What could be more satisfying than having a chunky and juicy slice of watermelon in the summer? A barbecue or a picnic is not complete without a platter of watermelons to clear out the smoky and greasy taste of barbecue in your mouth. But if you are someone who reaches out to supermarkets for watermelons, then you are missing out on the best flavor. Grow your own, let them ripen in the sun, and you can experience a whole new taste straight from your garden. Growing watermelons is not such an arduous task that you might imagine it to be. With a little bit of gardening and commitment, you could be producing the juiciest fruits in your backyard. All you need is well-drained soil, sun, seeds, and water, and you are on the path to raising delicious watermelons. Follow the tips below to end up with the sweetest yield and also popular with your neighbors.
When to Plant Watermelons?
In northern climates, the growing season may not be long enough to produce good-quality seeds. Start planting watermelon seeds indoor a couple of weeks before the last frost. Plant the seeds in a potting mix rather than soil. Keep the seedlings warm and moist until the temperature outdoors is above 50-degrees Fahrenheit. Also, be careful not to disturb the watermelon roots by starting early.
Watermelons can be sown directly into the ground where the temperature is over 65-degrees Fahrenheit. Plant the seeds ½-1 inch deep in groups of two to three seeds and about 18-24 inches apart. Once established, remove two and leave the rest in each group. Make sure the soil is well-drained, sandy, and with a pH level of 6-6.5. Test soil fertility before adding compost or fertilizer. Water watermelons constantly when young. They need 1-2 inches of water every week, so the soil stays moist but not wet.
Avoid weeding and using any fertilizer as these may kill the flowers. Lay a 1-2 inch layer of organic mulch when watermelon vines become 6-8 inches long. Get rid of weeds frequently, and as the watermelon vines blossom, they will attract bees and butterflies for pollination. Thus, avoid spraying to deter insects since it will deter the bees and butterflies as well.
Varieties of Watermelon to Grow
Seedless, picnic, icebox, and yellow/orange-fleshed are the four basic types of watermelons.
1. Seedless Watermelons
Seedless varieties are for those who don’t enjoy the fun of spitting. It is a little tricky to grow since it involves more than simply planting a seed and waiting for it to sprout. Some common varieties are:
- Queen of Hearts
- King of Hearts
- Jack of Hearts
2. Picnic Watermelons
Larger and perfect for picnic gatherings, they have a green rind and sweet flesh. Some varieties include:
- Black Diamond
- Crimson Sweet
- Charleston Gray
3. Icebox Watermelons
These smaller varieties are sufficient only as single servings; they are much smaller than their counterparts. Some common types are:
- Sugar Babies
- Tiger Babies
4. Yellow/Orange Watermelons
These varieties can be seedless or seeded and are round and fleshy.
Seeded varieties include:
- Desert King
- Yellow Baby
- Yellow Doll
Seedless varieties include:
How to Plant Watermelons?
Watermelons need adequate space, full sunlight, and soil that is nutrient-rich so that they can grow successfully and you can make the best of the yield.
1. Choose a Site
The plant needs loamy soil with a pH of 6-6.8. The location must have plenty of sunlight and adequate room for the plant to grow. Watermelon vines grow upto 18-20 feet tall, so plant the seeds in hills at four feet intervals. Leave six feet in rows if you intend to cultivate a whole patch.
2. Preparing the Site
A few weeks before planting the seeds, work the soil with some organic matter like aged manure or compost to prepare watermelon seeds for planting. Watermelons depend heavily on nutrient-rich soil like cantaloupe. Assess your soil for deficiencies and acidic content so that you can use organic solutions to mend the soil with fertilizers and nutrient meals. Nitrogen-based fertilizer is the best for watermelon plants at the start, and you can switch to phosphorous and potassium fertilizers once you find flowers appearing.
3. Plant Seeds Indoors First
Plant watermelon seeds indoors about six weeks before the growing season. Plant the seeds in pots and place them by the windowsill with sunlight. How often to water watermelon is an oft-asked question. Keep the soil moist and do not overwater at the initial stages. Peat pots absorb water and keep the soil humid for newly planted seeds.
