How to Grow Watermelons

Growing Vegetables
Watermelons Growing

Nothing feels so good like eating a juicy watermelon during a summer day. It's even better if your watermelons are homegrown. To be able to enjoy watermelons with your family the next summer, you may wish to learn how to grow them in your garden.

Watermelons are not so difficult to grow these days. The breeding has changed the size of watermelons so you no longer need a wagon to bring them from the field. In fact, you can successfully grow watermelons in your garden using a trellis.

Watermelon - The Origins

The origin of watermelon is not completely clear and there are still discussions on this subject. It was once believed that they originate from Southern Italy. However, this area has no wild watermelon plants, so it's not clear how it can be the place where watermelons originate.

The other possible area that should be considered is Kalahari Desert. This is where explorer David Livingstone found a great oasis of wild watermelons, all the way back in mid 19th century. There are also claims from other regions, though Africa as a continent is the most likely candidate for origin of watermelons.

This is a very popular plant so it's not surprising that it has spread all over the world and gained huge popularity with so many people. Today, there are numerous watermelon varieties and many different ways to consume them.

Watermelon Varieties

The first thing you need to consider are various watermelon varieties you can grow in your garden. There are huge watermelons, such as "Crimson Sweet" - these are round, red-fleshed melons of about 25lb. Another big variety is "Royal Majesty". It also red-fleshed but more oblong. It requires huge, 6 foot by 4 foot garden plots (one for each plant). It's clear these big varieties require a lot of space you might not have in your garden.

Then, there are smaller varieties. Icebox watermelons, such as "Sugar Baby" (round, red-fleshed, with vary dark green skin) or "Yellow Doll" (yellow flesh, light green skin) are suitable for smaller gardens. They require no more than 2 feet by 4 feet spaces per plant. Their fruit size ranges from 5lb to 18lb max. These are varieties you should consider for your garden.

If you have extra-small space for gardening, fear not: there are even smaller varieties of watermelons you can grow. In case your garden is very small, go with bush type watermelons, such as "Garden Baby". This variety is very compact and it required no more than 2 feet by 2 feet spot. You can even grow these watermelons in large containers on your patio or balcony.

Climate Conditions

Watermelons are a warm-climate crop. However, they are relatively tolerant to temperature changes so you can grow them in northern areas. All you need is to pick the right variety.

It's also important to know that most icebox types, such as "Sugar Baby", "Tiger Baby", "Yellow Doll" or "Garden Baby" mature in only 75 to 85 days. It gives you enough time to have a good harvest and catch the best climate conditions. Large varieties take a bit more to mature - 85 to 95 days.

Harvesting will depend on your area. In many places, you can start picking fruits early in July and continue to mid-September. Typically, one plant will give 2-3 fruits. However, it's important never to rush watermelon seeds in the ground when it's cold in hopes of getting fruits early in the year. It's unproductive - the plant will idle anyway until the warm weather.

Starting Watermelons

Transplants are the best methods for growing watermelons. They will produce the fruit about a week sooner than the direct-seeded watermelons. In any case, seeds should be started about 4 weeks before you plan to plant them in the garden.

To start the seeds, it's possible to use many different types of containers. The container doesn't really matter, as long as it has a good drainage. The best ones are those that are about 2 inches across. They will produce well-rooted seedlings you can easily transplant to your garden. These seedlings are typically strong, healthy and will do well once when transplanted.

It's important to remember that watermelon seed germinates at temperatures between 70 and 95 degrees F. It takes about 6 days for seeds to emerge. You can do a lot to harden your seedlings by reducing the frequency of watering. It will also slow the growth. You can move the seedlings to a colder area for about a week. This will all make the seedlings hardy and more tolerant to harsh conditions.

Transplants are ready to be planted in the garden when they are about 4 to 5 inches tall. They will also have two or three true leaves. This is when you should take them to the garden and plant them in the soil. Make sure that the soil is well-drained. Watermelons don't like "wet feet". They are perfect candidates for raised beds.

Starting Seedless Varieties

In case you choose to grow seedless varieties, you will need to provide some special care. Despite the name, seedless watermelons do contain seeds, but their seeds are soft and white. These varieties don't produce their own pollen, so they require a company of a pollenizer. It can be any seeded variety. Therefore, in order to grow seedless varieties you will also need to grow regular varieties as well. It's best to make every third plant in a row of seedless watermelons a seeded variety. Make sure to choose a pollenizer variety with a different surface markings so you'll always be able to tell which is which. This will be very useful during picking time so you can easily identify the seedless watermelons from the regular ones.

Seedless varieties are even more suitable to be started with transplants. Their seed is very expensive and it often has a trouble germinating. The seed coat often adhere to the cotyledons so it has to be removed to prevent hindered growth. This extra care is worth it, though, because seedless varieties have a special taste and they are perfect for young children.

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.

Additional Tips

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.

Photo credit: Amy G

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