Planting Season for North Florida Watermelons

Clint ThompsonFlorida, Watermelon

Photo courtesy of Bob Hochmuth/Shows plastic laid in a watermelon field.

By Clint Thompson

The calendar may say Feb. 20 but for some watermelon growers in North Florida, it says it is planting time.

“I believe that there are some that intend on starting around (Feb. 20) if the weather looks good during that period of time,” said Bob Hochmuth, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Regional Specialized Extension agent in Live Oak, Florida. “When I look at the forecast that is into the 40s, that’s not going to be much of a slowdown for them at all. The following week, if it looks to be something like in the upper 30s, then it could change things.

“It used to be that if they could get the plants around the 15th or 20th, then they get started, but now I think they are scheduling these earliest plantings. I’m not saying it’s a very big percentage of the acreage here, but I would say that there are a few, maybe very few, that intend to start sometime, plus or minus, Feb. 20.”

Last Year’s Success

Producers started planting early last season and capitalized on market prices that favor those growers with early harvests.

“It’s been open on the early side of the market in the past few years consistently, and it drives them to want to try to take this risk on the front end,” Hochmuth said. “A lot of guys over the past 10 years have developed an inventory of something to cover the plants with, whether it’s paper plates or styrofoam coffee cups. There’s actually now a strategy developed by some to be prepared for a (potential) freeze event.”

Late-season freeze events are common in the Southeast. Last year’s early watermelon crop had to overcome freezing temperatures in March. The risk is high when planting this early in the season.

“If you’re planting in February, there has been a risk every year for the last two or three years. It’s still a very, very high risk,” Hochmuth said. “I think that the bulk of our acreage here really isn’t on that late February timeframe (though). I think the bulk of the market is sometime between March 1 and March 10.”