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A young 'Sugar Baby' melon grows on a frame to save space.

Mini watermelons you can grow in any space!

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Don’t think you have the room for watermelons? Helen McKerral shares her space-saving tricks, plus one of the smaller varieties for you to try.

Forget 15kg monsters: there are a range of mini and medium-sized watermelons that are a more manageable 2–9kg. Grow these smaller versions and you’ll get more fruits from fewer plants, some of which are more compact, while clever growing techniques will save you room. Not only that, these mini-to-medium melons are typically quicker to harvest and fruit, even in areas with short growing seasons, with varieties to suit all but the coldest, wettest gardens.

Soil and location

Watermelons prefer deep, neutral, fertile, well-drained sandy soil in an open sunny spot (with a little afternoon shade in the very hottest regions). If you can prepare in advance, a month before planting, generously add matured compost and manure, such as balanced, pelletised chicken manure.

Watermelons are deep-rooted compared to other cucurbits and manage heat better when roots can reach a more consistent soil temperature and moisture. Loosen soil with a fork and if drainage is poor, create 1m diameter planting mounds. Raised beds with loose soil also work well. For irrigation, you can create a shallow trench along a row, or a depression around individual planting mounds. Drip irrigation will reduce fungal disease. 

Space-saving tricks

Some cultivars spread two metres or more but you can utilise trellis to save space or grow more plants by going vertical. In humid or hot climates, elevating fruit also improves fruit set and reduces disease. Support fruit in a cut stocking sling tied to the mesh. Trellising methods include:

  •  A 1m high, 1.5m wide ring around the plant. Train tendrils up and tip prune when they reach the top.
  •   A 1.5m wide, 75–100cm high (larger for vigorous varieties) welded wire mesh tunnel. The plant will grow over the tunnel and fruit will hang under it, protected from sunburn. 
  •   A 1m trellis against a north-facing wall is ideal for cool climates. Plant melons 50–100cm apart (closer for compact varieties). Train up trellis.

One for you to try

You might want to try the ‘Sugar Baby’ variety (pictured above). It is a fast-growing, compact heirloom with 15-20cm round fruit that resists splitting. Sweet flesh with few seeds.

For more small varieties you can grow in your own backyard, as well as more planting and cultivation tips, you’ll find Helen McKerral’s full article in our Early Spring 2023 issue (OG 143). Find out how to subscribe here.

OG 143 cover