Gardens - Fruit & Vegetable Gardening

Sweet satisfaction: Growing melons

By
Larry Hodgson
Photography by
Roger Yip

If you can trick melons into thinking they’re in the tropics, they’ll grow happily for you in Canada


Summer care

Keep melons well watered through the beginning of the summer, but as fruit forms, allow plants to dry out between waterings. Don’t bother with supplemental fertilizing—melons are not heavy feeders and especially dislike nitrogen-rich fertilizers—unless the foliage appears yellowed, in which case a light spray of diluted liquid seaweed will help (see the product label for the proper dose).

I tend to mulch my garden, so I rarely need to do more than pull out the occasional weed. If you don’t mulch, cultivate cautiously: melons are shallow-rooted and easily damaged by a passing hoe. Even redirecting wayward stems should be done with care.

When bright yellow flowers begin to appear, it’s time to determine whether to hand-pollinate. It’s necessary if plants are under cover and not exposed to pollinating insects, or if constant rain at flowering time discourages bees. Each plant has both male and female flowers. To hand-pollinate, use a small paintbrush to pick up a bit of yellow pollen from a male flower (one with no ovary at its base), then dust it over the stigma projecting from the centre of a female flower (which has a rounded ball at its base, the future fruit). Male flowers are plentiful; female ones are few.

To prune or not to prune
Many melon growers put great stock in pruning as a means of increasing the size and early maturation of melons. They pinch back new growth at the four-leaf stage, then again at the 10-leaf stage. Once fruit is set, any new growth is removed. When I tried this, although the fruits were somewhat larger, they were no earlier, so I didn’t find the difference worth the extra effort. The only pruning I do now is what’s needed to keep any melons I might be growing under glass within bounds—I sometimes use my cold frame as a summer greenhouse for melons. I cut off any wayward stems, notably those that reach outside my cold frame and keep me from closing it at night. However, if you’re going for the “biggest melon in the show” award at your county fair, you might want to experiment with pinching.

The one type of pruning that is universally accepted is to remove any late-season fruits that start to form: they’ll never have time to mature, so why let the plant waste its energy trying to produce them?

 

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