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How to Grow Cantaloupes

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Do you love cantaloupe melons? If so, did you know that you can grow them right in your own backyard? It’s true! In just one season you can learn how to grow melons in your own home garden. We will go over the basics of growing these delicious fruits, from planting to harvesting. So if you’re ready to start growing your own cantaloupe, keep reading!

cantaloupe growing in garden
Cantaloupe growing among vines

Why grow cantaloupe

Not sure why you should add cantaloupe to your list of summer growers? I’ve got some great reasons why you should grow these tasty melons at home.

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This popular melon is not only delicious, but it is also a good source of vitamins and minerals. This tasty fruit is a great way to get your daily dose of Vitamins C and A.

Cantaloupe is also a good source of potassium, which is important for maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. And last but not least, cantaloupe is a low calorie food, so it is a great choice for those who want a sweet treat without a lot of calories.

And homegrown cantaloupe is one of the most delicious things you can grow. The taste is miles above what you get from a grocery store, simply because you will pick ripe cantaloupe at the peak of freshness. I know it made many appearances at our breakfast table growing up, and it was hands down one of my grandfather’s favorite summer fruits!

So let’s learn how to grow cantaloupe in the garden, flower bed, or container garden!

Best Varieties of Cantaloupe for the Home Garden

There are many different varieties of cantaloupe, but not all of them are well suited for home gardens. Some varieties are suited for commercial growers, and many home gardeners don’t want to produce quite that many melons. Different varieties of cantaloupe have smaller fruits, for those looking to save space, different shapes, from round to oval, and even different shades of orange inside the fruit.

Here are three popular varieties that are easy to grow and produce great results. Purchase the melon seeds using the links below.

  • Hale’s Best Jumbo’ – This variety is an old favorite that has been around for many years. It is a large cantaloupe, weighing in at about seven pounds. The fruits have a deep orange flesh and a sweet flavor.
  • Ambrosia‘ – This is a newer variety that has quickly become a favorite among home gardeners. The fruits are small, averaging about four pounds each. They have a light orange flesh with a very sweet flavor.
  • Charentais‘ – This is a French variety that is gaining popularity in the United States. The fruits are small, averaging about two pounds each. They have a deep orange flesh with a sweet, fruity flavor.

Planting Cantaloupe from Seed

Before you begin to start seedlings or shop for cantaloupe vines, consider where these sweet melons will be growing. They need a few elements to thrive:

  • full sun (a sunny spot that gets at least 6 hours per day)
  • lots of organic matter (this can be homemade compost or aged manure; these plants get big, so they are heavy feeders)
  • good drainage (no areas where water tends to stand)
  • warm temperatures (these are sun and heat loving fruits)
  • plenty of space (I like to plant my in the beds with my blueberry bushes. They spread out beneath, and the blueberries grow above!)

Starting from seed: If you live in an area with a long growing season, you can start seeds indoors about six to eight weeks before the last frost date.

If you live in an area with shorter growing seasons, you will need to start your seeds indoors about four to six weeks before the last frost date.

Another great option can be to directly sow seeds into warm well-drained soil once all danger of frost has passed and the soil temperature has warmed up enough to be workable. This is a good choice if you’re unsure about your ability to maintain seedlings indoors or if you have a long growing season and there’s no reason to rush.

Planting Cantaloupe Seedlings

Once the seedlings are big enough to handle, they can be transplanted into the garden after hardening off. This is an important process for any cantaloupe seedlings that you begin indoors.

Transplanting cantaloupe: If you’ve started cantaloupe seeds indoors, or if you’re purchasing seedlings from a nursery, you’ll need to transplant them into the garden after they are hardened off. The process of hardening off isn’t difficult, but it will require about a week from the time your plants come out of the house or greenhouse. See my full article on how to harden off seedlings before planting them outside.

When transplanting, be sure to handle the young plants carefully. The roots and stems are delicate and can easily be damaged. Some gardeners even recommend holding seedlings by a well established leaf to avoid damaging the stem.

I like to brace the stem between by thumb and pointer finger and turn the seedling upside down, allowing it to come out of its starter pot. This way I can be very gentle and handle mainly the soil around the seedling.

Once they are in the ground, water well and keep the soil moist until the seedlings are established. Drip irrigation or an irrigation tool like Garden in Minutes garden grids are a great way to keep your cantaloupes watered easily.

No fertilizer is needed right after transplanting since your soil is hopefully rich in organic matter, but once the plant has established itself, you can use a good quality plant food. (Want to make your own garden soil? See my article with full instructions for mixing your own soil right at home for a fraction of the cost of bagged!)

Also consider mulching around your cantaloupe plants with either compost or a natural mulch like pinestraw. This will help retain moisture, especially in the heat of summer. This is a lifesaver during busy weeks when finding time to water is hard, and it helps your plant’s growth considerably if they’re receiving consistent watering.

Caring for Cantaloupe

While cantaloupe aren’t the pickiest fruit to grow (hello, tomatoes), they will require some tending and reach their full potential in your yard or garden.

