OSU offers tips for growing melons in Oregon

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Last Updated: 
May 30, 2003

CORVALLIS - Growing melons successfully in many places in the Pacific Northwest requires a few tricks. But for risk-taking gardeners, it may prove a worthy challenge.

Mid-May through early June is the perfect time to transplant melon starts into your garden.

Slice of watermelon.Melons are adapted to hot, dry conditions, so they can be most successfully grown mainly in the warmer areas of the state, including the Hermiston area, the Snake River Valley and the Medford area. In other areas of the state - the coast, the Willamette Valley and short season, high elevation areas of central and eastern Oregon - getting a melon to sweet, juicy ripeness is a bit trickier.

The Oregon State University Extension Service recommends the following tips to increase your odds of producing ripe melons this summer.

Choose a warm site, such as along a south-facing building or wall. Or warm up the site by using plastic mulches over the soil or row or garden covers.

Use drip irrigation, not overhead sprinkling, where the foliage gets wet.

Start melon seeds indoors three to four weeks before you intend to put them out in the garden.

Amend your soil with organic matter and make sure it has warmed up to at least 55 to 60 degrees before planting seeds or starts.

Germinate melon seeds in peat pots or buy starts. When young plants have four to seven leaves, transplant plants 18 to 24 inches apart and space rows five or six feet apart. Water well, but infrequently. Over-watering may lower fruit quality. Drip irrigation is better for melons than overhead sprinkling. Fertilize well for top quality and yield.

Local nurseries will have melon varieties that will grow best in most regions of the state except the Oregon coast, which is usually too cool. In high elevation areas with a short growing season of 90 to 120 days and frost is possible in any month, melons need to be protected with row covers. Gardeners in cooler areas might have the best luck with honeydews and muskmelons, including the cantaloupe-types.

Watermelons, casaba or Crenshaw melons require the most heat to ripen. Gardeners in cooler parts of the state might want to use clear plastic tunnels or other row cover material until melons start to develop female flowers.

Muskmelons are known to many as "cantaloupes" and have round to oval fruit, and often a netted rind. Muskmelons are not well suited for coast or high elevations. These have a moderate to strong aroma and moderately soft flesh that is usually orange to salmon-colored.

Honeydews are usually smooth, have greenish-white rinds that turn creamy when white. They have light green or orange firm flesh and little odor, and do not slip the vine when ripe.

Galia melons come from the Middle East, similar to cantaloupes, these round melons have moderate to heavy netting pattern on the skin and have lime green flesh. Galia melons slip the vine when ripe.

Crenshaw melons are typically large elongate melons with rough green skin and pinkish-orange tender flesh. Related to honeydew types, these melons can be quite sweet when grown with enough heat, very difficult in Oregon to achieve. They do not slip the vine well when ripe and do not store or ship well.

Canary melons are also similar to honeydews. They typically have hard, yellow smooth skin. The white to green flesh has a crisp texture. Ripe melons may show fine cracking. These have little odor and do not slip the vine when ripe.

The OSU Extension Service recommends the following varieties as performing well in most parts of Oregon, except the coast and higher elevations, where season extending techniques are needed.

  • Cantaloupe/muskmelon: Ambrosia, Harper Hybrid, Gold Star, Classic, Pulsar, Superstar, Earlisweet, Early Dawn, Eclipse, Primo, Earliqueen, Saticoy, Fastbreak.
  • Honeydew: Earlidew, Honey Orange.
  • Galia types: Gallicum, Galia.
  • Crenshaw types: Early Hybrid Crenshaw.
  • Canary: Golden Beauty #229.
  • Watermelon: (red types) Crimson Sweet, Charleston Gray, Garden Baby, Sweet Favorite; (yellow types). Yellow Doll, Yellow Baby, Sunshine. (red seedless types) Millennium, Summer Sweet 3521Y, Summer Sweet 5544.
  • Ice box: Sugar Baby, Tiger Baby.
Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Jim Myers, Deborah Kean