Tips: Growing Watermelon in a Home Garden Is Easier Than You Think!
Have you always dreaming of growing delicious watermelons in your own backyard, but didn't know how to get started or whether you had enough room for these sprawling plants?
Well, according to the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Gardening, “A 6-foot-high, 20-foot-long fence will add a surprising 120 square feet to a small garden.”1
Use the following tips for growing watermelons to learn how to utilize vertical spaces like fences or arbors to expand your garden space, and you'll discover just how easy it is to grow plants like watermelon that typically require lots of space.
You'll learn how and when to harvest melons, how to identify ripe melons at the peak of their sweetness, and how to protect them from weather extremes for the best fruit production.
Tips for Growing Watermelon Image GalleryClick thumbnail to view full-size
Ask the Expert: Overcoming Space Objections
Michael C. Podlesney, owner of Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC, shared this valuable tip with me in an e-mail interview. Podlesny is an online retailer of vegetable gardening supplies.
“The #1 problem I see from the many questions I receive on my Facebook page in regards to growing watermelons is space.
The number 1 solution, that I not only use in my own garden, but many other members of the page recommend, is to go vertical. Using a trellis (or some other structure...direct the watermelon vine to grow upwards. This helps save on space.
Cantaloupes, honeydew, and sugar baby watermelons all work best for this method. To support the fruit as it grows on the vine use some nylon netting attached to your support structure to make sure it does not fall off.
You can get nylon netting at any sports store. You will, of course, have to fit the netting to meet your needs.”
These methods work great with seeded watermelons, and we've put them to use in our own backyard garden. However, if you want to grow seedless watermelons, remember that seedless watermelon plants must be planted with seeded watermelon plants to produce fruit. (We learned this by trial and error; our first try at seedless watermelons was bland and tasteless.)
Is My Watermelon Ready to Eat?
Try these surefire ways to test for ripeness. Pick your melons at the peak of perfection for the juiciest, sweetest flavor.
- Look-and-see method: Very gently, roll the watermelon over and observe the underside of the fruit. A bright yellow or orange color where the melon was resting on the ground signals ripeness.
- Fingernail method: Push the rind with a fingernail. If it resists the pressure, the melon is ripe.
For the sweetest watermelon, harvest fruits in the early morning when the sugar content is the highest.
Helpful Hints for Growing Watermelons
- Melons need a constant supply of warm water (cold shocks the roots and may inhibit fruit development) while they are flowering and setting fruit.
- A good way to warm your water before using it to water your watermelon plants is to set your water containers outside in the morning, and let the sun gradually warm the water. Be careful, however, and don't let the water get too hot as that could also distress the roots.
- When the first fruits emerge, water only as needed. “Overwatering reduces sweetness and may cause fruit to crack open,”2 according to Notes from the Virginia Gardener.
- Increase yields and get bigger melons by removing all but two melons from the vine. This forces the plant to use all its energy to develop these fruits.
- Limit water to the plants during the last two weeks before harvest for the sweetest melons.
Coping With Weather Extremes
Watermelons love heat. The best temperatures for growing watermelons ranges between 90 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and about 60 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
The soil needs to be at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit before transplanting seedlings.
Cover the soil with black plastic two to four weeks prior to planting to warm the soil (think electric blanket for seedlings).
Remove the plastic when the plant starts producing flowers, so the pollen can get to all the parts of the flower to pollinate it.
Fill clean plastic milk jugs with water, and warm the water by leaving the jugs in the sun all day. Use the heated jugs to keep the plants warm at night.
As a bonus, use this liquid to water the baby plants once the danger of cold damage has passed. Just make a tiny hole in the jug, and let the water dribble out.
More Expert Tips
In an e-mail interview, Dr. Tom Potisk aka the "Down-to-Earth" doctor shared his favorite tips for growing watermelons with me:
“I grow watermelons in my amateur garden. I struggled with weeding between the vines and am averse to using herbicides.
So I covered the garden in landscape fabric first, then cut small holes and planted. No more weeds!”
Whether you use just one or all these tips for growing watermelons, you are bound to see an increase in your crops and have happier plants.
For an educational experience that can't be beat, teach your children to plant and to grow some watermelons. Watermelons are easy to grow, and you can teach your children lots about science and the life cycle by growing them. As a plus, you can use the fruits of your labor to create tasty snacks and smoothies at harvest time.
Source: Author’s own experience/Image credit: author's own image
1 - The American Horticultural Society, Illustrated Encyclopedia of Gardening: Container Gardening
2 - Notes from the Virginia Gardener, Volume II, The Virginia Gardener newsletter
Damrosch, Barbara, The Garden Primer: The Completely Revised Gardener’s Bible
Baker, Jerry, Backyard Problem Solver
Email interview, 02/09/2011, Dr Tom Potisk, Holistic family doctor for over 25 years
E-mail interview, 02/09/2011, Michael C. Podlesny, Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC