Looking for the perfect sweet summer treat you can grow at home? Cantaloupe is calling your name! This delicious, fleshy melon variety is a great option for gardeners in particularly warm climates who have some room in their plot to let these beauties thrive! Once you try your hand at growing cantaloupes, you’ll never look at store-bought the same way again.
Read on to learn how to grow cantaloupe efficiently in your home garden!
Selecting a Location for Growing Cantaloupe
The cantaloupe is a melon variety that flourishes its absolute best in specific conditions.
When deciding where and how to grow and care for cantaloupe, you will want to choose a spot that allows them to experience maximum warmth. Cantaloupes love hot weather and produce their best crop when subjected to two to three months of consistent summer heat, so this is not a melon that does well in regular shade or cold climates.
In terms of soil conditions, cantaloupe thrives in very sandy, loamy ground that has proper drainage, and a soil pH balance around 6 is recommended for optimal plant health.
Cantaloupe, like all melons, also needs room to spread out! You have the option of letting them spread on the soil or trellising them, but either way, you will want to make sure they have appropriate upward or outward space to flourish.
Growing Cantaloupe From Seeds
For the most part, you will typically be growing cantaloupe melons from seed packets, rather than from “starts”, which are young plants that have already begun to sprout. Because of this, you’ll need to pay close attention to the variety of cantaloupe seed you’re purchasing, as some do better in cooler climates than others. Other factors to be on the lookout for when choosing your cantaloupe seed variety is the steps necessary to protect against any unexpected chilly weather, and how long it takes any given variety to come to maturation.
Another option besides seed packets is to save and plant cantaloupe seeds from a melon you’ve eaten and enjoyed yourself! If you prefer to go this route, you will need to scoop the seeds out of the melon’s flesh, then soak them for two days in cool (not cold or hot!) water; after that, dry them completely off with a paper towel and store them in a jar that’s clean and dry, somewhere dark and cool such as a cabinet or the back of a shelf, until you are ready to plant them the following year (NOTE: If need be, melon seeds can keep and be viable for up to two years, but it’s recommended to plant within one year if at all possible).
Cantaloupe seeds should be planted in rows with raised mounds, at a distance of about 4 feet apart if they will be spreading on the ground, or 1 foot apart if they will be trellised.
Based on the weather in your local area, you may choose to plant seeds directly in the soil after the threat of final frost has passed; alternatively, you may prefer to start seeds indoors and transplant. If you’re beginning with seeds directly in the ground, it’s recommended to place 5 cantaloupe seeds about 1 inch deep and 18 inches apart in each mound; if you are beginning seeds indoors, you will want to sow them in biodegradable seedling pots that contain some type of rich planting soil, and keep them wetted but not in standing water.
Once the final threat of frost has passed and your cantaloupe plants have gained some mature leaves, you can transplant the biodegradable pot into the mounds in your garden, and nature will take care of the rest!
Cantaloupe plants thrive on a good watering routine, particularly when the plants are young! As your cantaloupe plants are becoming established, you will want to keep the soil around them moist—but watch out for standing water, as this can harm the plants in the long run.
As time goes on, you should aim for your cantaloupe plants to receive about 1 to 2 inches of water a week, with additional watering possibly needed during times of excessive heat or drought. It’s important to keep a close eye on your plants and water them if they seem to be suffering in the heat. (NOTE: It is common for cantaloupe leaves to wilt through the afternoon in the summer heart and remain that way into the evening, then to perk up as the day cools. You can check the leaves to estimate if the plant is in need of water; if the leaves are a healthy, vibrant green when the day cools, then they’re likely receiving enough water. If leaves appear yellowish or spotted, this can be an indication of dehydration or disease).
Once your cantaloupes are approaching full ripeness, you can back down significantly on the watering; this will give them a last minute boost in sweetness, as too much water mellows out the taste of the melon.
Mulching and weeding should be done vigorously until your cantaloupe plants begin to lay down their vines; once the vines take off, weeding will become much more difficult but shouldn’t be needed nearly as much, as the vine cover will help keep weeds to a minimum.
