Watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe are common melons grown in home gardens. These fruit-growing vines need plenty of space to grow fully, but the specific amount of space varies based on the type of melon and planting method. Understanding the spacing needs of the melon variety you choose is essential to maximizing production and health of the fruit.
Space Requirements by Melon Type
Watermelon plant spacing is generous, because the size of the melon itself and the length of the vine takes up a lot of space. Large watermelon varieties such as “Crimson Sweet” and “Royal Majesty” need a space of about 4-feet-by-6-feet. Compact icebox and bush watermelon varieties can grow in smaller plots, about 2-feet-by-4-feet.
Honeydew and cantaloupe spacing is more modest. They require less space than full-sized watermelons, since the fruit produced is smaller. These melons require about 12 inches between plants, with a minimum of 4 feet between the rows. to allow for growth. Most other melons have similar space requirements, though individual cultivars may vary.
The Effect of Planting Method
Hills and rows are the two main ways to grow melons in the home garden. Hills are raised mounds of dirt about 3 feet across where the plants grow. The average space needed between hills is 4 to 6 feet. For larger watermelon varieties, leave 6 to 12 feet between hills. For smaller melon varieties, leave about 2 feet between hills.
When using the row method, leave about 2 to 3 feet between plants. Space the rows at least 6 feet apart, to leave enough space for the melons to spread as they grow. While the melon vines are still small they can be interplanted with short-season crops like radishes and salad greens, but as the vines expand and mature those plants – and any weeds –will largely be crowded out.
Planting Seeds vs. Transplants
Gardeners have the option of planting melons from seeds or as transplants from seedlings. The planting space for seeds versus seedlings varies slightly. Seeds are planted closer together, and thinned after they begin growing. Seedlings are planted at the desired final spacing since they are already established.
If you opt to start from seed, plant six seeds in each hill and thin to two plants after they sprout. For seedlings, leave between 2 and 6 feet between the plants, depending on the size of the melon variety you’re planting.
“>Growing Melons Vertically
Trellises or cages allow you to conserve space when growing melons. Instead of growing out over the ground, the melon vines grow up the trellis for a smaller footprint in the garden. A cage or trellis is also necessary if you’re growing watermelons in containers.
You’ll need a trellis at least 8 feet tall to support the vines of a full-sized melon plant. Plant melons at the base of the trellis, spaced 12 inches apart for cantaloupe or honeydew and 24 inches apart for watermelon. Slings made from fabric or mesh support the melons as they grow. For bush-type melons, a heavy-duty cage should provide adequate support.
Learn how to grow watermelon and add this favorite summertime treat to your garden . Homegrown watermelon picked at the peak of sweetness tastes so much better than one bought at the store.
Watermelon needs plenty of space and at least 80 days of warm temperatures to grow well. If you have both, learn how to grow watermelon with these tips.
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7 Tips for How to Grow Watermelon
1. Select the best variety of quality seeds for your climate and location
In warm climates, most varieties do well. Some favorites include Crimson Sweet and Moon and Stars.
In hot summer climates like the low desert of Arizona, choose short-season varieties or types adapted to the heat of the summer such as Desert King and Hopi Yellow .
In cooler climates, choose short-season varieties such as Golden Midget and Sugar Baby .
Smaller growing space? Choose shorter-vining varieties such as Mini- Love , Bush Sugar Baby or Cal Sweet Bush . These varieties can be grown in one 4×4 foot bed or less.
2. Choose and prepare a good location for planting watermelon
- Watermelon needs plenty of room. Some vines reach up to 20 feet or more. Give watermelon the space it needs to grow well.
- Amend the planting area with compost and aged manure . Add a balanced organic fertilizer before planting.
- Choose a location that gets plenty of sunlight .
3. Plant watermelon seeds directly in warm soil
Watermelon does best when directly sown once soil temperatures reach 70℉ . Plant outside 2-3 weeks after your last frost date. Sow 3-4 seeds 1 inch deep, 4-5 feet apart. Water well with seaweed emulsion after planting. Thin to the strongest plant when plants have 3-4 leaves.
If using square foot gardening, plant shorter bush varieties and plan on one plant taking an entire 4×4 foot bed.
The best time to plant in the low desert of Arizona is during the month of March .
