How to Grow Cantaloupe in the Garden

How to Grow Cantaloupe in the Garden

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Cantaloupe is like candy in melon form.

For some reason, watermelon gets all the summertime hype. Some of that needs to go straight to cantaloupe, which in my unpopular opinion, is much tastier than watermelon.

A vertical close up of two cantaloupe melons growing in the garden, ripening on the vine, with foliage in soft focus in the background. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white text.Cultivation and History

This delicious fruit belongs to the genus and is a member of the Cucurbitaceae, or gourd family.

Pumpkins, squash, honeydew, and zucchini are also star members. Grown as a summer annual in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-10, the fruit develops on a trailing vine, which can trained up a trellis to save space.

Most varieties mature in 65-90 days and produce round fruits that weigh up to 3-4 pounds.

A vertical close up of a cantaloupe melon sliced in half and into sections, set on a wooden chopping board on a soft focus background.

In their 1896 book, “Vegetables for the Home Garden,” available at Amazon, the author writes, “Burpee’s Netted Gem was first named and introduced by us 15 years ago. In shape this melon is almost a perfect globe, with green skin, regularly ribbed, and thickly netted.”

Vegetables for the Home Garden

A nice blast from the past that first sentence is!

Today, people all over the world favor cantaloupe over watermelon – oh wait, maybe that’s just me! – and use it in fruit salads, wrap it in prosciutto for a popular antipasti, and eat it on the rind for a delicious summertime snack. You can also roast and snack on the seeds.

Propagation

You can start this fruit from seed indoors or outdoors, or from seedlings purchased at a garden center.

In the north, with the shorter growing season, it’s an ideal summer crop as long as it’s got some help to stay warm.

Southern states can grow the melon earlier in the spring or even during the fall in some areas.

From Seed

Those of you who live in colder climates, like I do, should sow seeds indoors at least four weeks before your average last frost date.

Since melons require a long growing season, and take time to ripen, a head start like this helps guarantee that you’ll get to harvest your melons before fall frosts kill the plants.

A close up of a ripe cantaloupe melon growing on the vine with foliage and filtered sunshine in soft focus in the background.A close up of a seedling tray with a plastic humidity cover for germinating seeds.Photo by Laura Melchor.

Germination usually takes about a week, sometimes longer if soil conditions aren’t quite at 70°F. You can use heat mat to ensure the soil stays at a consistent 70°F – the ideal temperature for germination.

Make sure to keep that spray bottle nearby – cantaloupe seedlings need constant moisture in the early days.

A few days after germination, thin to one seedling per cell, keeping the one that looks the strongest.

A close up of a seedling tray with recently germinated sprouts, set on a windowsill.Photo by Laura Melchor.

Keep your seed trays near a sunny window or place them under a grow light.

Once they’ve got two or three sets of true leaves, you’ll need to harden them off for 7-10 days before transplanting outdoors.

A quick note: sometimes the seed casings won’t come off the seedling immediately it pushes out of the earth, especially if you accidentally plant the seedlings the wrong way up.

A close up of a recently germinated seed showing the seed casing still attached to the young sprout.Photo by Laura Melchor.

If these casings don’t fall off within a couple days, gently tug them off with your fingers. Leaving them on can inhibit the plant’s growth.

Those of you living in warmer climates can direct sow outdoors in full sun as soon as the danger of frost has passed.

To sow outdoors, plant three seeds in 1/2-inch-deep holes,  18-24 inches apart. Keep them evenly moist until germination.

Once seedlings have two sets of true leaves, thin them so that there’s only one plant every 18-24 inches.

From Seedlings and Transplanting

Did you pick up a tray of starts at your local nursery? Or are your seedlings big enough to transplant out? Here’s how to make sure they settle nicely into your garden.

A close up of young Cucumis melo var. reticulatus seedlings growing in small white plastic bags set on a gravel surface, with an irrigation system for watering.raised beds or old-fashioned row garden is loose, well-draining, and ready for the melons.

I like to amend garden soil with well-rotted manure and compost, or with a nutrient-rich raised bed soil like this one from the Home Depot.A close up of the packaging of a soil amendment made for raised bed gardens, on a white background.Raised Bed Recharge

Next, dig a hole the size of the root ball, place the plant inside the hole, backfill with soil, and water thoroughly. Space each plant 18-24 inches apart.

How to Grow

Cantaloupes grow best in organically rich, well-draining soil, with a mildly acidic pH of 6.0-6.5. You can conduct a soil test and amend accordingly.

While cantaloupes love warmth, they don’t love too much of it. If the temperatures rise above 95-100°F or so for several days in a row, your plant might get cranky and let its flowers fall.

