Tips for Growing Watermelon in Montana

By: Carolyn J. Vance

Tips for Growing Watermelon in Montana

Montana, known for its wide open spaces and rugged landscapes, may not seem like the ideal location to grow watermelon. However, with the right techniques and a little bit of patience, it is possible to successfully cultivate this delicious fruit in the Big Sky Country.

Choosing the Right Variety

When it comes to growing watermelon in Montana, selecting the right variety is crucial. Opt for smaller varieties that have a shorter growing season, such as “Sugar Baby” or “Blacktail Mountain.” These varieties are better suited for the cooler climate and shorter summers experienced in Montana.

Preparing the Soil

Watermelons thrive in well-drained soil with a pH level between 6 and 6.8. Before planting your watermelon seeds, prepare the soil by removing any weeds and rocks. Loosen the soil to a depth of at least 12 inches and mix in compost or well-rotted manure to improve fertility and drainage.

Planting and Caring for Watermelon

Watermelons need plenty of sunlight and warm temperatures to grow and produce sweet, juicy fruits. In Montana, it’s best to start watermelon seeds indoors 2-3 weeks before the last frost date. Once all danger of frost has passed, transplant the seedlings outdoors, spacing them 3-4 feet apart.

Watermelon plants require regular watering, especially during dry spells. Irrigate deeply, providing at least one inch of water per week. Be sure to water the base of the plant and avoid wetting the leaves, as this can encourage diseases.

Harvesting Watermelon

Depending on the variety, watermelons are typically ready for harvest 70-90 days after planting. To determine if a watermelon is ripe, look for a dull, matte finish on the skin and a yellowish or brownish color on the underside where it touched the ground. Give the fruit a gentle tap – if it sounds hollow, it’s ready to be picked!

Growing watermelon in Montana may require some extra effort, but the sweet taste of a homegrown watermelon on a hot summer day makes it all worth it. Follow these tips and soon you’ll be enjoying your very own juicy, refreshing watermelons straight from your garden.

Choosing Watermelon Varieties Suitable for Montana Climate

When it comes to growing watermelon in Montana, it is important to choose varieties that are well-suited for the climate of the region. Montana has a relatively short growing season with cool nights and unpredictable weather patterns. Therefore, selecting watermelon varieties that can thrive in these conditions is essential for a successful harvest.

One important factor to consider when choosing watermelon varieties for Montana is the number of days to maturity. Since the growing season in Montana is limited, it is best to select varieties that have a shorter maturity period. Look for varieties that can mature in 70 to 85 days, as these will have a higher chance of reaching full ripeness before the frost sets in.

Another consideration is the cold tolerance of the watermelon varieties. Montana can experience frost even in the summer months, so it is crucial to choose varieties that can withstand these cooler temperatures. Look for varieties that have good cold tolerance and can continue to grow and produce fruit even in lower temperatures.

Furthermore, selecting watermelon varieties with disease resistance can help ensure a successful harvest in Montana. Certain diseases, such as powdery mildew and fusarium wilt, can be common in this region. Choosing varieties that are resistant to these diseases can improve the overall health and productivity of your watermelon plants.

Lastly, consider the growing habits and needs of the watermelon varieties. Some varieties are more suitable for smaller garden spaces or containers, while others may require more space to spread out. Additionally, some varieties may have specific soil or sunlight requirements. Take these factors into account when selecting watermelon varieties to ensure they can thrive in your specific growing conditions.

Overall, when choosing watermelon varieties for Montana, prioritize early maturity, cold tolerance, disease resistance, and suitability to your specific growing conditions. By considering these factors, you can increase your chances of a successful watermelon harvest in Montana’s unique climate.

Preparing the Soil for Watermelon Growth in Montana

Tips for Growing Watermelon in Montana

Before planting watermelon in Montana, it is important to prepare the soil properly to create optimal growing conditions for the plants. Here are some steps to follow:

1. Soil Testing

Start by testing the soil in your garden to determine its pH level and nutrient content. Watermelon prefers a slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6 and 6.8. The test results will help you understand if any amendments are needed to adjust the pH or add necessary nutrients.

2. Clearing the Area

Remove any weeds, rocks, or debris from the planting area. Watermelon plants need space to spread out, so ensure that there are no obstructions in their way.

3. Tilling the Soil

Using a garden tiller or a shovel, loosen the soil to a depth of about 12 inches. This will improve drainage and aeration, allowing watermelon roots to penetrate easily and access nutrients. Break up any large clumps of soil and remove any remaining weeds or roots.

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4. Adding Organic Matter

Incorporate organic matter into the soil to improve its fertility and texture. This can be done by adding compost, well-rotted manure, or other organic materials. Spread a layer of organic matter over the soil and mix it in thoroughly using a garden fork or a tiller.

