A juicy piece of watermelon on a hot summer day is a dream come true. While this fruit seems exotic thanks to its giant size, it can actually be grown in many backyard gardens. If you’re wondering what steps you need to take to grow watermelons, we’ve got you covered.
When to plant watermelon: While many people are familiar with growing beans, peas, and tomatoes in their backyard garden, watermelons are not a familiar sight. However, they can be grown in the right circumstances.
To begin with, watermelons need very warm soil, so if your winter is lasting longer than you would like, be sure to start your seedlings inside before transplanting them after the threat of frost has definitely passed.
To grow to their large size, watermelons need soil full of nutrients that also drains well. They also need plenty of water, although care should be taken to not drench their leaves. After waiting up to 80 days, your watermelons will finally be ready.
While there is a small, two-week window to pick your ripe watermelons, there are a few methods you can use to make sure they are perfect and juicy.
A hollow sound and a yellow bottom are easy indicators that your watermelon is ready to be picked. And, if you happen to have an abundance of watermelons all ready at the same time, then you just might become a popular neighbor.
Planting Watermelons in Different Climates
Watermelons grow best in a tropical climate. Originating from Africa, watermelon is now largely grown in the humid climate of Florida.
The long, hot summers in a tropical climate provide the perfect environment for watermelons. Just watch out for rot that can be caused by too much moisture.
There is a good chance that watermelons can grow in a dry climate. They love hot temperatures and warm soil, so should be ok.
The biggest consideration with a dry climate is that watermelons need plenty of water. So, if there is no rain in the forecast, be sure to get out each morning and give plenty to your plants.
While there may be years when a temperate climate has hot enough summers, it usually isn’t hot enough for watermelon. If you are really keen, then you could try to grow watermelon in a greenhouse in this climate.
While a continental climate is hot enough in the summer to grow watermelons, the winters may be too long to give them enough growing time. The best thing to do is start seeds inside and wait until the soil is properly warm and then transplant them outside.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try, watermelon will not grow in a polar climate.
Choosing Watermelon Seeds
There are a couple of very popular watermelon seeds that will yield excellent results.
One fan favorite is Sugar Baby. Taking 80 days to mature, this variety is about 10 pounds in weight. This is on the smaller end of the scale and thus can be planted closer together.
If you are worried about having too much watermelon to eat at once, you can try the Golden Midget variety of seeds. Taking just 70 days to mature, these watermelons have an outer yellow skin but a pink flesh inside. They are very small, weighing just 3 pounds.
Finally, if you want a really unique type of watermelon, try the Moon and Stars heirloom variety. Instead of characteristic stripes, these melons have tiny yellow spots a few large yellow spots against a dark green skin.
Inside, you’ll find a dark red flesh. Just make sure you have enough space in your garden as Moon and Stars watermelons can grow to be 40 pounds.
How to Plant Watermelon Seeds
Unlike other typical garden plants, such as tomatoes and peas, watermelons need specific growing conditions and a lot of time. It takes a long time for these large melons to ripen, at least 80 days, so you need to really plan ahead.
While watermelons love warm climates, if you have a longer winter, you can still try your hand at this delicious fruit. It’s recommended to start watermelons off as seeds indoors.
Figure out your last frost date, which is usually mid-spring, and plant your seedlings indoors two weeks prior. Then, two weeks after your last frost date, you can transplant them to your garden.
Note that the temperature of your soil should be at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit when you plant. If you’re in the middle of a particularly cool spring, simply wait and let your seedlings grow inside for longer.
Once the temperature is warmer, it’s time to get your soil ready. Choose a patch of your garden that is in full sun. Then, make sure there are plenty of nutrients in your garden.
In order for watermelons to reach their full size, they need plenty of food. Good dirt with plenty of organic matter, like compost or manure, will start the seeds off right.
Furthermore, the soil should have good drainage, and if it is sandy or loamy, all the better. Finally, test your soil for its acidic levels. Watermelons thrive in conditions where the pH level is between 6.0 and 7.0, which is considered slightly acidic.
The best way to plant watermelon seedlings is to use the hill method. Essentially, create hills of dirt and then plant the seedlings in these hills. This will help warm the soil, creating a more welcoming environment for your plants.
Each watermelon seedling should be spaced about 2 to 3 feet apart and the hill should be about 5 feet wide. This is a lot of space but watermelons need plenty of soil nutrients and plenty of space to grow, so don’t overcrowd them.
How to Water Watermelon
In addition to plenty of nutrients, watermelons need a lot of water. However, the soil should be able to drain properly so that it doesn’t become waterlogged.
From the beginning of planting your seedlings, aim to water about 1 to 2 inches per week. While you might be tempted to turn the sprinkler on, too much water can waterlog the leaves, leading to rot.
Instead, water just at the base of the watermelon stems. If you can water in the morning, even better.
How to Grow Watermelon
As we mentioned earlier, watermelons require a fair bit of nutrients. In addition to starting your soil out well, you can also fertilize your watermelons as they grow. Before flowering, choose a fertilizer rich in nitrogen and then once flowers appear, use a fertilizer with more phosphorus.
Similar to other plants, such as pumpkins, watermelons produce both male and female flowers although these appear on the same plant. The first flowers to bloom are male ones, followed by female.
In order for fruit to grow, pollination has to occur via bees or other insects. Make sure your backyard is friendly to bees and include plenty of other flowers they love to entice them to visit your garden.
Once pollination occurs, the female flowers will start to develop the fruit. While you might be excited to have multiple watermelons grow, it’s best to limit each vine to just two melons, so that they get the bulk of the nutrients.
In this case, simply pinch off any extra buds. You can also trim side vines, again to promote growth on the melons that are already there.
Once the watermelons start growing, they may need to be protected. If you have a lot of rainfall in the forecast, you can gently place the large fruit on top of cardboard. This creates a barrier between the soggy dirt and the delicate fruit so that it doesn’t rot.
How long does Watermelon take to grow?
After about 80 days, your watermelons should be ready to eat! Once they are at this crucial stage, pay attention as they only have about a two-week window to be picked.
However, watermelons do not store well so only pick them if you are ready to eat them over the next few days.
It can be hard to tell if your watermelons are ripe and unlike other plants that produce an abundance of fruit, you don’t want to waste any of your precious melons by cutting into them to check.
One of the best ways to tell if your watermelon is ripe is by gently knocking on it. The melon should produce a hollow sound if it is ripe.
Another way to tell if is it ripe is by looking at color. The top stripes shouldn’t have an obvious contrast in color. Furthermore, the bottom should be cream or yellow and not white.
Finally, check the tendril, which is the part of the vine that comes up from the stem and is curled. Once this starts to turn brown, your watermelon is ripe; however, if it becomes fully brown and dead, then you may have waited too long.
Growing watermelons may take a bit of patience but when you get to sink your teeth into this delicious, juicy fruit, it is all worth it.
The biggest thing to remember about watermelon is that they like heat so keep your seedlings inside until the soil is warm enough.