Issue: May 11, 2001

Vertical garden space


I live in a townhouse and have a very small patio, but I want to grow watermelons. The last time I tried to grow them, they spread all over the patio so that I couldn't use it. Are there some melons that won't take over? Albuquerque, NM


There are some melons advertised to have "compact vines." I don't know if they will be compact enough to solve your problem. However, if you combine them with the concept of using "vertical garden space" you should be able to grow melons if the location provides enough light.

Plant the melons along a strong trellis or wire fence and encourage the melons to climb this supporting structure. This will keep them from sprawling across the patio.

Then the next concern, the weight of the melons, must be addressed. You will need to support the melons on the trellis to keep them from breaking and falling from the vine under their own weight. To do this, form a sling from old t-shirt or old panty hose material. Tie the ends of the sling to the trellis and support the melon in the sling. Be certain that the sling surrounds the melon enough to prevent it from falling out when the wind blows (plan on strong winds).

If you choose one of the varieties of smaller "icebox" melons, you should have no problem growing your own tasty melons. This will also work for cantaloupe and small pumpkins. You will also benefit from some additional shade on the patio-just don't sit under a suspended melon. If the sling fails, that could be a dangerous location.

Top of Page

Planting a tree close to the house


How close to a house may I plant a tree? I want to cool the house with the shade, but I don't want the roots to damage my foundation. Socorro, NM


In our arid climate, the roots are unlikely to grow under a foundation. That is because roots cannot grow where there is no water. Unless you have a plumbing problem, over-irrigate your landscape, or live on a slope that drains water to the base of your house, there should be no water under your house to encourage root growth. In many cases, there is a fairly deep footer (concrete wall underground) that also discourages root growth under the house. Roots may grow up to and along the footer but should not grow under.

A more important consideration is keeping the branches from rubbing against the house and damaging the stucco, siding, or paint and shingles. By planting the plant a distance greater than the expected mature crown radius from the house, you will avoid damage to the house by branches. You will still benefit from shade if the tree is properly positioned.

Many trees are planted so that their branches are trimmed to be higher than the roof and then grow over the roof. Remember, if one of these large branches breaks in a wind storm, it can damage the roof, so distance from the house is the best protection from such damage. Learn how widely the branches spread from the trunk when the tree is mature and plant at least that distance from the house. Yes, you can break this rule-of-thumb, but the hazards increase when you do.

Top of Page

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!