Watermelon is the taste of summer itself, and there’s nothing more satisfying than finally slicing into a perfectly ripe melon that you’ve lovingly tended all season long. Watermelons come in many more varieties than the grocery store produce section would suggest (and many tastier varieties, in our opinion!) Here’s a guide to choosing the best watermelon variety for your garden.
Types of Watermelon
You can choose what kind of watermelon to grow by fruit size, growth habit, and of course, good looks! As you decide what varieties of watermelon to plant, particularly think about what amount of space you can dedicate in your garden, and how many people you’ll want to share with when you harvest the fruit. Here are a few basic categories of watermelon you’ll see mentioned in seed catalogs.
“Picnic” watermelons are big enough to be shared with many people (perhaps at a picnic! These varieties range anywhere from 20-40 lbs. Bradford Family, Georgia Rattlesnake, Charleston Grey, and Moon and Stars are good examples of this type.
“Icebox” watermelons are conveniently sized, small enough to not take up half your fridge, and perhaps even worth fitting in the cooler on a road trip. They’re usually around 10-20 lbs. Sugar Baby and Jubilee Bush are good examples of this type.
Many watermelon varieties will grow into “giants” if given the right nutrients and only allowed to grow one fruit per vine, though some varieties are certainly most likely to grow mega-fruits. Of the varieties in Sow True’s catalog, Odell’s White has the best giant genes, sometimes weighing in at over 60 lbs!
Small-Space or Bush Watermelons
One thing that can be difficult for home gardeners who want to grow watermelons is how much space the plants take up. Typical vining watermelon varieties can easily sprawl over 5 feet, as the vines run along the ground and spread out. Some watermelon varieties have been bred to grow in a “bush” form, with much more compact plants that only need about three feet of space between plants. If you want watermelon, but you’re working with a small garden space, look for a variety with “bush” in the name or description. Jubilee Bush is a great option.
Orange, Yellow and White Flesh Watermelons
Not all watermelons have the iconic pink flesh we’re used to from the grocery store! Different colors of melon used to be more common before chain supermarkets and long-distance shipping created a demand for uniform commodity produce. Some varieties are orange, yellow, or even white on the inside. Moon and Stars Yellow, and Mountain Sweet Yellow are delicious examples of heirloom yellow-fleshed watermelons.
Seeded vs. Seedless Watermelons
All the watermelons we carry here at Sow True Seed are seeded, because we are dedicated to only selling open-pollinated varieties. All seedless watermelons are what is known as a “sterile hybrid,” created by crossing two parent lines with different numbers of chromosomes, so that the resulting plant cannot produce viable seeds. (It’s similar to how crossing a donkey with a horse creates a mule, but the mule can’t reproduce.) Also, it can be a bit tricky for home gardeners to grow seedless watermelons anyway. A quirk about seedless watermelon plants is that they need to be pollinated by a normal, seeded watermelon in order to produce fruit. So you can’t just plant seedless melons, you have to plant a seeded variety alongside them, and many home gardeners just don’t have that much space.
10 Great Watermelon Varieties
1. Bradford Family
This watermelon is a true heirloom treasure. Originally developed in the 1850s by Nathaniel Bradford of South Carolina, the Bradford Watermelon once enjoyed great popularity for its exceptionally sweet flavor and delicate texture. With the advent of tougher, more shipping-friendly melons, the Bradford fell out of favor for commercial production and was thought to be extinct for more than 100 years. Lucky for all of us, the Bradford family had been growing their family watermelon all along, and it is now enjoying a well-deserved renaissance.
2. Sugar Baby
The quintessential icebox melon. Sugar Baby produces round, 6-10 pound, dark green fruits that are super sweet, and super cute!
3. Jubilee Bush
If you have a small garden, but just can’t pass up growing watermelon, Jubilee Bush is the perfect variety for you. The plants can be spaced as close as 3 feet apart, much closer than most watermelons with rambling vines.
4. Georgia Rattlesnake
Georgia Rattlesnake is a wonderful heirloom developed in the 1830s. These sweet, candy-striped beauties grow up to 30 pounds, making them an absolute classic picnic melon.
5. Odell's White
Odell’s White, so named for its pale-colored rind, is an heirloom from South Carolina that became famous for its enormous size, few seeds, and delicious sweet flavor. These giants are known to grow up to 60 pounds!
6. Charleston Grey
A distinctive gray-green rind gives the Charleston Grey watermelon its name. Developed by the USDA plant breeding lab at Charleston, SC in 1954, this sweet and juicy 30-40 pound melon was once a favorite for commercial production, and remains popular with gardeners and small-scale farmers.
7. Mountain Sweet Yellow
Developed in the 1840s for growers in the Northeast, Mountain Sweet Yellow is prized for its brightly colored, firm, sweet flesh as well as adaptation to cooler climates. The oblong fruits grow to about 20-35 pounds, and are as pretty on the outside on the inside, with beautiful light green striping on dark green skin.
8. Moon and Stars
Perhaps the most distinctive heirloom watermelon, Moon and Stars’ dark green skin is speckled with bright yellow spots, like stars in a clear night sky. There are two different variations of flesh color - Moon and Stars Red and Moon and Stars Yellow.
A very rare South Carolina heirloom, once popular, but in more recent years only preserved by a few families around its origin point in Pomaria, SC. Ravenscroft is a large, oblong melon with dark skin and light green stripes, sweet red flesh, and unusual white seeds with a dark brown border around the edge.
The Ledmon watermelon’s thin rind and delicate sweet flesh ensure that it must be enjoyed close to home. It was developed in the early 1900s by a J.C Lednum, whose name was unfortunately misspelled in a pamphlet in 1938. The misspelling proliferated in seed catalogs, but this watermelon is still known by its original name, “Lednum,” around its hometown of Greensboro, NC.