Cantaloupe is one of the most popular summer melons. Learning how to grow a cantaloupe is easy and this article will teach you how. We will also cover when to harvest a cantaloupe.
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Table of Contents
- Cantaloupe History?
- Why Should You Grow Cantaloupe?
- When to Plant Cantaloupe?
- Where does Cantaloupe Grow Best?
- What type of Soil is best for Cantaloupe?
- How to Plant Cantaloupe? Starts or Seeds?
- Cantaloupe Spacing and Planting
- How long do cantaloupe seeds take to germinate?
- Can I grow cantaloupe vertically?
- Cantaloupe Plant Care Tips
- Pests and Diseases for Cantaloupe
- Flowering and Pollination of Cantaloupe
- When to Harvest a Cantaloupe- 4 tips
- How to grow a sweet cantaloupe?
- Should I prune my Cantaloupe plant?
- Favorite Varieties of Cantaloupe
Cantaloupe (Cucumis melo) belongs to the Cucurbit family and is a member of the subfamily of Muskmelons (which also includes honeydew melon). There are two main types of cantaloupe. The North American Cantaloupe has a netted skin and milder-tasting flesh. European Cantaloupe has green skin and a sweet flavor. Both types are grown the same way and there are many varieties of each type.
Why should you Grow Cantaloupe?
Cantaloupe contains some great nutrients for your body including Beta-carotene, Folate, Vitamin C, and Potassium. Cantaloupe is also loaded with water so it is very hydrating and also contains a good amount of fiber. With only 60 calories and no fat per cup, it is a great way to add nutrition and bulk to your diet.
When to Plant Cantaloupe
Along with all other melons, cantaloupe is a warm-season, frost-sensitive crop. You need to time your planting to occur after the threat of frost has passed for your garden.
I try to target about a week after my average last frost date in the spring, but I keep a close eye on the weather for a week or two, just so that I can be prepared to cover my tender new plants if a late frost happens.
Cantaloupe will do best if you wait to plant the seeds or transplants until your soil temperature has reached about 70 degrees F (about 21 C). The warmer soil will lead to quicker germination and faster-growing plants.
How long does it take to grow cantaloupe?
Cantaloupe is one of the quicker-maturing melon varieties. Cantaloupe Days to maturity is around 80 to 90 days from planting. This makes them a great choice for those of you with short growing seasons!
This also means planting dates are fairly flexible for those of us with a long growing season, allowing you to plant them a bit later in the spring than other melons and still get a harvest.
Where does Cantaloupe Grow Best?
Like all melons, your cantaloupe requires as much sun as possible to grow. Choose a sunny spot that receives at least 6 hours of sun a day. However, your plants will do much better if you can find a spot that receives 8 or more hours of sun each day in the summertime. Learn more about sun requirements for a garden in this article.
What type of Soil is best for Cantaloupe?
Cantaloupe grows best in rich, well-drained, slightly sandy soil. However, cantaloupe will do nicely in pretty much any type of soil as long as it has good drainage.
Prepare your soil by adding at least 1 inch of compost or well-rotted manure to the soil and mixing that into the top few inches of the soil. If you feel like your soil needs it you could add some high-nitrogen fertilizer mixed into the top 6 inches of the soil at planting time. You can also fertilize again with high nitrogen fertilizer (21-0-0) once the plant starts to develop runners.
How to Plant Cantaloupe? Starts or Seeds?
Like all members of the cucurbit family, cantaloupes don’t like being transplanted and having their roots disturbed. Because of their fairly short maturity date, you should be just fine planting directly by seed in your garden in most areas.
If you have a very short growing season you can start your cantaloupe seeds indoors. Start cantaloupe seedlings under lights about 3 to 4 weeks before you intend to set them out.
Be sure to use containers that can be directly planted out in the garden, something like a newspaper pot, a peat pot, or a soil block. Using these types of containers allows you to plant the starts directly in the garden without disturbing the roots.
You can learn more about growing your own seedlings by downloading our free Seed Starting eBook here.
