How do you use black plastic with melons?

aseedisapromiseSeptember 18, 2008

Hi there,

I was reading the question about melons for cooler climates, and was wondering about black plastic. I haven't had a lot of luck with melons either, but would like to try next year if I can get some more info. I just tried to search for "Black Plastic" to get an explanation of how you all use it to help your melons, and didn't come up with much, mostly people complaining about landscape fabric with mulch on top of it. I did one year plant a butternut squash in a spot of the garden where I had kept my movable cold frame all spring, and it did very well in the warmed up soil. So maybe I get the theory behind what you are all talking about. I do have to overhead water though, and I wonder how that would work with black plastic? If I could find the plastic, maybe I could just put it over the spot for the time before I plant the squash outside? I bet if I had another cold frame, and could keep from burning the plant up inside, putting it over until it was too large might be a good thing. Let me know if you have time how you all use your plastic.


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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

Actually I use IRT 100 plastic on some of the early melons. It is supposed to warm the soil a bit more than black plastic and less than clear plastic.

If you have just a few scattered melons, you could do what I do. Cut up the plastic into 2½ x 4 sheets instead of solid strips which need drip irrigation.. This way rainfall can reach the plants better. I set the plants first and fertilize around them before slipping the sheets over the small transplants.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2008 at 9:03PM
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I use black plastic extensively in my garden. I have my main 110 x 100 foot, my smaller 80 x 60 foot, and my little 20 x 40 foot gardens all covered in it, and many of my other various beds and borders have it underneath mulch.

It definitely helps heat loving things like melons. The ultimate heat enhancement for melons and similar in a very marginal cimate would be a combination of black plastic and some type of cold frame/hoophouse setup.

A couple of things -- first, I use the 6 mil black plastic sheeting, it holds up far longer than the 4 mil, about 3 years versus one. I buy it generally at Home Depot, in the 20 x 100 foot rolls, which currently cost about $80 -- not cheap, but worth it IMO.

BEFORE I put it down, I take my drill and a bit about 1/8th of an inch in diameter, and I drill numerous holes down to the cardboard core of the roll of plastic, right through the box. I try to drill a couple of rows of holes about three inches apart on EACH side of the box, so that, when unrolled, the plastic has little holes about every 3 inches. This allows virtually all of the rainwater to go through it. After I put it down and it rains the first time, if there are some puddles, I go out there with a nail taped to an old broomstick and poke some holes where the puddles are.

The other thing about black plastic is that you MUST anchor it well -- it's surprising how it can blow up in the wind if you don't. I buy the landscape fabric pegs and use a lot of those around the edges and a few staggered throughout the width of the plastic, and also use rocks, logs, etc., as weight around the edges at first. Once plants start to grow over it, it sort of sticks to the ground and this isn't a problem anymore.


    Bookmark   September 19, 2008 at 6:25AM
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flora2b(z6a bc)

I lay my plastic down in 20X20' sheet with rocks, wood whatever you have, around the edges to hold it down and will plant 3 rows of three plants into that. Just make an 'X' where you will transplant your melon. Next I have these old chimney blocks I put around the transplants to protect them from the plastic lifting and decapitating them. I then cover each row with floating row cover.
I water with drip irrigration and this is laid out before I put the plastic on, however, my dad just puts the hose into the "X" and runs it slowly for awhile to water his plants.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2008 at 6:58PM
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I use IRT plastic from a roll thats 4'x4000'. It lasts a few years. I start my melons in the greenhouse and then transplant into the plastic. I till then I use t-tape under the plastic. I put soil over the edges of the plastic. i use a bulb planter to make the hole to transplant into.
Honey bees are a necessity to grow melons.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2008 at 8:02PM
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Thanks everyone for your explanations. IRT must mean "Is Really Tough"? Well, I'll keep researching things and trying things. I think if I try melons next year I'll use one of my cold frames and then I can move it off when it warms up, and maybe put some plastic around the plants before they start to run. If it is like this year then I'd really need a giant cold frame! Is t-tape some kind of irrigation thing? We've got plenty of bees, or did anyway. Fewer this year, but in previous years I have grown some kind of early maturing melons here and they did okay, so I don't think bees are a problem. I grow lots of herbs, and I think that attracts bees. Drilling the plastic sounds like it would help, as would using smaller pieces. But I'm not sure about how many staples I'll have as anchors since I keep using them up keeping the rabbits from going under the fence. Considering that my planters blow off my front porch several times a summer, the wind would be an issue. But dirt around the edges might hold it if it didn't blow away! Thanks all.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2008 at 1:52PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

IRT stands for infra-red transmitting....letting heating rays through the transluence of the film. Sufficient dirt on the edges will hold the plastic in place. T-tape is irrigation tubing.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2008 at 7:15PM
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I used the same black plastic as denninmi does and also use it for the entire garden. it has really done wonders for all my melons that I grew on the ground. I had a exceptional year for melons, around 60+ watermelons alone. If you would like to see a pic of the last of the melon harvest from today check out my thread MELON HARVEST.


