Growing Watermelon

From varieties to cultivation, watering, and harvest, growing watermelon has never been better than with our expert advice.

  • Watermelons are fun and easy to grow, as long as you know a few secrets about things like when and how much to water, and when to harvest.
    Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds;
  • Two young farm girls eat homegrown watermelon next to the garden.
    Photo by Fotolia/EduardSV
  • Two melons thrive in a market-garden watermelon field.
    Photo by Fotolia/satyrenko
  • Bradford varieties, shown at right, are extremely rare to find, so if you’re lucky enough to find seeds, it’s wise to save your own seed from the legendary fruits.
    Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds;
  • Cream of Saskatchewan is an 80-day watermelon that’s well-suited to northern growing. Fruits are around 8 to 10 pounds with sweet, tasty, cream-colored flesh.
    Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds;
  • Moon and Stars melons come in a variety of flesh colors.
    Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds;
  • Chris Cross is an almost-extinct variety first bred in Montrose, Iowa. Fruits are 15 to 20 pounds and have a tasty, crisp, red flesh.
    Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds;
  • Black Seeded Ice Cream is an old sweet-flavored, pink-fleshed variety that was popular in the 19th century.
    Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds;
  • Golden Midget matures in just 70 days, and weighs around 3 pounds.
    Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds;
  • Watermelon for sale at a market stall on the street.
    Photo by Fotolia/ElenaMirage

Summer just wouldn’t be the same without picnics and cooking outdoors. And what’s a picnic without watermelon?! Maybe you get that melon from the supermarket, or if you’re lucky, a roadside stand. Maybe it’s local, but more likely, it comes in from one of the Southern states or California on a semitrailer piled high with melons. It never fails: That “good one” is always at the bottom of the bin.

Now, imagine serving up your own homegrown melon at the next Labor Day picnic, knowing for certain it’s a good one. That’s not a pipe dream: You can grow good watermelons right where you live.

The right melon

With more than 1,200 varieties, there’s a melon that’s right for just about any growing condition in the United States, even as far north as Alaska. Spend some time going through seed catalogs, and you’ll be amazed by what you discover. Melons come in all sizes, from 1-pound single-serve to 100-plus-pound record-breakers. Rinds can be hard and thin, good for shipment and storage; or tender and thick, perfect for making watermelon pickles (see recipe linked below). Even their flesh comes in a variety of colors: crimson, orange, yellow, even icy white.

The most important information in the catalogs usually gets overlooked — days to maturity. Watermelons can mature in as few as 70 days and as many as 110 days. These are counted from the day you plant your melons in the garden, whether as seeds or transplants. They absolutely must be warm days for best flavor, at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit, day and night.

Stalwart varieties

Charleston Gray produces large, 20- to 40-pound oblong fruits in 90 days. The flesh is deep red, and the rinds are thick enough for watermelon pickles.

Cream of Saskatchewan gets by with a shorter season, needing only 80 days to deliver sweet, pale yellow, even cream-fleshed melons. The melons are 8 to 10 pounds, round, icebox type fruits, perfect for the fridge.

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