Are you thinking of adding a fruit plant in your backyard this spring? If you are, it is a good idea for you to try growing watermelons. Some people think that growing this tropical fruit is too challenging. Well, it has its own challenges. But, experienced gardeners will surely be able to deal with these challenges successfully. And in the summer, your hard work will be rewarded by the sweet and juicy watermelons.
- 1 Understanding More about Watermelons
- 2 Basic Requirements for Growing Watermelons
- 3 Recommended Watermelon Cultivars
- 4 Growing Sugar Baby Watermelons
- 5 Watermelons Growing Tips
- 6 Growing Watermelons in Containers
- 7 Watermelon Growing Season
Understanding More about Watermelons
For you who never grow watermelons before, it is a good idea for you to have better understanding about this fruit before planting it. Therefore, you will have better success in growing watermelons. Citrullus lanatus or watermelon is a climbing or trailing plant which stem can grow up to 3 m long. However, this stem is weak.
This annual plant has large hairy leaves and two types of flowers. On a watermelon plant, you will find separated male and female yellow flowers. The former blooms earlier than the latter. Meanwhile, the female flower has a bulb at the bottom. In order to produce watermelon, the flowers must be pollinated with the help of bees.
The fruit is a large pepo, between 20 cm and 60 cm in diameter. Its rind is thick and green. In addition, the flesh is red with many small black seeds. However, new cultivars also produce seedless watermelons and yellow watermelons. It usually takes 70 to 90 days for the plant to yield the fruits.
Basic Requirements for Growing Watermelons
Before you are growing watermelons, you must know the basic requirements to do it.
1. Where to grow
Watermelons can be planted in USDA zones 3 to 11. Moreover, it is best planted in full sun. Therefore, if you want to have this fruit plant in your garden, you need to make sure that the plant gets 6 hours of sun per day.
Watermelon plant requires warm temperature during their growing season, about 25oC. It is ideal for this plant to get reliable sunny and warm weather for 3 months. This kind of weather promotes excellent growth for the plant. Moreover, it also makes the fruits ripe. However, it doesn’t mean that growing watermelons in areas with short summer is impossible to do.
This fruit plant is a greedy eater. It grows well only in soil that is very rich in organic matter. In addition, it is recommended to grow it in well-drained sandy loam that is slightly acidic. If the soil in your garden has pH level of 6 or 6.5, then you don’t need to do anything to adjust its acidity.
Aside from being a heavy feeder, a watermelon plant also needs lots of water. Moreover, it is important for you to keep the soil moist. However, waterlogged soil will affect this plant badly. That’s why you need to make sure that the soil has good drainage.
Recommended Watermelon Cultivars
When you plan to start the process of growing watermelons, you must find out the choices of watermelon cultivars that are ready for you first. These are some of the recommended ones.
1. Sugar baby
If you are looking for a watermelon cultivar which offers you with high yield of fruits, you must go for sugar baby watermelon. The fruit is very sweet, round, and small. It is considered as an ice box watermelon because it weighs about 3.5 to 4.5 kg and its diameter is between 15 and 20 cm. You need to wait for 80 days of planting to harvest this red flesh watermelon.
2. Golden midget
This watermelon cultivar only needs 70 days to mature. It produces very small watermelons with yellow skin and pink flesh. Each of them only weighs about 1.4 kg.
3. Yellow baby
A Yellow flesh watermelon is as sweet as the red flesh one. If you want to prove it, you must grow yellow baby watermelon in your garden. This plant is resistant to diseases and only takes 75 days to reach maturity.
4. Crimson sweet
For you who want to grow large watermelons, you must choose the crimson sweet cultivar. The fruit produced by this plant weighs about 13 kg. Its flesh is red and very sweet. But, you need to wait for 90 days to harvest the fruits.
5. Bush sugar baby
This watermelon has 1 m long vine so that it is perfect for you who have small backyard. On the 75th to 80th day, the fruits from this plant are ready to be harvested. The fruit weighs about 5 kg and its taste is sweet.
Growing Sugar Baby Watermelons
Since sugar baby watermelon is one of the most favorite cultivar, you can start your experiment in growing watermelons with this cultivar. To grow it, you can follow these steps.
1. Sowing the seeds
There are two methods of sowing that you can do when you start the steps of growing watermelons. They are direct sowing and indirect sowing. The latter can be done indoors and outdoors.
a. Direct sowing
If you want to sow the seed directly to the ground, you need to make sure that the soil is warm enough, about 21oC. Then, amend the soil with compost and create several hills of about 1 m in diameter. Sow 6 seeds per hill, about 1 cm deep and water it regularly. When the seedlings are big enough, thin them to 2 healthiest plants.
b. Indirect sowing
For indirect sowing, you need several pots and seed starting mix. And in order to avoid transplanting failure, you can use peat pots. Moreover, it is better for you to choose pots that are bigger than your usual seedling pots. Sow 2 or 3 seeds per pot, about 1 cm deep. After that, you must water the soil frequently to keep it moist.
If you perform this method indoor, place the pots in a warm area. Moreover, it is a good idea to put them under a grow light.
