How many watermelons does one plant produce?

Watermelon plants usually yield only 1 to 4 fruit per harvest, but a new variety created by an agricultural technology company in China has recently set a new Guinness Record after yielding no less than 131 massive fruit.

The Chinese seem to be really good at creating super plants. Just weeks after we posted about their impressive “octopus tomato trees” that can yield over 30,000 fruits at a time, we bring you the “watermelon king”, a new breed of watermelon that can set over 100 viable fruits per plant. Created by the Zhengzhou Research Seedling Technology Co., Ltd., the plant has been acknowledged as the most productive watermelon plant in the world after yielding 131 fruit in just 90 days.

While typical watermelon plants may also set dozens of fruit in the beginning, they then abort most of them, with only the strongest of fruit remaining to ripen. But the new super-plant developed by agronomist Zhu Xuegang and his research team didn’t let any of the watermelons shrivel up and die. Planted on April 26, on a 100-square-meter plot in Xizheng, the vine sprouted from the ground on May 1st, started flowering on June 1st and by July 31st, the 131 melons were ready for harvest.

Although the number of fruit is definitely impressive, the size and and weight of the fruits is even more so. With such a bountiful harvest from a single plant, one would expect the fruits to be of inferior quality, but that is not the case. The average weight of the watermelons was 10 kilograms, with the smallest weighing 5 kilograms and the largest a whopping 19 kilograms.

Code-named “Tianlong 1508”, the plant is said to have high disease resistance and a capacity to thrive even in sandy soil. The one thing that Xuegang claims was vital to its record-breaking production was the temperature of the water. Instead of using cold water, he and his team installed cisterns on the plot and monitored the temperature of the water mixed with fertilizer throughout the 90 day period. Other than that, he claims all they had to do was untangle the vines every morning so they could all develop properly.

It’s not clear if or when the Tianlong 1508 melon plant will be available commercially, but for the time being its creators seem content to have broken the limits of traditional watermelon production.

Photos via Best China News

Sources: China Xinhua News via Best China News

How Many Developing Watermelons Should I Leave on the Plant?

The Several Stages of Important Thinning Practices

The first and important stage in thinning your watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) plants begins once they have germinated in their in the garden. In preferred warm conditions, watermelon seeds pop their heads out of the soil anywhere from a week to almost two weeks after planting.

If you started your seeds in peat pots and transplanted in the garden, you might already have only planted the preferred amount per hill – about three plants. If not, you will need to follow the thinning procedures for seeds planted directly in the garden plot.

Properly cared for watermelon plants planted in preferred conditions develop into large, robust plants, so you don’t want to overcrowd them by having too many plants growing out of the same hill. This cuts down on proper air circulation, which can lead to pest and disease problems.

The procedure for thinning after planting and germination include:

  • Wait until the germinated seedlings have three to four leaves before thinning.
  • Select the healthiest looking three to four seedlings and remove the others.
  • Using clean garden snips, clip off the unwanted seedlings at ground level.

Thinning Developing Fruit

Although watermelon plants produce male and female flowers, only some of the female flowers develop into fruits. Do not be alarmed if many of the female flowers fall off the plant without developing into fruits because this is normal.

It does not harm the plant if you don’t thin the developing watermelons, but if you want bigger melons, you will need to thin.

Steps in thinning include:

  1. Watch the vines for the female flowers to develop into small melons.
  2. Wait to thin until the developing melons reach the size of about a ping-pong ball, as some may naturally drop from the vine and you don’t want to remove the melons too soon or you risk losing a crop.
  3. Using clean garden snips, remove any watermelons that are misshapen, or look to have a problem like blossom end rot.
  4. For large varieties of watermelons, snip off all the melons other than the two healthiest ones.
  5. If you are growing smaller varieties, you can leave four to six developing watermelons on the plant.

Expert Tip: Make sure to use sterilized pruning blades when pruning your melons off the vine so you don’t transfer disease problems to the plant. It is as easy as wiping the blades off with alcohol

RELATED: How to cut a watermelon in one minute

How do watermelons grow?

