If you love melons (and who doesn't), you may be surprised to find out that growing them doesn't require as much water as you might think. While the young plants like plenty of water for the first month or so, cutting back to a deep watering once a week will keep the plant thriving and improve the flavor. On the other hand, excessive watering or poorly draining soil will quickly promote root rot, so don't make the mistake of killing your melons with kindness.
Working a high phosphorous organic fertilizer into deeply dug beds (3' or more) is a key to success. Choosing the right variety for your area is another crucial factor. With proper well drained soil (compost, sand, and peat moss), monthly fertilizer applications, and an irrigation timer set to water deeply once a week, you'll end up with the sweet and tasty melons of your dreams.
We started our melons in a large peat pot in the greenhouse around April 1st. This gave us 4-6 weeks to establish the plants before we set them out around May 15th. Once the plants are set try not to move the vines and DO NOT disturb the taproot! Doing so can interrupt the flow of nutrients to the fruit and set the plant back. During this period the plants are particularly susceptible to damage from pests. Around here it's the cucumber beetle, but you should check to see what pests you need to keep an eye out for in your area.
For rows of melons, Drip Tape is the best product to use. For individual plants in a bed, a line of soaker dripline works well. If you're growing in a large container, a concentric circle of soaker dripline around the base is a better strategy. Starting a few inches from the stem, spiral the tubing out to a distance of about 3'. This will cover the entire root system during the early stages of growth.
Once you switch to the weekly deep watering cycle, you might see the leaves wilting, especially during the hottest part of a summer afternoon. Don't despair, this is perfectly natural and they will recover once the sun sets.
Depending on the variety of melon you've chosen, it should begin to ripen somewhere between 2 ½ and 3 months (75-90 days). Muskmelons develop a thick netting over the skin that begins to lighten as the melon ripens. For watermelons, the curled tendril near the stem will dry up and turn brown and the underside of the melon will develop a cream color. Some melons will simply slip off the vine when ripe.
And then? It's time to eat!