A close up of a Cucumis melo var. reticulatus ripening on the vine, set on a straw mulch, with foliage in the background, pictured in bright sunshine.floating row covers over your garden to act as a greenhouse during the early days of growth.

You’ll want to remove the cover as soon as outdoor temperatures remain above 50°F at night, especially as your cantaloupe begins to flower – usually about 30-40 days after germination.

The row covers can keep out bees and other pollinators needed to make that delicious fruit.

A close up of a bright yellow cantaloupe flower contrasting with the light green foliage on a soft focus background.this one from the Home Depot.

A vertical close up picture of cantaloupes ripening on the vine, supported by nets to prevent the fruits from falling off prematurely.

Use old pantyhose if you have some on hand, or netted, stretchy produce bags, like these ones available from Amazon.

Support Bags for Growing Melons

Make sure that the material you use is breathable. You don’t want to accidentally rot the melons by sticking them in a plastic bag.

Simply put the net around the melon and tie it to the trellis, frame, or pole. As the melon grows, the sling will expand and support it so that it does not break the vine.

Also, remember to trim the vines to encourage the plant to focus its energy on making big, juicy melons.

A close up of a cantaloupe melon ripe and ready for harvest, on the ground in the garden, surrounded by foliage, pictured in bright sunshine on a soft focus background.strawberries, melons send out runners.

To grow large melons, trim each plant at the leaf node just past the one bearing the fruit and consider only keeping two to three fruits on each plant.

The plant will then put all of its energy into growing those fruits to a nice, large size.

But if you don’t mind smaller melons and want a fuller crop, you can let the vines grow as they will and only trim them back if they are spilling over the edge of your raised bed or encroaching on other plants.

As frosty fall weather approaches and your melons begin ripening, pinch off any new flowers to allow the energy to focus on ripening existing fruit.

Growing Tips

  • Make sure to plant in organically rich soil
  • Keep melons warm in cold weather and help them stay cool if temps rise above 95°F-100°F.
  • Provide 1-2 inches of water per week until fruit appears, and then scale it back to 1 inch and then 1/2 inch about a week before harvest.
  • Trim to just 2-3 melons per plant for large fruit or not at all for lots of smaller fruits.

Cultivars to Select

Here are my favorite cantaloupe varieties for your home garden:

Hearts of Gold

This sweet, medium-sized cantaloupe grows well in Zones 3-10, which is why I chose it for my Alaska garden. Back in the 1900s, when it was cultivated, this was the most popular commercial melon in the United States.

It’ll mature within 80-90 days and weigh in at two to three pounds. Vines will spread up to 72 inches and grow 15-18 inches tall.

A close up of 'Hearts of Gold' melon set on a white plate with slices in front and to the sides.‘Hearts of Gold’

With just a touch of ribbing and a thin, netted rind, this is a classic cultivar to suit those of us who adore super-sweet melons. Plus, they’re resistant to one of cantaloupe’s most prolific diseases: powdery mildew.

Find packets of 50 seeds at Burpee or up to one pound of seeds at True Leaf Market.

Honey Rock

For a big, 3- to 4-pound beauty with sweet, rich flesh, try ‘Honey Rock,’ an heirloom cultivar that matures in 75-90 days.

Hardy to Zones 4-11, these delicious melons were winners of the All-American Selection Gold Medal in 1933, for their robust size and sweet flavor.

A close up of a 'Honey Rock' sliced in half and set on a rustic wooden surface.‘Honey Rock’

Find anything from a small packet to a five-pound sack of seeds at Eden Brothers.

Minnesota Midget

Perfect for those in cold climes – or for container growing – ‘Minnesota Midget’ ( var. ) matures in just 65 days and is hardy to Zones 3-10.

Introduced by the University of Minnesota in 1948, the vines produce sweet, juicy, four-inch fruits and plants are resistant to fusarium wilt.

A close up of a 'Minnesota Midget' cut in half, set amongst foliage in bright sunshine. To the bottom right of the frame is a white circular logo and text.‘Minnesota Midget’

Unlike other varieties, the vines only spread up to three feet. Each plant can produce anywhere from four to eight delicious melons.

Find seeds today in 1 ounce, 4 ounce, and 1-pound packages at True Leaf Market.

Managing Pests and Disease

Cantaloupe isn’t terribly susceptible to pests and disease, but there are a few different critters and maladies to watch out for.

Let’s take a look.

Insects

Which bugs bother cantaloupes the most? These four pesky creatures.

Aphids

Because .

