Harvesting watermelons: How to tell when a melon is ripe and ready to pick

As a newbie gardener and first-time melon grower, I found myself wondering how to know when they are ripe and ready to pick. Here's what I learned.

Watermelons are a very satisfying vining fruit to grow in the summertime. In the low desert, however, it can be a little tricky to keep the plants hydrated and healthy in the sweltering heat.

In fact, I heard that seasoned Phoenix-area gardeners like to grow melons in April. It’s hot enough, and the monsoon bugs aren’t out to get your plants yet. Well, I am starting my melons late again this year, but I’m up for the challenge!

Our late summer melons fared well last year, I’m’ still completely amazed that anything will grow here in the summer. For my first attempt at growing watermelon, I picked two watermelon varieties:

  • Crimson Sweet: a more traditional watermelon, can get up to 20 pounds! This one grew wild around the perimeter of our garden.
  • Sugar Baby: a cutie little “picnic” or “icebox” heirloom melon that grows up to 10 pounds. I grew this one vertically.

A store-bought watermelon doesn’t begin to compare to picking your own off the vine at peak freshness. Knowing this, I still had to test our homegrown watermelons, even though I’m sadly allergic. ? (worth it)

Hints that help you determine if a watermelon is ready to pick

These vines took off very quickly once they started growing. It’s so fun to watch little baby melons appear before your eyes. Closely following the excitement, I found myself wondering, “how do I know when the watermelons are ready to pick?”

Well, the first part of that answer is that you don’t, and you pick a couple of underripe melons off the vine much to your disappointment. Honestly, I think failing a few times gives you great context for the future pickins.

If you’re looking for more clues, there are actually a couple of ways to tell.

1. The watermelon’s sheen changes

If you’re familiar with the glossiness and shine of a house plant’s new leaves, the same concept is sort of true with watermelons. During the fruit’s development, they have a more glossy appearance. When the watermelon begins to ripen, the outer skin will start to look duller and less shiny. Next, you’ll want to check the tendrils.

2. The tendrils are dried up

Tendrils are those cute, yet really strong, little whispy off-shoots that help a vine grab onto surrounding objects. I love how they become all curly and cute when they have nothing to grab onto — adds a whimsical touch to the garden. As a watermelon ripens, the tendrils around the base of the melon will start to dry up. This is a good sign.

3. A yellowing or whitening spot

If you grow your melon vertically, this tip doesn’t really apply. If your melon is growing on another surface, it will likely have a spot on the belly or the area of contact. Once the melon begins to ripen, that spot can change to another color like yellow or white. Knowing this information can help you determine if a watermelon was picked at peak-ripeness at the store too.

4. Thumping the melon

You can tell if watermelons are ripe by the sound when you thump them. Practice giving the melon a thump as it grows, so you know how it sounds. As the melon ripens, the sound will begin to sound more hollow. I read online somewhere that it’s the difference between patting yourself on the head versus the belly.

There you have it! Four ways to know if a watermelon is ready to pick. Let me know any other tips and tricks if you’ve got them!

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