Growing watermelons takes skill and patience and may not be the best
crop for the novice gardener. Originating in Africa, watermelons need a
Consequently, warmer more southern regions offer the best climate for this crop.
Although it is a warm season crop, watermelons
do not thrive in extreme heat, high humidity, or soggy soils. Also, they
are vulnerable to many types of insects and plant diseases.
How To Grow Watermelons
About Watermelon Plants
This delicious fruit grows on vines on the ground and may be seeded or seedless. Seedless melons
are more difficult to grow. A hybrid with sterile pollen, these
plants must be interplanted with seeded melons for pollination to occur.
Although white immature seeds do grow in the fruit, they are so soft
that you can
easily eat them.
Both male and female flowers grow on the same watermelon vine with the
female flowers being much larger and subsequently developing into
fruit. If your watermelon vine doesn't produce flowers, your plant has a
Growing watermelons may be started from directly seeding the ground or
from transplants purchased from a nursery. If you live in the northern
part of the
country and have a short growing season, it is best to buy the
transplants or start the seeds yourself in peat pots in a controlled
How to Plant Watermelon
Pick an area of well-drained soil that gets plenty of sunlight
for growing watermelons. Do not plant watermelon if any chance of frost
exists. Sandy soil
is best but almost any type of soil can be used to grow melons. Till the
soil to at least 12 inches and add manure or a high nitrogen
should be buried three or four inches under the plants for best
If you are growing watermelons from seeds, start them in peat pots three
weeks before you intend to transplant them. Plant two or three seeds
and keep the temperature between 80 and 85 degrees F. They will germinate
in about a week.
Since many of the watermelons on the market are hybrids, don't
use seeds from a melon you purchased. Buy open-pollinated heirloom seeds and you then use seeds from your own melons for your future crops.
You have a fairly narrow window for transplanting. Large seedlings don't
transplant well so if you start your seeds too early they may be ready
transplanting before the weather is right.
Form mounds or ridges for your seeds or transplants to ensure good
drainage. Growing watermelons require a great deal of space so leave at
least six or
seven feet between rows and six feet between mounds. Plant the seeds one
inch deep in three groups of three or four seeds. Thin down to the best
in each mound by cutting away the weaklings. Do not pull them up because this could damage the roots of the remaining plants.
Heavily water the plants and
then put down a black plastic mulch to trap moisture, increase the
temperature of the ground around the melons, and prevent weed growth.
Growing Watermelon Plants
Growing watermelons requires about three months of warm weather with six
hours of sunshine per day. The daily high temperature should be well
degrees. These plants have a moderately deep root system so water infrequently but deeply.
When the vines start to spread, adding additional organic
fertilizer will give the plant's growth a boost. As the plants mature,
reduce the nitrogen and add potassium to the soil. If weeds develop, hoe
around the plants being careful not to damage the roots.
Flowers should develop on the vines of your melons. The first flowers
will be the male pollen bearing variety. The larger female flowers
will develop later and will need to be pollinated to form fruits.
Honeybees can perform that task nicely, but if the flowers wither and
die then they
are not being pollinated.
However, you can easily manually pollinate them. Preferably in the mornings while it is still cool outside, pull off a few male
flowers and pluck away the petals. Brush the remaining stamen against the center of the female flower.
You should only harvest watermelons when they are ripe. Unlike
some other vegetables and fruits, melons won't continue to ripen once
picked. To determine
if a melon is ready to be harvested look for a heavy melon with a waxy
appearance. The underside should be cream colored or a pale yellow. If
it is green
or white on the bottom, the melon is still immature.
Pests and Problems with Growing Watermelons
Growing watermelons can be affected by several problems. Some of the most common issues include:
- Aphids - These insects reside on the bottoms of the leaves and will cause them to curl and wilt.
- Squash bugs - These bugs will also affect the leaves and cause the plant to wilt from the leaf on down to the vine.
- Powdery mildew - Usually developing at the
end of the growing cycle, this disease forms white spots on the leaves.
It will spread without moisture but dusting with sulfur will halt its
- Mosaic virus - This is an aphid born virus
that affects the leaves as well as the fruit. Dark spots form on the
leaves leading to stunted growth of the plant.
- Cucumber beetles - These insects burrow into the ground and feed on the roots. Insecticides can control them.
One of the best ways to protect you crop is to keep the soil healthy and plant rotating crops.
The Best Watermelon Varieties...
When growing watermelons, you have over 1,200 varieties from which to
choose. Traditional seeded melons are easier to grow than the hybrids,
hybrids taste sweeter. Some of the popular types are:
- Golden Crown - This melon matures in 75 days and has a red flesh and a green skin that yellows when it is ripe.
- Yellow Baby - With a yellow flesh, this melon is smaller in size but matures in 70 days.
- Parker - This is a hybrid melon with red flesh that grows to a mature weight of 25 lbs. It growing cycle is 80-85 days.
- Sangria - This is another hybrid red fleshed melon that ripens in 85 days. It can grow to more than 25 pounds.
- Honey Heart - This is a seedless melon that takes 85 days to mature. This melon grows to a weight of 10 pounds and has yellow flesh.
- Crimson Sweet - This melon takes approximately 88 days to
ripen and is a light green with darker stripes. It is disease resistant
and very sweet.
- Sunny's Pride - This is another melon that takes 85 days to ripen. With red flesh that is high in sugar, this melon will attain 20-22 pounds.
Different varieties of watermelons may have round or oblong shapes and come with different colors of flesh.
The proper soil, sunlight, and water are key to growing watermelons.
Timing your crop to prevent the melon's exposure to cold weather will
ensure a good yield of tasty melons.
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