If you’ve got plenty of space and ample fertile soil, growing cantaloupe (or muskmelon, as some folks call it) is a great way to get a steady supply of this delicious summer treat. Heat- and sun-loving, cantaloupe (Cucumis melo reticulatus), doesn’t require too much maintenance (with the proper fertilization and pest precautions, of course), and the payoff is definitely worth the work: fat, sweet melons loaded with vitamins. Want to know what sunshine tastes like? Grow your own cantaloupe and find out.
Growing Cantaloupe From Seed
Whether you’re hoping to grow cantaloupe by direct sowing seeds in your garden or by starting your seeds indoors, here are some tips that should help you get your mini melons off to a good start:
- Above all, remember that cantaloupe need plenty of sun and heat. From germination to harvest, cantaloupe plants like it hot, hot, hot. This means that soil temperatures need to be a good 80° – 90°F for germination and at least 70° F for transplants. This is why people often start growing cantaloupe indoors and then transplant seedlings to the garden after a few weeks.
- Cantaloupe can have poor germination rates if not sprouted before planting. To maximize your germination rates, sprout your cantaloupe seeds in wet paper towels before planting them in soil.
- Whether growing muskmelons indoors or outside, they need well-drained, highly fertile soil.
How to Grow Cantaloupe
When your muskmelon seedlings are ready to graduate to the garden, be sure to give them everything they’ll need to thrive. This means your growing cantaloupe will need:
- Full sun, regular watering, and at least 8 to 10 feet of roaming space for their vines (unless you’re growing a container cultivar). If you’re a container gardener, use early cultivars and grow melons in the right size containers (typically at least 18 inches wide and deep). If you’re a vertical farmer, remember that most growing cantaloupes (except small cultivars like Lil’ Loupe’) will need to be supported in slings or nylon sacks.
- Regular fertilizing. Cantaloupe (like other melons) are heavy feeders with high nutrient needs. If you’re a fertilizer aficionado, start off nitrogen heavy (from transplant to flowering) and then switch to a phosphorus-and-potassium-heavy fertilizer (after fruit reaches maturity).
- Warm soil. If you live in a temperate region, use fabric, plastic mulch or hot caps and milk jug cloches to keep young plants warm.
- Regular watering. Growing cantaloupe are sensitive to drought, especially from transplanting until fruit set. But don’t over water, or you’ll invite rot and powdery mildew.
If you jump through all the right hoops, you should be rewarded with a good 3 to 5 cantaloupe per plant (depending on variety). Harvest your melons when the stems start to crack, fruit smells sweet, and the rind color changes from a dull gray-green to a khaki-esque buff-yellow.
Like most super-tasty garden fruits and vegetables, cantaloupe (and other melons) are easy pickins’ for a few different varieties of garden pests and diseases. To keep your cantaloupe growing throughout the season with minimal hassle, mind the following:
- To protect against aphids, cucumber beetles, mites or other common melon-devouring garden pests, use row covers and hot caps to protect plants. Or, interplant with vegetables and plants that repel insects (like radishes, marigolds and allium) and work to attract good bugs to your garden.
- Powdery mildew and fusarium blight can be concerns. To protect against these common plant diseases, try finding resistant cultivars (often hybrids) and/or finding ways to control powdery mildew.
- Cantaloupe melons are in the cucumber family, so they have some surprising cousins (namely cucumbers and winter squash). Unless you’re hoping for bitter, inedible fruit, don’t grow cantaloupe near cucumber and winter squash plants (as cross-pollinating plants will ruin your crop). And since they’re all related, the same goes for other melons (like honeydew, Crenshaw and Casaba).
Looking for more in-depth information on how to grow cantaloupe and other melons (like preferred soil pH, planting depths and germination rates)? Check out the Gardening Guides page for tips on growing this sweet, summer fruit.