Watering cantaloupe

Once your cantaloupe plants are in the ground, they will need about an inch of water per week. Water deeply to encourage deep root growth, but make sure the plants are standing in water which can cause root rot and other complications. Watering at the base of the plant is best, and you’ll see this in the common cantaloupe disease section below. Cantaloupe are susceptible to mold and mildew, and this is especially true if their leaves are continually wet without much chance to air out.

Be sure to keep an eye on the soil though – you don’t want it to stay too wet or too dry. The best way to tell if your plants require water is to stick your finger in the soil. If it feels moist, you’re good to go. If it feels dry, give your plants a drink.

As the fruits begin to ripen in the hot weather, you may need to water more frequently, especially if you’re going through a bout of dry weather. This is because many melon varieties are high in sugar content and need more water to prevent them from drying out. Ever notice how juicy a cantaloupe is? Their high water content is one of the things that makes it a refreshing summer fruit!

Feeding Cantaloupe

Fertilize your cantaloupe plants every two weeks with a water soluble fertilizer; I like a worm castings mix from Thrive or a granular from Espoma. This will help them to grow strong and produce plenty of flowers which of course leads to fruit!

Pruning Cantaloupe

I have never had the need to prune a cantaloupe vine, but if you notice your plant is spreading out more than you would like, you can certainly use a good pair of clean pruners to trim back any vines that are stretching out. This may also help your plant to focus its energy on producing on fewer vines, which may yield a larger harvest.

Common Cantaloupe Pests

Unfortunately, humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy fresh cantaloupe, and just like everything else in the garden, you have to be on the lookout for pests. If you’re looking for natural ways to repel and/or get rid of pests in your garden, check out my post all about Natural Pest Control in the Garden.

Here are the most common cantaloupe pests:

  • Cucumber beetle: These little guys are yellow with black stripes and they love to feast on melon plants. If you see them in your garden, be sure to hand pick them off and put them in a bucket of soapy water.
  • Aphids: Aphids are small, pear shaped insects that congregate on the undersides of leaves. They can be green, yellow, brown, or black, and they suck the sap out of plants. If you see aphids on your cantaloupe plants, be sure to spray them off with a strong stream of water. (See my guide for How to Get Rid of Aphids.)
  • White Flies: Whiteflies are small, white insects that congregate on the undersides of leaves. They, like aphids, suck the sap out of plants. To get rid of them, you can use a yellow sticky trap or spray them off with a strong stream of water.

Common Cantaloupe Diseases

If your cantaloupe vine fails to thrive and has some telltale signs, such as spots on the leaves or wilting leaves or stems, then chances are it may be suffering from disease. Before considering plant disease, check to ensure your plant is being watered properly (ideally not using overhead irrigation or a traditional sprinkler) and is in a place to get enough sun.

If all of those areas check out, then consider these common cantaloupe diseases:

  • Powdery Mildew: This is a white powder that covers the leaves and stems of plants. It’s most commonly found in humid or wet conditions. If you see powdery mildew on your cantaloupe plants, be sure to remove any affected leaves and spray the plant with a fungicide.
  • Bacterial Wilt: This is a cantaloupe plant disease that is caused by a bacteria. The first symptom you’ll see is wilting leaves. If you think your plant has bacterial wilt, be sure to remove any affected leaves and destroy them. You can also try spraying the plant with a copper fungicide or an insecticide/fungicide combo.
  • Downy Mildew: Downy mildew is a disease that is caused by a fungus. The first symptom you’ll see is yellowing leaves. If you think your plant has downy mildew, be sure to remove any affected leaves and destroy them; do not add them to your compost pile. You can also try spraying the plant with a fungicide.

The best way to keep your plant healthy is to simply lay eyes on it every few days. This will give you a chance to see if any leaves are showing signs of wilt or mildew. You, the gardener, really are the best pest and disease repellent.

powdery mildew

Harvesting Cantaloupe

So you’ve taken all this time growing a cantaloupe vine with fruit producing on it. How do you know when the cantaloupe is ready to be picked? You don’t want to harvest too early and risk having a green, unsweet fruit, so follow this guidelines when it comes to harvesting cantaloupe:

  • You will know your cantaloupe is ripe and ready to harvest when the stem begins to separate from the fruit. Gently twist the fruit to detach it. If the fruit pulls away easily, then it was ready.
  • If it offers a lot of resistance, consider letting it stay on the vine, unless you see soft spots. In this case, cut the fruit at the stem and go ahead and harvest.
  • You may also notice a sweet smell if you get up close to the fruit.

This sweet fruit is best when eaten soon after harvest. As you may have discovered from buying melons from the grocery store, they don’t last long, so enjoy them while they’re fresh!

Storing Cantaloupe

If you have more cantaloupe than you can eat in a few days, there are a few ways to store it.

  • Cut the melon into pieces and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. It will last for about a week this way.
  • Freeze cantaloupe. Again, cut it into pieces and store in an airtight container. It will last for several months in the freezer and is delicious in smoothies.

I hope you’re encouraged to try growing cantaloupe in your vegetable garden. And if you have any tips or tricks to share with other gardeners, feel free to comment below and share!