Watermelon Woes for a newbie

backyardmommaAugust 21, 2014

At the request of my little gardener, this was my first attempt at watermelon growing this year and it has been struggling from the beginning. It was planted on time but stalled for basically the first two months. I am wondering if this was related to the cool weather inconsistencies. However, early on I began to see black spots on leaves. And now white/yellow speckles extending to the most distal vines. New growth is green but develops the tiny speckles. These plants should be huge and sprawling by now but they just aren't happy. I've also posted an insect ID but the plants were struggling long before the bugs came along, which probably attracted them. I do have a few tiny watermelons, probably won't get developed in time for the season but I'm still chalking it up to a half-victory at least. Please share any advice or insight! I am happy to soak up all the knowledge shared on this forum! Thank you! Christina

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Christina, the first year I tried growing watermelons I did not even get one ripe melon. The second year I still fed most of them to my parents chickens. This year I tried Sugar Baby melons and they did wonderfully. The largest was 19.5 pounds, I also got a 15.5, a 15, two 14's, but most were around the 8 to 10 pound range.

I planted mine out in my lawn and they did very well, but when got out past the edge or the bed the grass grew up through them and they looked trashy. I hope to plant then in the garden next year and plant okra or tomatoes out in the outlying beds, hopefully the beds will look nicer this way.

You can see a picture of my melon bed in the upper left corner of the picture I posted a while ago in a link " jonnycoleman no-till link". You can see that they looked pretty good starting out, but got to be a big mess later.

I think you need to grow melons, and everything else by the type of soil you have. My soil is very shallow and hard, and I have to do things that you might not have to do.


    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 12:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Oh that poor plant! It seems like it has so much going on that I hardly know where to begin.

Could the plant's struggles be related to the cooler and wetter than average summer y'all have had there in central OK? Yes. In fact, I'd bet it is. However, melons can have lots of problems even in a perfect weather year. Their foliage is prone to all kinds of damage from many causes: diseases, pests, nutritional deficiencies and physiological causes. So, where to start?

Note the green veins on the leaves with the lighter yellow coloring on the rest of each leaf. That could be an indication of several things---it could be an iron deficiency, it could be a disease like Beet Pseudo Yellow Virus, it could be advanced pest damage by aphids or spider mites or by some other pest, or it could be a symptom of Watermelon Mosaic Virus. This is why diagnosis by photo is tricky for a layman. It is somewhat easier to diagnose a problem if a person is looking at their plants every day and seeing how and when a problem begins, what the earliest sympton was, what the weather was like at the time, how the issue progresses, etc. For us to look at a plant that is pretty far gone with what appears to be multiple issues and to try to work our way backwards to figure out what it is can be almost impossible.

I'm willing to bet that the black spots that showed up first are the key to the major problem. They could have been a symptom of a fungal disease. Fungal diseases are common on melon foliage in rainy weather, particularly in combination with warm temperatures. One common way that watermelons get black spots on the leaves is that they start out with aphids. Aphids excrete honeydew as they feed on the foliage. Honeydew on foliage often leads to black mold. Black mold is hard to overcome once it starts and begins progressing. The black mold causes a lot of damage to the foliage and the plants just go downhill after that. In the photos I am seeing some white substance on some of the leaves, and it seems likely it is powdery mildew, which also is related to lots of rain and humidity.

The white and yellow speckles on the leaves that you mention more than likely are pest damage, probably from spider mites and perhaps from other insects as well. On the photo in your other post about the pest of the leaf, the speckles on that leaf are classic spider mite damage.

