How to Grow Watermelons, Part II
In part I, we discussed different watermelon varieties, optimal climate conditions, the origin of watermelons and how to start your watermelons properly. Here are more tips on how to grow watermelons properly and how to harvest them.
Growing Watermelons on a Trellis
Growing watermelons on a trellis is a perfect solution for small gardens. It’s not even so difficult to achieve – all you need to do is to train your watermelons to climb. Watch until you observe the vines beginning to run. They should be about two feet apart. This is when you should send them up a trellis. Make sure that the trellis is sturdy enough so it can provide adequate support. It’s important to tie the runners to the trellis, because watermelons are not natural climbers.
When the plant sets the fruit you should support them with slings. You can make the slings with cheesecloth, old T-shirts, nylon stockings and other similar materials. You can build slings that will completely cover the fruit to protect them from insects. Using a trellis comes in handy here, because it provides excellent air circulation and prevents diseases.
Trellising is a great way to grow your watermelons, even though it requires more work than simply letting the vines grow around the ground. However, it’s an effort that will pay off. It’s particularly great for those who have small gardens. One word of warning: flowers on trellised plants are prone to drop in a stiff wind even before the fruit sets. Even with these problems, using trellises to grow watermelons offers numerous advantages.
Watering and Fertilizing
Watermelons depend a lot on proper watering, so this is something you should never ignore. They need steady watering throughout the whole season. You should water them at least once per week. There are many problems that may arise as a result of poor watering, such as blossom-end rot, caused by calcium deficiency during fruit development. In order to prevent this, you need to keep the soil moist so the plants can take calcium from it whenever they need it.
Another thing to keep in mind is fertilizer. Watermelons require a lot of food and they can receive a good boost from quality food. Fertilizer may be needed if your soil is not rich. It’s best to apply about 3 lb of 10-10-10 fertilizer (or its organic equivalent) per 100 square feet. It’s best to apply this fertilizer even before planting. It’s also advisable to add a bit of food when you see vines beginning to run more after the first fruit is harvested. This will all give your watermelons a much-needed boost.
Potential Diseases and Pests
You should monitor your watermelons to notice any signs of pests and diseases and act as quickly as possible if you notice some negative changes. The best defense against these problems (such as stem blight) is to plant disease-resistant varieties. Other measures you can take is to space plants properly, to allow good air circulation. You should also think about rotating crops.
Some of the most common problems observed on growing watermelons is a yellow patch on the top. However, this isn’t a disease – it’s a sunburn. In case you notice it, you can easily remedy it by covering the fruit with a basket or a cloth.
The most common pests you may encounter while growing watermelons are cucumber beetles. They can do the most damage early in the season, when the plants are still young and not strong enough to resist them.
When to Harvest
It’s important to know when it’s the best time to harvest your watermelons. You need to be able to tell when they are ready. The plants provide clues for that. There are several spots you should check when determining if a watermelon is ready to be harvested or not:
- The curly tendril. Inspect the curly tendril near the place where the watermelon is attached to the stem. If it’s brown or dead, the fruit is ready.
- The belly. Carefully, turn the watermelon on the side and look at its belly. What is the underside like? If a watermelon is ready, it should be creamy-white (seeded varieties) or golden-yellow (seedless varieties).
- Thump. This is one of the most common tests. A ripe watermelon will deliver a deep, low-pitched sound. It takes a bit of experience to get it right, but with a bit of practice you will be able to do this test without a problem.
- Color. Ripe watermelons have a dull color compared to the shiny, bright green color of the growing watermelons. This is another method that takes a bit of practice, but you will be able to master it after a while.
Beginner gardeners are advised to use the first two methods when determining the ripeness. You should also start practicing the other methods, so you’ll get better at telling when a watermelon is ripe and ready for harvest.
Here are a few additional tips for those who wish to grow watermelons:
- To get the best results, form planting mounds about 3 inches tall and 12-18 inches wide. This will improve drainage.
- It’s best to grow watermelons in well-drained soil. The soil should have a pH of 6.0 to 6.8.
- You can improve the growth by controlling weeds. It will also help to aerate roots.