A cantaloupe plant—also known as a muskmelon—is a common sight in many summer gardens. Growing these beauties is fairly easy with the right conditions and a warm, sunny location, and the fruit makes a perfect summertime treat.
You just need to choose a smaller variety. Read on to learn everything you need to know to grow your own backyard cantaloupe with ease and find the right variety for you.
Popular Cantaloupe Varieties
If you want to grow cantaloupe in your backyard, there are many varieties you can choose from. They all share a similar texture and flavor, so where varieties differ the most is in fruit size. As a result, it’s smart to plant a few different varieties if you’d like harvest throughout the season.
Note: While growing cantaloupe in containers or transplanting starts isn’t always ideal, these options are available.
A few popular varieties to consider:
- Honey Rock: A small, sweet variety that’s ideal for planting in containers.
- Hale’s Best Jumbo: Larger and sweeter than many other varieties, this choice is perfect if you have plenty of space for the vines to spread.
- Planter’s Jumbo: This option is tolerant of drought and heat, so it’s perfect for dry, hot locations.
- Sweet Passion: An heirloom variety with some disease and drought resistance. Its fruit will mature around 85 days after planting.
- Sweet ‘N Early Hybrid: Only takes 75 days to mature and produces small, sweet fruit.
- Ambrosia: Smaller, peach-colored melons that will mature in 85 days.
- Hearts of Gold: This variety creates small and very round fruits, and organic cultivars are available.
- Athena: Large melons are ready in around 75 days.
- Superstar: This option has large fruit with an incredibly sweet flavor. Its vines can reach 8 feet long, so it’s better for large yards.
- Honey Bun Hybrid: This variety isn’t as widely available, but it produces smaller melons with 3- to 4-foot-long vines.
- Fastbreak: An early variety that’s ready to pick in as little as 70 days.
If you want to grow a cantaloupe plant in a container, choose a smaller variety such as Minnesota Midget or Honey Rock. These smaller options may not taste as sweet as their larger companions, but are perfect if you’re growing for one person, or have limited space to play with.
How to Plant Cantaloupe
Purchase cantaloupe seedlings from your local garden center to transplant in your garden, or grow your own from seed.
To directly sow the seeds into your garden, you’ll need to dig about an inch deep, and plant seeds in groups of three. Allow 3 to 6 feet in between each row or hill for the best results, and after two weeks, you must thin the seedlings to include only two per hill. (Just remove the smallest, weakest sprout.)
You can also plant cantaloupe seeds indoors in flats, and transplant them into the garden when the weather is ideal. Once the plants have produced a second or third set of leaves, they’re ready for planting outdoors. In contrast, larger seedlings you buy at the store are ready to plant immediately.
Cantaloupe roots tend not to tolerate being transplanted very well, so planting from seed directly into the garden is highly recommended.
After planting, water the plants very thoroughly.
This plant isn’t frost-tolerant at all, so cover the seedlings with a row cover or cloches until they bloom if you live in a colder region. A fast-growing variety will thrive in a cool and rainy spot, while all cantaloupe plants will require the ground to reach at least 70 degrees F before planting. Those in colder planting zones can begin seeds inside and transfer them into a summer garden later.
Cantaloupe plants need a full-sun location, and they’re commonly grown in a widely spaced hills enriched in compost. Many gardeners will grow them in rows, but like cucurbit, you can grow a large crop in mounds with about 2 feet between rows and 5-6 feet between each mound.
These plants are often planted along a fence or in a vertical garden where they can climb a trellis. If you choose to plant cantaloupe this way, however, make sure you use something to cradle the growing fruit. Some gardeners make a sling using household products like pantyhose or use a small stepladder to support the fruit.
You can also grow smaller varieties of melons in a large container.
For the best results, use a rich and well-draining soil. Adding at least 6 inches of compost to the soil or growing cantaloupes in a well-aged compost heap often work well. The pH balance should remain around 6-6.5.
When to Plant
The best time to plant cantaloupe may be determined by your location. You’ll want to wait until the final frost of the season has passed and the soil warms up, typically in spring. If you start the seeds indoors, however, you can start 3-4 weeks before setting the plants outside.
Space between Seedlings
These plants get quite large, so you’ll need to leave enough space for the vine to spread out.
If you grow single cantaloupe plants, space them with at least 90 cm in each direction. However, if you’d rather grow multiple plants in rows, you’ll also need to include a minimum 90 cm row gap as well.
How to Care for Your Cantaloupe Plant
Your cantaloupe will prosper with the right care. Consider implementing your own water irrigation system, especially if you live in a hot or dry location, to save time watering your plants. Since buying an irrigation system can become expensive, you can make your own DIY system instead.
These plants need weekly watering, so you (and your plants) will benefit from the aforementioned drip irrigation system. Cantaloupes require at least an inch or two of water in the morning to keep the soil moist, but not wet. You don’t want to soil to dry out, but don’t want to soak the leaves either. Pay close attention to the plants during dry spells as well.
You may notice the leaves begin to wilt in the hot afternoon sun, but don’t worry. This is normal. Just avoid using a sprinkler system or overwatering your plants, or you may end up with fungus or mold issues.
Once the plants have produced fruit for the first time, you’ll need to feed them twice, with two weeks in between feedings. Plant food that’s water soluble is ideal. You can also add more compost or an organic fruit fertilizer if you notice a stall in growth.
Mulch is ideal for new cantaloupe plants because it helps keep the soil warm, and retains water. It also decreases the number of weeds, and—most importantly—keeps the fruit from sitting on the soil.
To mulch your plants, use a paper or roll-out mulch method. Many gardeners will also use plastic mulch or straw, and elevate the plants on a small piece of board.
Once the fruit has set, refrain from weeding the plants. If you use mulch, weeding shouldn’t be much of an issue. Just sure the garden remains weed-free.
Cantaloupes are in the squash family, and are closely related to cucumbers and pumpkins. As a result, they share similar crop rotation requirements and growing conditions. Never plant in the same spot you previously grew one of these plants.
Common Cantaloupe Plant Problems
Cantaloupe doesn’t suffer from pest or disease issues easily. If you’re growing in the United States, however, you may want to use a row cover to prevent pests from damaging your plants. These fruits are susceptible to various types of pests and diseases that can wipe out your plants quickly, including:
- Squash bugs
- Cucumber beetles
- Squash vine borers
- Bacterial wilt
- Downy or powdery mildew
- Squash blossom blight
- Cucumber Mosaic Virus
Defend your cantaloupe by planting companion plants nearby.
Best Companion Plants for Cantaloupe
Companion plants are great because they help fight off pests. The four best companion plants to grow alongside your cantaloupe include:
How to Harvest and Store Cantaloupe
When a cantaloupe plant is ready for harvest, you’ll know. The fruit naturally separates from the stem as soon as the melon is ripe enough to eat, and will produce a wonderful, sweet fragrance. This happens about a month after planting, and only a a gentle tug should allow the fruit to come free.
If the fruit doesn’t come loose, it may need a little more time to ripen. Cantaloupe, unlike many other types of fruit, will not continue to ripen after it’s picked. The best thing to do is to allow the plants to grow until the fruit easily comes off the stem.
Clean the melons with soap and water, and store them inside in a cool location like a cellar or fridge for about a week or two. If you need to store cantaloupes longer, freeze the melons in slices or cubes.
It’s not recommended to can cantaloupe, you can pickle cantaloupe rinds with special care. In most cases, however, this fruit is gobbled up as soon as it’s ripe, so there’s nothing left to preserve.