Because of the extreme amount of damage on the foliage, I feel like it is unlikely you'll get ripe watermelons from this plant. The leaves are the plant factory---they conduct the photosynthesis that fuels the plant growth and development. When leaves are badly damaged, the factory doesn't run well and lacks the energy to produce and enlarge the melons. So, if it was my plant, (but only after careful consultation with the little gardener at your house---and of course you can leave the plant if your little gardener is terribly distressed about removing it) I'd remove it pronto. At this point, it basically is a disease-producing machine and the last thing you want is for insects to visit it and carry diseases to other plants in the nearby area that still are healthy. One important lesson a little gardener can learn from an experience like this is just that sometimes plants get so sick that they cannot do their job and have ceased to fulfill the purpose for which they were planted. I grew up in a gardening family in a neighborhood where almost everyone gardened in the 1960s and 1970s. We children all learned from an early age that disease-ridden plants needed to be removed so the disease wouldn't spread and so that something could be planted in place of the diseased plants so that we were using that space in a productive manner. That is an important lesson to learn---and I am glad I learned it early as it made me aware from an early age that not every plant is a success in terms of producing a harvest.

I hope y'all will try again next year. Be sure to plant next year's melons as far away as possible from where they grew this year because some diseases are soilborne and can overwinter in the soil or in mulch and then infect your melon plants (or other plants) next year.

If you compost, you can compost the sickly plant if you do hot composting where you regularly turn the pile and it heats up to a high-enough temperature internally to kill disease microorganisms. If you cold compost, I wouldn't put that plant on the pile----I'd put it in the trash.

There's a learning curve with melons, as Larry desribed already. They need lots of moisture on the roots, but are happier to not have it on their leaves. They need loose, well-drained soil so their large root systems can creep and sprawl underground in order to provide them with enough food and nutrition. If your soil stays perpetually wet most years, they'd do better for you in a raised bed that allows for better drainage, or planted in mounded hills. I always planted in hills in my younger days before we build raised beds. Technically, when we talk about planting melons in hills, we don't really mean hills---we just mean groupings of plants, but planting on mounds of soil can add a whole new meaning to planting hills of watermelons. With poorly-drained soil, a person should mound up the soil several inches above ground and plant the melons at the highest point of the mound so they have better drainage.

While you cannot control rainfall, if you irrigate, it is better to irrigate melons with soaker hoses or drip lines that puts the water in the ground where it reaches the roots and not on the foliage where it leads to fungal diseases.

Pest control is tricky. Be sure to avoid using too much fertilizer. Excess nitrogen produces leaves that are high in carbs, and that makes the leaves very attractive to pests. Spider mites? They are as much a part of summer in our climate as house flies and mosquitoes. If you can catch them early, it is easy to blast them off the backs of the leaves with a strong stream of water from the hose (or from a kids' Super Soaker type water gun if we are wanting to keep the little gardener involved). With both spider mites and aphids, lady bugs (properly called ladybird beetles) will eat a lot of them and help keep them under control and I find them to be pretty good at keeping aphid and spider mite populations under control until late summer.

Don't give up on growing watermelons. Nothing tastes better than a yummy, luscious melon straight from the garden. The mini-watermelons known as icebox melons are great to raise with kids because their growth is more controlled than that of full-sized melons, and many icebox varieties are available: Sugar Baby, Bush Sugar Baby, Yellow Doll, Yellow Baby, Tiger Baby, Mickilee, Minilee, New Orchid, etc. I grow 5 or 6 types of icebox melons every year, training them to grow up trellises, which helps keep them healthier by keeping them up off the ground for the most part and providing better air flow, which helps minimize disease. The best-tasting melon I've ever grown is Blacktail Mountain, which is bigger than the usual icebox melon but not as large as most full-sized melons. The last few years I've also been growing Harvest Moon, an AAS selection similar to the heirloom Moon and Stars melon, but with smaller vines and fruit. Last year Harvest Moon gave us our first ripe melon in late June or early July and I harvested the last one about 3 weeks after our first hard killing frost,so that plant produced for months. The last melon was buried under dead foliage and I didn't see it until I was cleaning out that dead foliage. Despite enduring several nights with temperatures as low as 18 degrees, the melon itself was fine and perfectly yummy and I believe we ate it in November or early December.

Like Larry, I don't think I necessarily had great success the first time I grew watermelons (though it was so long ago that I barely remember it), but I got better at growing melons every year. The longer you grow them, the quicker you are to notice a foliar problem when it first starts, which is imperative to saving the plant and keeping it productive. With both pests and diseases, if you address them when they first appear, you often can stop them in their tracks and save your plants.

