guide the growing vines up and onto it. As the melons begin to form, they'll be heavy and will pull the vines off the trellis, so make cloth slings – old t-shirts or used (but clean) diapers work perfectly – to cradle each fruit, tying the sling to the trellis; this is why we use a sturdy trellis. Not only will trellised melons take up less space, but they also lead to less insect damage and will protect the fruit from the rot that can result from soil contact. As you might imagine, the smaller melon varieties are a bit better for this method.

As the weather heats up, you will notice that your melon leaves will wilt and fold in the mid-day sun. Don't panic. Check under your mulch: if the soil is still moist and you've been watering deeply, don't water yet; if the soil is dry, water right away. The wilting leaves help the melon cope with the hot Sun and over-watering in response can lead to root rots and failed plants.

As the plants get near to harvest time, back off the water slightly; over-watering in the last week will result in poor flavor.

I hope this helps,


1 comment:

Flying Pig said...

Tyler... I'm a bit confused. Every seed package I find for watermelon or cantelope says to plant the seeds in "mounds". Of course, last year when I did this, it was difficult to keep the mound wet and the new plants struggled until I dug up the mounds and did precisely what you recommended here with the dug out areas.

Can you explain to me why all of the seed packages recommend the "mound planting" method?

Thanks in advance,