Secrets to growing great watermelon

brokenbar(Mexico 23 00 N, 102 00 W)September 1, 2008

There is a "Secret" to growing big, good watermelons. Watermelons have the longest taproot of any fruit or vegetable, ranging from three to six feet and with lateral roots as long. In addition to this incredibly long taproot, watermelons "pout".

Here is the way to grow them:

NEVER and I mean NEVER start watermelon earlier than 6 weeks FROM THE DAY THEY WILL GO INTO THE GARDEN. NEVER buy started watermelon plants because you have no idea how old they are. Start watermelons in a large peat cup that can go directly into the ground. If the taproot is disturbed IN ANY WAY, the plant will pout and never recover in time to bear mature fruit.

Using a hand-held post hole digger (you can use an auger on your tractor but holes will need much more growing medium to fill them in) Dig a hole 3 foot deep. Fill the hole with equal amounts of good quality planting soil, sand and peat moss. I also add some OLD well-rotted horse manure because I have plenty of it (I use Miracle Gro planting mix from Walmart).

Set the plants in their peat cups into the top of the hole and fill in around them. For about 2 to 3 weeks, you won't think these plants are doing a darn thing BUT...the taproot is heading down and all of a sudden, the plants will just take off. Water...I have used every method and have decided that using a "weep" hose does the best. I water my plants overnight, every other day. If it is extremely hot, I water every day. I allow each plant and it's runners to get about 8-10 feet long and then I prune them. Watermelons on the ends of the vine will never mature in time and the pruning allows the plant to put the energy into the already formed fruit. Even watering is a MUST because sudden changes in watering is what causes watermelons to crack. Melons are ripe when the two small tendrils closest to the melon on the stem turn brown and the underside of the melon is a creamy yellowish.

I live in northern Wyoming and our growing season averages 100 days frost free (except this year when we had 27 degrees on June 11 and I cried and shook my fist at the garden god.) Last year I produced 75 watermelons from 20 plants that weighed an average of 23 lbs (Had one 72 pounder!) We set out plants May 30 and were eating watermelon by the end of July.

I have grown watermelon all my life and I lived in California until about 30 years ago and there is no better place to grow them then there, but I have NEVER grown watermelon like these. I know it's too late for this year but I seem to never have time to post in the spring.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

That is an interesting read. I agree on setting out young plants...about 21 days or even less if conditions permit.

I like your choice of good top soil, sand, peat, and horse manure. Deep holes are good, but kinda tiring unless they can be used repeatedly. Tell us about your disease experiences if any using old melon ground.

I don't prune vines but do believe in limiting the number of fruits to get good quality.

What varieties are you raising? I raise many different ones and find that certain spots raise better melons than other spots even though they look just alike.

I agree with adequate watering and don't have splitting or trouble getting sweetness.

Looking forward to hearing some more from you.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2008 at 7:05PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I have certainly learned the hard way that disturbing the tap root on melons is a disaster. With volatile continental weather I have decide upon a tactic I used with pole beans. I grew then in a green house in 5 gal containers. When they were a foot tall I moved them to a trellis and they were 8 feet in June. Many of my tomatoes had issue because of disturbed tap roots because I had to hold off for weeks.
Since I don't have the room, I grow icebox melons anyway like Minnesota midget and sugar baby. So I will direct sow in 5 gal containers in a green house and will move them out in June with no transplant shock ever. Cucumbers and melons just don't like to move...

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 1:50PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
flora2b(z6a bc)

Thanks Brokenbar, I will incorporate your idea of the well dug area for the tap root next year as well as some manure. You did not state whether you use black plastic or not? I have found the plastics extra heat in the early part of the season beneficial as well as reducing moisture loss and weeding. I also tried mounding the soil and planting the seeds on the south side of the mound only, as I direct seeded this year, it seems to work great. Wasn't sure with our short season if I'd get anything this year with direct seed, but I did.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 2:18PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

Funny thing...I have pulled up hundreds of my melon roots to lessen disease possibilities. I don't recall ever finding a taproot....always horizonal roots...even when extra healthy. I don't have sandy soil, but even when I have dug some hole for the melon, they have not taprooted the hole.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 3:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
brokenbar(Mexico 23 00 N, 102 00 W)