5. Fertilizing

Based on the soil test results, add the necessary fertilizers to provide the required nutrients. Watermelon plants need high levels of phosphorus and potassium, so choose a balanced fertilizer with a higher middle number (N-P-K ratio). Follow the recommended dosage on the fertilizer package and distribute it evenly over the soil surface.

6. Raking the Soil

After adding organic matter and fertilizers, use a rake to level the soil surface. Remove any rocks or clumps that might interfere with planting or harm the developing watermelon fruits.

7. Mulching

Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or hay, around the watermelon plants to conserve moisture, suppress weed growth, and regulate soil temperature. Leave a space around the plant stem to prevent rotting.

8. Watering

Before planting watermelon seeds or transplants, thoroughly water the prepared soil to ensure it is evenly moist. Watermelon plants require consistent moisture, especially during fruit development, so a well-draining soil with good water retention is essential.

By following these steps to prepare the soil, you will create an ideal environment for watermelon growth in Montana. Proper soil preparation will contribute to healthy plant growth, higher yields, and delicious watermelon fruits to enjoy.

Planting Watermelon Seeds in Montana

When it comes to planting watermelon seeds in Montana, timing and preparation are key. Montana’s cooler climate requires careful planning to ensure successful germination and growth. Here are some steps to follow when planting watermelon seeds in Montana:

1. Determine the Planting Time: Watermelon seeds should be planted after the last frost date in Montana, which is typically in late spring or early summer. Check local gardening resources or consult with experts to determine the exact timing for your specific location.

2. Choose the Right Location: Select a sunny spot in your garden that receives at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day. Watermelons thrive in warm temperatures, so choose a location with good airflow and protection from strong winds.

3. Prepare the Soil: Watermelons prefer well-draining soil rich in organic matter. Before planting, loosen the soil and remove any weeds or rocks. Add compost or well-rotted manure to improve the soil’s fertility and drainage.

4. Plant the Seeds: Dig small holes or create mounds in the prepared soil, spacing them about 3-4 feet apart. Place 3-4 watermelon seeds about 1 inch deep in each hole or mound. Cover the seeds with soil and gently pat down to ensure good soil contact.

5. Provide Adequate Water: Watermelon seeds require consistent moisture for germination. After planting, thoroughly water the soil, keeping it consistently moist but not waterlogged. Use a gentle spray to avoid disturbing the seeds.

6. Monitor and Maintain: Keep an eye on the soil moisture levels and add water as needed to prevent it from drying out. Once the seedlings emerge, thin them to 1 or 2 per hole or mound, choosing the strongest ones for optimal growth.

7. Protect from Frost: Montana’s unpredictable weather can bring unexpected frost, especially in early spring. Prepare for such situations by covering the young watermelon plants with row covers or cloths overnight to protect them from frost damage.

8. Mulch the Soil: Once the watermelon plants have established, apply a layer of organic mulch around them. This mulch will help conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature, creating a favorable environment for the plants to thrive.

9. Support the Vines: As the watermelon plants grow, they will develop long vines that need support. Consider using trellises, stakes, or fences to provide support and prevent the vines from sprawling on the ground, which can lead to rot or pest damage.

By following these steps, you can successfully plant watermelon seeds in Montana and enjoy a bountiful harvest of delicious, juicy watermelons in the summer months. Remember to adjust your planting techniques and timing based on your specific location and local climate conditions.

Providing Optimal Watermelon Growing Conditions in Montana

Tips for Growing Watermelon in Montana

Growing watermelons in Montana can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience, but it requires careful attention to provide optimal growing conditions for these heat-loving plants. Here are some tips on how to create an ideal environment for your watermelon patch in Montana:

1. Location: Choose a sunny and well-drained spot for your watermelon patch. Watermelon plants thrive in full sun, so make sure they receive at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day. Additionally, ensure that the soil drains well to prevent waterlogged conditions that can lead to root rot.

2. Soil Preparation: Before planting, prepare the soil by removing any weeds or grass and loosening it with a garden fork or tiller. Watermelons prefer a slightly acidic soil with a pH level between 6.0 and 6.8. Test your soil and amend it with organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, to improve its fertility and drainage.

3. Planting: In Montana, it is best to start watermelon seeds indoors 2-3 weeks before the last frost date. Use biodegradable peat pots or seedling trays to sow the seeds. Plant the seeds 1 inch deep and water them lightly. Once the danger of frost has passed and the soil temperature reaches around 70°F (21°C), transplant the seedlings into the prepared soil with a spacing of 2-3 feet between each plant.

