Watermelons are part of the big gourd family that includes cucumbers, squashes, and pumpkins. Experts believe sweet melons were grown by ancient Egyptians as far back as 2400 BC. Watermelons are just one of many types of melons gardeners grow. Whether you prefer cantaloupes, muskmelons, honeydew, or personal-size watermelons, there’s sure to be one for you.
How to Grow Watermelon
Melons are warm-season fruits that need a long, hot growing season to produce the juiciest harvest. Plan your garden to allow room for the melon vines to grow several feet in all directions. Because melons are most flavorful when allowed to ripen on the vine, select varieties that will mature in the shortest amount of time, from 75 to 95 days. Keep in mind that a melon plant may only produce a few large fruits.
- Locate the planting space for melons in full sun.
- Consider how the vines will grow and allow room to walk through the garden without walking on or over them.
- Melons are heavy feeders so create a rich, water-holding soil by amending with compost and well-aged manure.
- If you’re starting your own melon transplants, plant seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the average last frost date. Plant in peat pots that you can transplant directly into the garden to avoid disturbing the delicate roots.
- Wait for the soil to warm to at least 70 degrees before planting melon seeds or transplants. This may mean waiting several weeks after the last average Spring frost date. Planting in cool weather or soil will set plants back and they’ll need more time to recover, so it pays to wait.
- Be sure to acclimate (harden off) transplants before planting in the garden.
- Then plant transplants–in their peat pots–24” to 26” apart; with rows 6’ to 8’ apart. It’s important to remember that vines will spread in all directions, so don’t crowd your plants.
- If direct sowing, plant 5 to 6 seeds in small hills or mounds that are spaced 4’ to 6’ apart and cover seeds with 1” of soil. After seeds sprout, you’ll need to thin each hill so that only the strongest 2 or 3 seedlings remain.
- Set up a drip irrigation system or a soaker hose to ensure plants will get adequate water through the season. A layer of organic mulch will help maintain soil moisture and keep down weeds in the melon patch.
- Watch for the vines start to grow upright, before they begin to run along the ground.
- Keep up good watering practices, especially when the melon plants are setting fruit and growing. Make sure the leaves stay dry to prevent any foliage problems, like powdery mildew.
- When the vines begin to spread, sidedress with a nitrogen fertilizer. Sprinkle a dry fertilizer along the rows of plants, 6” to 8” away from the plants, then carefully rake in so you don’t disturb roots or vines; then water.
- Timing the harvest for ripe and juicy fruits depends on the type of melons you planted. Watermelons are usually ready about 10 weeks after they’ve flowered. Some melons, like muskmelons, will fall from their stems when they’re ready to harvest. Keep track of the days-to-maturity for the melons you planted.
- If you planted watermelons, check to make sure the melons’ ground-spot is yellow, not white. Another indicator of maturity is when the melon is gently thumped, you hear a dull thud or “thunk.”
- When cantaloupes are ripe, they’ll have a raised netting over their smooth beige skin. Fruits should be heavy for their size and have a slightly sweet smell.
- Use a sharp knife to cut melons from the vine, leaving a bit of stem. Because the fruits grow on the ground, be sure to wash thoroughly, scrubbing under warm water with a soft brush before cutting into the fruit.
Plant melons with these companions:
- Flowers that attract bees
Materials for Success
- Soil thermometer
- Drip irrigation system or soaker hose
- High-quality compost or well-aged manure
- High-nitrogen fertilizer
- Organic mulch
To learn more about growing watermelons or about growing your own edible vegetable garden, contact the pros at Nick’s Garden Center.