Until the vines come in, however, you will want to weed aggressively, then lay your mulch down in a very thick layer around the plants and vines to help keep more weed growth at bay.
Fertilizing and Feeding
Cantaloupe seeds should be started with compost, or with a manure mixture that has thoroughly rotted; the general ratio you will want is 6 to 8 inches of soil that is well tilled and freed of rocks, twigs, and hard matter, with your fertilization matter in addition to that.
If you notice your plants lagging a bit behind where you want them to be, you can continue to feed them with organic fertilization matter, such as coffee grounds or fruit rinds, or a nitrogen fertilizer in the short term, until you see the growth you’re looking for.
Cantaloupe plants are one of those varieties that actually excels with no pruning required—in fact, leaving as many leaves and vines intact as possible will ensure a sweeter fruit overall! However, if you would prefer fewer and more vigorous melons rather than a larger crop, you can prune the vines regularly to ensure the plant puts all of its energy into growing those select few.
In order to prune your cantaloupe plant, you will need pruning shears, which you will take to the plant’s lateral vines, removing all but 1 or 2 of these. Then, once the melons start to form, you can remove all but one fruit per vine.
How to Troubleshoot Cantaloupe Problems
Melon vines in general tend to be susceptible to pests—including insects, leaf miners, mites, and foraging animals—because they lay along the ground. Some of these pests can be dealt with in season, while others will unfortunately cost you your crop for the year.
Aphids and leaf miners are not particularly harmful pests in the long run; for aphids, a treatment of organic insecticides should cleanse your plant of these pests. Leaf miners will leave tunnels and trails but should affect the leaves more than the fruit, so they can be left alone.
Of greatest concern are nematodes and spider mites. If you notice root knots and swelling, this is indicative of nematodes, which infect down to the soil itself and cannot be managed in a single season; you will need to pull up your plants and place cereal rye into the soil, then wait to plant again until the following season.
Spider mites will infest the leaves of your cantaloupe plant, as indicated by yellow webbing; plants infested with spider mites will likely need to be removed if the infestation is too great.
Keeping a close eye out for signs of these pests and dealing with them quickly will ensure the best possible outcome for your plants, and your garden overall.
Though generally a hardy species without particular susceptibility to disease, cantaloupe do occasionally suffer from the odd blight. Mildew, fruit rot, and gummy sap blight are the most common diseases found in cantaloupe, but only the gummy sap blight necessitates pulling up the crop; otherwise, to reduce the risk of these and other blights, proper trellising, watering and mulching, and rotating of crops throughout growing years are all encouraged.
How to Harvest and Store Cantaloupes
Once the netting on your cantaloupe’s skin turns a creamy yellow, with a gold rind below, you can give the fruit a whiff where it connects to the vine; if it has a sweet, somewhat musky aroma, it’s time to harvest! Another good indication of readiness for harvest is if the stem is beginning to separate from the vine, or if you can pluck the melon off the vine without any resistance at all.
At this point, you will want to wash your melon to remove any residual dirt or bacteria; then you can eat it immediately, or store it in the fridge where it will keep for up to a week.
If your growing climate necessitates you pick your slightly unripe cantaloupes to avoid losing them to frost, have no fear—you can ripen them on the counter for a bit longer!
Preparing and Serving Cantaloupes
Besides being excellent for raw snacking, cantaloupe also makes a fantastic addition to such dishes as muffins, crunches, pies, and other desserts; breads; leafy salads, fruit salads, and trays; smoothies and seltzers; and even in a cold soup!
Imagination is really the only limit to where this sweet and delicious melon can be used!
Ready, Set, Grow Cantaloupe!
Growing cantaloupe doesn’t take as much effort as you might initially have thought. If you live in a warm enough zone, plant cantaloupe in your garden this year. What’s certain is that you’ll love the rewards of sweet, tender, juicy melons from your garden.
Feeling excited and prepared by this guide on how to grow cantaloupe in your garden? It’s time to take the next step! Check out all our cantaloupe posts to select a variety for growing that best suits your needs!