It's a summer treat like no other: Juicy, ripe watermelon, perfect for salads, fruit plates, or just served alone. It can be heavy to carry home from the store -- with the large size of this warm-weather snack, planting watermelon in your garden may be easier.

In this article, we'll discuss growing watermelon, selecting watermelon and the health benefits of watermelon.

The watermelon is a spreading, tender annual vine related to the cucumber. It produces round, oval, or oblong fruits that can weigh anywhere from 5 to 100 pounds.

The fruit can have pink, red, yellow, or grayish white flesh. Male and female flowers appear on the same vine. Although smaller varieties are available, watermelons still need a lot of room. They also take a lot of nutrients from the soil.

Watermelon Image Gallery

Watermelons can weigh from 5 to 100 pounds.
See more pictures of watermelons.

Common Name: Watermelon
Scientific Name: Citrullus lanatus
Hardiness: Very Tender (harvest before the first frost)

In the next section, we'll discuss harvesting watermelon.

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Growing Watermelon

Watermelons grow large -- but how do you know when they are done growing? With the many different types of watermelons and the many different sizes, it can be confusing. There are some signs to watch for that can indicate your watermelon is fully grown. We'll show you how to grow and harvest watermelons here.

You can determine if a watermelon is ripe by knocking on it gently.
A ripe watermelon will sound hollow.

How to Grow Watermelon

Watermelons require warm soil and warm days. Night temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit will cause the flavor of the fruit to deteriorate. They must have full sun and prefer well-drained soil that holds moisture well.

Grow watermelons in inverted hills either by seed or transplants. You can either purchase transplants or start your own indoors three to four weeks before the planting date. Sow seeds or set out transplants two to three weeks after the average date of last frost, when the soil has warmed up.

Space the hills 6 feet apart and plant four to five seeds in each hill. When the seedlings have grown large enough, thin to leave the strongest one or two seedlings in each hill. With transplants, set one or two transplants per hill.

Watermelons are 95 percent water, so make sure they have enough water to keep them growing well. Don't let the soil dry out and use a mulch to keep the moisture even.

How to Harvest Watermelon

Knowing when to pluck your watermelon from the garden can be daunting. However, there are ways to tell it is done growing.

A watermelon is ready to harvest when the vine's tendrils begin to turn brown and die off. A ripe watermelon will sound dull and hollow when you tap it with your knuckles.

Types of Watermelon

You may have noticed a difference between the watermelon varieties you've sampled over the years. There are several types of watermelon, such as:
  • Golden Crown Hybrid, harvest in 80 days; is an All America Selection that produces juicy, golden-yellow flesh.
  • Sugar Baby, harvest in 75 days; gives round, l2-pound fruits with red flesh and thin rinds.
  • Bush Sugar Baby, harvest in 80 days; provides sweet, l2-pound fruit on a compact bush.
  • Redball Seedless, harvest in 80 days; gives fruit with red flesh that has a few white seeds.
  • Sweet Beauty, harvest in 77-80 days; is a large, elongated icebox melon and an All America Selection.
  • Park's Lemon Ice, harvest in 80 days; is a seedless yellow.
In the next section, we'll discuss selecting watermelon.

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Selecting Watermelon

The juicy sweetness of melons gives you the satisfaction of dessert without the hit to your waistline. Melons may come in different shapes, sizes, and colors, but they all have two things in common: a soft, sweet, juicy pulp and superb taste.

That's why it's hard to say no to melons. They offer a decent dose of
, which helps fill you up. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that most people eat 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit per day. Watermelons are a great-tasting way to fulfill that recommendation.

Watermelons are best served very cold.

Selecting Watermelons

The three most popular melons in the United States are cantaloupe, watermelon, and honeydew. In general, look for watermelons that are evenly shaped with no bruises, cracks, or soft spots. Select watermelons that are heavy for their size; they tend to be juicier.

Choosing a watermelon can be tricky. Watermelons don't ripen much after they are picked, so what you see is what you get. The single most reliable sign of ripeness is a firm underside with a yellowish color; if it is white or green, the melon is not yet mature.

A whole watermelon keeps in the refrigerator up to a week, but cut watermelon should be eaten as soon as possible. The flesh deteriorates rapidly, taking on an unappetizing slimy texture.

Some people like melons only slightly chilled or even room temperature, but watermelons taste best when they're served icy cold. A multicolored melon-ball salad topped with fresh, chopped mint makes a pretty dessert.

In the next section, you'll learn about the many health benefits of watermelons.

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Health Benefits of Watermelon

Watermelon is not only delicious, but extremely healthy, as well.

In fact, most melons are rich in potassium, a nutrient that may help control blood pressure, regulate heart beat, and possibly prevent strokes. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines state that a potassium-rich diet helps keep salt from raising blood pressure and may also reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and possibly age-related bone loss. The guidelines encourage adults to consume 4,700 milligrams per day (while keeping sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams per day, which is one teaspoon of salt).

Watermelon has lycopene, which can
help reduce the risk of several cancers.

Melons are also abundant in vitamin C, one arm of the now-famous disease-fighting antioxidant trio. Another arm that's well represented is beta-carotene.

Researchers believe that beta-carotene and vitamin C are capable of preventing heart disease, cancer, and other chronic conditions. No matter which way you cut them, when it comes to nutrition, melons are number one.

Watermelon is a valuable source of lycopene, one of the carotenoids that have actually been studied in humans. Research indicates that lycopene is helpful in reducing the risk of prostate, breast, and endometrial cancers, as well as lung and colon cancer.

Whether you choose watermelons for their health benefits or simply for their good flavor, they can be an excellent snack, summer dish -- or gardening project.

Nutritional Values of Watermelon
Serving Size: 1 cup
Calories 46
Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 g
Carbohydrate 11 g
Protein 1 g
Dietary Fiber 1 g
2 mg
Vitamin A
865 IU
<1 mg
Pantothenic Acid <1 mg
<1 mg
Vitamin B6
<1 mg
Vitamin C
12 mg
11 mg
15 mg
170 mg
Carotenoids 7,481 micrograms

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