Unlike most crops, watermelons grow on vines that grow out of the initial sprout and can grow to be six metres long. The number of vines determines how many watermelons there are per plant as each vine can produce between two to four melons during the growing season.

Getty

How long does it take to grow a watermelon?

On average, it takes around three months for a watermelon to grow from seed to mature fruit, with smaller varieties having shorter growing times than larger varieties of watermelon.

Growing your own watermelons

Watermelons are delicate plants that need a lot of care.

For starters, you need to prepare a planting site that has a lot of open space. Watermelon vines ramble, so your plants are going to spread out around your garden as they grow. Watermelon plants are also heavy feeders, so you might need to prepare compost if you don’t have nutrient-rich soil.

You also need to know how long to grow your watermelons for, and you’ll need to plan around your area’s growing season. For example, if you live in the country’s temperate zone, seeds need to be sown sometime between October and December when daily temperatures average around 20-25 °C.

If the weather still isn’t warm enough around that time, you can start your seeds indoors in containers like a small pot or a germination tray. This way, you’ll be able to control how warm the soil can get. Just make sure to transfer the seedling to your garden as soon as you can as larger seedlings won’t transplant well.

Getty

You also need to prepare mounds of soil to sow the seeds in as they will drain water faster than soil on flat ground. These mounds of soil also tend to be warmer, which is ideal for tropical fruit like watermelon. For most varieties, the seeds should be sown an inch deep into a 6-12 inch tall mound.

Once the seeds have germinated, you only need to give your plants an inch of water every week. A little bit of balanced fertiliser each week can also be good for your plants as watermelons take a lot of nutrients from the soil and compost. It’s also a good idea to add mulch to the soil as it helps with retaining moisture and driving away weeds that can interfere with the growth of your plants.

Flowering

Around two weeks after your vines start rambling, your watermelon plants should start flowering, with the smaller male flowers showing up first and the fruit-bearing female flowers appearing soon after.

In most cases, the bees in your garden should be able to pollinate all your flowers for you. However, if you don’t have that many bees, you can also pollinate them yourself.

For most watermelon varieties, it takes about a month for the fruit to mature.

Harvesting watermelons

Knowing when to harvest your watermelons can be a bit tricky as there aren’t any surefire ways of checking whether the fruit is ready for picking.

For a lot of gardeners, a brown and dried up tendril near the watermelon is a good sign that the fruit is ready. You can also try lightly thumping your knuckles on the watermelon to see if it produces the hollow sound a ripe watermelon should make.

Neither of these techniques is an exact science, so it might take you a little bit of practice before you can consistently tell when your melons are ready for harvest.

Growing tips

We know watermelons can be a little tricky to deal with, so we’ve come up with a couple of tips that can make life a little easier for you.

1. Use open-pollinated or heirloom seeds

If you want to grow the healthiest watermelons, be sure to use these two kinds of seeds instead of the hybrid varieties often seen in store-bought melons. Open-pollinated varieties are often more resilient than other kinds of seeds, and heirloom seeds tend to produce better fruit.

44 likes – View Post on Instagram Harvested the last of my #radishes, so I reconfigured my #planterbox. #wholefoods had a #watermelonseedling for like two bucks, so I grabbed it. I know it’s probably not enough space, but I’m taking it as an experiment on how to keep something alive during the summer. I also amended the #soil and #mulched since the #cucumberplant in there wasn’t really thriving. Threw in a few marigolds to attract #bees and distract pests from the veg 🌱🐝 Put #marigolds in the front yard as well. #missmollysgarden

2. Sow more seeds than you need

Since you won’t get a good plant out of every seed you sow, you’ll be better off sowing as many seeds as you can and trimming away weaker seedlings.

3. Train the vines on a trellis

If you don’t have a lot of space in your garden, you can train the vines to climb up a trellis instead of spreading all over your yard. While this takes a little more time and effort on your part, you’ll free up a lot more space.

4. Regularly prune your vines

Once your vines start rambling, be on the lookout for rotten parts that need to be clipped away with sterilised tools. If these rotting parts stayed on the vines, the bacteria and fungi might spread and damage the rest of the plant.

