Choose the Right Location for Your Honeydew
To grow honeydew melons, choose a spot in your garden that receives plenty of sunlight and has fertile, well-drained soil with a slightly acidic pH between 6 and 7. Honeydew needs at least 6-8 hours of direct sun exposure per day to develop sweet flavor. The soil should be loose, crumbly, and able to retain moisture. About a week before planting, enrich the soil with compost or other organic matter to provide nutrients for the hungry seedlings.
Ideal daytime temperatures for honeydew growth range from 70 to 85 F. Warm nights are also necessary, with temperatures no lower than 65 F. According to the Farmers’ Almanac, honeydew is a warm-season crop that requires a long, frost-free growing season of 80 to 120 days depending on the variety.
Honeydew plants require warm soil to germinate, so in cooler climates start the seeds indoors about a month before the last spring frost. Sow two to three seeds in each small pot and place in a warm spot with temperatures around 70 F. Thin seedlings so only the healthiest plant remains in each pot. A week before transplanting outside, harden off the seedlings by exposing them to the outdoor conditions for a few hours each day. Transplant seedlings when daytime temperatures are reliably warm, around late May to early June in the Northern Hemisphere. Space the seedlings 3 to 6 feet apart.
Prepare the Soil for Optimal Growth
To prepare the soil for honeydew melons, start several weeks before planting. The soil should be loose, crumbly, and fertile, with a slightly acidic pH between 6 and 7. About a month before planting, have your soil tested to determine if it needs any adjustments to the pH or nutrients. According to the Colorado State University Extension, the ideal soil for honeydew should contain:
- 2-3% organic matter such as compost or peat moss. Compost helps provide nutrients and improves soil structure.
- Adequate nitrogen, especially in the early growth stages. As a rule of thumb, add 3 lbs of 5-10-5 fertilizer or its equivalent per 100 square feet.
- Phosphorus to aid in fruit and seed development.
- Potassium for plant vigor and disease resistance.
If needed based on the soil test results, add lime to raise the pH or sulfur to lower the pH. Mix in the recommended amendments thoroughly and rake the soil smooth before planting.
Here is an example recipe for preparing 100 square feet of soil for honeydew:
- 2-3 bags (40 lbs each) compost or peat moss
- 1 lb 10-10-10 fertilizer
- 1 lb bonemeal (for phosphorus)
- 1 lb potassium sulfate (for potassium)
- Lime or sulfur as needed based on soil test
Till or turn the soil to a depth of 12-18 inches to allow for good root growth. Remove any stones larger than 1 inch in diameter. The site should have good drainage with no standing water. raise the soil level if needed using composted material.
For one to two weeks before planting, irrigation or rain should keep the soil consistently damp but not soggy. This helps provide moisture for seed germination and gives the organic matter time to start decomposing and releasing its nutrients. Check the soil drainage and make any final amendments or repairs to the irrigation system during this time. The honeydew seedlings should be ready to go into moist, rich, well-prepared soil as soon as the weather warms up.
Planting and Watering Honeydew Seedlings
Honeydew melons require a long, warm growing season, so in cooler areas start the seeds indoors about a month before the last spring frost. Sow 2-3 seeds in small pots and place in a warm spot with temperatures around 70 F. Thin seedlings so only the strongest plant remains in each pot. About a week before transplanting outside, begin hardening off the seedlings by exposing them to the outdoor conditions for a few hours each day.
Transplant the seedlings into the garden once the weather has warmed up and daytime highs are in the 70s F. Space the seedlings 3 to 6 feet apart. Bury the stem up to the top set of true leaves. Water the seedlings immediately after transplanting and add shade protection for the first few days if temperatures may rise above 85 F.
Here are some key tips for proper watering of honeydew seedlings:
• Water lightly but frequently, about 1 inch per week. The top 6 inches of soil should dry out between waterings.
• Water in the morning to minimize disease risk. Avoid overhead irrigation late in the day.
• As the seedlings grow, cut back to no more than 1-2 inches of water per week. Too much water at this stage can lead to root rot diseases.
• Once the seedlings start vining and flowers form, increase watering to 1-2 inches per week depending on rainfall. The developing melons require consistent moisture to fill out properly.
Important: Never let the soil dry out completely, especially in hot or windy conditions. But also avoid keeping the soil constantly soggy, which can lead to root rot and other disease issues. Check soil moisture regularly using your finger or a soil moisture meter and water when the top few inches start to dry.
