Growing your own fruit is an amazing experience. From having your own mango tree to your very own strawberries, there are so many benefits that you get from that. But… Nothing beats the flavour of fresh, sun-ripened watermelon from your own home garden, especially in summers. Biting into juicy slices surely is something right out of a dream. And even if you enjoy your steak a little bit too much, no party or barbeque is complete without a platter of watermelon to give you that sweetness!
Watermelons are big, delicious, and not as hard to grow as you might think. Native to Africa, they need a long season and warm temperatures. If you have always bought yours from the local supermarket, you are missing out on flavour. In this article, we will tell you how to grow your own watermelons and feel like a pro gardener! Without further ado, let’s get started!
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Watermelons grow well in warmer climates as they need a long growing season and warm temperatures. However, if you live in a cold region with a short season, you can start seeds indoors, buy young watermelon plants from the nursery, or grow short-season varieties.
Depending on the type of watermelon you choose, it will take around 70 to 100 days to mature. When it comes to finding the right variety for you, there are three main types.
1. Early season
Early season watermelons are also known as icebox melons as they have a petite size that fits easily on a refrigerator shelf. They take almost 70-75 days to mature.
2. Main season
Main season melons are large in size and mature in 80-90 days.
Seedless watermelons are sweeter than other melons since they don’t put their energy into producing seeds. They are carefully crafted via plant genetics and you can buy the seeds from certain stores.
Among these categories, you have the choice to choose flesh that is yellow, orange, pink, or red.
When to plant your watermelons
In cooler climates with short growing seasons, you should check the frost date. Start the seeds indoors about two to three weeks before the last frost date. Don’t plant the seeds too early as large watermelon seedlings will transplant poorly.
Plant the seeds in a soilless potting mix. Keep the seedlings moist and warm and wait for the outdoor temperatures to increase. You will have to transplant the seedlings about two weeks after the last frost date.
Check the temperature of the soil as well. If the soil temperature is at least 18°C, you can transplant the seedlings. You can also buy young watermelon plants from the nurseries. If you start with young plants, you will get an early harvest.
Therefore, they are a good choice if you live in an area with a short growing season. Since they are very tender, make sure that there is no chance of frost before planting them. To keep the soil warm, lay black plastic over the planting area.
If you live in a warm region with long growing seasons, you can sow the seeds directly outdoors. Check for the frost date and sow seeds almost one to two weeks after the last date. Moreover, the soil temperature should also be at least 18°C.
Preparing the planting site
To ensure a generous and delicious harvest, you have to provide the plants with optimal growing conditions.
1. Site Selection
Firstly, you have to select a site that has the best soil, full sun, and has plenty of room. Watermelons spread out and they will take up as much space as you give them. When you prepare your watermelon patch, you have to keep their tendency to sprawl into account.
Choose a planting area away from other veggies in your garden so that they will not only have plenty of room to grow but will also not disturb the other plants. If you have limited garden space, then you can train your watermelon vines to grow vertical and you can grow them on a trellis. However, your trellis will have to be very sturdy and you will need to support the fruit.
While picking out the potential growing site, ensure that it gets plenty of sunlight. Watermelons need almost 8 to 10 hours of sun each day. They aren’t very fond of places with shade. Most watermelon varieties – such as Sugar Baby, Klondike Blue Ribbon Striped, Charleston Grey, etc. – are sun-burn resistant. However, do check what kind of seed you have to be sure.
Watermelons love loose, sandy soil with good drainage. The pH of the soil should be between 6.0 and 7.5. If you don’t have sandy loam, simply mix your garden soil with sand. However, if you have clay soil, don’t add sand to it.
You have to add compost to it first to create a lighter texture. Your best bet in such a case will be to grow the melons in raised beds that have a mixture of sand and garden soil.
4. Create a melon patch
Make small hills where you will plant your melons. This keeps water from pooling around the melon’s main stem. Moreover, the melons have a little extra room to grow. However, if you live in arid climates, you have to create a shallow crater instead of a hill to conserve moisture.
Once you have created the melon patch, you have to add potassium fertiliser before planting. Melons are heavy feeders and need fertile and rich soil with high levels of nutrients. Well-rotted manure is a great natural and organic fertiliser. Mix organic matter compost in the soil as well as the fertiliser.
How to plant your watermelons
Sow the watermelon seeds around 2 to 4 cm deep outdoors. If you are planting them indoors in seed-starting peat pots, then sow them 1 to 2 cm deep. Use large starting pots to allow for root growth.
It is better to use compostable pots that you can cut away and plant directly into the garden. This will minimize the risk of damaging the tender roots of the seedlings. Try to disturb the root system as little as possible when you remove the seedlings from the pot.
Sow almost 4 to 6 seeds on every hill that you created, and later thin this out to 2 to 3 seedlings. To keep the pests at bay, cover the seedlings with floating row covers. When you see male flowers and female flowers on the vines, remove the covers to give access to pollination.
Caring tips about watermelons
To ensure a bountiful harvest, here are a few things you have to take care of.
Watermelons need plenty of water, so make sure to water them regularly. When the seedlings are young, water them once a day. Stick your finger in the soil and test whether it is dry. If it is, then water the plants.
Once the plants are established and look healthy, water them two times a week. If it rains during the week, you may not even have to water at all. When the fruits are ripening, make sure you water evenly to keep them from cracking.
Some sweet watermelon varieties – such as Mini Love, Gold in Gold, Sugar Baby, etc. – are resistant to cracking. Once the fruits are almost a week from maturity, you need to cut down the water amount. This will increase their sugar content.
Use drip irrigation and don’t splash water on the foliage as this can spread diseases such as powdery mildew, downy mildew, etc.
To keep the soil moist and suppress weeds, add an organic mulch around the vines. If weeds start to grow, take care not to disturb the roots of your seedlings while weeding. It will keep the fruit from rotting as well.
Pruning isn’t necessary for watermelons, but if you don’t allow the lateral vines to grow, you can improve the vine productivity.
When to harvest them and how to store them
Watermelons mature in 70 to 100 days. Once the curly tendrils turn brown and get slightly crisp, your watermelons will be ripe. Moreover, the colour of the melons will get dull as well. To check for ripeness, try to penetrate your fingernail into the skin of the watermelon. If it doesn’t go in, you have ripe watermelons.
Plus, you can also pick one up and turn it over. If the bottom of it is yellow or if it sounds hollow when you thump it, then it’s ripe. You can cut the stem close to the fruit with a sharp knife and enjoy.
When uncut, you can store watermelons for 10 to 15 days. Place them in cool basements to increase the holding time. If you cut them, they can last for 4 days in the refrigerator, if you wrap them. If you have extra watermelons, you can dice them and freeze them for slushies.
Whether you fancy the main season, early season, or seedless type, growing melons on your own is very simple. The steps given above will help you learn how to do it like a true professional. Make sure to keep your plants happy throughout the season with water, fertiliser, and protection from aphids, pests and fungal diseases. You’ll see for yourself that there’s nothing better than enjoying your summer with a watermelon slice by your side!