5. Plant helpful crops next to your watermelons

Watermelons take in a lot of nutrients, so soil-enriching crops like beans and other legumes make for excellent companion plants. You can even incorporate these plants into your crop rotation system so that your garden can be ready for watermelons for the next growing season.

A satisfying challenge

While watermelons can be a little harder to grow than traditional garden crops, nothing else quite compares to the taste of a home-grown melon!

RELATED: How to grow parsley, indoors or outside

Farmers can make more than Sh2.5 million shillings from one acre in three months with the high yielding Asali F1 watermelon, whose fresh fruit weighs almost twice that of the ordinary varieties.

Royal Seed Company agronomist Alex Njagi said Asali F1 hybrid can give an average of two fruits per plant weighing between 10kg and 12kg.

“Asali F1 has reduced size of seeds. Its cover is also thin, but tough. These two qualities give room for a more succulent flesh,” the agronomist said during the Machakos County Agricultural Society of Kenya Show 2016.

Confirmed

An average watermelon fruit weighs between five and eight kilos. Two sample fruits of Asali F1 at the company’s demonstration plot in Machakos Show ground weighed 12 kilos.

One needs 4,000 seeds for planting in an acre, Njagi said.

Rich harvest

With a harvest of two fruits per plant weighing 11 kg, a farmer who practices good crop husbandry can harvest 8,000 watermelons.

If they weigh about 11kg, then the fruits will give 88,000 kilos from the one acre.

The costs of watermelons in major towns in Kenya vary from Sh25 to Sh40 per kilo.

From the 88,000 kilos harvested, the farmers will earn a gross income of Sh2.64 million in three months.

READ ALSO: Hybrid watermelon can earn farmers Sh2 million in two months

Fleshy and sugary

Besides having 13 per cent brix or sugar content in its fleshy mass, Asali F1 has a tough lid, which ensures that the fruit remains intact during transportation to the market.

Just like other fleshy succulent fruits, the variety requires sufficient water through the growing period, Njagi said.

If the rains are insufficient and a farmer is using irrigation, mulching is key in maintaining water moisture in the soil. In addition, the mulch smothers weeds, therefore, minimising mechanical tillage, which disturbs soil.

READ ALSO: Fact Sheet: Top Watermelon Methods

A 500g pack of Asali F1 seeds costs Sh10,900 in major agrovets around the country.

Other crop husbandry practices that will ensure high results include pruning, top dressing or applying manure, timely control of pests and diseases, among others.

Commercial watermelon farming in Kenya

Did you know that you can make more than five hundred thousand Kenyan shillings in profits from watermelon farming in Kenya? Farmers in the country are embracing cash crops other than maize, tea, and coffee because of the favorable returns. So, why watermelons? The primary factors that attract farmers to watermelon farming are the fast maturity period, ready market, and the high yields and returns. Here is a detailed piece of writing about watermelon farming in Kenya.

Source: Kilimo Biashara

Farming of watermelon in Kenya

Over the years, the demand for nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables has increased in Kenya and globally. Ninety-two percent of the watermelon’s composition is water. It is no wonder many people in dry areas use this fruit to quench their thirst. The nutritional components of the watermelon include amino acids, antioxidants, potassium, and Vitamins A, B6, and C. Most people eat the fruit as a whole or add it to salads and cocktails. Therefore, the demand for watermelons come from households, hotels, supermarkets, hospitals, learning institutions, among others.

READ ALSO: Garlic and Onion Farming in Kenya Guide

There are about one thousand two hundred varieties of watermelons grown in over ninety-six countries globally. While the pink/red flesh variety is the most popular, there are other watermelon types such as the Yellow crimson. Also, the shape of the watermelon may vary. The typical watermelon is round-shaped, but the fruit can take any shape depending on where you grow it.

In Kenya, the varieties of watermelon include:

1. Sukari F1 hybrid

Farmers prefer Sukari F1 watermelon farming in Kenya because of the fruit’s short maturity period (eighty to ninety days) and its sweetness. The Sukari F1 watermelons are oblong-shaped and average between 7 to 8 kilograms. The skin (outer cover) of the fruit is light green covered with dark green stripes while the flesh is deep red. Also, the fruit has a thick rind that makes it suitable for long-distance transport. The estimated yield per acre for the Sukari F1 is 25-30 tonnes. This type of watermelon thrives in areas with long-warm growing periods; where the there are hot days and warm nights.