2. Transplanting (optional)
If you perform indirect sowing, you will need to transplant the seedlings. Before you do this process of growing watermelons, you must prepare the planting site by fertilizing it. In addition, you need to create several small hills and mulch them with black plastic mulch to maintain moisture and warm the soil.
After that, transplant the seedlings carefully and water them. If you germinate the seeds indoors, you need to harden the seedlings before transplanting them. Therefore, the young plants will be familiar to the outdoor condition.
The next step of growing watermelons is caring. You need to water them once a day. In doing it, it is important to make sure that the top 6 inches of the soil is wet. Another thing you must do is fertilizing the soil. When the plants start flowering, use low nitrogen fertilizer to boost the fruit production. For a 15 m square hill, you need 0.25 kg (1/2 pound) of fertilizer.
When your watermelon plants start to yield fruits, you need to reduce the amount of water. Therefore, you will have sweeter watermelons at harvest. In harvesting this fruit, you must make sure that the fruit is mature enough to pick. Some signs of ripe watermelons are hollow sound when they are knocked, yellow or cream colored bottoms, and brown stems.
Watermelons Growing Tips
Growing watermelons may be not very easy for those who never do it before. But, if you follow these tips below, you will have better chance of success.
1. Growing watermelons at the right time
Since watermelon plants require 3 months of warm summer, it is important for you to grow them at the right time. For you who live in warmer areas, you can start growing watermelons in the spring. However, to be save, you need to make sure that it is 2 weeks after the last frost date in your area.
If you live in colder areas with shorter summer, you need to start growing watermelons early. Most experienced gardeners recommend you to sow the watermelon seeds indoors about a couple of weeks before the last frost date. Later on, you can transplant the seedlings when the soil is warm.
2. Choose the right cultivar
When you are growing watermelons, it is a must for you to choose the right cultivar. There are several things that you need to think about when choosing this plant. The most important one is your USDA zone. If you live in northern area, you need to choose an early season watermelon cultivar, such as golden midget.
But, if you live in southern area, you can choose a mid or late season cultivar. It all depends on how long the summer in your USDA zone. Another thing you need to consider in growing watermelons is the size of your backyard.
If you have a backyard with limited space, short vine watermelon cultivars are best for you. They usually grow to 1 m long or 1.5 m long. However, if you have a large backyard, you can choose long vine watermelon cultivars.
Since watermelons have climbing or trailing habit, you need to space the plants properly. For long vine cultivars, the space between plants is about 0.6 m apart. Moreover, the hills must be spaced about 2 m apart. Meanwhile, the short vine cultivars need to be spaced 0.3 m apart between plants and 0.7 m apart between hills
4. Place a cardboard under the watermelon
When your watermelon plants start fruiting, it is a good idea for you to place a cardboard under the fruit. It is done so that the bottom of a watermelon is not getting soggy or moldy. A watermelon which lies on soggy ground gets spoiled easily.
5. Thin watermelon
If you want to harvest sweeter, bigger, and juicier watermelons, you need to thin the fruits. Some experienced gardeners suggest two fruits per plant. Therefore, you need to thin the watermelons to two best fruits.
6. Pollinate the flowers on your own
To make sure that the watermelon flowers are pollinated properly, you can do it on your own without the help of bees. In order to do it, you can pick male flowers. After that, remove their petals and brush the male flowers to the female flowers.
Growing Watermelons in Containers
For a limited space garden, growing watermelons in containers is an excellent idea. Performing this planting method is not as difficult as you think.
The preparation step of growing watermelons in containers involves shopping for the right containers, potting mix, and the right watermelon seeds. The size of the pots must be about 19 L (5 gallons) or bigger and remember to choose one with drainage holes. Moreover, you need to choose a watermelon cultivar which has small fruits and short vines.
2. Sowing the seeds
Next, you must fill in the pots with potting mix. After that, sow the seeds in it. Water the soil regularly so that it is always moist. Moreover, you need to place the pots in a warm and sunny area of your backyard.
As an alternative, you can sow the seeds indoors. After that, you need to transplant the seedlings on the bigger pots. Don’t forget to harden the seedlings before growing them outdoors.
3. Caring for the plants
Caring for potted watermelon plants require you to provide a trellis for each plant. You need to train the plant to trail along this support. Therefore, it will not take up the space of your small backyard. In addition, you must provide supports for the fruits in the form stretchy materials.
Growing watermelons in containers also means that you need to water and fertilize them more often than direct planting. When the temperature is above 27oC, you must water the plant twice a day. In addition, you need to fertilize the plant once a week using water diluted fertilizer or once a month using slow release fertilizer.
Watermelon Growing Season
Watermelon plants are differentiated based on several characteristics. One of them is based on the their growing season. And as it is stated before, you can choose short season, mid-season and late season watermelons.
The short season ones require more or less 70 days from germination to fruiting. It is more perfect for areas with shorter summer. Meanwhile, the mid-season watermelons need about 80 days to mature. Moreover, the late season cultivars usually take about 90 days to reach maturity. It is more perfect for tropical areas or areas with long summer.