For the last few years, I've grown both of the icebox melon packets available from Renee's Garden Seeds. Each packet has several varieties, with the seeds colored with non-toxic food dye so you can be sure you plant some of each variety. All of these varieties climb the trellised like crazy and produce tons and tons of melons. We like them because the bigger melons take up tons of space, both /in the garden and in the kitchen, whereas the little ones are very efficient and leave lots of room for other stuff. I grow a couple of the larger watermelon types most years, but the majority of our melons come from the icebox sized ones.

Don't give up on watermelons. This has been an unusually wet and cool summer overall, and next year's weather is likely to be more watermelon-friendly.

Texas A&M has a great Cucurbit Problem Solver webpage that has photos of many of the cucurbit family problems that can arise. When I am trying to diagnose a melon, squash or cucumber problem, I use this website a lot. Be warned, though, that lots of diseases look alike or very much alike, and sometimes the only way to know for sure is if you know the temperatures at which it developed because some diseases develop in cooler weather while others develop in hotter weather.

I referred a friend to this website once and she came back and told me her plants had everything shown in every photo, which I think was an overstatement she made out of frustration---but I understood what she meant. You can look at a photo and say "There it is! That's what my plant has!" and you believe it, and then you see the next photo and say "no, this is what my plant has"....over and over again.

Good luck,


Here is a link that might be useful: Cucurbit Problem Solver from Texas A&M

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 2:46PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Christina, as I said earlier, this is my 3rd time at trying to grow watermelons, and the first time I have been happy with them. I planted Sugar Baby thinking that it being a small melon it might not take up as much room. I tilled a bed about 10' x10', and mulched a little larger. I planted about 10 seeds and got more vines than I was expecting. I got out a few minutes ago and walked in the grass and weeds to see if I could find any melons hiding in them. I found 7, bring up my total to 15 this week. I expect my yearly total so far is around 40, and the vines are still sitting fruit. The most important thing I have learned from this forum, is to wait, watermelons don't get in a hurry.


    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 6:15PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks for sharing all your info! Larry, that is encouraging to me to hear that it took a even seasoned gardener like yourself three years to achieve watermellon sucess! Those look great! Thank you for the pics!
Dawn, thank you for all your insight. I know posting a pic of a plant on "hospice care" is a little too late but I'm glad to hear all the info. I do believe you are correct in your assessment of multiple issues going on here. And yes, the troubleshooting website was the same way for me- my plants had everything listed! Ha! It was a helpful website though and I'm clipping it for future use so thank you. Next time my little guy "makes" me attempt watermellon I will know to keep a close eye on folliage for disease control. I had to break the news to him tonight that his watermellon plants needed to be removed and then ironically we had store bought watermellon for dessert tonight! I'm just calling this one a good learning experience.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 10:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

All my melons were pathetic and diseased and.. ick. A couple came back in puny form. It's just been too wet and cool here. Next year they'll be rooted on a h-kulture bed so they can try better to protect themselves. I didn't even amend the soil this year.


    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 7:24AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I am so thankful for all my sand when it comes time to growing melons. The only real problems I seem to have are pest-born issues. Squash bugs seem to jump into my melon patch each year, but not before I harvest 40-50 Crimson Sweet's and 50 or so Sugar Babies. I prefer the Crimson's, just because they are so much easier to determine when they are ripe.