2. Sugar Baby

Until the introduction of the hybrid, the Sugar Baby was the most popular watermelon type in Kenya. The outer skin of the Sugar Baby fruit is dark green while the inner flesh is dark red. Like Sukari F1, the Sugar Baby has a sweet taste. Typically, the fruit is round and averages between three to four kilograms. The potential yield per acre of the Sugar Baby watermelon type is 20 to 30 tonnes. The top traits of the Sugar Baby are that it is resistant to heat and has a long shelf life.

3. Charleston Gray

Source: bmorespicy

The Charleston Gray watermelon has a light green outer skin and a red fiberless inner flesh. The oblong-shaped fruit has a sweet, crisp, and refreshing taste. The fruit takes 85 to 110 days to mature and averages between nine to twelve kilograms. The estimated yield per acre for the Charleston Gray variety of watermelons is 20 tonnes and above. Charleston Gray watermelons are resistant to Fusarium wilt.

4. Crimson Sweet

Source: Everwilde Farms

The Crimson Sweet watermelon is semi-round with light and dark green stripes on the skin. The fruit has a red inner flesh that is extra sweet. The watermelon takes about 90 days to mature and weighs between 8 to 10 kilograms. The expected yield per acre of Crimson Sweet watermelons is between 25 to 30 tonnes. This watermelon type is tolerant to anthracnose and Fusarium wilt.

Hybrid watermelon farming in Kenya is gaining popularity due to the high yields per acre. Apart from the Sugar F1 varieties, other hybrid watermelons in Kenya include:

  • Early Scarlet F1- takes about 90 days to mature, weighs about 12 kilograms and the expected yield is up to 60 tonnes per acre
  • Zuri F1
  • Asali F1
  • Sweet rose F1

Areas suitable for watermelon farming in Kenya

Watermelons thrive in areas with the following conditions;

i. Warm temperatures

The temperature should be between 22 degrees Celsius and 28 degrees Celsius. In a day, the watermelon requires about 8 to 10 hours of sunshine. If the temperature is cool, the plant will experience delayed germination, stagnated growth, and poor fruit formation. On the other hand, high humid areas increase the risk of diseases and reduce flowering.

ii. Sandy loam soils

Watermelons flourish in loam soils that are acidic and well drained. If you plant in heavy soils, the plant growth and the fruit size and quality decreases. The soil pH should be 6 to 6.8. Before planting any crop, it is advisable to do soil testing as you will get to know about the nutrients present and any disease threats.

iii. Rainfall

For each watermelon planting season, the amount of rain necessary is between 400mm and 600mm.

In Kenya, watermelons flourish in dry plains and hot coastal areas such as Machakos, Loitoktok, Kerio Valley, Garissa, Isiolo, Embu, Kirinyaga, Bura, Kitui, and parts of Meru. Also, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute suggests that the watermelons can grow in black cotton soils like in Kajiado as long as there is drip irrigation. Nonetheless, Kenyans in other parts of the country have taken on watermelon farming. Below is a review of the other watermelon farming areas in Kenya.

Watermelon farming in Kenya Coast

The warm temperatures of most parts of the coast favor watermelon planting. In some towns like Hola and Bura, farmers plant watermelons and irrigate using water from River Tana.

Watermelon farming in Western Kenya

For decades, farmers in Western Kenya focused on commercial farming of maize, sugarcane, coffee, and tea. Today, the region is slowly embracing alternative crops such as the watermelon. In fact, some farmers are on the record stating the gains received from watermelon is higher than the incomes of other cash crops. The region’s climate is also conducive. During the dry season, the fruits can take about seventy-five days to mature while during cold periods, they could take up to one hundred and five days. Also, farmers in Western Kenya irrigate their crops at least once a week after mulching during the dry season. The varieties of melons grown in Western Kenya include Sugar Baby and hybrids such as Sukari F1 and Raha F1. Busia County is one of the areas where several people have taken on watermelon. The county’s strategic location enables the farmers to sell their produce in Kenya and neighboring Uganda.

