How to Tell when Melons are Ripe and Ready to Pick

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Is there anything better in summer than a fresh-picked watermelon or cantaloupe from the garden? But how do you know when melons are ripe and ready to pick?

In this episode of the Beginner’s Garden Podcast and article below, I share my methods of knowing when to harvest cantaloupes and when to harvest watermelons — my favorite fruit!

when to pick watermelons and cantaloupes

Click below to listen or continue reading.

Growth Stages of Melons to Prepare for the Harvest

First, let’s talk briefly about the growing stages of melons. This will help you know that your melons are on the right track!

When cantaloupes and watermelon plants begin to grow, both male and female flowers blossom. Male flowers emerge many days ahead of the female flowers and will be more numerous than females. You can distinguish the female flower by observing its small fruit at the base of the flower.

As you walk your garden, look for pollinators like bees. They are especially present in the morning. If pollinators aren’t present, you may need to manually pollinate your melons.

After the female flower is pollinated — either by nature or by your intervention — the small fruit will start growing.

It is helpful to know the approximate days to maturity or the expected size of the fruit so you can anticipate when your melon will be ripe. You can look at your seed packet or plant tag to know the days to maturity. This will help you know when to look for the signs that your fruit nearing ripeness.

How Do You Tell When a Cantaloupe is Ripe?

When cantaloupes are ready to harvest, they easily separate from the vine with a gentle tug. They could even come off the vine on their own. If the melon doesn’t come off with the slightest tug, it is not ripe. Most cantaloupes start out green and turn white or cream when ripe, so look for this color change before attempting to harvest.

cantaloupe not ripe
These cantaloupes are not ripe yet.

How Do You Know When a Watermelon is Ready to Pick?

You need to know two things about harvesting watermelon. First, they will not continue to ripen after they are picked. That’s why it’s so important to get this right. Second, it’s important to know the variety and the approximate days to maturity so you can know when to expect them to be ripe. It also helps to know about what size your melon will be. Watch them carefully through their development so you will notice these the following changes that occur as ripeness approaches.

Watermelons show several markers when they are ready to pick. I’ve found the best results by using all of these methods in combination to determine the ideal harvest time.

ripe georgia rattlesnake watermelon

Change of Skin’s Appearance

The skin of the watermelon changes from a bright, almost glossy sheen to a dull, muted tone. This change isn’t always apparent unless you watch your watermelon throughout the course of its development. It also helps to compare an older melon to a younger one to discern this change.

Spot on Bottom Turns Yellow

As the watermelon approaches ripeness, the spot on the bottom of the melon, where the melon sits on the ground, turns from white to yellow. The yellow color is more pronounced on larger melons. Take note that this change will only occur where the melon touches the ground so if you are growing smaller melons on a trellis there will not be a spot. Also, it’s important that as you’re checking this spot, you return the melon to its original position. Do not rotate the melon at all during the growth process.

Brown Tendril Dries Up = Melon is Ripe for Harvest!

how to use the tendril test to pick a ripe watermelon

To me, this is the primary sign that my watermelon is ripe. As your watermelon grows, take note of a tendril close to where the stem meets the vine. An immature melon’s tendril will be green, but as the watermelon approaches maturity it turns brown and dries up. It starts this process from the tip to the base, so as long as you keep an eye on your melon, you’ll notice this change with little effort. Once the tendril is completely brown, I usually wait a few days to a week before I harvest to ensure the melon is completely ripe. But this is something you should test in your garden and for each variety. But definitely, never harvest a watermelon unless this tendril is completely brown.

Below, you’ll find the stages from unripe to ripe, based on the color of the tendril:

watermelon tendril white when unripe
Tendril is still yellow/green = unripe
almost ripe watermelon
Tendril is half brown = unripe
ripe watermelon with brown tendril
Tendril is brown = wait a few days before harvesting

Thump Test to Tell if Watermelon is Ripe

You’ve probably heard about thumping a watermelon to determine ripeness. I have a hard time with this one. It can be accurate, but I have difficulty hearing it. One thing I have noticed is if I have two watermelons and one is ripe and the other isn’t then I can tell a difference and know which is ripe. But overall, I don’t typically use the thump test. It’s more of a verification method for me, not an indicative one.

For additional visual cues to know when your watermelon is ripe, this video on harvesting watermelon gives some very useful tips.

ripe watermelon slices

What signs do you use to tell if melons are ripe?

Once you start to understand what to look for in harvesting melons, you’ll be a pro at picking your own cantaloupes and watermelons in no time!

Do you have other tips to tell if melons are ripe that you would add to mine?

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  1. Any advice for honeydews? Are they similar to cantaloupes? We only got one honeydew on our vine this year and it is the first year we have planted them so I want to get it right! Thanks for the great info!

    1. Those are tough! Last year was my first year with them, and it really was a guessing game for me. From what I was able to research, the biggest indicator is the change of the skin from the shiny color to dull — some places say it will turn white or yellow, as opposed to green. The blossom end is supposed to soften a bit, too, and it seems like when mine was ripe I could smell the fruit when I sniffed the blossom end.

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