Melons

Family: Cucurbitaceae

Countries: Africa, Asia, India, Iran

Melons (also known by their botanical name Cucumis melo) are tender, sweet tasting fruits that can be successfully grown from seeds, in the UK.  Sow melon seeds in springtime – from March to the middle of May.  If you’re too late to sow seeds (or if you don’t have access to a glasshouse), you don’t have to miss out, as young melon plants can be purchased from many nurseries and garden centres.

These plants need warm, consistent growing conditions; sow melon seeds inside a greenhouse, polytunnel, a conservatory, cold frame, or a heated propagator.  Melons need a bright space, (one that’s shielded from harsh direct light) with steady, constant temperatures that range from 18-21C (64-70F), for successful germination.  Both hotter and cooler temperatures will be detrimental.  You could also start your melon seeds off on a sunny window sill; this is another option, but do make sure that you sow your seeds in a very light and bright area, away from extreme temperature changes, or else your melon plants will become thinner, weaker, straggly, and to be honest, quite annoying!

Use a good quality peat-free compost, and sow one melon seed in each container.  I usually sow my melon seeds in pots that measure from 7-9cm (2.75-3.5″) diameter and 7-9cm (2.75-3.5″) deep.  Avoid the temptation to over or under-pot your plants; it’s better to pot your plants on at regular intervals, in stages, as they grow.  Choose pots that have holes at their base, so when you water your plants, water will run over your plant’s roots and straight out of the bottom of your pot.  Melons are quite hungry plants; they thrive when grown in nutrient rich, peat-free composts.  These fruits require regular watering; melons grow best in moist but well-drained compost.  Remember that melons don’t want to sit in water, or they’ll be liable to rot.  Melon plants thrive when grown in bright light, warm temperatures, and humid growing conditions.

When your plants have produced five leaves, you can pinch out your plant’s growing tip.  Curtailing the plant’s growth in this manner will encourage your plant to produce sideshoots and an earlier harvest of melons.  Melon plants tend to produce many sideshoots.  It’s best to keep four or five of your plant’s strongest sideshoots and then remove the weaker ones; this will allow your plant to concentrate its energy on developing fruit.

Once you have four tiny, thimble sized melons growing on each stem, cut back your plant’s stem, counting three leaves after your last melon.  Then remove any other fruit and flowers to allow all your plant’s energy to be directed into developing these fruits.  As your plants produce fruit they will need support.  Support your young melons as they grow, using netting, stockings, or you could take this opportunity to re-purpose old bras!

Melons are tender plants that prefer a minimum temperature of 10C (50F) at night.  Frost or cold temperatures will damage or kill these plants.  Melons can be planted outside when all risk of frost has passed (First harden your plants off, by moving your melon plants outside in the daytime and bringing them back inside at night; do this everyday, for two to three weeks).

Alternatively, melon plants can be grown to maturity inside a glasshouse, polytunnel, conservatory, or coldframe.  If you’re growing melons inside a glasshouse, use blinds or a shade paint to protect your plants from harsh light that may scorch your plants’ leaves.  For optimum growing conditions, remember to ventilate your glasshouse, polytunnel, coldframe, or conservatory.  Wherever you grow your melons, choose a light and bright, warm area that’s sheltered from the wind.

Melons can be trained to grow horizontally over the ground or they can climb vertically.  If you’re growing melons horizontally, position tiles underneath the developing fruit to prevent them being damaged from sitting on wet soil.  You may need to protect your melons from slugs and snails.  Good luck!

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