Tomatoes w/ Watermelons as Mulch?

shekanahhMay 27, 2009

I'm just now getting my previously overly saturated back garden area ready for summer planting. What I am thinking about doing this year is planting a major portion of it in tomatoes, watermelons, and muskmelons.

I had the notion that I might be able to run tomatoe trellises lengthwise, east to west, and about 6 ft. to 8 ft. apart, and then plant watermelons in between those rows.

My "theory" is because they are opposite in height they wouldn't interfere with one another and the melons could act as sort of a mulch for the tomatoes, weed barrier and and water conserver. If I did this I would put down lots of cardboard around the melons to hold down weeds before they start vining.

My question is, has anyone ever tried this before and if so, how did it work out.

Downside:I already have visions of having to buy a pair of knee high rubber boots and praying a lot before braving a trip out there to gather tomatoes if I do this because of sneaky snakes. After all this time, they still give me the creeps.


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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I don't know about this combination. You theory works above ground, but you have to remember that an important part of the plants live underground too.

I am afraid the tomatoes will shade the watermelons too much, and I concerned the very vigorous and aggressive root systems of the watermelon will compete a little too much with the tomato plants' roots. It could be a lose-lose combination in terms of both of them being less productive because they are fighting for the same root space, nutrients and water.....and you can't just plant them together and overfeed/overwater to compensate for that, because overfeeding/overwatering causes hollowheart or white heart in melons and causes excessive tomato cracking and a lack of flavor.

I usually plant my watermelons adjacent to one of my corn beds, and have squash and nasturtiums close to them (the squash and nasties are on the edge of the corn bed and the melons are next to them) as companion plants. Sometimes I plant a row of Okra on the eastern edge of the bed, and then have watermelons west of the okra. They aren't interplanted, but eventually the watermelon creeps and crawls into the okra's space, but the okra doesn't seem to care. That is a combination that works well since the melons are west of the okra they still get all the afternoon sun they want and need.

The types of companion plantings that are most successful are those that have plants whose roots don't grow to the same depth and compete for the same nutrition. For example, a leafy crop like lettuce is great interplanted with a root crop like carrots.

The standard companion plants for tomatoes include basil, borage, carrots, chives, onions, parsley, marigold and garlic. (This year my tomato plants are, in fact, interplanted with marigolds, borage, chives, parsley, onions, basil and chamomile.)

The standard companion plants for watermelons are squash and pumpkins, nasturtiums, radishes, and corn.


    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 4:07PM
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I'm sooo glad you mentioned the root factors involved, because I almost had myself talked into the idea! One of those ideas that "sounded good on paper". So,.. back to the drawing board. Thankfully since I haven't planted anything in that area yet, there's still time to re-think a more workable game plan.

I'm not going to have that area ready to plant for another few days. It's just now dried out enough for me to start tilling, which I've been doing for the last two days, and my shoulder's are feeling my pain, lol!

I have some tomatoes already started, up and blooming in a dryer, kinder, more gentle area, that I bought at the nursery. But I have quite a few varieties of Livingston's that I planted in peat pots that will be coming up soon. I wanted a LOT of tomatoes, summer and fall this year!

And oh, I want to order some of the Indian Stripe seeds you mentioned, (if I can find them), and I am so glad you did. That and the Blacktail Mountain watermelons, which are on my list as well, which I am dying to try! Can't make up my mind which muskmelons yet. They all sound pretty good, but I am going to TRY and limit myself to just one or two varieties. I've never had much luck with Honeydews. I don't know why, but I may have another go at it anyway this year.

It's aggravating that a person can't get all the varieties at one online store, but ya have to go to two or three to get what you want, and sometimes if you don't order early, they're sold out of the most popular items and you can't get them at all.

Anyway, back to the garden problems...I am usually careful to plant taller plants like Okra and tomatoes toward the back of my garden so they don't shade the smaller, or lower growing plants.

I have good, loose black soil here, but my large planting area is sort of like a saucer or bowl, in that it holds and retains water during the spring deluges, and takes forever to dry out enough to plant. You couldn't find an earthworm anywhere! They have all moved to higher ground. So, I can never plan on planting spring stuff in that area,...too wet... so these have to go into my 2 raised beds, which is plenty for just me. That is, with the exception of potatos, which I am now planting in bins.

So, my summer and fall crops will go into the main garden plot, and then I'll have to contend with having to fight to keep enough water in the plants to keep them from getting dehydrated.
My biggest bug-a-boo is that on either side of my property there are HUGE, TALL trees bordering on the neighbors side of the fence. Talking about roots,... as you know, tree roots will grow as wide, laterally, as they are tall, so that means that in the hottest part of the summer, these giants are sapping my garden out of both precious water, AND nutrients from both sides. It's a never ending battle.
That's why I was trying to come up with a good mulching program. I suppose I will have to go into a more aggressive mulching effort, and of course, soaker hoses. I also need to do some work on my well to make my watering program more efficient.

