Watermelon, the amazingly popular summer fruit, is a refreshing and delicious addition to your garden. Its huge size and unique pattern make it easily recognizable, but things get even better once you slice it open and enjoy its rich taste.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the entire process of growing watermelon, from planting the seeds to harvesting these juicy, sweet treasures.
Watermelon is scientifically known as Citrullus lanatus. It belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family, making it a close relative of cucumbers and pumpkins. It’s lumped in with melons, but it’s not from the Cucumis family, where the strict melons like cantaloupe and muskmelon are classified.
The name “watermelon” arises from the high water content (approximately 90%) found in its ripe fruit, making it an ideal hydrating treat, especially during hot summer days.
Selecting the Right Watermelon Variety
Before you begin growing watermelons, it’s essential to choose the right variety for your garden. Popular choices include ‘Sugar Baby’ for smaller fruits, ‘Crimson Sweet’ for classic, round melons, and ‘Yellow Doll’ for a unique yellow flesh variety.
Consider factors like size, flavor, and seedless versus seeded when selecting your watermelon variety.
Preparing the Soil
Watermelons thrive in well-drained, nutrient-rich soil. Start by ensuring your garden soil is free from rocks and debris.
A pH level between 6.0 and 6.8 is ideal for watermelons. You can test your soil’s pH with a kit from your local garden store and adjust it using lime or sulfur if necessary.
Compost and well-rotted manure are always great for improving soil fertility and developing better soil structure.
Buy Watermelon Seeds
Planting Watermelon Seeds
Watermelons can be grown from seeds, and they’re relatively straightforward to cultivate. Sow watermelon seeds directly into your garden once the soil has warmed to at least 70°F (21°C).
Create hills or mounds spaced about 4-6 feet apart. Plant 4-6 seeds per hill. Thin them to the two strongest seedlings once they have sprouted and grown their first true leaves.
You can also start watermelon seeds indoors 2-4 weeks before transplanting them into the garden.
Sunlight and Location
Watermelons thrive in full sun, requiring at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day. Choose a garden spot that receives ample sunlight for healthy vine growth and the development of sweet, juicy fruit.
Watering and Fertilizing
Proper watering and fertilization are key to growing robust watermelon plants.
Watermelons need consistent moisture to thrive. Keep the soil consistently moist but don’t overdo it.
Mulch around the plants to help retain moisture and suppress weeds. It’s essential to water at the base of the plant to avoid wetting the leaves, which can contribute to disease. A soaker hose can make this easier.
Watermelon plants are heavy feeders and benefit from regular fertilization. Before planting, work a balanced, slow-release fertilizer into the soil. As the vines grow and produce fruit, side-dress them with additional fertilizer, following package instructions to prevent overfeeding.
While nitrogen-rich fertilizer is best to help watermelon vines start. Later on, they need more phosphorus to help the flowers and fruit develop.
Care and Maintenance
Maintaining healthy watermelon plants requires some attention and care. We’ll look at three specific areas.
Watermelon vines can become long and heavy with fruit. Providing support, such as trellises or slings, can help protect the developing watermelons from damage and prevent them from resting on the ground.
Prune your watermelon vines to encourage healthy growth and better air circulation. Remove any dead or yellowing leaves, as well as any tendrils that aren’t producing fruit. This helps reduce the risk of disease and promotes fruit development.
Pest and Disease Management
Common pests for watermelons include aphids, cucumber beetles, and powdery mildew. Regularly inspect your plants and address any pest or disease issues promptly. You can use organic methods or introduce insects that will help manage pests naturally.
Watermelons take a while to reach maturity. They’re typically ready for harvest 70-90 days after planting, depending on the variety and growing conditions. To determine if your watermelons are ripe, consider these indicators:
- Color: A ripe watermelon should have a dull or matte appearance, not shiny. The spot where it rested on the ground (the “ground spot”) should be a creamy yellow or orange color.
- Sound: When you thump a ripe watermelon, it should produce a deep, hollow sound.
- Texture: The skin should also feel firm but not hard. Press your fingernail into the skin; if it punctures easily, the watermelon is ripe.
- Tendril: Check the tendril closest to the stem where the fruit attaches. If it has turned brown and dried up, the watermelon is likely ripe.
To harvest, use a sharp knife or pruning shears to cut the fruit from the vine, leaving a short stem attached to the watermelon. Be careful not to damage the fruit or the vine.
After harvesting your watermelons, store them in a cool, dry place. Properly stored watermelons can last for several weeks. They are best enjoyed fresh, but you can also use them in a variety of recipes, from fruit salads to refreshing beverages. Some people even grill watermelon!
Growing watermelons can lead you to sweet and refreshing fruits that are a summer staple. With the right preparation and care, you can enjoy the delightful taste and juiciness of this wonderful, healthy treat. So, roll up your sleeves, start planting, nurture your watermelon vines, and get ready to savor the flavors of summer from your very own garden!