Watermelon farming in Nyanza Kenya

In Nyanza, farmers have reported success in planting watermelons in areas such as Homabay and Migori. However, if you are in Homabay, you will have to plan your planting calendar well. Otherwise, you may incur losses especially during long rains periods that expose the area to flooding.

Source: Barza Wire

Watermelon farming techniques in Kenya

Now that you have a clue on the varieties of watermelons and the necessary conditions, here is a watermelon farming guide in Kenya.

1. Research

Visit farms near you to understand the ins and outs of the watermelon farming business in Kenya. While at it, take note of the area-specific opportunities and challenges. Also, find out which varieties produce the best yield in your region. You can also search for more information online.

2. Purchase the seeds

On average. watermelon seeds cost between KES 5000 and KES 24,000 per kilogram. For an acre of land, you will require 500grams of seeds (half a kilogram) which will cost about KES 2500 or more. Generally, the hybrid varieties of watermelon are more expensive as they have a higher expected yield per acre.

3. Prepare your field

The sufficient conditions for watermelon growth are adequate room to spread, enough sunlight and water, and drainage. Therefore, to get maximum yield, you will need to prepare your land. You should make it a habit of ploughing your land four weeks or more before the planting begins. By doing this, you enable decomposition of previous crops. When you are tilling the land, ensure you remove any vegetation or weeds.

For rain-fed watermelon seeds, you can dig 30 centimeters deep in the soil. The hole created should be 45 centimeters wide and have a length of 45 centimeters. Then mix manure and the topsoil and refill the hole until it has a 15cm space. In each hole, sow two seeds. The distance between holes should be about 1 meter while the stripes should be 2 meters apart. If you are relying on a single row drip irrigation system, ensure that the plants are 60 meters apart and that the distance between the drip lines is 2 meters. Also, create a 45-centimeter raised-bed. For a double row drip irrigation method, the necessary space is 60 centimeters between plants, 45 centimeters between rows, and about 3 meters between drip lines. Further, you should have a 1meter raised-bed. The reason why the distance between plants, stripes, and rows is essential is to ensure proper growth of the roots and drainage of moisture.

4. Manure/fertilizer

Fertilizers and manure are essential in providing the nutrients needed to enable proper and quality growth. Manure or fertilizer applications take place in intervals. As stated above, you can add manure/fertilizers at the time of planting. The recommended fertilizer for this period is NPK. For an acre, you will need two bags of NPK. On the 25th and the 40th days after planting, you should do top dressing. You can utilize fertilizers such as Yacmila Winner, and Nitrobacter. It is not advisable to use Ammonium forms of nitrogen since they impede growth and quality fruit formation for watermelons. Lastly, any micro-nutrient spraying should be dependent on the result of your soil analysis.

5. Monitor the plant’s growth

After 7 to 10 days, the watermelon plant will emerge. The differences in the sprouting of the plant depends on the depth of the plants and the soil temperature. The first fruits of the watermelon will appear 30 days after planting.

6. Caring for the watermelon plant

Watermelon farms require close attention and care. Therefore, take note of the watermelon farming tips in Kenya on how to look after your crop.

  • Use black plastic mulches to impede weed growth, support the development of clean fruits, and to maintain warmth in the soil.
  • Ensure your crop has adequate water throughout the planting season. The recommended amount of water is 1 to 2 inches a week. Be careful not to water-log the soil. Instead, water each morning carefully and avoid overhead wetting. As the fruits grow, you can decrease the amount of water.
  • Know which fertilizer to use and at which time. The required nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. Before flowering, you should use a fertilizer that has more nitrogen than phosphorus or potassium. Afterward, you can decrease the amount of nitrogen.
  • When the vines are two meters long, you can begin pruning. The reason for this is to improve the productivity of the crop and to focus on fewer but quality fruit yields.
  • Weed the farm to remove unwanted plants that may compete with the watermelons for water and other nutrients.
  • As the fruit ripens, raise it and put some straws between it and the soil to prevent rotting.

