How to Grow Watermelons in New Mexico

By: Carolyn J. Vance

How to Grow Watermelons from Seed | creative explained

How to Grow Watermelons in New Mexico

Choosing the Right Watermelon Variety

Selecting the appropriate watermelon variety is crucial for a bountiful harvest in New Mexico's unique growing conditions. Consider the following factors when choosing your watermelon seeds or transplants:

VarietyDays to MaturityHeat ToleranceDisease Resistance

Crimson Sweet 90-100 days High Fusarium Wilt, Anthracnose
Sugar Baby 75-85 days Moderate Anthracnose, Powdery Mildew
Charleston Gray 90-100 days High Fusarium Wilt, Anthracnose
Mickylee 80-90 days High Fusarium Wilt, Anthracnose
Sangria 85-95 days Moderate Powdery Mildew, Anthracnose

Heat-Tolerant Varieties

New Mexico's scorching summer temperatures demand heat-tolerant watermelon varieties. Crimson Sweet, Charleston Gray, and Mickylee are excellent choices known for their ability to thrive in hot, arid conditions. These varieties produce high-quality fruits with superior flavor and disease resistance.

Disease-Resistant Varieties

Powdery mildew, fusarium wilt, and anthracnose are common watermelon diseases in New Mexico. Selecting disease-resistant varieties like Crimson Sweet, Charleston Gray, and Sugar Baby can help mitigate the risk of crop failure due to these pathogens.

Preparing the Soil

Proper soil preparation is essential for successful watermelon cultivation in New Mexico. The key steps include:

Soil Testing

Before planting, conduct a soil test to determine the pH level and nutrient composition of your garden bed. Watermelons thrive in well-drained, slightly acidic soils with a pH range of 6.0 to 6.8. A soil test will provide valuable information to guide your soil amendment decisions.

Amending the Soil

Watermelons require nutrient-rich soil with good drainage and moisture retention capabilities. Incorporate aged compost or well-rotted manure into the soil to improve its structure and fertility. Additionally, consider adding peat moss or coconut coir to enhance water-holding capacity in New Mexico's dry climate.

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Planting and Spacing

Timing and spacing are crucial factors that influence watermelon growth and yield. In New Mexico, the optimal planting window is typically from late April to early June, after the last frost has passed.

When planting watermelons, you can choose between direct seeding or transplanting seedlings. Direct seeding is more common and involves sowing seeds directly into the prepared garden bed. Transplanting, on the other hand, involves starting seedlings indoors and then carefully transplanting them into the garden after they have developed a strong root system.

Direct Seeding vs. Transplanting

Direct Seeding Pros:

  • Easier and more cost-effective
  • Avoids transplant shock
  • Allows for undisturbed root development

Direct Seeding Cons:

How to Grow Watermelons in New Mexico
  • Slower initial growth
  • Increased risk of seed predation or disease

Transplanting Pros:

  • Earlier harvest
  • More controlled growing environment
  • Better seedling establishment

Transplanting Cons:

  • Increased labor and cost
  • Risk of transplant shock
  • Potential root disturbance

Spacing and Thinning

Proper spacing is crucial for watermelon plants to receive adequate sunlight, air circulation, and nutrients. Plant watermelon seeds or transplants in hills spaced 6 to 8 feet apart, with 2 to 3 seeds or transplants per hill. Once the seedlings have emerged and established, thin them to the strongest one or two plants per hill.

Watering and Fertilization

Consistent moisture and nutrient availability are essential for watermelon growth and fruit production.

Watermelons have deep root systems and require frequent, deep watering to ensure optimal growth and fruit development. Aim to keep the soil consistently moist, but avoid waterlogging, which can lead to root rot and other problems.

When it comes to fertilization, watermelons are heavy feeders and benefit from a balanced fertilizer rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. A good starting point is a 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 fertilizer applied at the recommended rate for your soil conditions. Additionally, consider supplementing with a water-soluble fertilizer every 2-3 weeks during the fruiting stage.

Irrigation Methods

In New Mexico's arid climate, efficient irrigation methods are crucial for watermelon cultivation. Consider implementing the following techniques:

  • Drip Irrigation: This water-efficient method delivers moisture directly to the plant's root zone, reducing water waste and minimizing the risk of foliar diseases.
  • Furrow Irrigation: Create shallow furrows between watermelon rows and periodically flood them with water, allowing it to seep into the soil and reach the plant roots.
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Fertilizer Requirements

Watermelons have specific fertilizer needs throughout their growth cycle. Follow these general guidelines:

  1. At Planting: Apply a balanced fertilizer rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, such as a 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 formula, at the recommended rate for your soil conditions.
  2. During Vine Growth: Supplement with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, like ammonium nitrate or calcium nitrate, to promote healthy vine and leaf development.
  3. During Fruit Development: Switch to a fertilizer higher in phosphorus and potassium, like a 5-10-10 or 8-24-24 formula, to support fruit growth and sweetness.

Pest and Disease Management

Watermelons are susceptible to various pests and diseases in New Mexico, which can significantly impact yield and fruit quality if left unchecked.

To ensure a successful harvest, implement an integrated pest management (IPM) approach that combines preventive measures, cultural practices, and targeted interventions when necessary.

How to Grow Watermelons in New Mexico

Common watermelon pests in New Mexico include:

  • Aphids
  • Cucumber Beetles
  • Spider Mites
  • Squash Bugs
  • Whiteflies

Regularly inspect your plants for signs of pest infestations, and take prompt action using approved organic or chemical control methods as needed.

Additionally, be vigilant for the following common watermelon diseases in the region:

  • Powdery Mildew
  • Fusarium Wilt
  • Anthracnose
  • Gummy Stem Blight
  • Bacterial Fruit Blotch

Disease Prevention and Control

Implementing preventive measures is crucial for minimizing the risk of disease outbreaks. These measures include:

  • Practicing crop rotation
  • Maintaining proper plant spacing for air circulation
  • Removing and destroying infected plant material
  • Using disease-resistant varieties
  • Applying approved fungicides or organic treatments as needed

Harvesting and Storage

Knowing when to harvest and how to store your watermelons properly is essential for enjoying their sweet, juicy flavors.

As watermelons approach maturity, look for the following ripeness indicators:

  • Dull, cream-colored underside where the fruit rests on the ground
  • Dry, curled tendril near the stem attachment
  • Hollow sound when tapped with your knuckles

When harvesting watermelons, use a sharp knife or pruning shears to cut the stem about 2 inches from the fruit. Avoid pulling or twisting the watermelon, as this can damage the rind and reduce shelf life.

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Harvesting and Handling

To prevent bruising and damage, handle watermelons carefully during harvest and transport. Avoid dropping or tossing the fruits, and use padded containers or surfaces to minimize impact.

Storage and Shelf Life

Proper storage is crucial for extending the shelf life of your harvested watermelons. Here are some tips:

  • Store watermelons at room temperature (around 70°F) for up to two weeks.
  • Avoid storing watermelons in direct sunlight or near ripening fruits like bananas or apples, as these can speed up spoilage.
  • Once cut, refrigerate watermelon slices in an airtight container for up to five days.

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