By Julie Christensen
Seasoned vegetable gardeners are a bit like fishermen boasting about their catch. They gauge their success as gardeners by the size of the fruit in their watermelon patch. Growing watermelon in the home garden is a cinch — if you have the right conditions and you choose the best watermelon type.
Watermelons are native to Africa and thrive in warm, moist conditions. They need at least 90 sunny, warm days to mature, and large picnic types can take up to 130 days to ripen. This poses a problem for gardeners in the North, where a typical growing season may be only 80 days.
To combat a short growing season, Northern gardeners have to think strategically. Try planting seedlings, rather than seeds, and lay black plastic mulch over the soil two weeks before planting time. Black plastic mulch heats up the soil by 10 degrees so you can plant earlier. And, once you do plant, the tiny seedlings grow more quickly because they’re kept warm.
Watermelon needs full sun and rich soil to promote healthy leaf and vine development. Dig in several inches of compost or manure before planting, and fertilize watermelon after the plants start to flower. Keep soil evenly moist, but not soggy. Try using drip systems or soaker systems instead of overhead sprinklers. These methods deliver water right to the plants’ roots and reduce the chance of fungal diseases spread by wet leaves.
Most importantly, select varieties known to perform well in your region. For example, in the North, gardeners should plant smaller watermelon varieties, which ripen sooner than larger varieties. Below are a few of the best watermelon varieties to plant.
Mini, or personal watermelons have become very popular in the grocery store. These watermelons are known for their sweetness and are the ideal size for a small family.
Belle 460. This mini watermelon takes 85 days to mature and produces 5-pound fruits. Belle 460 produces round fruit with deep red flesh. Fruit measures 9.5 on the Brix scale, which means it is sweet to very sweet.
Diana. For a change of pace, try this mini watermelon with a yellow rind. The fruit ripens in 87 days and produces very sweet, red flesh, measuring 10.3 on the Brix scale.
Gold Flower. Gold Flower ripens in 90 days and produces yellow fruit, which is very sweet. The average fruit size is around 5.9 pounds.
Wonder. This variety matures in 88 days and its fruit measures 9.9 on the Brix scale. Wonder watermelon are strikingly beautiful with their dark green, dull rinds, and deep red flesh offset by a very white inner rind.
Icebox Watermelon Varieties
Small icebox varieties are usually round and weigh around 10 pounds. They keep well and provide enough fruit for a larger family.
Boston matures in only 85 days, making it a good choice for Northern gardeners. The fruit measures 10.1 on the Brix scale. This is a classic watermelon variety with a green, striped rind and red flesh.
Golden Honey produces orange-fleshed fruit within 93 days. The 10 pound fruits measure 9.2 on the Brix scale.
Poquito is one of the best choices for short-season gardens. It matures in only 78 days and produces 10 pound fruits that measure 11.0 on the Brix scale.
White Wonder. This variety produces greenish white flesh, similar to a honeydew melon. The fruits mature in 93 days and weigh around 8.5 pounds.
These are the big boys of the watermelon fields, averaging between 10 and 15 pounds. As the name implies, they’re ideal for large gatherings, but are almost too big to store in the refrigerator. We’ve chosen picnic watermelon varieties that mature quickly while retaining great flavor.
Crimson Sweet produces fruit averaging around 15 pounds. Fruit matures in 89 days and the red flesh measures around 9.9 on the Brix scale.
Harmony. Ideal for the Northern gardener, Harmony ripens in only 78 days, producing 12 pound fruits that measure 11.2 on the Brix scale.
Sultan. One of the sweetest varieties you’ll find, this one measures 12.3 on the Brix scale. The fruits average 15 pounds and ripen within 95 days.
Seedless watermelon are hugely popular in grocery stores for obvious reasons — no mess. Many people think seeded watermelon actually taste better, though. If you want to grow seedless watermelon, buy nursery seedlings because the seeds are hard to germinate. Plant a seeded variety with your seedless watermelon to ensure pollination and fruit set.
Burpee Seedless Hybrid. One of the few seedless varieties available to home growers. This watermelon produces 8-pound fruit within 90 days.
- Watermelon Variety Descriptions at Washington State University
- Growing Seedless Watermelon from the University of Nebraska
Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.