4. Watering: Watermelons require consistent moisture throughout their growing season. Provide them with 1-2 inches of water per week, either through rainfall or supplemental irrigation. Avoid overwatering, as it can lead to disease issues. Water deeply to encourage deep root growth and reduce the frequency of watering.

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5. Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or compost, around the watermelon plants. Mulching helps conserve soil moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. It also prevents the direct contact of the fruit with the soil, reducing the risk of rot and disease.

6. Fertilizing: Watermelons benefit from regular feeding with a balanced fertilizer. Apply a slow-release granular fertilizer or a water-soluble fertilizer every 3-4 weeks throughout the growing season. Follow the package instructions for proper application rates. Avoid excessive nitrogen, as it can result in excessive vine growth and poor fruit development.

7. Trellising: While not necessary, trellising watermelon plants can help save space and prevent the fruit from touching the ground. Use stakes or a trellis system to support the vines and tie them loosely to the structure using soft garden twine.

8. Pest and Disease Control: Keep a watchful eye for common watermelon pests in Montana, such as aphids, cucumber beetles, and squash bugs. Use organic pest control methods, like handpicking or spraying with insecticidal soap, to manage infestations. To prevent diseases, practice good cultural practices such as crop rotation, proper spacing, and adequate airflow.

9. Harvesting: Harvest watermelons when the fruit’s skin turns dull and the bottom of the melon develops a yellow color. Tap the melon and listen for a hollow sound, indicating ripeness. Cut the fruit from the vine using a sharp knife, leaving a short stub attached to the melon.

Managing Weeds and Pests in your Montana Watermelon Patch

One of the challenges that watermelon growers in Montana face is managing weeds and pests in their patches. Weeds can compete with watermelon plants for nutrients, water, and sunlight, while pests can significantly damage the crop if left untreated. Therefore, it is crucial to implement effective weed and pest management strategies to ensure a successful watermelon harvest.

1. Weed Management:

To control weeds in your Montana watermelon patch, it is essential to start with proper soil preparation. Prior to planting, remove any existing weeds by hand or use a hoe to uproot them. Make sure to remove the entire root system to prevent regrowth.

After planting the watermelon seeds, mulch the soil around the plants to suppress weed growth. Organic mulches like straw or wood chips can be used for this purpose. Mulching not only inhibits weed growth but also helps in retaining soil moisture and regulating soil temperature.

Regularly inspect your watermelon patch for any new weed growth. Hand pulling or spot-treating with an herbicide can be effective in controlling weeds. However, be cautious when using herbicides, as they can harm the watermelon plants if not applied correctly.

2. Pest Management:

Montana’s watermelon crops are susceptible to various pests, including aphids, cucumber beetles, and squash bugs. Regular monitoring is essential to detect pest infestations early and prevent them from causing significant damage to the plants.

Introducing beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and lacewings, can help control aphid populations naturally. These predators feed on aphids and help keep their numbers in check. You can purchase beneficial insects from gardening stores or online suppliers.

Cucumber beetles and squash bugs can be controlled through physical removal or the use of insecticidal soaps or neem oil sprays. Be sure to follow the instructions on the product label and apply them as directed to avoid harm to the watermelon plants.

It is also crucial to practice good garden hygiene by removing plant debris and fallen fruits regularly. This reduces the hiding places for pests and helps prevent future infestations.


Managing weeds and pests in your Montana watermelon patch is crucial for a successful harvest. By implementing effective weed control measures and practicing regular pest monitoring, you can ensure the health and productivity of your watermelon plants. Remember to always follow the instructions on herbicides and insecticides to protect both your crop and the environment.

Harvesting Watermelon in Montana

Tips for Growing Watermelon in Montana

Harvesting watermelon in Montana is an exciting and rewarding experience. After months of careful cultivation, it’s finally time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Here are some important steps to follow when harvesting watermelon:

1. Monitor the signs of ripeness:

Before you start harvesting, it’s essential to ensure that the watermelons are ripe and ready. Look for these signs of ripeness:

  • The bottom side of the watermelon should have a creamy yellow color.
  • The skin should have a dull finish rather than a shiny appearance.
  • The tendril closest to the watermelon should be completely dried out.
  • Thumping the watermelon should produce a deep, hollow sound.

2. Use a sharp knife or shears:

Once you determine that the watermelon is ripe, carefully cut it off the vine using a sharp knife or shears. Make sure to leave a few inches of stem attached to the fruit, as this can help prolong its shelf life.

3. Handle with care:

Tips for Growing Watermelon in Montana

4. Clean the watermelons:

After harvesting, it’s a good idea to wash the watermelons to remove any dirt or debris. Use clean water and a soft brush to gently scrub the skin. Avoid using any soap or detergent, as this can affect the taste and quality of the fruit.

