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How to help my watermelon

Posted by ChickenCoupe 7 (My Page) on
Sat, Jul 2, 11 at 15:50

I know it's late in the season but it's my first and I'm practicing. Watermelon leaves have been lovely with a constant battle of picking off eggs. The short nights have caused it to attempt blooming. The plant is very young - maybe 2 months old. Anyways, the leaves are curling up. I can only imagine that it is working hard at producing blooms right now. Does it just need watered? I've been watering it well, otherwise. Or do I need to feed it something? Nitrogen in my soil is not so hot. But do I put nitrogen or just feed it some regular fertilizer? I think my fertilizer is 10-30-10. Any suggestions would be great! I'll water it tonight and see how it does by tomorrow.

Thanks in advance. Bon


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: How to help my watermelon

Bon,

I'm not near the gardener that most who post on this site are because I haven't been gardening very long, but my watermelon and canteloupe leaves only seem to start to curl downward or look droopy when I haven't watered enough. They return to normal after I water them. Also, I don't have a soaker hose on my cantaloupe and have to spray them down a couple of times a day or the leaves are affected during the heat of the day. My watermelon don't get to that point very often since the soakers water so much better.

I've been wondering about fertilizer as well, I've used alfalfa tea and tomato miracle grow on mine, as I've been putting on everything else too, and I used regular miracle grow yesterday. I'm hoping the reg MG doesn't result in less fruit. Hopefully somebody can tell us for sure.


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RE: How to help my watermelon

Hi Bon,

If you are using 10-30-10, that's where the blossom is coming from. A standard 20-20-20 or 10-10-10 will encourage both growth and bloom, unless you specifically want to push something into bloom and boost the root structure. Then you use a product with a higher middle number (phosphate). Products like Bloom can be very high; as much as 5-50-15 or 10-60-10. Regular Miracle Grow is 24-8-16, to promote growth, and Miracle Grow Bloom Booster is 15-30-15. See how the balance of the numbers changes? The first one (nitrogen) is growth, the second number promotes bloom and rooting. That's why so many small plants from nurseries are blooming like crazy and are also root-bound. It's the fertilizer.

If you want to try again next year, you might try a trick that used in the dry areas of the west. Put the plants in a small 'hill' that's maybe 10-12" across, and dig a fairly deep trench around it, at least 3 to 4" deep. Put in 2 or 3 plants to a hill. When you water, you just fill up the trench as you water and it seems to keep them going better.

If we're going to continue to have dry summers like this, I think I'll even put my tomatoes into raised hills, with trenches running the length of the row on both sides. It's more of a farm-style irrigation, where you can start the water at one end and let it flood down to the other end, but it works in the dry, blistering summer heat of the Sacramento Valley and other areas of the west coast that get zero rain from May to November. You just need to block the far end with something, or direct it on to another row, to keep it from running all over the place.
I hope that helps.

Pat


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RE: How to help my watermelon

Bon,

Well, it isn't that late in the season. I'd consider this the beginning of the second half of our gardening season since most of us can keep plants going at least into November and sometimes December if we protect them from the first freezing cold night or two. A person still could direct sow seed now of refrigerator melons and have plenty of time to harvest a crop before the first freeze.

Most watermelon plants begin to bloom when they are around 8 weeks old, although I have found some of the refigerator types bloom earlier than that sometimes. It is the combination of daylength, intensity of the sunlight and temperatures that trigger blossoming once the plant is large enough to set fruit. Once the blooms are pollinated, you'll have a ripe watermelon in roughly 7 or 8 weeks---earlier for small refrigerator melons types and later for some of the varieties that produce exceptionally large fruit.

As Sheri said, curling foliage generally is a symptom of moisture stress. Curling foliage is more common if you're growing in heavy, dense soil that does not allow the plant roots to grow rampantly. Most watermelons have very large root systems which enables the plants to tolerate a lot of heat and dryness. More rarely the curling of melon foliage can indicate a virus and, more rarely still, one or more of several different viruses that affect cucurbits.

I wouldn't feed a watermelon plant nitrogen once it is beginning to bloom. The time to give it extra nitrogen if you felt your soil was lacking in nitrogen would have been when the vines first started to run. I never give mine nitrogen though. I just prepare the soil by adding compost and some Espoma Plant-Tone fertilizer mixed into the soil before I plant. Once the plants are in the ground, the soil feeds them. If you have soil that is seriously deficient in nitrogen, then when the plant began to vine, you could have added high-nitrogen fertilizer like ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) or ammonium nitrate (33-0-0). Of the two, I think ammonium sulfate would be preferable. I'd be worried ammonium nitrate would give the plant too much nitrogen and would contribute to whiteheart. If you feel you must feed the plant something now, it would be preferable to give is something gentle like liquid seaweed.