What leafy thing is immune from this persistent pest? Not just any aphids love this melon, though: peach aphids (), which are green to yellowish-brown, and melon aphids (), which are creamy white.

A close up of aphids on a Cucumis melo var. reticulatus leaf.diatomaceous earth atop the fallen pests, and on the soil around your plants.

Alternatively, spray the plant with neem oil or insecticidal soap – or make your cantaloupe patch a happy home for ladybugs, a beneficial insect that eats aphids.

Cucumber Beetles

These rather beautiful beetles come in three pertinent forms: the Western striped cucumber beetle (), the Western spotted cucumber beetle (), and the banded cucumber beetle ().

These brightly colored bugs can damage vines and leaves and contribute to bacterial rot. They also munch on the fruit and leave behind ugly scars.

The best way to manage them is to apply kaolin clay or neem oil to the affected areas (and catch them early before they spread!).

Cutworms

These plump, segmented, brown worms (I’m shuddering as I write this) can kill cantaloupe seedlings and eat holes through the melons. Not cool!

Cutworms,  are most active at night, and in the daytime these 1-2-inch beasties curl up and hide in the soil at the base of the plant. They know they’re not welcome.

A close up of a hand from the left of the frame holding four small cucumber beetles, on a soft focus background.use a wet-dry vacuum to suck them off the vines, leaves, and fruits.

Cantaloupes grown on a fence or trellis can sometimes escape infestation, so that’s something to consider.

Disease

Check your plants daily to make sure they aren’t developing symptoms of any of these five common cantaloupe maladies.

Alternaria Leaf Blight

If you live in a hot, humid, rainy area, watch out for Alternaria leaf blight caused by . This fungal infection begins as small yellow-brown spots on the oldest leaves and spreads to new growth.

A close up of a diseased leaf with yellow and brown sections, pictured on a soft focus background.doesn’t allow it to ripen fully.

A close up of a bright yellow cantaloupe melon flower with wilting foliage, pictured in light sunshine on a soft focus background.Harvesting

There are three main things to look for when you’re thinking about harvesting your hard-won melons.

A ripe cantaloupe melon attached to the vine on the ground in the garden on a soft focus background.Preserving

Let’s be real: cantaloupes are best enjoyed fresh off the vine. After you thoroughly scrub the rind with soap and warm water to remove bacteria, which can contaminate the flesh when you cut into it.

To do this, take a clean vegetable brush and clean the whole of the outside of the melon under running water. Before slicing, dry with paper towels to remove excess water.

A close up of a ripe melon with slices set on a wooden chopping board on a soft focus background.University of California, it’s unsafe to can the melon due to a high risk of botulism, and unpleasant to attempt to dry it.

Recipes and Cooking Ideas

For tips on how to properly cut cantaloupe, check out this article from our sister site, Foodal. It’ll tell you everything you need to know!

A close up of a ripe melon with a slice cut out of it, set on a wooden surface in the garden, on a soft focus background.also from Foodal, but use cantaloupe instead of watermelon.

Quick Reference Growing Guide

Plant Type: Annual Water Needs: Moderate
Native To: Middle East, Europe Maintenance: Moderate to hig
Hardiness (USDA Zone): 4-11 Soil Type: Organically rich
Season: Spring, summer, fall (depending on region) Soil pH: 6.0-6.5
Exposure: Full sun Soil Drainage: Well-draining
Time to Maturity: 65-90 days Companion Planting: Marigold, oregano, pumpkin
Spacing: 2-3 feet Avoid Planting With: Beans, cucumber, potatoes
Planting Depth: Seeds: 1/2 inch Family: Cucurbitaceae
Height: 12-18 inches Genus: Cucumis
Spread: 3-6 feet Species: melo
Pests & Diseases: Aphids, cucumber beetle, cutworms, squash bug; alternaria leaf blight, downy mildew, fusarium wilt, mosaic viruses, powdery mildew.

Everyone’s Favorite Melon

Okay, maybe it’s not everyone’s favorite, but it sure is mine, and I can’t wait to see my plump melons thrive in the garden.

A close up of a cantaloupe ripening on the vine in the garden, surrounded by foliage on a dark background.fruits to your garden, check out these articles next:

Laura Melchor

Laura Melchor grew up helping her mom in the garden in Montana, and as an adult she’s brought her cold-weather gardening skills with her to her home in Alaska. She’s especially proud of the flowerbeds she and her three-year-old son built with rocks dug up from their little Alaska homestead. As a freelance writer, she contributes to several websites and blogs across the web. Laura also writes novels and holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

“How to Grow Cantaloupe in the Garden” was first posted here

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