Fertilize the seedlings with a balanced fertilizer once a week as soon as they develop their first true leaves. Look for a 5-5-5 or similar fertilizer and follow the directions on the product packaging. Fertilizer will help the young seedlings establish themselves and encourage healthy growth. Reduce fertilizer once melons start ripening to prevent a decrease in sugar content.
With proper planting, watering, and fertilizer, honeydew seedlings should thrive and produce sweet, juicy melons within 80 to 120 days. Monitor your seedlings regularly and take appropriate action at the first sign of any disease or pest issues.
Fertilizing and Pruning for Healthier Honeydew Plants
Once honeydew seedlings establish themselves after transplanting, fertilize them regularly to encourage healthy growth and fruit production. Start fertilizing when the seedlings develop their first true leaves. Use a balanced fertilizer with equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, such as 5-5-5. Follow the directions on the product packaging and fertilize once a week.
After the vines start spreading and flowers appear, switch to a fertilizer with less nitrogen to prevent excess vegetative growth. A good option is a 3-5-10 or similar formulation. Caution: Too much nitrogen during flowering and fruit set can reduce yields and fruit sugar content.
In addition to fertilizer, honeydew benefits from pruning to improve air circulation, light exposure, and overall vine health. Here are some key pruning tips:
• Pinch off any side shoots to focus the plant’s energy on the main vine. Remove shoots when they are 6-12 inches long.
• Once female flowers start to develop into tiny melons, prune the ends of the vines to stimulate fuller melon growth. Do not prune after melons exceed finger size.
• Thin out excessive foliage, especially leaves shading melon rinds. Aim for spacing leaves 6-12 inches apart.
• Remove any dead, damaged or diseased leaves or vines as soon as they’re spotted.
• For insect or disease prevention, you can prune vines so they do not contact the soil. A 3 to 6-inch spacing between vines and the ground is ideal.
• Pruning after mid-summer may delay ripening. Only remove foliage or shoots if absolutely necessary.
• At the end of the growing season, trim each vine off just beyond where the last melon was picked. Do not leave long bare vines, as they can harbor pests and disease over winter.
With regular feeding, pruning, and scouting for common issues, honeydew vines should produce a bountiful harvest. Most varieties ripen 80 to 120 days after transplanting. Watch for honeydews to develop an orange tint and slightly sweet aroma, then harvest and enjoy! Ripe honeydews can last up to 2 weeks when stored unripe in the refrigerator.
Harvesting and Storing Honeydew for Maximum Flavor
Harvest honeydew melons once they fully ripen on the vine for the sweetest flavor. Look for the following signs that a honeydew is ready to pick:
• The melon rind develops an orange or creamy yellow tint. Unripe honeydews will be hard, pale green, and lacking in aroma.
• The melon emits a mildly sweet aroma. Gently press on the melon—it should have a slight “give” and the rind will no longer be rock hard.
• The tendril opposite the melon stem dries out and turns brown. The tendril is the curly vine extension next to where the melon attaches to the vine.
• The melon sounds hollow when tapped. An unripe melon will have a dense, non-resonant sound.
To harvest the melon, use pruning shears or a sharp knife to cut it from the vine, leaving 2 to 3 inches of stem attached. Be very careful not to damage the melon. Any cuts or punctures expose the flesh to decay and spoilage.
Handle melons gently and do not stack or pile them, as dropping or squeezing can cause bruising. What you do after picking has a big impact on how long the melon lasts and the quality of its taste. Follow these tips:
Do not expose melons to direct sunlight after harvesting. Take them to a shady spot.
Do not leave melons at room temperature. Store them immediately in the refrigerator at 45 to 55 F.
Do leave melons untrimmed and unwashed until ready to eat. wipe away any dirt with a damp cloth. Only trim the very end of the stem just before slicing open the melon.
Do turn melons occasionally so they ripen evenly. Melons emit ethylene gas as they ripen, and turning helps prevent spoilage spots.
When ripe and stored properly, a honeydew melon can last 7 to 14 days. Check frequently, especially at first, and use right away if there are any soft spots. Enjoy your honeydew chilled, sliced, diced or balled. The seeds also are edible and full of nutrients. With a little care and patience, homegrown honeydews can be stored for good flavor and quality.