In cooler climates, start seeds indoors in 4 inch or larger pots 1 month before planting outside. Watermelon is very frost tender; wait to plant if there is any danger of frost.
Growing conditions for watermelons include lots of sunshine during the day and warm nights. Watermelon is a warm season fruit loved by just about everyone. They are great sliced, in fruit salads, and the rind is even used hollowed out as a serving basket or bowl. On a hot summer day, nothing tastes better than a nice slice of watermelon.
Understanding the best growing conditions for watermelons will help you grow this wonderful fruit.
How Do Watermelons Grow?
When considering how to grow watermelons, know that it is not that difficult. The plant does all the work. They grow great in the south during warmer seasons, but if you live in the north, there are tips for growing watermelons that can be followed so you are successful in your endeavors.
One of the better tips for growing watermelon plants in the north is that you should start early varieties in the house and plant transplants instead of planting the seed directly into the soil. While the plants can be started indoors and then put outside, don’t start them too early because large growing watermelon seedlings don’t do well when transplanted.
Watermelons prefer sandy loam soil over others. Growing watermelons also requires space, as the plants are vines and take up a lot of room. Seedlings should be planted 2 to 3 feet (.60-.91 m.) apart. You should definitely include 7 to 10 feet (2-3 m.) between rows.
Watermelon Plant Care
You’ll want to be sure to keep the area free from weeds. A good, shallow hoeing works best. You do not want to disturb the roots, and you certainly don’t want to cut any shoots off the main plant.
Another thing to consider as part of your basic watermelon plant care is that they need plenty of water. You should especially give them water when it gets dry, as it often does in the dead of summer.
So how long does watermelon take to grow? Growing watermelons take about 120 days from start to finish. How do you know they are ripe and ready to harvest?
You’ll notice that those little curly tendrils will turn brown and get a little crisp. Also, the color of the melon will get duller. The skin of the watermelon will be hard and resistant to the penetration of your fingernail when you try to press it into the melon.
Another way to know if the melon is ripe is to pick one up and turn it over. If the bottom where it sits in the soil is yellow, the watermelon is probably ripe.
Here’s how to make sure your home-grown melons live up to all their sugary potential.
Sweetness is graded on the Brix scale, which measures the percentage of solids (everything that’s not water) in juice extracted from fruit. Those solids include not just sugars, but amino acids, proteins, minerals and vitamins – in other words, fruit that is sweeter also has more complex flavors and a better nutrient profile.
Hot Tip: Sweeter fruit has a better nutrient profile.
The Brix rating, often abbreviated ‘Bx’, results from the interplay of genetics, climatic conditions, soil conditions, and ripeness. Below are a few considerations for how to harness those forces in the name of producing the sweetest possible melons.
Start with the Sweetest Varieties
All else being equal, some melons are naturally sweeter than others purely on the basis of genetic composition. Some seed purveyors list the average Brix rating for their melon, but for many common varieties that information is easily obtained through a quick internet search. A Brix rating of 12 is considered pleasantly sweet; 14 is very sweet; and 16 is over-the-moon sweet.
Sow Seeds Early
A long, hot growing season is required for optimal ripeness, and thus sweetness. Start melon seeds indoors in 4-inch pots at least six weeks before the average date of last frost in your area so that the seedlings are already well-established once warm weather hits. If you transplant the seedlings outdoors when the weather is cool, they’ll stop growing; so wait a couple weeks after the average date of last frost to do so, or until nighttime temperatures are consistently above 60 degrees.
Find Your Warmest Microclimate
Heat brings out melons’ sweetness, so make sure to plant them in a location that warms up early in spring and stays hot through the end of September. The south side of a fence or wall is ideal as the structure will absorb heat and light from the sun and reflect it back onto the melons. Locating the melons near a sunny brick patio or other paved surface also helps to create hot microclimate for these tropical plants. Such measures aren’t necessary in southern California, the desert Southwest, and the Deep South, but in cooler climates melons need all the help they can get to reach optimal ripeness.
Accentuate the Sun’s Rays
You can’t do anything to change the climate where you live or the amount of sun your yard gets, but there are a couple tricks for making the most of the available heat in any location. Covering the soil in melon beds with garden-grade black plastic film, which traps heat much like an asphalt surface, is one time-honored trick. You can also install clear plastic or see-through fabric “row covers” over melon beds to create a mini-greenhouse. These must come off in early summer when the plants begin to blossom so that insects can pollinate the flowers. Cover the beds again in late summer to ensure optimal ripening as the weather cools.
Don’t Crowd Your Melons
Melons grow on sprawling vines and do not ripen effectively when grown in cramped quarters. The seedlings are typically planted on mounds (three to a mound) spaced 2 feet apart in rows 6 feet apart. Thin the fruit to three melons per vine, as this will result in more nutrients (and thus sugars) pumped into each melon. If space is an issue, build a sturdy trellis and train the melons up the south side of it – this saves bed space, but also puts the fruit into better contact with the sun’s warming rays.
Sweetness Starts in the Soil
Sugars are produced in the leaves through the process of photosynthesis, and then pumped into the fruit – so the more lush the leafy growth, the higher the Brix rating. To encourage strong growth, blend 4 to 6 inches of composted manure into your melon beds prior to planting. Then add a balanced organic fertilizer (such as a mixed blood meal/bone meal product) every 3 to 4 weeks. Some gardeners elect to plant melons right into their compost pile, which not only provides loads of nutrients, but a bit of extra heat.
Water Heavily – But not During Ripening
Keeping melon leaves lush also requires copious amounts of irrigation. This is best applied with soaker hoses or a drip system, as overhead irrigation encourages fungal disease, which definitely detracts from melons’ sweetness. During the final weeks of ripening, however, excess water dilutes the sugar content of the fruit. So as the fruit approaches its full size, cut back on irrigation, providing only enough water to keep the leaves from completely wilting. It is normal at this stage for some of the older leaves to turn brown.
Pick at the Pinnacle of Ripeness
Even if you do everything else right, no melon is sweet if picked immature. Signs of ripeness include a fruity aroma, a slight softening of the rind, and a hollow sound when you strike the fruit with your knuckle. But the sure sign is how easily the fruit detaches from the vine. If it releases with a slight tug, it’s ripe enough to harvest. However, the highest sugar content is achieved when fruit detaches from the vine on its own (or if this does not occur, when the vine becomes shriveled and dry where it is attached to the melon). The risk at this stage, of course, is that birds and other critters may start eating the fruit before you do.
Growing watermelons in containers is an excellent way for a gardener with limited space to grow these refreshing fruits. Whether you are doing balcony gardening or are simply looking for a better way to use the limited space you have, container watermelons are possible and fun. Understanding how to grow watermelon in containers successfully just requires a little bit of knowledge.
How to Grow Watermelon in Containers
Successfully growing watermelons in pots starts before you even plant your watermelon seed. You need to choose a pot that will be large enough for your container watermelon to thrive. Watermelons grow rapidly and require plenty of water, so it is recommended that you go with a 5-gallon (19 kg) or larger size container. Make sure that the container you will be growing watermelons in has enough drainage holes.
Fill the watermelon container with potting soil or other soilless mix. Do not use dirt from your garden. This will compact quickly in the container and will make growing watermelons in containers difficult.
Next, you need to choose a variety of watermelon that will do well in pots. When planting watermelon in pots, you need to look for a compact variety that grows small fruit. These may include:
- Moon and Stars watermelon
- Sugar Baby watermelon
- Crimson Sweet watermelon
- Early Moonbeam watermelon
- Jubilee watermelon
- Golden Midget watermelon
- Jade Star watermelon
- Millennium watermelon
- Orange Sweet watermelon
- Solitaire watermelon
Once you have selected the container watermelons you will grow, place the seed into the soil. The seed should be plant 3 times deeper than it is long. Water the seed well. You can also transplant a seedling that has been started indoors into the soil. Whether you are planting seeds or a seedling, make sure that all chances of frost have passed outside.
Caring for Watermelons in a Pot
Once you are done planting your watermelon in pots, you’ll need to provide support for the plant. Most people who grow watermelons in containers lack space. Without some kind of support, even watermelons growing in containers can take up an enormous amount of space. Support for your watermelon can come in the form of either a trellis or a teepee. As the vine grows, train it up the support.
If you are growing watermelons in containers in an urban area or a high balcony, you may find that you don’t have enough pollinators to pollinate the watermelons. You can pollinate them by hand, and directions on how pollinate melons by hand are here.
