Picking a Ripe Watermelon – 5 Steps

We Americans take so much joy in fresh, juicy, ripe watermelons in summer. That’s why picking a ripe watermelon is such a handy skill to have. In this post I share how to pick a perfect watermelon with 5 steps.

closeup slices of ripe, juicy watermelon on blue cloth

But first, a little watermelon trivia. The roots of this fruit run deep into American history, particularly here in the South. That’s because watermelons thrive in warm weather. 

Philip Henry Gosse, a 19th-century English naturalist, described the watermelon and its role in Southern hospitality during his stay in Alabama. In his published journal Letters from Alabama, he wrote in an entry dated July 15, 1838:

The water-melon (Cucurbita citrullus), is deservingly esteemed; as I know not a more cooling or delicious fruit in the heat of summer…If a guest call, the first offering of friendship is a glass of cold water as soon as seated; then there is an immediate shout for water-melons, and each taking his own, several are destroyed before the knife is laid down.

Some things don’t change much, do they?! Chilled watermelon cubes or a slice off a fresh melon are still a fine way to greet a guest in the Southern summer heat.

Picking a Ripe Watermelon: the Window of Opportunity

As with most fruits, the flavor of the watermelon greatly depends on the level of ripeness. There’s a small window of opportunity to pick a sweet watermelon. Watermelons go from bland to sweet in flavor in just a couple of days. Once picked off the vine, the melons stop developing flavor. So to get the best taste, it’s important to pick a watermelon at its peak.

Ripe watermelon growing on the vine in green leafy garden.
5 Steps to Picking a Ripe Watermelon: just use your senses.

The problem is that a ripe watermelon looks pretty much the same as an unripe one. Subtle changes do exist, but the gardener must pay close attention to catch them. The early Alabamians evidently knew how to pick the ripest melons, or Gosse’s favorable account of a porch full of happy, seedspittin’ Southerners would have been much different.

5 Steps to Picking Ripe Watermelons

First, the quickest measure of ripeness is a watermelon’s weight: if it feels unusually light, it’s probably unripe. On the other hand, an overly heavy watermelon may indicate that it is overripe and has become waterlogged. This is because as a watermelon ripens, it absorbs water, making it heavier. 

ripe watermelon sliced in half, closeup of red flesh and seeds

But weight alone may not be enough go by. Look for these five indicators of ripeness when picking your next watermelon to eat.

  1. Look at the shape and colors. Look for a uniform shape, either oval or round. The melon should be firm, heavy, and bruise free without irregular bumps or dents. The outer skin should be dull, and the green stripes near the top (if it has any) should be faded and less obvious than when younger. A shiny melon is probably unripe. The bottom, where the melon rested on the ground, should have a creamy yellow spot and not an immature white or green color. That spot is called the yellow field spot or ground spot.
  2. Scratch the bottom of the watermelonThe rind should be tough and resist denting. Instead, it should tear and slip with scratching to show a light green under the rind.
  3. Thump or tap the watermelon. This is a classic way to test ripeness for a perfect watermelon. A ripe melon should have a deep sound — a low, dull, solid thud, like a hardwood door. If the watermelon has more of a hollow sound, like a knock on an aluminum door instead of a solid oak one, then the melon is not ripe yet. This method takes a bit of practice but produces great results. Be careful, however: overripe fruit sound similar to ripe ones. Avoid picking a watermelon that has a flat sound, as it may be overripe.
  4. Check the curly tendril nearest the watermelon. The little “pigtail” should begin to die back as the melon reaches maturity. Watch for this for the best flavor.
  5. Look at the stem. It will begin to crack near the watermelon when ripe. In the grocery store, the stem also can tell you a lot. In a store watermelon or at the farmers’ market, a green stem is a sign that the melon was freshly picked.

Bonus: the Sniff Test

Believe it or not, smelling a watermelon can also be an effective way to determine its ripeness. While this method may not be foolproof, it can provide additional clues about the watermelon’s flavor and overall ripeness.

A ripe watermelon should have a sweet, fragrant aroma. When you bring the watermelon close to your nose, take a deep sniff and see if you can detect a pleasant, fruity scent. If the watermelon smells fresh and inviting, it’s likely to be ripe and ready to be enjoyed. However, if there is no noticeable scent or if the watermelon smells bad, it may be either unripe or on the verge of spoiling.

