Watermelons are one of my favorite fruits of all time. Unfortunately, they need a lot of effort to cultivate. It’s troublesome identifying when to harvest watermelons, but after I share my tips with you, you’ll have a much easier time picking ripe ones!
Watermelons are ripe and can be harvested when they have 1) brown tendrils, 2) deep thumping sounds, 3) firm rinds, 4) a large size, 5) yellow undersides, and 6) dull skin. Harvest them by removing them off the vine and setting them in a safe place to avoid bruising.
Despite popular belief, watermelons do not ripen after they are picked. This means it’s crucial to harvest them at the right time. Luckily, all you need to do is keep an eye out for the following clues!
Watermelons can be harvested when the tendrils on the opposite end of their vines are dry and brown.
One of the best ways to identify if your watermelon is ready for harvest is when its tendrils are fully brown and dry.
These tendrils can be found growing on the opposite side of the fruit stem and can be curly, like a pig’s tail.
Now, some gardeners find this doesn’t always work for all varieties, like Moon and Stars. Generally, I find this works well with popular varieties like Sugar Babies and Crimson Sweet watermelons.
Unlike other melons, watermelon stems will stay green and firm even when the fruit is ripe.
If the entire stem connected to the watermelon has turned brown, the plant may have died or the fruit has been left on the vine for too long.
Mature watermelons should sound deep and hollow when knocked on. If the watermelon produces thud-like echoes, it is ready for harvest.
Many of us are told to thump watermelons to check for ripeness and this is for good reason! It’s a simple, yet efficient way to determine how mature your watermelons are.
I find it’s easiest to hear the reverberation by knocking on it. However, you can also tap on the watermelon with an open palm.
When the watermelon produces deep and hollow thud-like sounds, this is a great sign!
On the flip side, if it sounds flat and overly muffled, the watermelon could be overripe.
Combined with overly soft rinds, flat sounds could be an indicator that the fruit inside has become soggy, which brings me to the next sign for ripeness.
Watermelons are best harvested when they have a firm texture with a slight give. Avoid overly soft or hard watermelons, as these are either too ripe or not yet ripe.
As mentioned earlier, you don’t want a watermelon with soft rinds. The biological purpose of these rinds is to protect the fruit, so they should not be tender.
Overripe watermelons will form depressions when pressed and will be easy to cut into with a fingernail. Conversely, you don’t want a watermelon that is overly rigid and tough!
Instead, try to find the middle ground. When a watermelon is ready for harvest, it should have a very slight give when pressed.
Dulcinea Pureheart watermelons have a thinner rind and may have more delicate skin. Therefore, it is best to determine the ripeness of these watermelons in other ways aside from their texture, such as by the color of their undersides or their tendrils.
Large and dense watermelons are typically done growing and are ready for harvest. This will depend on the variety, as some species are smaller or larger than others.
Before I continue, I should tell you that the size and weight of your perfectly ripe watermelons will depend entirely on the variety.
For example, Mini Love watermelons generally only grow about 5 inches (12.7 cm) in diameter.
Ideally, you want to harvest the biggest and heaviest watermelon of that variety. Larger watermelons are usually the most mature and have completed their growth cycle.
Ripe watermelons will almost always have a yellow underside. Conversely, if the underside is white or orange, it is either too young or overripe.
Watermelons are often left to sit on the field without any support due to their weight.
As they grow, their rinds frequently develop a pale spot underneath, where the plant tissue does not receive any light.
These spots will be white in the early stages of growth. Once the underside becomes yellow, this is a great representation of a mature watermelon.
Of course, this is not a good sign of ripeness if you’re growing yellow watermelons.
However, if you leave your watermelon too long, this spot will slowly become orange. When you harvest it at this stage, you’ll probably find that it’s overripe and not nearly as delicious.
Ripe watermelons are best harvested off the vines when their rinds are dull and lacking in shine. Immature watermelons have a glossy skin and must be left to mature.
Watermelons with shiny rinds are rarely ready for harvest. In case they’re picked at this stage, the fruit will be underdeveloped and have lower water content.
Instead, aim to harvest your watermelons when the skin has become dull and matte. These dull rinds are an excellent indicator that the watermelon is fully mature.
When you look for all these signs, you’ll have a better chance of harvesting your watermelons at the perfect time!
Watermelons can be harvested by 1) removing the fruit off the vine and 2) setting them aside in a safe place.
The process of harvesting watermelons is almost as easy as eating them. There is little more to do beyond the following:
Now, this step can be done without tools by simply tugging or pulling the fruit off the vine. Unlike squash, melon plants have shorter and thinner vines that are easier to work with.
However, if you need to harvest large amounts of watermelon or don’t want to damage the plant, it’s best to use a pair of strong and sharp gardening shears, like this one on Amazon.