Wayne, I pull up a big one and the laterals go out as far as 6 to 8 feet. I was particularily careful the first year I used this method because I wanted to see for myself.
The slope mine are growing on is probably 10 feet deep of really old horse manure(like 10 years old) and dirt we brought in. It has never been walked or driven on so it's pretty loamy. We even dug up the original ground underneath
with our backhoe and then rototilled it a gajilion times. Lots of bentonite in the soil here a lot like georgia clay.
Who knows...maybe I have the perfect dirt in a perfect spot and that's the secret!

    Bookmark   September 2, 2008 at 4:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Brokenbar, tell us more about why you think California is the best place to grow watermelon. We certainly can't purchase tasty watermelon here. When I decided to grow them, my nay-saying husband couldn't google any good reason why California had lousy watermelon (do they need acid soil, humidity, etc.) and therefore continues to insist my watermelon project is a waste of time. So far I picked one unripe, and a second one was only as good as store-bought but that was a volunteer in a huge container out of the sun so I didn't expect much (did have excellent texture). The others are grown in place on a south-facing slope fed with composted manure and don't appear ready to harvest. Please provide me with more logical experience about why my DH is FOS on California watermelons :)

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 1:03AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I think Brokenbar should have been more specific rather than saying "California". I am sure he was refering to the Central Valley or Imperial Valley of California when saying California is best area to grow watermelons. To get good sugar accumulation you need a good difference between day and night temperature. I see you are in zone 10 (on coast?). If your day and night temperature is only different by 10 degrees you will have a hard time growing melons with good flavor/sugar.

In my experience the best thing to do when growing melons of any type is not overwater after fruit set. I stop watering "melons" completly 1 week after 1st fruit set. I stop watering watermelons 20 days after 1st fruit set. I usually get 2 melons per plant. I also practice "deep" watering during the entire season and typically water once or twice a month for 8-10 hours with a soaker hose.


    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 5:05PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

The best growing advice I can give [not concerning soil and fertilization] is: To grow the very best quality melons in the full sized category, allow only 1 fruit at a time on the plant at least until that first one is nearly done sizing up. Then allow the second fruit. Of course 2 fruits at a time will be ok oftentimes when the plant vigor is high. And sure someone will recall 3 or more good ones at a time [me too] but that is the rare exception for most plants, gardens, and years.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 9:32PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Yumamelon, I'm growing atop an 800' hill on the inland side of downtown and have a day/night temperature variable between 25-40 degrees. So our situation is very different from the coast. I have never read any suggestion that temperature differential was significant for watermelon and find this is interesting. I'm working on reducing watering overall, and watering deeply when I do so, and recently installed and have begun using a drip system. Because I'm growing on a 45 degree slope and can't dig (to check dampness) much without erosion or root damage, and obviously the water seems to just run off alot - reducing watering is still a work in progress. Tomorrow I may harvest my first charentais, and soon my first ripe watermelons, from this patch, and we'll see what they reveal about cultivation in these weird conditions. That is if the big one doesn't have a stem malfunction and go crashing down the hill like a bowling ball and smash in the road.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 1:28AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
brokenbar(Mexico 23 00 N, 102 00 W)

Jonny, YEP...El Centro-Imperial Valley. I was born on a cattle ranch near there. There & Texas, Georgia and Mexico are the leaders I think.

I can't overstate the adding of compost or well aged manure. Watermelons are hardy feeders. I don't use plastic because my slope has so much compost, etc and is so loamy and fluffy that it heats up rapidly. I know you all think we live a big icecube here but I am actually high desert, surrounded by the Big Horn Mts. Prior Mts., Absorkas and the Beartooths, so go most of the year with no snow on the ground (so "heaving" of perennials is a problem.)

In a NORMAL year (one of those about every 5 years...BAH)
We are safe to plant out after May 16 and usually do not get frost until the middle or end of Sept. This years SUCKS!!! 27 degrees on Jun 11 and cold and rainy the whole month so I am into the big growth spurt/ripening of everything as I type. Mother Naure is on my "hag" list this year.