Once fruit appears on your container watermelon, you’ll need to provide additional support for the watermelon fruit as well. Use a stretchy, flexible material like a panty hose or a t-shirt to create a hammock under the fruit. Tie each end of the hammock to the watermelon’s main support. As the watermelon fruit grows, the hammock will stretch to accommodate the size of the fruit.
Your container watermelon will need to be watered daily in temperatures under 80 F. (27 C.) and twice daily in temperatures over this. Use a water based fertilizer once a week, or a granulated slow release fertilizer once a month.
While watermelons can be great as treats, they can be a little hard to work with as crops. However, with a little know-how and preparation, you can easily have them growing in your garden.
Up for the challenge? Read on and learn how to grow your own watermelons.
How do watermelons grow?
Unlike most crops, watermelons grow on vines that grow out of the initial sprout and can grow to be six metres long. The number of vines determines how many watermelons there are per plant as each vine can produce between two to four melons during the growing season.
Where to plant watermelons
Watermelons grow best in a planting site that has a lot of open space. Watermelon vines ramble, so your plants are going to spread out around your garden as they grow. Watermelon plants are also heavy feeders, so you might need to prepare compost if you don’t have nutrient-rich soil.
The best time to plant watermelon
If you live in the Australia’s temperate zone, seeds need to be sown sometime between October and December when daily temperatures average around 20-25 °C. If the weather still isn’t warm enough around that time, you can start your seeds indoors in containers like a small pot or a germination tray.
This way, you’ll be able to control how warm the soil can get. Just make sure to transfer the seedling to your garden as soon as you can as larger seedlings won’t transplant well.
Ideal soil conditions for watermelon
You also need to prepare mounds of soil to sow the seeds in as they will drain water faster than soil on flat ground. These mounds of soil also tend to be warmer, which is ideal for tropical fruit like watermelon. For most varieties, the seeds should be sown an inch deep into a 6-12 inch tall mound.
Do watermelons need lots of water?
Watermelons require a thorough watering once a week. Once the seeds have germinated, give your plants an inch of water every week. A little bit of balanced fertiliser each week can also be good for your plants as watermelons take a lot of nutrients from the soil and compost. It’s also a good idea to add mulch to the soil as it helps with retaining moisture and driving away weeds that can interfere with the growth of your plants.
How long does it take to grow a watermelon?
On average, it takes around three months for a watermelon to grow from seed to mature fruit, with smaller varieties having shorter growing times than larger varieties of watermelon.
Around two weeks after your vines start rambling, your watermelon plants should start flowering, with the smaller male flowers showing up first and the fruit-bearing female flowers appearing soon after.
In most cases, the bees in your garden should be able to pollinate all your flowers for you. However, if you don’t have that many bees, you can also pollinate them yourself.
Knowing when to harvest your watermelons can be a bit tricky as there aren’t any surefire ways of checking whether the fruit is ready for picking.
For a lot of gardeners, a brown and dried up tendril near the watermelon is a good sign that the fruit is ready. You can also try lightly thumping your knuckles on the watermelon to see if it produces the hollow sound a ripe watermelon should make.
Neither of these techniques is an exact science, so it might take you a little bit of practice before you can consistently tell when your melons are ready for harvest.
We know watermelons can be a little tricky to deal with, so we’ve come up with a couple of tips that can make life a little easier for you.
1. Use open-pollinated or heirloom seeds
If you want to grow the healthiest watermelons, be sure to use these two kinds of seeds instead of the hybrid varieties often seen in store-bought melons. Open-pollinated varieties are often more resilient than other kinds of seeds, and heirloom seeds tend to produce better fruit.
2. Sow more seeds than you need
Since you won’t get a good plant out of every seed you sow, you’ll be better off sowing as many seeds as you can and trimming away weaker seedlings.
3. Train the vines on a trellis
If you don’t have a lot of space in your garden, you can train the vines to climb up a trellis instead of spreading all over your yard. While this takes a little more time and effort on your part, you’ll free up a lot more space.
4. Regularly prune your vines
Once your vines start rambling, be on the lookout for rotten parts that need to be clipped away with sterilised tools. If these rotting parts stayed on the vines, the bacteria and fungi might spread and damage the rest of the plant.
