Growing watermelons is a great way to feed your family fresh, juicy fruit. But like all vegetables, they need a lot of attention to make sure they are healthy and produce fruit.
Read on to learn about some watermelon gardening tips that will help you grow big and tasty melons. These tips will also help you avoid rot and other common problems with these fruits.
Prepare the Soil
Before you sow watermelon seeds, you need to prepare the soil. You want a sandy loam that is well-drained and has a pH range of 6.0 to 6.5.
You also need to make sure the soil is warm and moist before planting. It’s best to sow watermelon seeds 7-14 days after your last frost date in hills or rows spaced 36” apart.
Plant watermelon seeds about 1/2 inch deep in groups of 2 to 3 plants per hill or row. Once your watermelon seedlings are growing, thin them to the strongest plant in each group.
Avoid spraying your garden with insecticides; it can kill the beneficial insects and birds that help your melons set fruit. Instead, apply a foliar fertilizer with more phosphorus than nitrogen to promote flowering and fruit set.
Watermelon is a warm-weather vegetable that grows best in areas where the temperature stays above 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the growing season. You can plant seeds directly in the garden when the soil reaches this temperature, or you can sow seedlings indoors two to three weeks before your last frost date.
You can also grow watermelon from transplants, which are a good option for people who live in shorter-growing regions or in places where temperatures tend to be cool during the growing season. Transplants require a little extra care, but they’re a great way to get started with watermelon gardening.
When planting your seeds, make sure to choose a sunny location that gets plenty of light. Amend the soil with compost and aged manure, or use a balanced organic fertilizer.
Growing Melons on a Trellis
If you’re growing a melon garden in a small space, consider trellising it. You can use a fence or angled trellis to support vines that grow up to eight feet tall.
Watermelon plants can also be grown on the ground, but they will grow larger if they’re supported vertically. You can train the vines to climb by tying them to the trellis daily. You can use soft plant ties that won’t crush stems.
The vines will take off in a rapid growth spurt once they’ve established their roots and are getting all the nutrients they need. Be sure to monitor your trellis closely to prevent disease and pest problems.
Watermelons need consistent moisture throughout the growing season to ripen properly. Try to water when the soil is damp and don’t overwater.
One of the most confusing aspects of growing melons is when to harvest them. Many recommendations involve checking color changes or knocking on the rind, but these can only give you a partial clue as to ripeness.
The field spot is a patch of yellow that sits on the bottom of a melon as it grows, and this area is a great way to tell when your melons are ready to be harvested. Ripening watermelons will have a buttery or creamy yellow field spot, and unripe melons will have a white one.
Look for webbing or brown scarring on the rind of your melons (not too much, just enough to tell you it’s a ripe melon). The skin under this netting should be pale tan with little green.
Muskmelons, honeydew melons and winter cantaloupes all have an abscission zone that forms when the fruit is fully ripe, which means it’s ready to be picked off the vine. Give the stem end a bit of pressure and feel for a slight softening, then cut off about an inch of the melon’s vine leaving an inch of melon attached.