7. Harvesting watermelons in Kenya

Depending on the season, watermelons can be ready for harvest 75 to 110 days after planting. So, how can a farmer know if the due date has arrived? One of the techniques used to tell when the watermelon is ready for harvest is checking for a yellow patch on the side that lay on the ground. Alternatively, you can thump the fruit, and if you hear a hollow sound, then it is time to reap.

All in all, it is important to take advantage of technology in your watermelon farming. Be sure to check various watermelon farming in Kenya YouTube videos to understand all that there is in watermelon farming in the country

The challenges of farming watermelon in Kenya

Like most ventures, farming has some risks. As for watermelon farmers, the possible challenges include bad weather, pests, and diseases. Blight, damping off, anthracnose, leaf-spotting, Fusarium wilt, and powdery mildew are some of the known watermelon diseases in Kenya. In the case of damping off, the seeds of the melons rot before they can germinate. The other threat, Fusarium wilt, is a fungal condition that prevents the flow of nutrients and water. Plant watermelons in well-drained soils, use nitrate-based fertilizers only, rotate your crops, fumigate, and practice soil solarization to manage Fusarium. You can prevent mildew by not overcrowding your plants and avoiding overhead irrigation.

The pests that threaten your watermelon harvest include aphids, beetles, thrips, worms, leaf miners, and fleas. As mentioned in the discussion about watermelon varieties, some types are resistant to certain diseases. But, as a preventive measure, you can always use herbicides and pesticides recommended by an agrovet. While at it, read the labels of the products to ensure the chemical composition is not harmful to the environment or the consumer. For more about pest and disease control check out this watermelon farming in Kenya pdf.

Source: Late Bloomer Show

Bad weather is one of those factors you cannot control, but you can take necessary measures. For example, if the rain is not sufficient, you can find an alternative source of water like irrigation. For those in highlands, it is advisable not to plant during the cold season. Instead, rotate the watermelons with other high yield crops such as green grams. The other challenges farmers have cited over the past couple of years is lack of proper infrastructure (roads) that then prevents them from reaching the market.

Successful watermelon farming in Kenya

Despite the challenges, is watermelon farming profitable in Kenya? Going by the testimonies of farmers in different parts of the country as you will see later in this article, watermelon farming in Kenya earns relatively high returns.

Profitable watermelon farming in Kenya

While some farmers are lucky enough to find contracts with big retail stores and restaurants to supply watermelons, others are at the mercy of middlemen. But let this not discourage you as a farmer. Over the years, farmers have been creating networks with each other to help them reach the buyer directly. As it is, farmers are utilizing digital spaces to reach out to untapped demands. One agricultural company, Digital Farmers Kenya has been able to identify need areas in Uganda and parts of Kenya. As a result, the farmers in the network have had a ready market for their produce.

But exactly how profitable is watermelon farming in Kenya? This depends on the initial investment and the revenues per farmer. The market rates of a kilogram of watermelon from the farm range from between twenty and forty Kenyan shillings. Let us create a hypothetical scenario where you have an acre of land, startup money of about Kshs 70,000 and the current market rate is Kshs 20 per kilogram. The expenses will be as follows;

500 grams of hybrid seeds KES 12,000

Two 50kgs bags of fertilizer KES 4500

Labour costs KES 10,000

Pesticides KES 2500

Water pump and pipes KES 35,000

Other expenses KES 6,000

Suppose you harvest 30 tonnes of watermelon; then your total revenues will be 30,000 *20= KES 600,000. Now, deduct the initial investment of KES 70,000 from 600,000, your net profit will be KES 530,000. Remember, you can harvest more than 30 tonnes with some hybrid types. Therefore your return could be even more. If you factor in the time factor, then it means each month you earned KES 180,000. If the prices per kilogram are higher than KES 20, you will make more money.

You can lease a piece of land if you do not already own one.

Source: Bizna Kenya

Success farmers on watermelon farming in Kenya

In 2013, Annie Nyaga, founder of Farm 2 Homemade headlines after she quit her job as a purchasing assistant to become a full-time farmer. To top it all, she declined a postgraduate scholarship to study Biomedical Sciences in the USA. Following her heart’s desire Annie first ventured into French bean and baby corn farming for export. But she found her forte in watermelon farming. Initially, Annie Nyanga invested between KES 80,000 and 100,000 per acre. In return, she earned KES 560,000 for the 20 tonnes yielded per acre.

