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Growing Melons

multiple watermellons stacked at a farmers market

Cantaloupes (Cucumis melo), watermelons (Citrullus lanatus) and honeydew
(Cucumis melo) are all members of the cucurbit family which also includes squash,
pumpkins, gourds and cucumbers. Individual plants produce male and female flowers,
so most varieties require pollinators for cross-pollination. There is a large variety of
shapes, colors and sizes of melons to suit consumer preferences with newer varieties
including seedless and personal sized options. Honeydew and cantaloupes are often
sweeter if allowed to ripen at room temperature for a few days, while some people prefer
watermelon chilled. Many varieties are available that are well suited to West Virginia’s
climate and growing season.

Melon Production

Soils: Melons are generally warm season crops which prefer a sunny location and fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0-6.8. Melons do well in sandy soils although that is not a requirement as long as the drainage is good.

Fertilization: Before planting, incorporate up to 4 inches of well-decomposed organic matter and apply all-purpose fertilizer (10-10-10). Additional nitrogen (46-0-0 or urea) can be side dressed at least 6 inches away from the plants after vines make runners. A rate of about 1 to 2 tablespoons per plant is recommended. Too much nitrogen will increase vining, but lead to decreased fruit size.

Planting: Melons can be grown from seeds planted 1 to 2 inches deep. Hills should be spaced 4 feet apart with four to six seeds per hill. Thin to two plants per hill. Transplants can be planted instead with a spacing of two plants per mound. Soil temperature should be at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit before planting and the danger of frost has passed.

Mulches: Melons can also be grown on plastic to decrease weed competition, increase soil temperature and conserve water. This will allow earlier planting and earlier maturity by approximately two weeks. Black plastic can become too hot for melons in some areas. Straw, newspaper and other organic mulches can save water and control weeds.

Row Covers: Fabric or plastic covers and hot caps can protect seedlings or transplants from cool temperatures, but should be removed before plants start to flower to allow for pollination and when temperatures rise to prevent heat damage.

Water: Melons contain a high water content and need a lot of water, so water deeply, but infrequently, to help root growth. Mulching around plants will conserve water. Drip irrigation is best, allowing the water to penetrate the soil. Reducing water when fruits begin to ripen will improve melon flavor.

Weeds: Plastic or mulches will decrease weed problems. Healthy vines can generally out compete most weeds.

Harvest: Maturity time varies widely for melons with the shortest duration being less than 60 days (30 days from pollination) for some cantaloupes and the longest being up to 90 days for larger varieties of watermelons which can often reach 20 pounds at maturity. In cantaloupe, when the stem thoroughly separates, the sugars have developed completely. This is sometimes referred to as full slip. Honeydews may not have this slip, but may experience a change in the rind color. Watermelons are considered ripe when the point of attachment of the fruit to the vine dries up, becoming a dead tendril, as its called. Another indicator for watermelon is a change in color on the bottom known as a ground spot.

Nutrition of Melons

All melons have a high water content and are reasonably low in calories. Cantaloupe, for instance has 50 calories per serving (approximately a quarter of a melon) and contains 120 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of Vitamin A and 80 percent of the RDA of Vitamin C based on the USDA nutrition facts label.

Choosing Melons

cantaloupes and watermellons stacked at a farmers market

When choosing the variety of melon to grow, consider the length of your growing season as well as your flavor preference. Particularly for watermelons, smaller sized fruits are better suited for small households that may not consume a large melon quickly. Each vine will produce approximately three fruit. Melons can be stored up to three weeks at 45-degree temperatures, but will only keep less than a week at room temperature.

Melon Varieties

Selecting suitable varieties is a critical decision for any grower. Here is a list of recommended varieties for West Virginia:

Cultivar Relative Maturity
Average Melon Size (pounds) Comments
Ambrosia 86 5 Sweet, round, powdery mildew resistant
Sugar Cube (personal size) 80 2 High sugar content
Lil Lope (person size) 70 2 Powdery mildew & Fusarium resistant
Hannah's Choice 80 3 1/5 to 5 Sweet, powdery mildew & Fusarium resistant
Athena 75 5 to 6 High yielding
Aphrodite 72 6 to 8 Powdery mildew & Fusarium resistant


Summer Dew 91 5 Seeds won't be true to plant
Earli-Dew 80 2 1/4 to 3 Disease resistant
Crimson Sweet (seeded) 85 15 to 25 Fusarium & anthracnose resistant
Sangria (seeded) 87 22 to 26 Fusarium & anthracnose resistant
Crunchy Red (seedless) 90 15 to18 High sugar, similar to Crimson Sweet, but seedless
Crisp N Sweet (seedless) 83 15 to 20 Early setting, hollow heart resistant
Ana (personal size seedless) 80 4 to 8 Excellent quality
Ladybelle (personal size seedless) 70 4 to 8 Early maturity
Yellow Doll (seeded) 75 5 to 7 Yellow watermelon

Other Considerations for Melons

Diseases: Powdery mildew can cause fungal patches on leaves of plants and other plant tissues. As the leaves die off, fruit can become exposed to the sun, causing damage. Some melon varieties are resistant to powdery mildew.

Wilting diseases are caused by different pathogens and the cause must be identified to be treated.

Insects: Squash bugs and cucumber beetles feed on leaves, flowers and fruit of melons decreasing plant health. Squash vine borers tunnel through vines damaging plants and causing wilting. Aphids feed on the bottom of the leaves often leaving a dried appearance. These pests may also transmit viruses or diseases and should be controlled at the first sign of damage.

Often the first blossoms will fall off melons. These blossoms are males; female blossoms open later. They have a swollen area at the base where the fruit will form. Poor fruit set and low yield is typically caused by low pollination from pollinators, hot weather or water stress. It is essential that you do not apply pesticides when plants are in bloom.

Author: Jodi Richmond, WVU Mercer County Extension Agent – Agriculture and Natural Resources