New World Little Gardens

watermelon pattern
watermelon

Watermelon

Citrullus lanatus var. lanatus

This miniature ‘Sugar Baby’ watermelon ripens quickly enough to be grown outside all over New Zealand. It’s not only super cute, but is also one of the sweetest melons you can grow. Watermelons hate the cold so don’t move into the garden until late October or early November at the earliest.

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Getting started

  • Put the soil tablet on a saucer and pour 50ml of water over it.
  • Put on gloves and mix the water into the soil with your hands to make a wet mixture. Watch the soil expand.
  • Use most of your soil to fill up the pot to around 2cm below the top.
  • Carefully tear open the sachet and place the seeds on top of the soil (take care not to press down too hard).
  • Now use the rest of your soil mixture to cover the seed mat.
  • Remember to wash your hands when you’re done!

How to keep your Little Garden healthy

  • Place the pot on a clean saucer in a place with enough light, but not directly in the sun.
  • Check the soil in the morning, and before bed. If the soil feels dry and crumbly, pour a small amount of clean water over the surface.
  • Within 7-10 days you should see a little plant appear from the soil. That means the seeds have germinated and will be ready soon to move into a bigger pot or garden.
  • If more than one little plant grows, you can thin your watermelon seedling by choosing the strongest-looking one and removing the others.

When your seedling is ready to go in the garden

  • When the watermelon as 2-3 sets of true leaves (after 3-4 weeks), it’s ready to move into the garden, but only if the weather is settled and warm (no risk of frost).
  • Get your watermelon used to life outside: you can harden off you watermelon seedling by putting it in a warm and sheltered spot for 1-2 hours a day and return inside for the night. Do this for 4-5 days, leaving it outside for a little longer each day before you shift it out into the garden forever.

Planting best practice

  • Give watermelons a spot with full sun: the more sun they get, the sweeter they’ll taste 
  • They're heavy feeders and need a really rich soil: dig through some compost and sheep pellets a few weeks before planting. 
  • Watermelon is a sprawling plant that needs a lot of space, so keep it at the edge of your vege bed and keep moving the vine over the side over the side so it doesn’t overwhelm crops growing nearby.
  • Watermelon can grow next to your compost heap, or at the base of a wall or trellis. It will climb with a bit of encouragement (pick up and drape the vine towards the wall – eventually it should attach itself and start growing upwards), but you will need additional support when the heavy fruit starts to form.

Pro tip:

  • Make a watermelon hammock by re-purposing an old mesh bag and tying it to the trellis, then place the growing watermelons inside for extra support.

Look after your plant while it’s growing

  • Water regularly while the plant is setting fruit: water only at the base of the stem and avoid wetting the leaves as this can spread fungal infections, such as downy mildew.
  • When the fruit has formed, only water if the foliage starts to looks wilted. Be careful not to over-water, as this will make the fruit less sweet.
  • When the vine is about 50cm long, pinch-off the growing tip to encourage more of the fruit-bearing side shoots to grow.

Harvest time

  • The watermelon should be ripe approx 3 months after planting outside. You’ll know it’s ripe when it starts to smell sweet and makes a hollow sound when you tap it. 
  • Watermelons won’t continue to ripen after they’re picked, so pick is when the fruit smells sweet and makes a hollow sound when you tap. The side touching the ground should start to turn yellow.

Watch out

Watermelon in your gardens