Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on June 9, 2006. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Watermelons need rain or irrigation
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's commercial watermelon producers enjoyed an early start for their crop, but now nonirrigated melons are reaching a critical need for water to finish maturing in time for the
Fourth of July.
Smith County Extension director Charles Waldrup said watermelons had excellent conditions early in the season, but they are facing an urgent need for water. This year's melons should be very sweet because of the growing conditions.
“Watermelons actually love dry weather, but they still need enough water to fill out,” Waldrup said. “The vines are holding up so far, but the melons will be smaller, misshapened or not develop at all if they don't get a good rain.”
The bulk of Smith County's 700 to 800 acres of watermelons are not irrigated. While the dry conditions have kept most diseases at bay, a fresh round of rains could trigger outbreaks.
“We need the rains, but growers will have to watch closely after rains to control diseases that will likely follow,” Waldrup said.
Mark Gillie, Extension director in Greene County, said about 80 percent of the county's 300 acres of watermelons are irrigated and grown with black plastic row mulch.
“All of the crop is looking good, especially the irrigated melons. Most fields have had less disease because of the lack of rain. The non-irrigated fields have had more insect and disease pressure than the irrigated fields,” Gillie said. “The irrigated crop is about three weeks ahead of the non-irrigated.”
Harvest timing is important. In addition to wanting to harvest before the Independence Day holiday, Mississippi growers also want to harvest between the Florida and Texas melon seasons.
Mississippi's watermelon acreage has declined steadily from more than 9,000 acres in the early 1990s to about 3,000 acres today.
Gillie said acreage is down, but growers are able to produce more melons per acre because of changes in farming methods.
“The use of irrigation and black plastic almost doubles production,” Gillie said. “Black plastic takes out other variables. Growers have hotter seed beds to get the crop started in, weeds are not a problem, and insects that would have been attracted to those weeds are not as big a factor.”
Gillie said farmers also are improving their ability to market their melons.