The first time I grew watermelons, I had no understanding of the different stages of its life cycle. After sprouting into a seedling, I would impatiently wait and wonder if it was growing as it was supposed to be or if I had messed something up.
As I’ve raised multiple different watermelon plants from germination to vining to harvesting, I’ve come to realize that by understand the different stages of growth, I could recognize issues faster and had more patience.
Watermelons are one of the most popular fruits to plant, and they’ve been cultivated and enjoyed by gardeners around the world. So when you try planting it, what can you expect in regards to its life cycle? How long does the whole process take?
What Type of Plant is it?
Technically, watermelon is a flowering plant vine that belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family. It belongs to the gourd family, and it contains many different species, many of which are edible. This family also includes gourds such as pumpkins and zucchinis and fruit such as bitter melon, winter melon, cantaloupe, and vegetables such as cucumbers.
Originally, it came from West Africa, and it can still be found growing wild in that part of the world. People began cultivating different varieties in that region as early as 2000 BC.
Since it was first cultivated, selective breeding has resulted in farmers creating more than 1000 varieties, and the fruit can be found in nearly any part of the world. That being said, they produce the largest harvests, in temperate or tropical climates.
Is It a Vegetable or a Fruit?
Watermelons are technically berries, which makes them a fruit as opposed to a vegetable. The definition of a berry is any fruit that is produced from a single flower. As such, they are, by definition, actually classified as berries.
Anyone interested in raising watermelons will want to learn about its life cycle to ensure that they’re growing appropriately and make sure to harvest the fruit at the correct time.
Germination and Sprouting
After you plant your seeds during the growing season, which is usually in the spring when the temperatures are at or above 65 degrees Fahrenheit, it will take between three days and two weeks for germination to occur. This is when the first seedlings will sprout and be visible above the soil.
The plant will continue to grow over the next week as it starts to sprout more leaves. This is the point at which the main vine will start to develop as well. This vine can reach 12 feet in length, and several smaller vines might sprout from it.
After the smaller runner vines have grown from the main vine, the plant will begin to develop flowers. Male flowers appear first, with female flowers appearing shortly afterward.
Male flowers have stalks covered in pollen, called stamens, at their centers. Female flowers have a somewhat sticky area in the same spot called the stigma. At this point, pollination becomes crucial, as the flowers only last for about one day.
Many gardeners who raise watermelons recommend installing beehives or planting flowers or shrubs that encourage pollinators such as bees, hummingbirds, or butterflies. However, if your garden lacks pollinators, you can also pollinate the watermelon plants by hand. To hand pollinate, you can either pick a male flower and brush it over the female flowers of other plants or use a cotton swab or small paintbrush. Be gentle but ensure that the pollen is transferred from the stamens to the stigmas.
After successful pollination, the fruit will begin to develop. This is a good time to fertilize. It will generally take about a month for the fruit to fully develop and become ripe. Ripe fruit will sound hollow when you knock your hand against them. The area of the watermelon resting against the ground will also turn yellow, and the curling tendrils along the vine will begin to turn brown.
How Long Does It Take to Grow?
It takes about three months to grow to full maturity. The first two months are comprised of the plant sprouting, vining, and flowering. It is only the last month of growth that the actual fruit will develop. You can expect to be able to harvest at about three months from planting the seed.
How long the plants takes to reach full maturity from a seed does depend somewhat on the specific variety. Smaller varieties will develop more quickly and be ready to harvest before larger types.
Growing watermelons can be a very rewarding experience, and most gardeners will experience a high yield. In addition, these large fruits take only one season to grow, so they’re a quick crop. For those who want to plant watermelons, learning about the history and lifecycle of the plant can help gardeners solve any problems and can make the experience fun and stress-free.