How to Grow Watermelon
Watermelon is a favorite summer treat. Mouth watering and thirst quenching,
watermelons are perfect for hot summer days, parties, picnics, and much more.
Don't forget to have a pit spitting contest when you serve
watermelon....outdoors, please. Laugh if you will, "Pit Spitting" is a serious
business, errr game. "Watermelon Pit Spitting" contests, with prizes, are
common at summer community picnics and festivals.
The large, oval watermelons that first comes to mind, require a lot of space,
and a long growing season. That's why most home gardeners don't allot precious
garden space for them. The much smaller, but equally sweet baby or "bush"
variety that requires about 1/3 of the space, is popular in home gardens.
Did you know? Growing Watermelons is serious business. Watermelon
competitions or "weigh-offs" are a common event at fall festivals. Many pumpkin
weigh-offs include a giant watermelon category, complete with prizes for
the largest melon. Just how big can a watermelon grow? Giant Watermelons
can grow over 200 pounds!
There is also a day set aside in honor of the watermelon... August 18th is
Watermelon Day. It's just about perfect timing for this very special
day, as your garden melons should be ripening.
Varieties of Watermelon:
Standard watermelons are usually 20 to 30 pounds or more, and are oblong
Baby or bush varieties are round and much smaller. They weigh anywhere from
a couple pounds to ten pounds.
Popular Varieties: Some of the most popular varieties include:
Black Diamond - Almost black, bruise resistant rind with sweet and
juicy flesh. Fruit weighs 35-40 pounds.
Bush Sugar Baby - The home gardener's favorite. Space saving
bush grows just 3 1/2 feet long. The round fruit grows about 12 pounds, and
fits in your refrigerator.
Congo - Gigantic fruit grows 40 pounds or more. Luscious red flesh
with high sugar content. Oblong, medium-green melon with dark green stripes.
Crimson Sweet - Exceptionally sweet, deep red flesh, and distinctive,
dark green, striped rind. Round fruit grows up to 25 pounds.
Moon & Stars - A very sweet heirloom watermelon with red flesh,
growing 30 to 40 pounds.
Sowing Watermelon Seeds:
If you have a short growing season or want to get a head start, plant watermelon
seeds indoors in individual containers or pots. We recommend using peat pots
or peat pellets, which can be planted directly in the garden with minimal
transplant shock. Plant one to two seeds per pot.
Sow watermelon seeds in hills or rows. For regular watermelons, sow three
to four seeds per hill, spacing the hills eight to ten feet apart. Space
the rows ten feet apart or more, if you have room. Thin watermelon seedlings
in each hill, to two seedlings one week after they have germinated. When
planting in rows, space the seeds four to six inches apart and thin seedlings
to ten to twelve inches apart. For bush varieties, final spacing can be cut
in half or even more if you are tight for space.
Important: Make sure you know how many days you need to reach maturity
for the variety you buy. Give a little more time than the seed packet suggests
to reach harvest, before that first killing frost.
Days to Maturity:
80 to 90 days for baby bush varieties, and 90 to 100 days or more for the
How to Grow Watermelon:
Watermelon plants need full sun to grow healthy vines and big fruit. Plant
after the last frost date for your area. Watermelons are heavy feeders. Add
generous amounts of manure, compost and leaves to your garden. Work the soil
well. Make sure it drains well.
Ideal soil pH: 5.5 - 6.5
More on soil pH
Fertilize regularly. Use a high nitrogen fertilizer until flowers form. Then,
switch over to a high phosphorous and potassium fertilizer. We also recommend
the use of liquid fertilizers and foliar feeding.
Watermelon plants like lots of water. There is no surprise here. Make sure
to add water during dry spells. Keep the soil moist at all times.
Weeding is also important especially early in the season. Weeds will compete
for moisture and nutrients.
Tip: For extra big watermelons, cover the vines with garden soil.
This will promote secondary root growth where leaf stems meet the vine. It
can add many pounds to the fruit.
So, how do you know when a watermelon is ripe? Most people tap on the fruit,
and listen for a dull thump. If you grow many of them, this is an art form.
Other signs include:
Insects and Pests:
Watermelon is susceptible to a variety of pests. Cucumber beetles are perhaps
the watermelon's pumpkin enemy #1. Cucumber beetles will rob the plant of
nutrients, eat pollen, and spread plant disease. A variety of other pests
will also enjoy the watermelon plants in your home garden. Use of insecticides
early is important, especially against the dreaded cucumber beetle.
Diseases of Watermelon:
A wide variety of viruses and funguses can affect your crop. Of particular
note is powdery and downy mildews. Maintaining a healthy plant is the first
step in disease control. This includes weeding, pruning and proper spacing
to allow good air circulation, especially in wet and humid weather. Fungicides
can be effective, if used early.
Plant Problems - Diagnosis,
causes and cures for many common plant problems.
Watermelons are a tender annual. Spring and fall frosts will kill the plant.
They thrive in hot weather. Their growth will slow to a crawl during cold
nights. Provide plenty of protection for your tender seedlings. Use hotcaps
or coldframes on cool nights or when frost is a possibility.
A fall frost will not damage the fruit and it can still be harvested.