    Bookmark   September 20, 2008 at 8:41PM
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sinfonian(U8b A2 S5 SeaWA)

Thanks, I'll line my SWC with black plastic for my cantaloupe next year! And red for my tomatoes, hehe.

Here is a link that might be useful: sinfonian's garden adventure!

    Bookmark   September 20, 2008 at 9:54PM
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bart1(6/7 Northern VA)

Make sure you raise your melons a little (use a piece of wood, or cardboard, or a brick, etc). I lost over a dozen cantalopes to rot from them sitting in puddles.

The plastic also conserves rain water too. Even though I ran soaker hoses under the plastic along the planted rows, the only time I had to give them any water was the weekend I planted! This year was great for rain where I was, but don't make the mistake of overwatering if you're using black plastic.


    Bookmark   September 22, 2008 at 10:12AM
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dennis- Thank you for your wonderful post! My DH is bent on using the 6ml black plastic over the ENTIRE garden, and I'm not entirely thrilled with the idea, but glad to see that it's not a lunatic idea.

I plan on growing my melons up a wire-mesh fence that we just put in, along with the cukes and peas, and whatever else I can find to put up it.

Should I be concerned about overheating at all? I've never used this stuff, so wondering what things I need to be thinking about with it. Thanks.

Someone mentioned red plastic for the tomatoes. I used this last year, and it succeeded only in created a lovely carpet of grass under it. I'm thinking this year, if'n there's any merit in actually USING the red, if putting it on top of the black plastic would be of any use. Maybe I'll try it. It certainly wasn't of any use as a weed deterrent.

Oh, and I also used that USELESS excuse for a weed barrier- thin landscape fabric. What a total waste of money THAT was! The weeds grew right through it, and it was a btch to get out of the garden at the end of the season. Never again with THAT stuff.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2009 at 10:50AM
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The landscape fabic has to be covered. The mority of it is not UV stable. The sun will break it down. I did an experiment just to see. The uncovered fell apart in about 2 months. The covered is still strong after 4 years. I use it in all my perenial beds. Works great. Still have a few weeds. But only a handfull in an entire year. Most of which are only rooted in the mulch

    Bookmark   April 13, 2009 at 1:26PM
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Do you have pictures of your garden at all? I'd love to see how you cover your area, pin/hold it down, as well as how you do your walking paths.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 8:53AM
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here are some pics of the garden in 08 with plastic. Hope this helps. The whole garden has a drip irrigation system under the plastic.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 12:48PM
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lisazone6_ma(z6 MA)

WOW! That's some garden!! You must grow enough to feed your entire family all year long! Good for you! And it's so neat and tidy!


    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 4:12PM
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Thank you lisazone6. It was a lot of fun last year and am looking forward to this year. Last year was really my first year taking it serious and with such a large garden. If I can get away with it (can't let my wife see me do it) this year I am going to take a couple extra feet of grass out with the rototiller so I can plant more.


    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 6:17PM
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Ok...I'm confused...Denninmi = thepodpiper?

If yes, I have a question on the drip irrigation thing. Is the drilling-holes-in-the-plastic not an effective means of letting rain in? I don't think my DH is inclined to spend the additional $$ on that sort of thing. How much DOES something like that cost, anyway?

Hey, that's the same fence I put up this weekend! (near your lawn, not the wood fence)

Ok, got it on the paths: Dig 'trenches' for the paths, which automatically provides 'humps' for planting.
Grass clippings on the paths- check
What purpose does the pine-bark mulch serve around the plants? Aesthetic only, or something else?

    Bookmark   April 15, 2009 at 11:09AM
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jwstell42(5 NY)

Just on your answer on "Drilling" holes - I'm betting my climate is similar to yours in NH (I'm in upstate NY).

I leave the plastic on all year, and do not have a drip system.