Tips for Picking a Ripe Watermelon at the Farmers’ Market 

If you’re shopping at a farmers’ market, strike up a conversation with the farmer or vendor selling the melons. They are likely to have expert knowledge and experience with their produce. Ask them about their watermelons and how they determine ripeness. Their insights can help you pick the best watermelon.  

watermelon, tomatoes, mangos, pineapple, and other produce piled high at farmers' market

You may want to pay attention to the overall vibe of the farmer’s market, too. If the market is bustling with people buying watermelons from a particular vendor, it’s a good sign that their watermelons are likely to be ripe and delicious. The enthusiasm of other shoppers can is not always a surefire indicator, but it may clue you into the best vendor.

Back to the Watermelon Facts

If your watermelon meets the majority of the above criteria, then it is ripe for picking. Harvest watermelons with a sharp knife or shears, to prevent disease, and store in a cool location (optimally 50-60 degrees).

If none of your watermelons are ripe, and you wish to know how much longer you must wait, check the maturity date for your variety — usually 70-90 days — and subtract the days since planting.

Ready to slice into that melon?

The color and texture of a cut watermelon can alert you to its ripeness. When you cut open a watermelon, the flesh should be a vibrant deep red or pink. Avoid watermelons with pale or white flesh, as these are likely unripe. 

closeup of slice of ripe red watermelon with green and white rind

For good eating, a watermelon also should have a crisp yet tender texture. It should easily yield to a gentle pressure and feel juicy when you take a bite. On the other hand, an unripe watermelon will have a grainy, dry texture that lacks the sweetness and juiciness you desire.

In the comments, please share your ways to foretell the ripeness of a watermelon. I would also LOVE to hear your fondest memories of eating watermelon.

Happy Watermelon and Seed Spittin’ Days!

Similar Posts


  1. Yes, the bottom of the Melon that was lying on the ground will turn a Yellowish to Tan Color, the Pig Tail(Stem) will turn Brownish to a Darker Color and will show the Cracking Into it also. Also lots judge by the Thumping Sound and by the belly of the Melon as Stated above !! I on the other hand have had my best luck from the Straw method as it will either spin around & around or it will spin back & forth showing the more movement means the Riper the Melon. Give all these methods a try and have family and friends also help trying these out, that will give you more opinions from just yourself and then do the Math for the best all around method !! Best of luck and hope you get to Eat Plenty of Watermelon that Taste Great for you and your Family & Friends !!
    PS:: I will for sure enjoy Eating All I can find that are Good !! LOL !!

    1. Stacy Harris says:

      Thanks Billy. That is so cool. I can’t wait to give this a try!

  2. I used to shop from an old Italian farmers road side stand. He had a sign over his watermelons that said – “A watermelon is like a woman. You can sniff it, thump it, pat it, lift it, flick it, turn it over and around, but you aren’t going to know what she is like until you take her home and take her clothes off.” LOL. True story. I loved the guy.

    My garden area isn’t big enough to grow melons, so I depend on the stores to know. I have tried testing and I’m about 50% right. I guess I read that sign too often, and his melons were always great, so didn’t worry. Now, I will try and use your info when I get a melon, thanks for the info.

    1. Stacy Harris says:

      Great story Papa J! The Italian farmer probably has it right. I have been married for 21 years and am still learning new things about my husband. As far as the watermelon, I think you can follow a few steps, but until you cut into it, you never really 100% know.

  3. I’ve never seen a straw spin more than halfway. Lay it lengthways with the watermelon, and it will spin sideways if ripe. I have no idea why this works, but it does.

    1. Stacy Harris says:

      I am going to do a test with this method in the next few weeks. Stay tuned. I can’t wait to watch this work.

  4. Robert O'Brien says:

    Hi Stacy Lyn,
    Call you let me know what type of irrigation system you use on your watermellons?
    Respectfully yours,
    Bob O’Brien 314 721 1739

    1. The old-fashioned way! Me with a sprinkler!! I do want to work on a system next summer! I’ll keep you posted.

  5. I remember my dad doing the straw method by using a 6” piece of straw and he placed it “lengthwise” (end to end) on the watermelon and it usually did turn 10-20 degrees on the ripe watermelons. In your video, you placed it widthwise, they was the only difference. Loved this article! We have definitely had our fair share of watermelon this summer!!

    1. Hi Nancy Jo! Thanks for sharing this with me!! It’s really quite interesting how a straw test can be so accurate!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *