How to Grow Watermelon for Beginners

This article will walk you through all the things that will help you learn How to Grow Watermelon for Beginners. From planting to harvesting and everything in between. Get ready for an amazing guide that you can use for how to start a backyard garden

What could be better than enjoying a sweet watermelon on a hot summer day? Not much that I can think of, except for enjoying one that’s right out of your own garden. People love watermelon, even chickens love it, and occasionally a goat will even grab a nibble. 

a chicken eating watermelon rinds

Once you have your plants growing, you can enjoy fresh watermelon all summer long to help beat the heat. Watermelons are 92% water, which makes them the perfect refreshment on a hot day.

It may surprise you to know that watermelons are native to Africa where they were first used not as a source of food, but as a source of water. The thick rind allowed for them to be stored for long periods and transported without damage as a water source in the desert climate.

Watermelons (Citrullus lanatus) have been cultivated for over 4,000 years. Seeds and paintings with watermelons were even found in King Tut’s tomb. The fruit started to make its way through the Mediterranean region, into Europe, and then to the U.S. In addition to the flesh, the seeds make a popular snack in other parts of the world and even the rind is edible.

how to grow watermelon for beginners

How to Grow Watermelon for Beginners

Like other melons, watermelons grow along the ground on vines and come in a variety of sizes. Your local store may only offer a few varieties so by growing them in your home garden you will be able to give a few lesser known varieties a try. 

There are several watermelon varieties available, some of the most common to choose from include:

· Congo – This large variety is big enough to feed a crowd. It has a high sugar content that makes it very sweet and can grow as large as 30-40 lbs when fully ripe. Plants grow 15-24 inches tall with vines that spread 72-96 inches. They also have good resistance to some pests.

· Sugar Baby – This compact variety is a heavy producer and thrives in small gardens. The melons are small and round. The sturdy rinds are resistant to cracking and the plants are resistant to blight. Melons weigh about 12 lbs and plants grow to 15-24 inches tall with 6–8-foot vines. This variety does better in cooler weather than some other varieties and matures quickly, in about 75 days.

· Moon and Stars – The dark green rind with bright yellow spots resemble the sky with the moon and stars. This variety averages about 25 lbs at full maturity and is very sweet. Plants grow 15-24 inches tall with vines that spread about 72-96 inches and will mature in about 100 days.

· Black Mountain – If you live in a region with shorter, cooler summers, this is the variety for you. It can tolerate the cooler temperatures and matures in about 70 days with a large, sweet melon.

· Golden Midget – This variety is also a good choice for Northern gardeners, especially those with small gardens. The fruit is small, about 3 lbs, with yellow skin and pink flesh and matures in about 70 days.

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What is the best way to plant watermelon in a garden, by seed, bulb, or plant? 

Watermelon plants start as seeds. In cooler climates with shorter growing seasons, you can start the seeds indoors 2-3 weeks before the last frost then transplant the seedlings into your garden about 2 weeks after the last frost or when the soil has warmed up to at least 65° F. In warmer climates with a longer growing season, you can sow the seeds directly into the ground a week or two after the last frost and when the soil has warmed up to 65° F.

What You Need to Grow Watermelon

You’ll want to plan ahead when planting watermelons. First, check the seed packet for your chosen variety to see how many days they need to reach maturity. This can determine when you plant. Next, you’ll need a spot where your watermelon vines can spread out. They grow along the ground and will need some room. Finally, you’ll need a spot that receives plenty of direct sunlight; the more sun, the sweeter the fruit and the larger and fuller they grow.

When to Plant Watermelon

Before planting, the soil will need to reach at least 65° F and you will need to plant after the last frost. Check the number of days to maturity for the variety you select to determine if you want to start the seeds indoors or sow directly in the ground.

No room for a full garden? Grow your watermelon in straw bales right on your back porch! 

Temperature

The soil needs to be at least 65° F for the seeds to germinate, but the warmer the better. If you can wait for your soil to warm up to over 80° F, 95° F is the ideal soil temperature. Hot summer days are a watermelon’s best friend.

Sun

Watermelon needs plenty of direct sunlight to grow to a healthy maturity and become deliciously sweet. 8-10 hours of direct sunlight a day is preferred. That along with the warmer temperatures makes the summer season the perfect time for growing watermelon.

Soil

The soil will need to be moist but not soggy so well-draining sandy soil is best. It should be able to retain some moisture. Watering your planting area after a few hours of sowing seeds will help them germinate. Also, you’ll need to do a soil test to find your soil’s pH level. Watermelon prefers a pH of 6.0 – 7.5.

If your soil is too hard, you can either amend it with compost or consider planting in raised beds with a mixture of garden soil and sand.

Whether planting in the ground or in a raised bed, work compost into the soil at about 50-100 lbs per 1000 sq ft to improve the soil’s structure.

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Water

Water is a key element to a healthy harvest; you’ll want to water just enough without overwatering. Keep an eye on the soil and water if it gets too dry. In the beginning, while the seeds are germinating, this may mean watering daily to help them thrive. Stick your finger into the soil about an inch deep to determine if it needs water.

Once the seedlings start to grow you can water a little less frequently but still consistently. Plan on providing the plants with 1-2 inches of water a week. Even watering is important to keep the fruits from cracking as they ripen.

Fertilizing

Before planting, add some fertilizer to your soil. Refer to your soil test to determine the type of fertilizer you’ll need; it will help you determine any nutrient deficiencies and offer recommendations for your particular soil.

