Melon Sense – How to Tell If a Melon is Ripe

A watermelon almost ready to pick in my garden. This is a yellow fleshed variety called "yellow Crimson" and it tastes like honey!

A watermelon almost ready to pick in my garden. This is a yellow-fleshed variety called “Yellow Crimson” which tastes like honey.

In May, I stuck a few seeds in the ground when the weather warmed up a bit, and forgot them. I ignored the vine tendrils that slowly started to creep across the deeply mulched vegetable garden, but when they gathered speed as the hot weather hit and intertwined with the other plants, I finally took a peek. I had 3 miniature Sugar Baby watermelons that set on the vines that look liked emerald colored baseballs.

Sugar Baby Watermelon just starting to grow

Sugar Baby Watermelon just starting to grow


Watermelons are one of the easiest vegetables to grow and as long as you have the room, they are worth growing for the great taste and fun of it. The only hard part of growing watermelons is knowing when to pick. If you are anxious to sink your teeth into that first watermelon before August, it is liable to be immature and taste terrible; too late, and it will split and rot. There are a few things to remember when deciding to pick.

Watermelons growing at Epcot

Watermelons growing at Epcot

Above are a few pointers from the Disney folks at Epcot which are all valid; Pick it up for weight, a yellow spot will be evident on its resting spot, and of course check for cuts and bruises. Some people tell you to do the “thump” test, which is simply to knock on the watermelon and listen for a distinctive solid sound, not high pitched. This method doesn’t really work for me as the melons all sound alike to me!

For me, the most important sign to check is the stem.  The stem should be green but the tendril closest to the melon should be shriveled up.

watermelon with arrow

The arrow is pointing to the tendril that you need to watch. If this turns brown, the watermelon is ripe

Seeing the tendril next to the stem dried up means that all systems are go! I have picked too many unripe melons in my time so that I am very careful to make sure  that I will be biting into a juicy sweet melon.

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Lift the melon or roll it to the side to look underneath for the color of the underside

Another positive sign is the yellowish color of the flat spot that the watermelon was resting on in the garden. If it is white, hold off!

Pick your melon as soon as it exhibits these signs as the quality can go south quickly if the weather is hot, and the flesh can get grainy. So as soon as it is ripe, pick it and store it in your fridge. I have a small fridge in my basement to put my produce during harvest season since there is no way to fit multiple melons in my regular fridge. My Sugar Babies weighed in at 10 pounds each! The seed packet says that they will get 8 to 81/2 inches in diameter. I find that mine are more like a foot in diameter. I chalk that up to our steady supply of moisture all summer long.

Evidence of good eating ;Rinds in the compost!

Evidence of good eating ;Rinds in the compost!

The same picking advice holds for other melons, like cantaloupes. Look for the tendril signs and  also smell it for an aroma. It should smell sweet and fruity.  The netted skin should all be tan underneath, but it is OK to have the stripes remain green. The melon should be firm to the touch without any soft spots. I like to pick these and set them on the counter for a few days and they will continue to ripen and give off a full aroma.  But don’t let it go too long as they can rot quickly if you picked it at the peak of ripeness.

A hanging cantaloupe ready to pick

A hanging cantaloupe ready to pick

About thegardendiaries

Claire Jones is a landscape and floral designer and owner of Claire Jones Landscapes, LLC. She designs and helps people to create their own personal outdoor oasis and loves to write about her gardening failures and successes.
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