You have to be very careful about not overfeeding and not overwatering watermelon because those practices can give you bland, poorly-flavored melons and/or white heart in the flesh.

Without knowing what your soil fertility level or moisture level are like and without knowing what you've given the watermelon plants in the past, it is hard for us to guess what they might need. You can figure out for yourself if the plant is hungry by looking at the foliage. It should be a nice medium green, but not a very deep and dark bluish-green, which would indicate excessive nitrogen. If it is pale green or pale yellowish-green, it might need to be fed but that sort of discolored foliage also could indicate another issue like low soil pH (below 5.5) or a serious pest infestation like nematodes or spider mites. If the foliage is turning a very bright yellow in places, that could be an indication of downy mildew.

Sheri, Be really careful with the MG once your plants are blooming. I know you have some real issues with the heat, drought and soil this year so likely your plants can tolerate some MG, but if you give watermelons too much fertilizer, it can ruin your melons. Too much water will literally water down the flavor and excess fertility often gives you white heart, which presents as white flesh (assuming you aren't growing a white-fleshed melon) in the interior of the melon. The white areas have no flavor at all or very poor flavor.

With melons, it is preferable to water with a soaker hoses and water long enough to soak the ground about 8" down beneath the soil surface--so water very deeply and less often as opposed to watering lightly but more often.

For comparison's sake, my watermelon plants are about 8 weeks old and started vining when they were maybe 3 weeks old. Once a melon has vined enough to bloom, you should get fruit set within a week or two and then, once the flower sets fruit, you'll get a melon roughly 40-45 days later, and slightly earlier than that if you're growing small refrigerator types of watermelons. The earlier fruit that formed around the first week in June now range in size from tennis ball-size to softball-sized and it is likely we'll be harvesting the first ripe melons before the end of July. I only grew the smaller refrigerator types this year because of the drought

Hope this helps,

Dawn


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RE: How to help my watermelon

Pat,

How often would you recommend fertilizing with any of the fertlizers you mentioned, or do you just go by how the plant is progressing? Thank you for explaining the sequence of the numbers and which was best for bloom boosting, I've always wondered about that. Sheri


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RE: Melon Guide

Here's a little 4-page guide to growing watermelons in a home garden. It is from Texas A&M. I use a lot of their publications because they are tailored more to the home gardener. A lot of the OSU publications are tailored more to commercial growers.

It has a section about fertilization.

Dawn

Here is a link that might be useful: Easy Gardening Guide to Melons


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RE: How to help my watermelon

Sheri;
I completely understand. I am a bit obsessive when learning new things. I just started gardening a few months ago. For some reason I learned soil was most important. I can't tell anybody diddly about things that come beyond a squash plant being larger than 1 foot tall, but I can certainly tell that my plants love what I'm doing to the soil (Physically). So I have at least that! I certainly feel better I'm not the only one struggling. I'm tired of the uncertainty of plant behavior and what's eating at my plants, frustration with having realized I didn't make space for walking while I turn my well worked soil into a parking lot and having absolutely no idea what anything is supposed to look like when they grow; much less what to look for things go wrong. LOL! So, yeah.. I have some zukes growing like crazy and I'm so PROUD. hahaha! I do remember forgetting to water the melon plants a couple of times. I watered them yesterday evening. Of course they perked right back, but they're curling up again today. *shrugs I keep reminding myself "This one is just practice. They're not going to make the season. This one is just practice. Relax, Bonnie!" hahaha

@redding

Bless you. Your clarification of the affect of the different chemicals helped answer the questions I was searching for on the internet!! I won't forget this one. The curling up happened 24 hours after I placed fertilizer on them.
I didn't think much of it but I had read about "trenching" for water. As I planted my seedling cucumbers (in the full blistering sun) I decided to do this. It seems to be working well. I needn't water too frequently (and I shade the seedlings half the day). I'll try that on my watermelons next year. Prior to feeding them I moved their mulch out from over their base area as I was attempting to weed and cultivate the area before the vines spread out. So, the removing of the mulch and the fertilizer is the two things that changed prior to this curling!