5. Store properly:

6. Enjoy your harvest:

Finally, it’s time to enjoy the delicious, juicy watermelons you’ve grown. Slice them up and enjoy them as a refreshing snack, or use them in various culinary creations such as salads, smoothies, or desserts.

Following these steps will ensure that you harvest watermelons at their peak ripeness, resulting in a mouthwatering and satisfying eating experience. So, get ready to savor the taste of summer with your very own Montana-grown watermelons!

Storing Watermelon in Montana

After harvesting your watermelon crop in Montana, it is important to store them properly to ensure maximum freshness and flavor. Here are some tips for storing watermelon:

1. Harvest at the Right Time

Watermelons should be harvested at peak ripeness to ensure the best taste. Look for signs such as a dull, yellowish underside, a firm rind that resists puncture, and a curly tendril near the stem that has turned brown.

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2. Clean and Dry

Tips for Growing Watermelon in Montana

Before storing, make sure to clean the watermelon to remove any dirt or debris. Gently wipe the surface with a damp cloth and allow it to air dry. Avoid using water, as excess moisture can promote rotting.

3. Choose the Right Storage Location

Watermelons should be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. A basement or a pantry can be an ideal storage location. The temperature should be between 50-60°F (10-15°C) with low humidity.

4. Avoid Stacking

Tips for Growing Watermelon in Montana

Do not stack watermelons on top of each other, as this can cause bruising and uneven ripening. Place them in a single layer with space in between each melon for air circulation.

5. Monitor Regularly

Check on your stored watermelons regularly to ensure they are still in good condition. Inspect them for any signs of decay or mold. Remove any damaged or overripe melons to prevent them from spoiling the others.

6. Extend Shelf Life with Refrigeration

If you want to extend the shelf life of your watermelon, you can refrigerate it. Place the whole watermelon in the refrigerator at a temperature of about 40°F (4°C). However, keep in mind that refrigeration can slightly affect the flavor and texture of the fruit.

By following these storage tips, you can enjoy the delicious taste of your watermelon crop in Montana for an extended period.

Troubleshooting Common Watermelon Growing Issues in Montana

Tips for Growing Watermelon in Montana

Watermelon growing in Montana can present a few challenges due to the state’s unique climate and growing conditions. However, by being aware of and addressing common issues, you can increase your chances of a successful watermelon harvest. Here are some troubleshooting tips for common watermelon growing issues in Montana:

  • Poor soil drainage: Montana’s heavy clay soils can pose a challenge for watermelon growth. To improve drainage, mix organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure into the soil before planting. Raised beds can also help with drainage.
  • Cool temperatures: Montana’s short growing season and cool temperatures can slow down watermelon growth. Start your watermelon seeds indoors or in a greenhouse a few weeks before the last frost date to give them a head start. You can also use row covers or black plastic mulch to help warm the soil.
  • Late frosts: Late frosts in Montana can be detrimental to young watermelon plants. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and be prepared to protect your plants with row covers or cloches if frost is expected.
  • Inadequate pollination: Watermelons require proper pollination to set fruit. If you notice poor fruit set, it may be due to a lack of pollinators. Consider hand-pollinating your watermelon plants by using a small brush or cotton swab to transfer pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers.
  • Pest infestations: Montana is home to various pests that can damage watermelon plants, such as aphids, cucumber beetles, and squash bugs. Monitor your plants regularly and take appropriate action if you spot any pests. This can include using organic insecticides, setting up traps, or introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs or parasitic wasps.
  • Disease susceptibility: Watermelons can be susceptible to diseases such as powdery mildew and Fusarium wilt. To prevent these diseases, choose disease-resistant watermelon varieties suited for Montana’s climate. Practice crop rotation and avoid overwatering, as excess moisture can promote disease development.
  • Improper watering: Watermelons need consistent moisture, especially during hot and dry periods. Avoid overwatering, as this can lead to root rot and other issues. Water deeply, providing around 1-2 inches of water per week, and use mulch to help retain moisture and control weeds.
  • Improper fertilization: Over-fertilization or using the wrong type of fertilizer can result in poor watermelon growth or damage to the plants. Test your soil before planting to determine nutrient levels, and follow the recommended fertilization guidelines for watermelon. Generally, a balanced fertilizer is suitable, applying it at planting and periodically throughout the growing season.
  • Poor fruit ripening: If your watermelon fruits are not ripening as they should, it may be due to insufficient sunlight or premature harvesting. Ensure that your watermelon plants receive at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day. Additionally, check the recommended days to maturity for your watermelon variety and wait until the fruit is fully ripe before harvesting.

By addressing these common watermelon growing issues in Montana, you can increase the likelihood of a successful and rewarding watermelon harvest. Remember to stay proactive and monitor your plants regularly to catch any problems early on.

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