Source: Barza Wire

READ ALSO: Chilli Farming in Kenya Guide for Beginners

Last year, Nation.co.ke highlighted the story of the youth who are dependent on Agriculture for livelihoods. Among the young Kenyans was thirty four-year-old David Muriuki from Tharaka Nithi who specializes in watermelon farming. In his first year, David Muriuki earned KES 130,000 from a half an acre. With the proceeds, David was able to invest in an irrigation system thereby increasing the yields from the subsequent harvest. Both David and Annie planted the hybrid watermelons which have higher yields.

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  • Sukari F1 Watermelon Farming in Kenya: Succeed in Watermelon Business

How to Identify a Watermelon Plant

Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images

Everyone knows what a watermelon fruit looks like, but far fewer can recognize the vine from which it grows. Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) is a sun-loving tropical vine that has distinctively lobed leaves of a light green color. They feel hairy, as do the whitish pale green stems. The flowers are yellowy green and are pollinated by bees, leading to the formation of the first round fruits of solid green that elongate and show the characteristic mottling or stripes of light and dark green.

Look at the habit of the plant you think is a watermelon. Watermelons are vines, usually sprawling across the ground in a sunny location. At maturity, each vine is 10 to 15 feet in length, from stem base to vine tip and has tiny tendrils, or thread-like curling stems at leaf bases.

Note the time of year. Watermelons prosper in warm temperatures and do not survive frosts. If it is early in spring when temperatures are still below 60 degrees F, or in autumn after a frost has occurred, chances are the vine you encounter will not be a watermelon.

Look at the vine’s foliage and feel its texture with your fingers. Watermelon leaves are light green with a hint of silvery white in their color. More importantly, the leaves are deeply lobed, having three to five finger-like lobes that have coarse rounded teeth. The leaves will have a gentle, sandpapery texture.

Search the length of the stem for any flowers or fruits. The flowers are yellow and occur singly, and look like papery petunia-like blossoms with five united petals. Flowers occur at the newest parts of a vine, usually at the tips, while further back on the vine you may encounter a green, smooth, round fruit that is developing. The skin of the fruit may or may not yet have dark and light green spots or irregular striping.

Cut open a fruit. The flesh of a watermelon is easily recognized when nearing ripeness, with the red flesh and black seeds. However, young developing fruits’ flesh is pale green to white with small white seeds.

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Monday – May 21, 2012

From: Sherwood, AR
Region: Southeast
Topic: Plant Identification, Vines
Title: Identification of a plant that looks like a watermelon.
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

A wild plant came up in my bed that looked like a watermelon plant. It had small yellow blooms and then marble balls formed with prickly thorns. The balls were in clusters. What kind of plant is it?

ANSWER:

This sounds a lot like Sicyos angulatus (One-seed burr cucumber). Here are more photos and information from Virginia Tech’s Weed Identification Guide, Illinois Wildflowers, and Connecticut Botanical Society.

Another possibility is Echinocystis lobata (Wild cucumber) and here are more photos and information from the University of Wisconsin’s Robert W. Freckman Herbarium.

If neither of these is the vine you have seen, you can look at other Arkansas native vines in our Native Plant Database by doing a COMBINATION SEARCH and selecting “Arkansas” from the Select State or Province slot and “Vine” from Habit (general appearance). Or, if you have photos or can take them, you can find links to several plant identification forums on our Plant Identification page that will accept photos for identification.

From the Image Gallery

One-seed burr cucumber
Sicyos angulatus
Wild cucumber
Echinocystis lobata
Wild cucumber
Echinocystis lobata

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March 27, 2011 – Are there any non-flowering deciduous vines native to the Southwest? I’d like to plant them to shade our windows in the hot Phoenix summers. If only perennials are available, can I cut it back each w…
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Want a vine, non-toxic to dogs, for Reno, NV.
September 11, 2012 – I want a non toxic (to dogs) vine for Reno, NV
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