@Dawn;
Yay! I'm so happy to hear I might enjoy a small watermelon or two. You're right! These are about two months old! I forget what variety they are, though. D'oh! I keep everything ya'll teach me in a type of leisurely journal since I try to absorb too much information at all times and generally forget much (constant interruptions with kids doesn't help the memory function, either).

When I planted the watermelons was the same time I planted my very first seedlings. I used unfinished compost as mulch. That's what I recently moved off the plant. The other seedlings are finished I let them go. I've no way of being certain but I seriously think the compost was a bad idea. It might have had fungus or something in it affecting the plants. All my new seedlings have clean mulch on them (cardboard), clean store-bought well rotted manure, no added fertilizer and they're thriving.

Wanna know what's the funniest (or stupidest)? All this obsession over what fertilizer to use (or not) and I have the solution sitting in a ten gallon tub in my house - vermicompost. It's a slower release but I know it's a gentle fertilizer. All I need do is make some worm teaa and apply. Now, why didn't I think of this before? *facepalm

I am very thankful those watermelons are in a completely isolated location from the rest of the garden.

Bless you for the help!

bon


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RE: How to help my watermelon

Bon,

I'm laughing with you because you forgot about your vermicomposting....I'm not laughing at you. It is funny how the human mind forgets simple little things like that sometimes.

I always prefer the more gentle organic forms of fertilizer, although there are times you can use a chemical fertilizer (like a bloom booster formula) successfully to force plants like tomatoes to bloom at the exact time a summer 'cold front' hits and brings temps down low enough for fertilization to occur. I also think there are times when a high-nitrogen fertilizer can be useful, especially if you're trying to push Red Candy Apple Onion to attain a greater size more like the size of Candy onion. Otherwise, Red Candy Apple doesn't attain much size.

In general, though, I try to focus on building the soil, improving it year in and year out, and letting the soil feed the plants. It is amazing how much soil improves with the regular addition of compost over time. When you are a gardener, it all starts with the soil. Once you get your soil's structure, texture and fertility right, everything else is easy.

Dawn


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RE: How to help my watermelon

It is absolutely hilarious. If you had any idea how badly I've obsessed over the stupid worms! Hubs thinks I'm nuts... or at least "the most excited" he has "ever seen anyone over having worms". I depleted a couple thousand. A friend from Minnesota gave me her worms (lol)


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RE: How to help my watermelon

Bon, I tend to fertilize according to the needs of the plant, but one thing I've learned is to write it all down on the calendar so I don't forget when I did what and then repeat it too soon by mistake. I note anything unnatural that I do in the garden, be it fertilizer, starting seeds, pest control, weed control, or whatever. My brain tends to be more and more like a sieve as I get older, but this is a practice I began years ago.

In using fertilizers, just because a little is good, it definitely does not mean that a lot is better.

I don't dare use any natural fertilizers like bone meal or fish emulsion because of the critters it would draw in, so I'm stuck with using things that they don't find so attractive.

I don't know if anyone has access to livestock, but the mention of a tea brought to mind something that I did years ago. I had a big (uncomposted) manure pile and a big garden, but needed some control measure to make the two go together without a disaster. I ended up scooping manure into 5-gallon buckets and filling them with water, then let it sit for a couple of days. Then I poured the resulting 'tea' onto the garden and tossed out the solid residue. It was free, the garden loved it, and I didn't seem to burn anything in the process.

I was laughing about your worm comment. We went fishing a few weeks ago and I brought home all the unused nightcrawlers and tucked them under the mulch in the garden. I hope they're happily tunneling around out there.

If our weather is going to continue like this for another year, I'll definitely be using the west coast trench irrigation system for the veggie garden. It's something I've used in the bone-dry blazing heat for a lot of years, and if we luck out and have a normal year, it won't hurt a thing.

Pat


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RE: How to help my watermelon

Thanks Pat. I have a journal but I'm getting lazy. I need to pick up the pace on it.


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RE: How to help my watermelon

Bon, I used to keep a journal when I was taking care of big properties, but I found that I tend to put it aside and forget it. Now I just have a calendar with big enough squares to write in. It lives on the side of the refrig and I make a note on it whenever I fertilize, treat for weeds, use a pesticide, or start seeds. I have several acres to take care of and it's easy to lose track of it all. The calendar helps. This year about half of my garden seeds failed to germinate and I had to plant them again. It's easier to look at the calendar to check the dates than to ask myself 'when did I plant those?'. It also gives me some kind of record for the following year.

I don't know if that would be easier for you or not, but you might try it.

Pat


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RE: How to help my watermelon

Nice! I'll try that, too. I really think it'll work for me, too.


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