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.

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, describes the watermelon and its subsequent part on Southern hospitality during his stay in Alabama. In his published journal, Letters from Alabama, he writes in an entry dated July 15th, 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.

Picking a Watermelon: the Window of Opportunity

As with most fruits, the flavor of the watermelon greatly depends on the level of ripeness.  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.

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

Look for these 5 characteristics when picking your next watermelon to eat.

  1.  Look at the watermelon.  Look for a uniform shape, either oval or round. The melon should be firm, heavy, and bruise free without irregular bumps.  The skin should be dull and the green stripes near the top (if it has any) should be faded and less obvious than when younger.  The bottom, where the melon rested on the ground, should be a creamy yellow color and not an immature white or green. That yellow spot is called the ground spot or field 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 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.

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.

In the comments, please share your ways to foretell the ripeness of a watermelon. I would also LOVE to hear your memories of eating watermelon. I think we all have them. I would like to use a few of them in another book I am writing.

Happy Watermelon and Seed Spittin’ Days!

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9 Comments

  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.

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