I really think the not disturbing them and not starting them too early is HUGE.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2008 at 3:53PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hey Brokenbar,
It is always good to run into some one from the desert. I assume from my screenname you know I am from Yuma. The leading states are FL, TX, GA, CA for production acres in US. Mexico is around the size of GA in acreage.

I dont' know what to tell you. It sounds like you aren't in ideal conditions for growing watermelons. The slope and water management sound like issues. Can you terrace your slope with raised beds?


    Bookmark   September 5, 2008 at 12:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
brokenbar(Mexico 23 00 N, 102 00 W)

Yumamelon...I miss the desert! It's high desert here in Northern Wyoming so some parts are similar. Miss the canals and the catfishing and "going to the River" for fourth Of July! We bought a house down on the Yucatan penninsula in Mexico and I dream of the day when I can garden year round. 5 more years! Not only do I vegie garden but I have a sun-dried tomato business to all the restaurants and I have nearly 200 orchids indoors (My hubby loves me a lot!) Wyoming is just have to squeeze a year's worth of work into 6 months! And I really do think that NO WHERE grows melons like the Imperial Valley. Alfalfa as well. Only get 2 cuttings here and they can't believe it when I tell them they get 6 or 7 in the Imperial Valley. Being from know 'bout melon!

    Bookmark   September 5, 2008 at 11:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
vall3fam(9 CentralCA)

the reason we can't buy good tasting fruit in the most amazing growing area in the world is that the buying public demand "pretty" fruit and veggies. They want red, seedless, size of your head melons because that is what they think a melon should be. Notice that nowhere in there is taste a factor. Let me tell you I grew some mighty tasty moon and stars watermelons this year that would knock your socks off in taste and texture. I've never grown watermelons in my life, so these were a special treat.

Would they sell in the supermarkets? Probably not, because at 35 pounds, they won't fit in the "average" refrigerator. I had to take a shelf out to get it in mine. Plus they have those "dreaded" seeds that you must spit out when eating your melon. God knows that they would probably have to put a legal disclaimer on the melon to prevent some idiot from choking on a seed.

The same goes for all the fruit and veggies "commercially" grown here. All for looks, shipability and shelf stability. No mention of flavor anywhere. For example, today at Raley's, they had a big display of softball sized peaches that were absolutely beautiful, perfectly blushed and all identically shaped. I was sucked into buying one. Taste? Insipid. Texture? Crunchy. That is why when I grow my fruits and veggies, I branch out and look for seeds and plants that aren't commonly grown commercially. I especially harken back to the heirlooms. I picked two pounds of "heidi" plum tomatoes today for roasted tomato soup. They still had the heat of the sun in them. Once roasted and pureed, the pure tomato flavor was delightful and unlike any you could buy at the supermarket.

I don't blame the commercial farmers, they have to make a living. I still buy fruits and veggies there throughout the year. But for my family's own eating pleasure, I grow my own stuff. Sounds like you're on the right track. If you want some of the seeds of the moon and stars, let me know and I'll save some for you.


    Bookmark   September 6, 2008 at 12:46AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

The supermarket watermelons look like a box of cannonballs. I suppose many shoppers pick a smallish one...."I don't need a larger one"........not knowing that larger melons of a variety mean more oomph to the melon. The growers plant them close together to get the maximun yield...just like the corn growers do which means smaller ears but more ears and a higher yield overall.
I find that the commercial varieties of watermelons are pretty good when raised by the home gardener.
The first year growing watermelons can be very good in the right growing conditions. After that disease seems to slip in unless one has disease free seed and/or saves their own seeds from disease free melons.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2008 at 9:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

I should have added that if one has a lot of good rotational growing area for melons, disease can be more minor....but most of us don't qualify there.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2008 at 9:40PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The best melons are grown in a rich sandy loam. The best fertilizer to use is composted manure and while horse manure works, rabbit manure outperforms it in every way. Soil PH should be in the range of 6.0 to 6.5.

Here are the things I do to raise terrific melons. I prepare the soil with lots of manure worked into the top 6 inches. I put down woven plastic mesh 15 feet wide by 300 feet long to suppress weeds and to heat the soil for early growth. I start seed indoors in cell trays about 10 days before transplanting. Cut a slot into the woven plastic mesh about 4 inches long by 2 inches wide and set the plant into the hole with a cup of water to settle the roots.

Of all the things mentioned above, you failed to mention variety. I've grown the very best melons from carefully selected seed such as Jubilee, Orangeglo, Black Tail Mountain (extra early for the north), Luscious Golden, and a few heirloom varieties popular in this area.


    Bookmark   September 7, 2008 at 12:43AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana


I agree that variety can be important. For example I tried JubileeII several years ago. It was a vintage year here and only JubileeII didn't do well nor taste I scrubbed that one. Another year I tried Blacktail Mt. and they both died before I scrubbed that one....probably too much disease pressure here.
The point is that different places are, well different I guess. As I said above, I find that several of the commercial recent varieties do do well here....and taste great. I also like Organgeglo too. It is large and delicious AND a good grower here.

I find that watermelons do really well in the best spots but I have a lot of middlin performers too. Sometimes plants will look great one day and the next day several plants will start a wilt down process in unision the very same day in lockstep...go figure. Oh to have all new rich sandy loam every year with no disease organisms!!

Fusion, Is that woven plastic mulch the more common weed barrier. 15 feet wide is sold? Also, if it really warms the soil as you say, that would be good too as it needs it here early on. Can it be reused?

    Bookmark   September 7, 2008 at 1:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
brokenbar(Mexico 23 00 N, 102 00 W) is what I grow and I have not been dissapointed in any of them:
Black Diamond Red
Black Diamond Yellow
Desert King
Charleston Gray
Moon & Stars
King & Queen(this melon is one of the few that stores well.)
Orange Glo
Carolina Cross
FLorida Giant

If I had to say, I think that most of my melons have averaged about 35 pounds.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2008 at 4:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Update & Questions: So I finally harvested some charentais and ripe watermelon from the slope under discussion. The charentais were quite good, though not revelatory as reputed. The first one was nearly three times normal size (that's grapefuit size). The first ripe watermelon could be better, but is better than anything I've had in the last few decades. It's about the size of three large bowling balls and yellow-fleshed, either a small Desert King or large Yellow Doll (more likely). Yes I tagged them but the vines are a spaghetti farm and I can't follow them now. I forgot to point out that I didn't put the seeds in the ground until early June, and we have had a freakishly cold summer this year, so the melons were growing and ripening in much cooler temperatures than normal or necessary (if I had started them early like I should have). So for my first melon effort since childhood this showing is satisfactory, to be improved upon in future. DH argues that in Florida, where he ate tastiest watermelons, it rained every day which should have left them tasteless. Yesterday I read on the dragonfruit list the statement that use of soil sulfer improves brix (sugar at harvest) - which was very interesting to me because our soil needed it and I had just done it, though not early enough to influence this crop. I'm really glad to hear you'all praising your moon & stars - they are beautiful and I really wanted to grow some but can't afford the space unless somebody says they taste great. Vall3fam, I'm waiting for the legal disclaimer on the 30lb. watermelon that says "do not attempt to swallow whole unless professional"! Far as pretty tasteless food grouse, you are preaching to the choir!

    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 1:42PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Wayne, The woven mesh fabric I use is sold by shawfabrics under the Lumite brandname. It runs about $1 per ft delivered on a 300 ft roll. I buy 3 or 4 rolls at a time to reduce average shipping costs. Typical durability is about 4 years though the website says 5.


    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 5:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I live near Oakland, CA is this a good area for growing melons?

    Bookmark   September 14, 2008 at 6:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Eric, there are many microclimates in the SF Bay area, but the fog and powdery mildew can make melon growing tough around there. Here's some suggestions from the CA forum:

Ambrosia (M)
Earlidew (H)
Earliqueen (M)
Early Hanover (M)
Earlygold (M)
Fastbreak (M)
Flyer (M)
Galia (G)
Haogen (M)
Jenny Lind (M)
Minnesota Midget (M)
Sweet 'n Early (M)
Tropical Passport (G)

G = Galia type melon
H = Honeydew
M = Muskmelon ("cantaloupe")

    Bookmark   September 14, 2008 at 9:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sldeal(Zone 11)

thanks so much for sharing that bit of info. I have a stupid questions I wish someone could answer for me. Can I plant those white seeds you find in watermelons? Or can you only plant the black seeds? I understand planting from watermelons may be risky because of hybrid. But I just want to give it a shot (I'm a beginner gardener). If anything grows I'll know to purchase seeds next go round, oh also, I can't seem to find any watermelon seeds anywhere - guess I waited to late to buy, which is why I'm looking at planting my watermelon seeds.

Anyhelp would be useful.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 9:22AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
anney(Georgia 8)


If you mean a melon that has both dark and white seeds, the white watermelon seeds are immature and will not grow melons! But unless it's a hybrid watermelon you've eaten, you can save and plant the dark seeds from any ripe watermelon. Many are open-pollinated or heirlooms, which means they'll grow to be just like the parent you ate!

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 10:21AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
sldeal(Zone 11)

Anney thanks for your reply.
No, there weren't any dark seeds just the white seeds. I kinda figured that but I was so hoping I was wrong. Guess I gotta keep looking around to see if I can find a pack of seeds or at least an old fashion watermelon with dark seeds. :-)

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 2:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Sldeal, If a watermelon has both white and dark seeds, the white seeds are immature ones. If you have very many immature seeds, melon quality suffers greatly. On the other hand many of the antique melons have white seeds. Examples are Dixie Queen, Stone Mountain, Orangeglo etc. These are perfectly good to plant, germination wise.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 6:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana


Most supermarkets and large retail stores have vegetable seed racks with watermelon

If you are refering to the small white immature seeds in seedless melons, they will not grow...ever.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 6:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
anney(Georgia 8)


farmerdilla is right, of course. I thought you were talking about watermelons that had dark and those almost transparent light-colored seeds, the immature ones.

If the melon you ate had all white seeds, as he notes, you should be able to grow them (the big white seeds, not the immature ones) if the melon isn't a hybrid.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 7:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I live in FAR west texas and I have started to grow what I call magical day I was watering some marigolds I planted in my flower bed an noticed a strange leaf, I asked around found it was water melon. That was a few weeks ago and now my melons have grown to the size of my hand. Two questions, can watermelon survive in a narrow moon shapped flower bed? bout 5ft x 2 and are there such thing is unedible or poisonous wild watermelon?

    Bookmark   June 18, 2011 at 8:31AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I've been reading up on the watering...and some people say water deeply continuously, some people say stop watering completely and only water once in a month. So I'm hearing two sides of the story...water often and water sparsely. Which one is it and why?

    Bookmark   July 11, 2011 at 6:49PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
More efficient planting
Found this in the Oklahoma Gardening forum... tube...
Skirret and Sea Kale
Can someone tell me where I might buy Skirret and Sea...
aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada
Placement of soaker hoses
Hi everyone :) I just started a new veg patch. I made...
mealybugs and leaf miners
How do you control mealy bugs and leaf miners on leafy...
Unforecasted late frost
I'm pretty much a newbie. I transplanted a yellow...
Katie Gooding
Sponsored Products
T3 Single Pass Whirl Curling Wand
$130.00 | FRONTGATE
Del Mar Dining Arm Chair, Patio Furniture
$695.00 | FRONTGATE
Secret Club Multi Light Suspension with Crystals
Modern Indoor/Outdoor Area Rug: Kas Rugs Rugs Secret Garden Black/Cream 8 ft. x
Home Depot
Telling Secrets Clock
$39.99 | Dot & Bo
DENY Designs Cori Dantini The Secret To Happiness Outdoor Throw Pillow Multicolo
$49.00 | Hayneedle
Bling Toothed Skull Jar
$39.99 | Dot & Bo
Encased Gems Six-Light Chandelier in Venerable Bronze Patina Finish with Multi-C
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™