4. Sowing the Seeds in the Garden
If you are sowing the seeds directly, you need to place 4-6 seeds in a hole of one inch at the top of the hill/mound. Once the seeds sprout, you can trim them to the strongest two or three seedlings. Plant the watermelon seedlings outdoors when the temperature of the soil is 70-degrees Fahrenheit. Arrange the plants in raised hills/mounds in a row to benefit from direct heat and also have good drainage. For planting seedlings, dig holes that are wider and deeper than their respective peat pots. Place the entire seedling with the pot in the hole and fill them with the soil. Tap it down gently and round the surface. Handle watermelon vines carefully when transplanting as they are delicate.
How to Care for Watermelons?
There are a few ways to ensure the desired growth of watermelons:
The key to the growth of watermelon is that you water your plants sufficiently. In an arid climate, when the seeds germinate, you can water the soil every day. Water regularly once the plants are established. These plants need 1-2 inches of water every week. As the fruits ripen, it is essential to water to prevent fruits from cracking. Within a week of maturing, your plants may need less water as they will retain it to give the juiciest of fruits.
Pour mulch around the plants so that all the careful watering you do does not go to waste. This method will prevent the soil from drying out and keep the weeds down. Carefully remove weeds if they pop but make sure not to disturb the roots. Mulch also prevents the roots from rotting.
Watermelons are plants that like warm temperatures. So, once the seedlings germinate, the temperature must be about 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and about 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
4. Leave Some Room
Leave plenty of room for the long vines to creep and leave at least 1-2 inches per week.
How to Harvest Watermelons?
How long does it take for watermelon to grow? How many watermelons per plant can you expect to get from a patch?
- Watermelons are ready to be harvested about 65-90 days from when they have been sowed (depending on their variety).
- The vine tendrils will start to turn brown and die when they are ready for harvest. If the tendrils are green, they are still not ripe.
- When you thump a ripe watermelon, it will make a dull, hollow sound.
- The soil around the plant will turn from white to pale yellow when it is ready for harvest.
- The end of the stem will let a sweet aroma when the melon is ripe.
- Restrict watering a week before it is ready for harvest.
- Watermelons on a single plant will be ready to harvest within a 1-2 week period.
- Cut the watermelon away from the vine with a sharp knife or garden pruner, and they will discontinue ripening once cut off.
How to Store Watermelons?
Once cut, you can store the watermelons to savor them for a longer time. For storing:
- Watermelons can be kept in the refrigerator for a week if it is not cut or sliced (although it may affect sweetness or flavor).
- You can leave cut watermelons in the refrigerator for up to four days. However, wrap the cut surface in plastic to prevent the water content from being sucked away.
- A large watermelon will take about 12 hours to chill.
- You can store watermelons in a cool and moderately mist place for about 2-3 weeks.
- Freeze the flesh and pickle the rind for variety in taste.
How to Tell When Watermelon is Ripe?
How long does watermelon take to grow and ripen? The following advice will help you:
- It is ripe if it makes a hollow sound when knocked.
- The color on the top is an indicator when minimal contrast between the stripes is visible.
- The color at the bottom will be white if unripe, while the ripe ones will have a cream or yellow-colored base.
- Green tendrils signify that it is not ripe, while half-dead tendrils imply close to ripe. But if the tendrils are entirely dead, they are fully ripe or even overripe.
- Cut stems closer to the fruit with a sharp knife.
Common Watermelon Pests and Diseases
Once you have planted and are waiting for the harvest, you may need to keep a close watch on the pests and diseases. If you have a large patch, fencing can help to keep away herbivores, like deer.
- Insects are common, and it helps if you know which insects have infested the plant.
- Melon aphids and spider mites can affect the leaves and tips. Use a strong jet of water from the hose to get rid of them.
- The striped cucumber beetle is also a commonly found insect. Splashing water can spread diseases, so drip-irrigate or water at the base. Also, use good quality seeds to get good plants.
Watermelons are one of the most loved fruits in the summer. It is easy to buy those store-bought ones- ripe ones, cut and sliced ones, or even those that come in the pack of assorted fruits. But the joy of enjoying the ones you grow is beyond compare. Whether your like early season, seedless varieties, or main season melons, growing your watermelons is straightforward. Keep the plants happy with the right amount of water, ensure it gets adequate sunlight, protect it from diseases and pests, and provide the necessary nutrients. Follow the above tips to get the best yield and enjoy the most delicious watermelon as a testimony to your efforts.