Cantaloupe Spacing and Planting
Planting cantaloupe is super easy, you can sow seeds directly in your garden bed. Cantaloupes are usually planted in what we call hills. Hills are just a small mound of garden soil about 12 inches round. Plant 6 seeds in each hill. Sow seeds 1 inch deep and about 3 inches apart all around the hill.
Hills should be spaced about 36 inches apart. Remember that cantaloupe vines will sprawl and take up quite a bit of space in your garden.
How long do cantaloupe seeds take to germinate?
Cantaloupe seeds usually germinate between 7 to 10 days. Once the seeds have germinated and the plants are up and growing you should choose the 3 strongest plants on each hill and then thin the weaker plants.
Can I grow cantaloupe vertically?
One of the disadvantages of growing cantaloupe in a backyard garden is that they take up a lot of space! The vines sprawl across garden beds using up a lot of space.
Fortunately, cantaloupe is well suited for growing vertically on many types of trellises.
We love growing our cantaloupe vertically. We grow it on a cattle panel trellis, but cantaloupe will do well on pretty much any type of trellis or fence. You will need to plan on giving some support to the fruit as it starts to ripen and get larger.
You can do this by creating some type of sling or net to keep the cantaloupe fruit from falling off the plants. Old nylon socks are a great option, or there are commercially available “melon hammocks” that you can buy to keep the fruit from falling off the trellis.
Cantaloupe Plant Care Tips
The most important tip for cantaloupe is consistent even watering. This plant requires between 1 to 2 inches of water a week depending on the weather and time of year. It also likes to stay evenly moist (no dry/wet cycles) so plan on watering a couple of times a week during hot periods, especially when the fruit is developing.
Keep in mind that as harvest time approaches you should back off the watering a little bit. As your cantaloupe go through their final few days of ripening it is important that the plants don’t get a big surge of water.
Overwatering at this final ripening stage can cause the melons to swell too quickly and this can cause the fruit to split. So in the week or two before your final harvest shorten your watering times and water less frequently.
Drip irrigation or hand watering is always best for cantaloupe. I discourage overhead watering with sprinklers as this gets too much water on the leaves of the plants and can promote fungal problems like Powdery Mildew.
Mulch can also be very helpful with cantaloupe. 2 to 4 inches of grass clippings, straw, chopped leaves, or even compost will help keep the moisture in the soil around your plants and will also eliminate competition from weeds.
Adding black plastic mulch around your cantaloupe plants can help keep weeds down and can also help warm the soil and your plants. This can be helpful for quicker plant growth in short-season areas.
Pests and Diseases for Cantaloupe
The main diseases that affect cantaloupe are Powdery Mildew, Downy Mildew, Bacterial Wilt, and Viral diseases. Wilt and Viral diseases are best managed by planting resistant varieties and by practicing proper crop rotation. Powdery Mildew and Downy Mildew are helped by planting resistant varieties and using drip irrigation. Growing on trellises can also help limit or prevent mildew.
The biggest pest issues you will have with Cantaloupe include:
Aphids (Easily treated with Insecticidal soap)
Fortunately, most of these pests would prefer to attack other plants in your garden. So if you have a good-sized garden with a variety of different plants, chances are your cantaloupe won’t be bothered by most pests.
There are a few organic tricks you can use to help limit pest damage. Early on in the growth stage of your cantaloupe plants, you can cover them with a light fabric row cover or a bug netting. This will keep pests away from your plants. But as soon as you start to see flowers on your plants you will need to remove the row covers so that pollinators will have access to the plants.
Companion planting some “pest repelling plants” like Marigolds or Nastrum can also help to limit pest damage to your cantaloupe.
Flowering and Pollination of Cantaloupe
Each cantaloupe vine will produce male and female flowers. The female flowers are easy to identify because they will have a small immature fruit directly behind the flower.
Pollen from the male flowers is transferred to the female flowers by insect pollinators like bees and butterflies.
If you don’t have a lot of bees and other pollinators in your garden the blossoms can be hand-pollinated using a cotton swab or a small paintbrush.