All the water flows in from the points where the plants are inserted, and if I see water "puddle" up on top, I just poke a hole with whatever sharp tool I have handy.

I actually find that the plastic holds the moisture in so well that it actually lowers how much I have to water. A really nice bonus above and beyond raising the soil temperature (very good for our part of the country for non-cool season vegetables) and weed block.

Hope that helps some.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2009 at 1:45PM
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rachel597(5A ME)

I have a terrible time with weeds and crab grass and think this may just be the solution to this problem.

This thread has inspired me to use solar mulch in my garden this year. Thank you for sharing your ideas and pictures. I have posted pictures of setting it up in my blog.

Here is a link that might be useful: GrafixMuse's Garden Spot

    Bookmark   May 18, 2009 at 1:30PM
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This is an old question. However, I want to clarify a bit for folks who are new to growing with plastic mulch in large sheets. Dennis explianed it well. I'lI just add my four cents.

Which is way too much.

So here's the short version

1- Dennis is right and use big sheets

2- make round holes, they tear less.

3- pick up and store plastic away from winter UV

4- don't worry about the weeds and grass. do not till, add compost only at the holes, before putting down the plastic. Water only until the plants are established. A week or 2. No irrigation needed. Ever. Well, maybe in the SW.

5- soil is 5° cooler under black plastic in the summer (Rodale c.1985).

6- Relax,

until Mid August then protect from fifty-five°

I'm not kidding!

The long version.

I have been raising melons, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and more, using six mil or thicker black plastic since the nineteen seventies. My parents started with ten mil (I think), which I inherited and it lasted eight years of leaving it out year round. The winter UV finally killed iit.

My first suggestion is that you roll it up and store it in a dark place. I get six years or more out of six mil black.

Pre-drilling with inch holes is a great idea and I'll try it at about one foot intervals. I just poke holes in puddles when they appear. His nail on a broomstick in a better idea than my method of using whatever is at hand. Why?

Because plastic tears in a line. If you make a longitudinal cut, instead of a round hole or puncture, in later years it will tear more easily.

So, do not make your planting holes with an "x". Make them round with scissors, or as I do. I cut both ends of a can, around four to five in diam, hold it with vise grips and heat the other end with a propane torch. Take a deep breath and psst, cut a nice round, sealed hole and put the circle in a trash bsg . For melons I use six foot diagonal spacing. Less for tomatoes, even less for peppers, eggplant, basil, etc. Plan well, because that's the configuration for years to come. I often use twenty by twenty sheets so I could just turn it each year for crop rotation. You might just slide it down the length of the garden, if north south orientation augers against turning the layout

Now, its about time to plant. Clear plastic will heat up your ground before you plant. Black plastic will not. Clear plastic solarization is thought by some to disturb/ destroy the beneficial biota of you topsoil. So heat with caution and read more to find your way. That aside: in spite of the wind, lay the black plastic on the need to weed or cultivate. Drive a short stake into the center of each hole. Pick up the plastic and prepare the area at each stake as you wish. I try to remove a half bushel or more of soil to my compost and fill each hole with a compost soil mix. Replace the plastic. Batten down the edges with soil, stones boards, etc. Plant and water individually, as needed for a week or two.

Then forget about it. You may need to weed three inches on all sides of each plant. You will not need irrigation. You have stopped evaporation. The ground in most regions is wet when you plant. It will stay perfectly moist all summer. I have had a few six week periods of eighty to a hundred degrees and no rain w/o water stress. Rodale tested mulches sometime in the eighties and determined that six mil black plastic kept the soil five degrees cooler than bare soil.

For me the major problem with melon production is that i crowd them. So stepping on the vines as I pick and some mildew. I do not lift the melons off the plastic, but puncture a puddle occupied by a melon. Bigger still is that after over thirty years, I cannot tell if a watermelon is ripe.

Beware the heartbreak of late collapse in canteloupes! Fifty-five degrees will make you cry in the August dawn. Get some cover material and get out there on that cool evening, when the clouds go away. A few nights later,you can relax until fall. That's for Western Oregon, Wash, Penna, and the garden state. In NH prepare to keep the patch above fifty- five.

Sorry about the length... I just love eating melons!

    Bookmark   March 14, 2015 at 4:19PM
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Whoops! Dennis said make eigth inch holes. Larger holes will give you spectacular individual weeds

    Bookmark   March 14, 2015 at 4:23PM
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