5. Plant helpful crops next to your watermelons
Watermelons take in a lot of nutrients, so soil-enriching crops like beans and other legumes make for excellent companion plants. You can even incorporate these plants into your crop rotation system so that your garden can be ready for watermelons for the next growing season.
Binomial Name: Citrullus lanatus
Watermelon Varieties: Black Diamond, Jubilee, Sugar Baby
Sugar Baby is an early season watermelon, coming to maturity approximately 75 days after germination. The small size of the fruits, and relatively short time to harvest, make Sugar Baby on of the easier varieties to cultivate. Sugar Baby melons typically do not exceed 10 pounds, with flavor red flesh and a light green rind with dark stripes.
Seeds or Seedlings
3 to 5 days, 60F to 95F
As they require a long growing season, watermelons are best started indoors approximately 3-4 weeks prior to the last frost of the season. Sow seeds 1/4″ deep in flats or small pots, sowing 3 seeds per pot. Keep medium moist while awaiting germination. Additionally, watermelon seeds will show better germination rates with heat. Keep the soil between 80-90 degrees, using a heat mat if necessary. Seed should begin to germinate within 3-10 days.
Once seeds start to germinate, lower soil temp slightly to the mid 70s, for 1-2 weeks, also decreasing water. Thin to one plant per cell or pot. Once the first set of true leaves has developed, reduce waterings once more, but do not allow plant to become desiccated.
Harden plant by gradually exposing to outdoor conditions. Transplant to permanent site in late spring after the last frost has passed. If possible, transplant on an overcast day to minimize wilting and create a more amenable environment for your young plant.
If you have long, hot growing seasons, melons can direct-seed into garden. To ensure ripening in areas with shorter growing seasons and cooler weather, choose fast-maturing varieties, start plants inside, use black or IRT plastic mulch to warm soil and use fabric row covers to protect plants.
Direct-seed 1 to 2 weeks after average last frost when soil is 70 F or warmer. Plant 1 inch deep, 6 seeds per hill, hills 4 to 6 feet apart; or 1 foot apart in rows 5 feet apart. Can plant at closer spacings if trellised. Thin to 2 to 3 plants per hill.
Choosing a Site
Prefers warm, well-drained, soil, high in organic matter with pH 6.5 to 7.5. Consistent, plentiful moisture needed until fruit is about the size of a tennis ball. Soil temperatures below 50 F slow growth. Consider using black plastic and fabric row covers to speed soil warming. Sandy or light-textured soils that warm quickly in spring are best.
In many areas, successful crops require starting plants indoors, using plastic mulch to warm soil, and fabric row covers to protect young transplants.
For transplanting, sow seeds indoors ¼ inch deep in peat pots (2-inch square or bigger), 2 to 4 weeks before setting out. Plants should have one or two true leaves when transplanted.
Transplant at same spacings as direct-seeded crops – 2 to 3 plants per hill in hills spaced 4 to 6 feet apart, or 1 to 2 feet apart in rows 5 feet apart. Transplants are delicate and roots are sensitive to disturbance. If you need to thin, use scissors. Keep soil intact around plant when transplanting.
Mulch plants after soil has warmed to help maintain consistent moisture and suppress weeds.
If using fabric row covers, remove at flowering to allow pollination by bees. Good pollination is critical to fruit set.
Plants require consistent moisture until pollination. Once fruits are about the size of a tennis ball, only water if soil is dry and leaves show signs of wilting.
To prevent insect damage to developing fruits, place melons on pots or pieces of wood.
If growing melons on a trellis, support fruit with slings made from netting, fabric, or pantyhose. Trellising improves air circulation around plants and can help reduce foliar disease problems. Choose small-fruited varieties and reduce plant spacing.
For large plantings, leave a strip of rye cover crop every second or third row perpendicular to prevailing winds to protect plants from damaging wind.
To reduce insect and disease problems, avoid planting cucumber family crops (melons, squash, pumpkins) in the same spot two years in a row.
Do not let your melon plants get dried out during the growing season. They are not tolerant of drought. Additionally, be cautious not to over-water plants as this can negatively impact the taste and flavor later on. Keep soil moist but not soggy.