I sure appreciate the advice. You probably kept me from making a big boo boo which I would have regretted later. Between the tomatoe, and watermelon roots......and the humongus tree roots, it would have been overkill.


    Bookmark   May 28, 2009 at 12:14AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I grow Livingston tomatoes for fall tomatoes, so I am about to start those seeds this weekend or next week.

My source for Indian Stripe is Victory Seeds. I gave away or used all my IS seed this spring, or I'd send you some. Baker Creek and Tomato Growers Supply Company probably have it, and I imagine Tomatofest does too.

In Fort Worth, I had very tall and mature trees in the neighbors yards on both sides of us and it did make veggie garden incredibly challenging.

With your slow-draining soil, it sounds like raised beds would be ideal for you. If you don't want to build permanent raise beds, just heap up your dirt into hills or mounds to get the plants slightly above grade level.

After the 12" of rain fell here in one day, I knew I would not be able to plant any more plants and I was far from finished at that point, even in raised beds, for quite some time. So, we went to Home Depot and bought that round cardboard tube stuff (I don't remember the name of it) in the concrete area that you use to pour round concrete pillars. The ones we bought were 12" wide and 48" tall.

My husband cut them into 6" tall lengths, I placed them right on top of the soggy soil in the raised beds, filled them with potting soil, planted tomato, cukes and muskmelons in them, mulched them and they all are doing great. Their raised bed is beginning to dry out, but then repeated rain is making that hard. So, if I had waited for these beds to dry, I still wouldn't have these plants in the ground. Since the cardboard tubes are open on the bottom, the plant roots can grow right down into the soil in the regular raised bed, which hopefully will be dry enough by then. I've never grown veggies in raised mounds on top of raised beds before, but in this extra-rainy year, I had to be creative to get the planting finished.

I love companion planting and interplanting and do a lot of both, but I am careful to mix plants together that have different root types. Somewhere on the web, there has to be a list of plants that are shallow rooted, medium rooted, and deep rooted. I'll see if I can find one and link it, because you don't want for me to rely on my memory to type up a list like that. My memory definitely is not what it used to be.


P.S. I found a great root depth chart and linked it below. As a bonus, it also has a list of plant height which might be helpful for newer gardeners interested in intercropping and companion planting.

And, for anyone interesting in intercropping and companion planting, Oklahoman Louise Riotte wrote two great books on the subject: "Carrots Love Tomatoes" and "Roses Love Garlic". I still see them in book stores or they are undoubtedly available at and other online booksellers.

Here is a link that might be useful: Root Depth Chart

    Bookmark   May 28, 2009 at 9:33AM
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Actually, since my main garden area is kind of on a slope which causes all the spring rains to gush through it in torrents, it does stay too wet for tilling until the rains let up. But once the rains stop and the heat kicks in, the soil drains almost too well, ...if that's possible.

Anyways, while I'm waiting for my Livingston tomatoes to germinate, I have been tilling and retilling, not deep, just enough to scurf up any existing weeds. Once that's done and I'm laying out my rows, I will deep till, and I always love to see the soil turn to fluff! My dad taught me that tilling wet soil would make clods, and he was so right about that. And then they are SO hard to deal with. Even if I make a few clods when first light tilling, but the time I make those final passes, as the soil dries out, days, or even a week or so apart, it becomes very workable.

With my son's help, (thank God), I am making some new trellis rows to accomadate the bunches of tomatoe plants I will be planting. These will be more or less permanent. They consist of long T-stakes, and small chicken wire refinforced at the top and bottom with heavier wire laced thru. I made some of these about 4 or 5 years ago, and they are still good enough to use again this year.

For the tomatoes which always grow quite tall, for each plant, I will sink a 8 ft.long metal pole for extra support. Someone gave me a bunch of these from a dog kennel they tore down, and they're ideal for this purpose.

While I'm waiting for my tomatoe's to be planted, I am going to dig deep holes for each plant and place a lot of mostly decomposed compost I've been saving in them, and let it do it's magic.

I did manage to get ordered some of the tomatoe seeds you recommended from Baker Creek: the Black Cherry ,(sounds delish!), and True Black Brandywine.
Since they were sold out of Indian Stripes, I took a chance on Japanese Black Trifele, which is said to actually be a Russian variety.
And oh yes, since they had Blacktail Mountain watermelon seeds, I got some of those.

The Indian Stripes I ordered from Victory Seeds, along with some more Red Russian Kale, (my little starts from last year are going to seed).
And for whoever is interested, they have Perfection Cabbage which is a savoy type. I love it!
And Salsify, Mammoth Sandwich Island which I am going to plant in a raised bed all by itself......later this summer!

So Dawn, thanks for the great tips! With your and the other posters advice, this is looking like it's going to be a great summer for growing veggies, good LORD willing and the creek don't rise!

    Bookmark   May 30, 2009 at 6:36PM
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