Tips & Tricks to Juicy Watermelon Success

by Ana Morlier

Finally, summer has arrived! And you know what that means: watermelon season! The time has come to roll out—literally—the watermelons. Grocery stores have already started with melons of varying degrees of ripeness and sweetness. But wouldn’t it be more impressive to come to a family gathering with a delicious watermelon you lovingly grew and cared for? Get those gardening gloves on, readers, and take to the soil. It’s “rind” (get it?) to grow your very own watermelon!

Here are tips and tricks to growing your own deliciously satisfying sweet treat: watermelons.

If temperatures drop below 70 degrees Fahrenheit,  use a cold frame or poly tunnel to protect against the cold. These plants like it hot!

Have patience—watermelons can take from 80 to 90 days to grow! However, if you want a juicy home-grown melon sooner, try growing a Sugar Baby melon.

It is better to sow seeds directly in the ground than to transplant a pre-bought baby plant, as the seeds take better to the soil.

Compost can enhance the flavor of watermelon greatly! It is recommended to cover the plant with 1-2 inches of compost (moist compost or slow-release fertilizer). Start with nitrogen potent fertilizer, then move to potassium and phosphorus fertilizer when fruits begin to grow.

Let your watermelon soak in that summer sun! Plant in an area that receives 8-10 hours of sun. More sunlight=more photosynthesis=more glucose/sugar production=Sweeter melons!

Give watermelon plants lots of moisture: at least 1-2 inches of water a week.

Keep vines and leaves! They act as shade and keep moisture near the plant and soil. In addition, keeping vines allows the plant to spread out, not to mention allowing for better pollination of flowers (aka more baby melons).

Plant flowers around your watermelon to keep pests away: dill, marigolds, and tansy flowers are great choices. Be on the lookout for squash bugs (with an appearance akin to stink bugs) and cucumber beetles (tiny, yellow-and-black striped buggers); they will thwart your dreams for delicious, healthy watermelons.

Do not plant watermelons if you’ve already planted zucchini, other melons, pumpkins, or squash in the same area in the previous year. Crop rotation is key.

If you must transplant a watermelon plant, here are some tips:

Soil must be at least 70 degrees when planting occurs. Do not transplant on an extremely hot day, as the procedure will be harsher on the patient.  Aim for a warm day with a little shade or cloud coverage present. Keep both you AND your baby seedling cool!

Water plants an hour before you plant seedlings.

Try your best to disturb roots as little as possible.

If seedlings or plants are wilting or turning yellow at first, don’t freak out and run to the nearest nursery for another plant. This is a natural reaction to transplanting. Just keep watering regularly and look for pests.

Prêt à manger or zut alors!? How to judge watermelon ripeness, and how to pick:

Flip your watermelon over and examine its “belly” or field spot. If a shade of yellow or gold appears (especially bright yellow), it’s time to eat!

Judge by sound. Collect an unripe watermelon and one you think is ripe. Knock on each with your knuckles (and hope a little gnome doesn’t pop out!). A ready watermelon will sound more hollow than an unripe melon. Make sure to try this a couple of times and get a second set of ears!

Check the leaves When ripened to perfection, the entire vine, tendril, and leaf will be yellow or brown.

If good to eat:

Rotate the fruit until it comes off the vine.

Cut (with any cleaned tool) the melon at the stem.

What to expect when you’re expecting…watermelons:

2-3 watermelons will usually come from one vine.

Slow growth may be due to a reaction to transplanting, or cold temperatures.

If the plant is thriving but not producing any fruit, or it dies quickly, your problem is most likely pollination. With both male and female flowers, attaining balanced pollination can be difficult. Either attempt to attract more pollinators in the area with flowers or a bee watering hole, or manually pollinate the flower.

Fruits may not be sweet. This can be due to many factors, including under ripeness, not enough fertilizer, or watering. But often, picking before ripe (which is when sweetness and glucose really develop) leads to a lack of flavor.

Pests! Other than the ones mentioned earlier, pests can be sprayed off with a power spray, handpicked, smashed, and/or sprayed with a pesticide such as neem oil or insecticidal soap).

Fungal infections, oh my! These can be due to hot weather or a lack of resistance in the plant variety.  To prevent this, rotate crops, use drip watering (as opposed to overhead watering, which actually spreads pathogens. Water soil, not the canopy!), space plants for air circulation, and remove any diseased crops.

May this guide assist in your success in growing the tastiest watermelon! Don’t forget to stay as cool (and hydrated) as a watermelon this summer. And to brag as much as possible about your daring endeavor, and the trials and tribulations you faced in creating this organic work of art.

Pictured is a crop of watermelon plants with plenty of air circulation and room to grow.

Credit to: Credit to Cassie Johnson of Grow fully.

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