Working compost into your soil before planting will provide a good slow-release fertilizer.

Once the plants are established, you can side-dress them monthly with an all-purpose fertilizer.

Support

Watermelon grows best along the ground as the fruit becomes very heavy. However, in a small garden, you can grow smaller varieties on a trellis or other support system. Just be sure to reinforce the trellis by attaching it to the wall or fence otherwise the watermelon will pull it down from the weight.

How Much to Plant

Plan on 2-6 plants per person depending on the variety you choose and how often you plan to enjoy it. Watermelon doesn’t store well for long so it’s best to enjoy while you can.

How Long Does Watermelon Take to Grow?

Different varieties grow in various times, but most will be ready to harvest in 70-100 days.

How to Plant Watermelon

After preparing your soil with compost and watering, mound up areas of soil for planting. Hills should be about 3-6 feet apart and no more than 12 inches high. Scrape about an inch of soil off the top, place 3-4 seeds in the soil, press them down, replace the scraped off soil on top and pat it down gently. Growing in mounds will provide the vines with a little extra room to spread out.

Give the seeds a gentle, light watering after planting. A watering wand or a watering can works well. Seedlings should begin to germinate in 5-10 days.

After the seedlings sprout and are a few inches tall, thin them out to no more than 2 sets of plants per planting area.

Watermelon sprout grows on the garden bed.

Watermelon can be planted from seedlings started indoors if your growing season is shorter, but the plants have delicate roots and generally don’t like to be transplanted. Replant with care. For best results, start seedlings in biodegradable peat-free pots, this will allow you to plant the pots directly in the soil without disturbing the roots. A 3-inch pot is the ideal size.

When planting the seedlings, plan on planting 2 seedlings per hill. Trim the rim of the pots so that they’re even with the soil level inside then dig a hole in the hill that the pot will fit into. You’ll want the pot to be to a depth of soil level. Backfill with soil then gently water the transplants.

Spacing

Planting mounds should be spaced about 3-6 feet apart with 3-4 seeds planted per mound then thinned to 2 plants once they germinate.

Depth

Seeds should be planted about ¾ to 1 inch deep.

Growing Tips for Watermelon

· When creating planting mounds, keep in mind that vines can grow up to 10 feet in length. Space your mounds with plenty of room for the vines to spread out. Smaller varieties can be planted closer together.

· When the plants are about a week from maturity, withhold watering. This will help the fruits become sweeter. You can calculate the maturity date based on the average number of days to maturity listed on the seed packet and the date you planted. Less water, in the end, will create more concentrated sugars in the melons.

· Water at ground level to avoid getting the foliage too wet. This can cause disease to spread.

· Mulching around the plants can help the soil retain more moisture on hot days and keep the roots from drying out. It can also help to prevent weeds.

· If weeds do sprout up, remove them carefully so that you don’t disturb the roots for the plants.

· Mulching placed under the fruit as its ripening will also help to prevent it from rotting.

· Watermelons prefer warm weather, but it can sometimes be too hot. Preferred temperatures are 70-90° F during the day and 60-70° F at night. If temperatures are warmer, place straw under your plants to keep the soil cool. The light color will stay cooler than dark mulch.

How to Harvest Watermelon

Watermelon will not continue to ripen after harvesting so it’s important to wait until the melons are fully ripe before picking. But they can also go from unripe to spoiled very quickly as they get close to maturity so be sure to check them daily once they start to get large.

If the fruit separates from the vine or the vine is dead, go ahead and harvest the melon, it won’t ripen anymore.

When preparing to harvest there are a few things you can look for to see if the melon is ready:

· If the curly tendril near the stem turns brown and dry, the fruit is ready. The leaf closest to that tendril should also be yellow or turning brown.

· Check the underside of the melon. It will turn from light green or white to yellow or cream-colored when it’s ripe.

· The skin on the melon will turn from shiny to dull.

· The blossom end of the melon will soften.

Many people like to thump a melon, but this method can be unreliable. A dull thud is supposed to indicate a ripe fruit, but that isn’t necessarily the case with all varieties. With some varieties, a dull thump indicates over ripeness.

When the fruit is ready to harvest, use a sharp knife to but the fruit off the vine leaving a 2-inch-long piece of stem. Handle it gently to avoid bruising or damage.

melon field with heaps of ripe watermelons in summer

How to Store Watermelon

If the melon is split or cracked, it should be used immediately. If it’s not damaged, it will last 7-10 days when stored at room temperature or up to 2 weeks in cooler temperatures (like a cellar) with high humidity. Don’t store it in the refrigerator unless it’s been cut, it will be too cold. Once cut, it can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Diseases and Pests to Watch Out For

· Melon aphids and spider mites can be seen on the undersides of the leaves. Spray them off with a hose.

· Cucumber beetles can be prevented with floating row covers until they start to flower.

· Too much watering can cause root rot and other diseases can be spread by splashing water so water closely to the soil and don’t handle plants when they are wet.

Be sure to rotate your crop every 3 years to help prevent disease from remaining in the soil.

Watermelon is the perfect refreshment on a hot summer day, and even better when it comes straight from your garden. Since it’s so easy to grow, it’s the perfect addition to a beginner’s backyard garden. Now that you know how to grow watermelon you can add another plant to your kitchen summer pantry. 

Other How to Grow Resources: 

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