Watermelons can easily roll over or be accidentally damaged if left unwatched. To prevent this, I suggest placing them in a very sturdy container.
This dual-wheel wheelbarrow on Amazon is a great option that can hold multiple watermelons and can be used throughout the garden.
Generally, you want to keep the watermelons safe and avoid any damage, as this can split the fruits or shorten their shelf-life.
Watermelons that have been cut and kept in the refrigerator will only last around 3 days. Contrarily, uncut watermelons stored at 60ºF will last for 7–10 days. For long-term storage, freeze the watermelon whole or pre-cut it for 2–3 weeks of preservation.
If you manage to fight off the urge to eat every single watermelon you harvest, it’s possible to store them for later consumption.
After harvesting them, it’s a good idea to wash them to remove any residual dirt. Once they’re dried, store them whole at room temperature around 60°F for 7–10 days.
Alternatively, you can also cut your watermelon into rectangular slices. This makes it easier to keep them in airtight containers and store them in the refrigerator.
I suggest consuming these cut watermelon slices within 3 days before they become dry or bland.
To maximize their shelf life, store the watermelons in the freezer to ensure they last for at least 2–3 weeks. They may not be the softest or juiciest when thawed out, but they’ll last much longer this way and are great for smoothies!
The ripeness of watermelons are most impacted by: 1) temperatures, 2) water, and 3) improper timing of harvest.
What if you’ve tried to harvest your watermelons already and have discovered that they’re not as mature as they should be? While there may be external factors at play, it’s also possible that the fruits were not being picked at the right time.
Here’s a list of the likely causes and what to do!
Warm temperatures around 70°F are ideal for growing consistently ripe and healthy watermelons. These fruits cannot handle frost and will have difficulty ripening when grown in fluctuating temperatures.
Some years, the weather is worse than others. If your watermelons grew poorly, and you struggled to keep up with their growing stages, it may be due to unstable temperatures.
Watermelons are native to Africa and are commonly grown in the summer because of their high heat requirements.
Ideally, these fruits mature best in average soil and night temperatures around 70°F or 21°C. Once they’re grown in these warm temperatures, you should harvest plenty of ripe and delicious watermelons!
Watermelons prefer damp soil and need consistent water. To provide steady moisture, use irrigation systems or water the fruits regularly to ensure they fully mature.
Watermelons, as you can imagine, require plenty of water to thrive. Because of this, they can be difficult to grow, especially if you use companion planting.
Drought can also seriously influence the growth of your watermelons and prevent them from ripening on time, as well as overwatering.
In cases where you’re struggling to water these fruits or cannot rely on the rain, consider using an irrigation system. This is a terrific way to set up a consistent watering routine to keep your crops healthy, including potatoes.
Pro Tip: Once the fruit reaches its final stage of maturity, reduce the water it’s receiving to prevent the watermelons from splitting or becoming overly diluted.
Improper timing is the most common way under ripe or overripe watermelons are harvested. For optimum results, wait until the watermelon shows multiple signs of maturity before picking.
When watermelon plants are perfectly healthy and grown in a stable environment, all you have to do is wait.
Regardless of how much care and attention the plant receives, if the watermelon is picked at the wrong time, you’ll probably never harvest a perfectly ripe watermelon.
By picking them too quickly, the fruit will be bland and tough. Harvest them too late and you’ll end up with overripe, mushy, and half-rotten fruit.
Seedless varieties contain the same amount of nutrients as watermelons with seeds. However, if either variety is harvested too early, the fruit will be unable to develop further and will be much lower in nutritional value.
While there are some things we cannot control, it’s important to pick your watermelons at the right time. Keep an eye out for the signs mentioned above, and when you can tick off multiple or all of the boxes, it’s ready for harvest!
Are watermelons ready to harvest when they slip off the vine?
Unlike other melons, watermelons do not slip off the plant vine when it is ready. These fruits will stay on the vine even beyond optimal maturity and must be monitored for other signs of ripeness.
How many times can you harvest watermelon?
Watermelon flowers can be pollinated and mature at different times, leading to multiple harvests from the same plant. However, watermelons are annual plants and will die after they complete their life cycle and produce fruit.
When watermelons have brown tendrils, deep thumping sounds, firm rinds, a large size, yellow undersides, and dull rinds, they are ready to be harvested.
These fruits do not require much effort to harvest and only need to be removed off the vine and safely set aside for minimal damage.
Watermelons that do not consistently ripen or struggle to reach full maturity can be due to fluctuating temperatures, insufficient water, or improper timing of harvest.
- “Citrullus lanatus” by n/a in NC State University
- “Harvesting and storing melons, squash and pumpkins” by Natalie Hoidal in University of Minnesota Extension
- “Watermelon” by Marisa Bunning in Food Source Information of Colorado State University