Family: Cucurbitaceae

Cantaloupes, honeydews, musk melons and watermelons are not all of the same genus Cucumis, but the plants are very similar. They are grown as annuals, with stems to 2 m (6 ft) or more in length, rough lobed leaves and separate male and female flowers. Cantaloupes and musk melons are roundish with orange flesh, while the honeydew is also roundish in shape, but has green flesh. The seeds are contained in the hollow centers of these fruits. Watermelons may be round or oval-shaped, the red flesh being embedded with the black or variegated seeds. All of these melons are watery, refreshing summer fruits which are eaten raw. The jam melon is the exception. It is also a vine, but the melon has a hard, white flesh which is made into jam. Melon and lemon, or melon and pineapple are popular jam combinations.


Cucumis melo is a trailing vine with soft, roundish leaves and small, yellow flowers. The Cantalupensis Group, cantaloupe, produces roundish fruit with a hard, rough rind; the Inodorus Group, honeydew, has large, round fruit with a smooth rind and green or white flesh; the Reticulatus Group, musk melon, also has roundish fruit with netted rind and orange flesh. Choose cultivars that are resistant to powdery mildew.

Citrullus lanatus, watermelon, is a vigorous annual vine. Frost-sensitive and sun-loving, it produces large fruit, varying in size and shape, but generally with red flesh. If possible, choose cultivars that are resistant to wilt. Var. citroides, jam melon, has small fruit, the hard white flesh being used for making jam.


All of these melons are grown from seed and require lots of sun, a warm growing season and frost-free conditions for at least five months. However, the jam melon tolerates slightly cooler conditions. While melons require a fairly rich soil, avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers as they may cause excessive leaf growth at the expense of the fruit. The soil should be just slightly acid. Seeds will not germinate in cold soil, so avoid early spring sowing. They are usually sown in groups of six to eight seeds, 1.5-3 m (5-10 ft) apart, depending on the variety. The seeds should be planted, pointed end down, 2-3 cm (about 1 in) deep, and the seedlings thinned, retaining only the strongest two or three, to about 20 cm (8 in) apart. These plants require ample water during the growing period. Pinch out the terminal tips after the stems have reached 2 m (6 ft) to reduce the spread of the plants and hasten the setting of the fruit. If there are not enough bees in the garden, hand pollination may be necessary. The female flowers can be recognized by the immature fruit behind the petals. The pollen from the male flower is easily transferred with a child's paintbrush. Weed matting or hay makes a clean bed for the fruit and also acts as a mulch for controlling weeds. Where the growing season is short, sow seed individually in peat pots in a heated greenhouse in mid-spring and plant out when frosts are over. Or, sow directly at that time and cover with cloches. Many melons are prone to powdery mildew and watermelon is susceptible to wilt. Select varieties with resistance to these diseases. It is sometimes difficult to know when melons are ripe. Musk melon types are ready when they leave the vine at the slightest touch and have the characteristic aroma. Watermelons will have a flat, dead sound when tapped. They should be harvested before the adjacent tendrils are quite dead.


Zone 10, but grown as summer annuals in all climates.

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Melocactus      Mertensia