Brightly colored, hydrating, and full of electrolytes, watermelon is everyone’s favorite summertime treat. By growing them at home, you get to enjoy this oversized fruit of the desert and experiment with unusual recipes all season long! Plus, you’re missing out if you’ve only had watermelon from the grocery store. With so many other watermelon varieties available as seeds, you’ll get to sample unique and interesting versions of the fruit that you couldn’t experience otherwise. If this sounds like a delicious adventure to you, this guide will get you started growing watermelons in a home garden!
Did you know that watermelons originally came from the hot desert regions of Africa? As such, they are best accustomed to warmer, drier climates and will die off in a frost. Start your watermelon seeds late in the spring, or at least two weeks after the last frost. They will need at least three months of warm weather to grow. If you live in a colder climate region, a helpful alternative is to germinate the seeds indoors and then transplant them outside once the weather warms up.
Because of their warmth-loving nature, watermelon plants need full sunlight for 8 to 10 hours a day. Keep this in mind when choosing a planting site for your seeds. If you live in a colder region, you may only be able to cultivate them in a greenhouse or cold frame.
Not only is the fruit quite large, but watermelon is also a vining plant, which means it will spread out up to 20 feet in length. Your garden area will need to be large enough to accommodate this. It’s possible to train the vines to grow on a trellis. However, you’ll need to ensure these heavy plants have adequate support at every stage.
Watermelons require nutrient-rich, loamy soil of 6 to 7.5 pH. It’s a good idea to get a soil test done so you’ll have an idea of what kind of fertilizers can make up for any deficiencies in your soil. For instance, you can adjust your soil’s acidity levels by adding compost, aged manure, or specialized fertilizer. You can also add sand to your soil to achieve the right texture. If you have clay soil, however, sand will only make the earth harden. In this case, it would be more practical to build raised beds. The soil temperature needs to be at least 70°F, ideally 95°F, for the seeds to germinate.
If sowing directly into your garden, create small mounds 4 feet apart with rows about 6 feet apart. Then, plant about 3 to 6 seeds an inch into each mound, gently press the soil around them, and water them immediately. If you’re germinating your seeds indoors, get them started in peat pots with full sunlight about six weeks before your growing period. Once the soil and weather have warmed up adequately, carefully transplant the entire seedling in its pot into your small mounds outside. Press the soil around them and give them water.
After your seeds are planted, you’ll need to remember to water them daily until the seedlings sprout and start to show some small leaves. Once they reach this stage, they won’t need as much water as long as you continue to water them consistently. Inconsistent watering can cause the melons to crack or split. Give them about one to two inches of water a week unless your climate is prone to frequent rainstorms.
That said, be careful not to overwater your watermelon plants either. Too much water can encourage fungal disease and mildew. A good rule of thumb is to check the soil moisture by poking your finger an inch into the soil before watering. It should feel moist but not soaking.
Once the seedlings have sprouted to a few inches in height and start showing leaves, thin the plants using sharp scissors to the best two or three. Make sure to weed your watermelon patch regularly as well.
To prevent infestation and pests, install row covers over the patch until the plants begin the flower. Then, take the row covers off to encourage pollinator activity. Companion plants can also help attract pollinators and deter pests. For instance, consider planting marigolds, lavender or various wildflowers next to your watermelons to draw in pollinators. Garlic, mint and nasturtiums can prevent aphid infestations, while corn, broccoli and radishes keep the cucumber beetles at bay.
Once the plants are one to two weeks out from harvest time, cut off their water supply entirely. This will help to concentrate the sugars and create sweeter melons. Soon enough, you’ll be ready for your long-awaited harvest!
There are a few ways to know when your watermelons are ready for harvest. First, try knocking or tapping on the melon. It should produce a satisfying hollow sound. Alternatively, pick the melon up off the ground and turn it around until you locate the field spot. If it has a creamy yellow spot where it was sitting on the ground, it is probably ripe. Last but not least, you can also check the tendril connecting the melon to the vine. If it has dried out and turned brown, the melon is ready for picking. Likewise, a green tendril means the melon is not yet ripe, so be careful not to cut it away too early. Once you have determined which watermelons are ripe, use a pair of garden shears to cut them at the stem.
Toss it in a fruit salad, char it on the grill, or eat it plain for a refreshing burst of sweetness. No matter how you prefer to eat your watermelon, it doesn’t have to be relegated to just a once-a-summer splurge. When you grow watermelon in your home garden, it can quickly become an exciting staple in your diet that your whole family will appreciate!