Harveting watermelons is not as straight forward as many other vegetables when it comes to deciding exactly when to harvest. One of the reasons is that they do not slip off the vine like cantaloupes when ripe. This makes it is necessary to look for other indicators. Rolling the melon over and looking at the ground spot where the melon was laying is probably the best method. If that portion of the watermelon is a pale yellow color, the melon should be ripe. You can also look at the tendrils (short, curly, stem-like vine) next to the melon. The tendrils are close to the area where a leaf is attached to the main vine. When the first tendril next to the fruit looks dead and dried up, the melon closest to that tendril should be ripe. Watermelons will store longer than other melons and should be refrigerated, especially after cut.
Scoop out the seeds from a ripe melon and put them into a wire mesh sieve, then with running water over the seeds rub them gently against the mesh, using it to loosen and remove the stringy fibers. Next place the cleaned seeds in a bowl of water, stir it a few times. Some seeds will float to the top. these are immature or sterile melon seeds, they are hollow and/or light-weight and will float to the top of the water. Skim away these bad seeds and discard them. Stir a few more times and repeat the process until no more sterile seeds float to the the top. Drain the water from the remaining seeds.
Afterwards, line a heavy plate or baking pan with waxed paper, spread the seeds out in a single layer onto the waxed paper and place it in sunny spot to air-dry.
Stir the seeds occasionally during the next few hours to make sure all sides are exposed to fresh air, this facilitates even drying. After a day in the sun bring the seeds into the house where they continue to dry for another week or two, stir them daily so they dry evenly. If you’ve got rainy weather the increased humidity can prolong the drying process another week or so.
Melons have thick seeds so be sure they are thoroughly dry before packing them for storage.
Few fruits scream “summer” quite as much as watermelon. There are many watermelon varieties including those in surprising hues and different sizes. Out of all the types of watermelon to grow, make sure to select one that will produce and ripen in your zone. Northern gardeners will want short season crops while warm region growers can select from a wider catalogue.
In order to get juicy, sweet watermelon, you need to select the right option and time your planting to suit your zone. These fruits need anywhere from 90 to 130 days from seed to harvest, making them a tough plant to grow in cooler climes.
Short Season Watermelon Growing
Big melons need about 4 months of warm, frost free weather. In cooler climates, the seeds will need to be started indoors and planted out after any danger of frost has passed, usually 6 weeks prior. Harden off seedlings and prepare the bed by mixing in a generous amount of compost. The smaller varieties are the best choice, but there are some large fruits suitable for shorter seasons. Here are a few short season watermelon varieties for northern gardeners:
- Sugar Baby- A smaller variety, with dark, almost black rind, and reddish orange flesh
- Yellow Doll- A fun choice with small fruit, thin rind and surprising yellow flesh
- Cole’s Early- Developed as an early hybrid, large striped fruit, sweet, pinkish red flesh
Big Watermelon Fruits
If you are looking for fruits that can get to giant proportions, there are several to try. Keep in mind they need to be started as early as possible, will need plenty of water and rich, well- draining soil. During watermelon growing periods, keep the area weed free. Use soaker hoses or drip systems to prevent fungal diseases. Fertilize once the plant starts developing buds. In order to promote monster fruit, cull all but the largest so the plant directs all its energy to producing heavy, large melons.
- Carolina Cross- Can get an impressive 250 pounds
- American Champion- A variety from the late 1800s that will produce fruit at a more modest 100 pounds
- Yellow Belly Black Diamond- A yellow fleshed type, fruits come in at around 60-70 pounds
- Blue Rind- As the name would indicate, the rind is bluish green. Comes in at 160 pounds
Playing with Color
Red fleshed fruits are the kind we all remember from our summer picnics but watermelon breeding has undergone a surge, developing melons for every need and taste. There are now seedless hybrids, types with different colored rinds, and even a rainbow of flesh tones. You can find orange, yellow and even pink fleshed types of watermelon to grow. Each has classic watermelon flavor but may vary in intensity and sweetness. Plant several of these choices and you can make a beautiful fruit salad filled with color.
- OrangeGlo- By all accounts, the most flavorful of the orange varieties. Also resistant to wilt disease and insects
- Harvest Moon- A pink variety of medium sized with crisp, sweet flesh• Amarillo- Deeply yellow with striped rind