Simply rub the cotton swab inside a male flower and then transfer the pollen to a female flower. You can also remove a male flower from the vine, pick off the petals and then brush the stamen (the long part in the center of the flower) inside 2 or 3 female flowers.
How long does a cantaloupe take after you see the flowers?
Once the female flower has been pollinated the resulting fruit will mature in 35 to 45 days. Good watering habits are important during this time. Plan on 2 or 3 fruits for each vine.
When to Harvest a Cantaloupe- 4 tips
Harvest time will arrive about 35 to 45 days after the fruit sets on the vine. There are a few signs you will notice to help you know when the fruit is nearing harvest time.
1. Final growth spurt – In the last week or two you will see the fruit put on some rapid growth.
2. Color Change – Most cantaloupes will have a netting pattern on the skin. As the melon reaches ripeness you will notice a color change in the background of the netting. It will change from green to tan/almost yellow or orange.
3. Smell – You can carefully pick up a cantaloupe and smell it, if it is close to ripeness you will start to smell that classic “cantaloupe smell”.
4. Self-Picking– This is the final sign to know when to harvest a cantaloupe. The sure sign that you have a ripe cantaloupe is that it will almost harvest itself! As part of the final ripening process, the vine will begin to separate from the fruit.
You know the fruit is ready if you carefully pick it up and give it a very gentle tug. If it is ripe it will come away from the vine with only the smallest amount of pressure. If the cantaloupe resists picking at all, give it another day and try again.
How to grow a sweet cantaloupe?
If you want your cantaloupe to be really sweet then remember that it is best to leave a cantaloupe on the vine for as long as possible. The last few days of growth and ripening are when the bulk of the “sweetness” is added to the fruit by the plant. So keep it on the plant as long as you can.
A cantaloupe that is picked early will continue to ripen off the vine on your countertop, but the ripening fruit will NOT get any sweeter than when you picked it. So be sure not to harvest too early!
There are not many ways to preserve cantaloupe. It can be cut up and put in an airtight container in the freezer. Those cut-up chunks of melon can then be used in smoothies. There are also recipes for making cantaloupe into fruit leather.
Should I prune my Cantaloupe plant?
Evidence on the practice of pruning cantaloupe plants is inconclusive. Many gardeners swear that pruning the end of a vine once 2 or 3 fruits have been set will help you to have larger and sweeter cantaloupes. But the science isn’t really there.
Some gardeners will instead remove any flowers on vines once they have 2 or 3 fruit sets. Again claiming that this will give you bigger and sweeter fruits. Again there is no real proof that this helps.
I have never pruned my plants or removed fruits and I have always been VERY happy with both the taste and size of my harvests.
If you live in an area with a short growing season there is some sense in removing any flowers that appear after about 50 days before your first frost. Any fruit that sets during this time will be very unlikely to ripen before the frost so you don’t want the plant wasting energy trying to grow fruit that has no chance of ripening.
Our Favorite Varieties of Cantaloupe
There are literally dozens of varieties of cantaloupe out there for you to try. Over the years we have settled on 3 that we really like and would recommend to you.
Ambrosia – Hybrid – We have grown this tasty melon several times over the years. We have found it to be very easy to grow and it produces nice, sweet melons that come in right around the 5-pound range. They mature a little later than some at 100 days from seeds but come with the bonus of being very tolerant of Powdery Mildew.
Hales Best Jumbo – Open Pollinated – This has become our favorite large cantaloupe. They produce large tasty fruit and as a bonus, they are open pollinated which means you can save seeds from these plants if growing under the proper conditions.
Minnesota Midget – Heirloom – Over the last 3 seasons we have fallen in love with Minnesota Midgets. These are “mini” cantaloupes growing to 4 inches. They are heirlooms so you can save the seeds and they mature in only 60 to 70 days. These fun little fruits are perfect for the 2 of us to share over lunch or dinner!
Learning how to grow a cantaloupe is something you will never regret! Cantaloupe was the first melon we learned to grow and has become a staple in our summertime garden! August and early September are now our favorite time of the year as we wipe the tasty melon juice off our faces!