Are you thinking about adding some fruit to your vegetable garden this year? Why not go with some big, juicy watermelons?
It’s not as challenging as you think to grow a crop of watermelon, and you’ll have more than you’re family can eat for ages. That means you’ll be the hit of the neighborhood when you start passing out your excess fruit for free.
The watermelon is 92% water, which might explain why a slice of watermelon is such a refreshing treat on a hot day. The sugary sweetness of a piece is a great way to reenergize and rehydrate in the summer heat.
The watermelon is a native species to Africa, where local tribes use it more as a hydration source than food. The thick rind of the fruit lets the people store the watermelon crops for months, and it’s also ideal for transporting.
The watermelon eventually got brought back to Europe and across to the Americas, becoming one of the world’s largest commercial crops. This guide gives you everything you need to know about growing this fruit in your veggie patch at home.
Building a Watermelon Patch
Unless you live in a dry climate like Nevada or Southern California, you’ll need to build small mounds for your watermelon plants. The bumps give the plants some added room to sprawl their vines outward instead of looping around the plant’s main stem.
If you live in an arid area, it’s advisable to do the opposite and make smaller craters into the veggie patch. The hole should measure around two to three feet wide and approximately six inches deep. Move the soil around the rim of the cater to create a border.
This technique helps to keep the ground moist, retaining more of the water from your watering sessions. The higher rim on the crate allows the vines to grow over the top, giving them more space to move around.
Gardeners can build these mounds around four to six feet apart, in rows eight feet apart. It’s important to understand that watermelon vines can grow up to 10-feet in length. Gardeners in humid climates experience the best growth and require larger spacing between plants.
Spacing out the plants also results in less chance of disease infecting your watermelon crop in damp and overcast conditions.
Sowing Your Watermelon
Watermelon does best when sown directly into the garden. However, direct sowing might not be suitable for all varieties and all climates. Some watermelon varieties take up to 100 days to finish fruiting.
The last thing the gardener wants to see is their plant die from a frost right before it starts bearing fruit. Therefore, gardeners should choose varieties that finish producing before the cold weather sets in for the winter.
Watermelon is a warm-season plant, and it won’t survive the winter. The grower will need to use fresh plants the following season for the next crop. Plant the seeds around two weeks after the last frosts fall in your area. The roots need warmth in the ground to ensure rapid growth.
Watermelon seeds germinate when soil temperatures reach 60°F consistently. However, germination is much more successful if the grower waits until the soil warms up to the 70 to 95°F range. The ideal soil temperature for rapid germination is 95°F.
How to Grow Watermelon
To get the largest and juiciest watermelon crop out of your garden, you’ll need to provide your watermelon plants with optimal growing conditions. This part of the post walks you through everything you need to grow your watermelon crop.
Before building your watermelon mounds or craters, you’ll need to select the right growing site for your watermelon plants. The watermelon enjoys growing in full sunlight conditions. The plant requires a minimum of eight to 10 hours of sunlight each day.
If you’re growing in areas where you find yourself putting on a sweater in the late summer, your watermelon might need the assistance of a greenhouse for optimal production. Watermelon plants need a combination of sunlight and heat to produce. Cooler climates require the use of a greenhouse to heat up the air to tolerable levels for your watermelons.
When preparing the beds for your watermelon plants, check for any trees that might shade the growing area as the position of the sun changes in the sky later in the growing season.
The soil is the second consideration for your watermelon plants. Watermelons are fine with growing in loose, sandy, and loamy soils. For the best results with your watermelon crop, take a soil sample to your local garden nursery for testing. They’ll measure the pH and nutrient levels in the sample.
If the test results come back with deficiencies in micronutrients, the nursery can assist you with purchasing the right amendments to improve the nutrition in the soil. The soil should also drain well, avoiding waterlogging, leading to the development of root rot in the plants.
Most gardeners will get the best results by adding amendments like vermiculite, perlite, and compost into the soil. Gardeners also have the option of growing their melons in raised beds. However, they must ensure that the ground remains moist at all times.
Work compost into the garden soil at a 50 to 100 pounds ratio for every 1,00-square feet of soil. We recommend that you keep the soil as loose as possible. If the soil compacts, the sensitive roots of the watermelon plant won’t penetrate, reducing the production of the plant later in the season.
Water is another essential component of growing large, juicy watermelons in your yard. Watermelons enjoy moist soil conditions. However, it’s critical that the gardener doesn’t overwater the plants. As mentioned, waterlogging the soil can damage the roots. However, overwatering the plant may also invite other diseases into the garden to infect the rest of your crop.
To check if it’s time to water your watermelons, stick your finger around an inch into the soil. If the ground feels dry, it’s time to water. If it’s moist, give it another day before watering. After the second month, the plant will firmly establish in the garden, and you can back off your watering schedule.
Some gardeners report that they don’t need to water their plants in areas where they get plenty of rain during the growing season. When the fruits start ripening, it’s critical to pay attention to your watering schedule.
The consistent watering of the plants prevents the watermelons from absorbing too much water, resulting in the rinds splitting. Some watermelon varieties are crack-resistant, like the “Sugar Baby” and the “Mini Love.”
When the watermelons are around a week from harvest, stop watering your plants. This strategy helps the melons to produce more sugars, giving them a sweeter taste at harvest. When watering your plants, it’s important not to get any water on the leaves.
Splashing water on the leaves as you water may result in the onset of disease in the plants.
After the plant reaches around four inches in height, start mulching around the base, approximately three inches from the stem. Repeat the mulching every month as the plant grows.
Mulching helps to retain moisture in the soil. As you water, the mulch breaks down, releasing natural nutrients into the ground. There’s no need for you to add any fertilizer to the plant during the growing season with mulching.
Mulching also helps prevent the emergence of weeds around your plants that compete for the same nutritional resources in the soil. Placing mulch under the fruit on the floor also prevents the melons from rotting as they ripen.
If you’re mulching in warmer climates, use a straw substrate, and use darker-colored mulch for cooler temperatures. The darker mulch draws sunlight and warm to the base of the plants and the roots.
Harvesting Your Watermelon Crop
It’s critical that gardeners wait until the fruit reaches full maturity before harvesting. This fruit doesn’t keep ripening after harvest, like avocadoes and apricots. Watermelons can spoil in a few days after harvest, so gardeners should be vigilant with checking on them as they reach the ripening phase.
Watermelons will suddenly grow in size when they get close to harvesting. At that stage, the gardener will have to check the fruit daily for ripeness. If the fruit breaks away from the vine, harvest it, as it won’t grow or ripen anymore.
Look at the tiny tendrils near the base of the vine where it attaches to the melon. If the tendrils are turning brown, it means the watermelon is ripe and ready for picking. The leaves around the tendrils should also be turning brown.
Some gardeners may tap the melon to see if it makes a hollow sound or a thud. However, it’s not as reliable a method as you may think. We recommend checking the underside of your watermelons instead. If the bottom turns from white or light green to a cream-colored yellow, then it’s ripe and ready for harvest.
Another trick is to wait for the skin of the melon to fade from its shiny luster to a dull effect.