I have family members who can never seem to get their melons to produce right. The one thing they all have in common is the mistaken belief that watermelon need constant water. Of all the plants in my garden, my watermelon and cantaloupe receive the least amount of irrigation.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 11:45AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I paid 8 bucks for a huge watermelon at a 4 way stop yesterday. Yeah.. really need to get this watermelon-growing business down pat.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 2:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Christina, You're welcome. I have faith y'all will have more success next time. Just remember melons need loose sandy or sandy loam soil, with a pH around neutral (though they'll produce well even at a pH of 6.0-6.5) and enough water to get the plants off to a good start in spring, but not so much that they become disease magnets or produce flavorless melons with white heart. My dad's family raised them dryland style in the 1920s-1940s, and there is a very specific art to being able to produce big melons with no irrigation. Excess rainfall or irrigation (and excessively fertile soil) ruins their flavor though, so he always was a big fan of dryland melons. Even in the 1960s (as far back as my memories go) my dad would seek out melons grown locally or trucked in from west Texas and wouldn't even buy the ones sold in stores, unless it was a small, independent grocery store that used local growers for their produce.

Hippy, You're fortunate to have sandy soil. I mostly have clay but have found a few areas with patches of sandy soil, which explains why we now have 4 separate garden plots....the last three were fenced and turned into garden space so I could use their sandy soil for plants like melons and southern peas.

I have friends who are like your family members---they water, water, water and feed, feed, feed their melon plants with water-soluble fertilizer all summer long and then complain when they have melons with poor flavor, no flavor and/or white heart. I simply cannot get them to back off on the excessive watering/fertilizing so I just gave up trying. It is their garden and they can ruin their own melons if they want to, right? It doesn't make sense to me to even bother growing melons if a gardener isn't willing to change their growing habits in order to get good melons.

I usually don't have much of a pest problem on melons (knock on wood) and I try to kill squash bugs religiously when I find them on squash plants so none of them survive long enough to find my melons. Spider mites become a problem at this time of the year, but don't necessarily harm the plants enough to affect melon production or flavor so I pretty much ignore them.

Bon, Just remember they thrive in deep loose sand, and when grow in heavy clay they often stay small, stunted, sickly and non-productive, so give their hugelkultur bed the best drainage and loosest growing matter you can.

Melons once were a major commercial crop here in Love County, particularly in the areas of the county with deep, sandy soil. Down in the Thackerville area where they have a lot of very deep and very well-draining sugar sand, I still see some large fields of melons, but am not sure if they are growing them just for family and friends or maybe to sell at a farmer's market or to a small, independent grocery store. Occasionally you still see someone here selling locally-grown melons right out of their yard or garden or out of the back of a truck parked alongside a road or something similar.

It would kill me to have to buy a watermelon in the summertime, and I don't even remember the last time I bought one for us to eat in the summer. Sometimes I'll buy them in spring if we are starved for fresh watermelon.


    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 3:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
AmyinOwasso/zone 6b

Bon, have you ever had watermelon rind pickles? If you have big melon, with a fairly thick rind you can pickle the rind and get a twofer out of your purchase. Our old family recipe comes from MN. I can't pit my hands on it, but has cloves in it...not your normal pickle flavor.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 5:17PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Dawn, Yer spot on. And my soil is still pretty fertile clay. I think that will do best for melons next year.

Amy, you rock. I hate seeing things go to waste. It's so big the rind is too much for my worms, even. I'll look up a pickling recipe and give it a shot. Nothing to lose!


    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 5:56PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
AmyinOwasso/zone 6b

There is one in the ball blue book. We always used to have them for thanksgiving. They remind me of visiting MN.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 10:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Initial brine soak. I nabbed a recipe online. Pickles in the rear. Okay, that reads funny....

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 2:42AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I would like to post an update on the melons that I found growing out in the weeds and grass, to make it short and sweet, they are no good. I think the fact that we had rain at the wrong time, plus the weeds had them shielded from the sun and made them not ripen well and were not sweet. I will not grow them this way again unless I have enough mulch to go out as far as the vines grow. I do believe I can grow non vining crops in this bed, or even sweet potatoes, because it is easier to prune their vine with the lawn mower.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 10:14AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Growing cilantro in the summer
I started some cilantro from seed so I can have it...
Lisa, did you see: Work starts to protect monarch butterflies
Their bright orange and black wings are a familiar...
Pictures to warm us up
So far I have 20 flats- a few plants I lost to applejuice....
Cross pollination of mixed packet of flower seeds?
If I have a packet of mixed carnations, for example,...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™