Watermelons are a popular summer fruit that can be enjoyed in many ways, from sliced and chilled to blended into refreshing drinks. Growing watermelon can be a fun and rewarding experience for gardeners, as long as certain conditions are met.
Here are some tips on how to grow watermelon and when to harvest it for the best flavor and quality.
- Choose a sunny location with well-draining soil.
Watermelon plants need a lot of sun to grow and produce fruit, so it’s important to choose a location that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. They also need well-draining soil to prevent water from accumulating around the roots, which can lead to rot and other problems.
Before planting, amend the soil with organic matter such as compost or aged manure to improve its fertility and texture. You can also add a balanced fertilizer to provide the plants with the nutrients they need to grow.
- Plant seeds or seedlings in the spring after the last frost.
Watermelon seeds can be planted directly in the ground after the last frost date in your area, when soil temperatures reach at least 60°F (15°C). You can also start seeds indoors 3-4 weeks before planting and transplant the seedlings into the garden once the danger of frost has passed.
When planting, space the seeds or seedlings at least 3 feet apart to allow for growth and airflow. Watermelon plants can spread out over a wide area, so give them plenty of room to avoid overcrowding.
- Water regularly, providing 1-2 inches of water per week.
Watermelon plants need consistent moisture to grow and produce juicy, sweet fruit. They should receive at least 1 inch of water per week, and up to 2 inches during hot, dry weather.
To prevent water from accumulating around the roots, water deeply but less frequently, rather than shallowly and frequently. Use a soaker hose or drip irrigation system to water at the base of the plants, rather than overhead, which can lead to disease and pest problems.
Watermelons can crack for several reasons, including:
Uneven watering: Watermelons require consistent and even watering throughout the growing season. If they receive too much water or too little water at any point, the fruit can become stressed and the rind may crack.
Rapid temperature changes: Watermelons are sensitive to sudden changes in temperature. If a watermelon is exposed to sudden drops or increases in temperature, the flesh can expand or contract too quickly, causing the rind to crack.
Genetics: Some watermelon varieties are more prone to cracking than others due to their genetics.
- Fertilize every 3 weeks with a balanced fertilizer.
Watermelon plants need regular fertilization to maintain healthy growth and fruit production. Use a balanced fertilizer with equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, such as a 10-10-10 or 5-5-5 blend.
Apply the fertilizer every 3 weeks during the growing season, following the package instructions for the recommended amount. Avoid over-fertilizing, which can lead to excessive foliage growth and poor fruit quality.
- Control weeds and pests, such as aphids and squash bugs.
Weeds can compete with watermelon plants for nutrients and moisture, so it’s important to keep the area around the plants free of weeds. Use mulch such as straw, hay, or leaves to suppress weeds and retain moisture in the soil.
Watermelon plants can also be vulnerable to pests such as aphids, squash bugs, and cucumber beetles. Monitor your plants regularly for signs of pest damage, such as wilting, yellowing, or stunted growth.
If you notice a pest infestation, try removing them by hand or using a spray of water to dislodge them. You can also use insecticidal soap or other natural remedies to control pests, but avoid using harsh chemicals that can harm beneficial insects and pollinators.
When to Harvest Watermelon
Knowing when to harvest watermelon is key to getting the best flavor and quality from your fruit. Here are some signs to look for:
- Dulling of the fruit’s sheen: As watermelons ripen, their skin will lose its shine and become duller in appearance. The skin may also develop a matte finish or a powdery coating.
- Yellowing of the underside: As watermelons ripen, the underside of the fruit will turn from green to a creamy yellow color. This is a good indicator that the fruit is ready to be harvested.
- Stem becoming dry and brown: When the watermelon is mature, the stem will begin to dry out and turn brown. This means that the fruit is no longer receiving nutrients from the plant and can be safely harvested.
- Thump test: One of the classic ways to test for ripeness is to thump the watermelon with your knuckles and listen for a hollow sound. This indicates that the fruit is full of juice and is ready to eat.
- Tendril near the fruit: Another method to check for ripeness is to look at the tendril nearest the fruit. If it has withered and turned brown, this is a sign that the watermelon is ripe and ready to be harvested.
It’s important to note that watermelons will not ripen after they are picked, so it’s crucial to harvest them at the right time for the best flavor and quality. If you’re unsure whether your watermelon is ripe, you can always cut into it to check the color and texture of the flesh.
To harvest watermelon, use a sharp knife to cut the stem about 1-2 inches from the fruit. Be careful not to damage the fruit or the vine, as this can lead to rot and other problems.
After harvesting, store the watermelon in a cool, dry place for a few days to allow it to fully ripen and develop its sweetness. Once it’s ready, slice it up and enjoy the juicy, refreshing taste of summer!