How to Grow Cantaloupe Plants

Cantaloupe fruit in middle of vines with large leaves closeup

The Spruce / Heidi Kolsky

On a hot summer day, there are few things as refreshing and rewarding as a cool sweet slice of melon fresh from the garden. While some people might instantly think of the large, juicy watermelon, the cantaloupe melon variety has grown in popularity thanks to its versatility and numerous health benefits. This melon comes from the plant Cucumis melo var. reticulatus—a fruiting vine. The cantaloupe is easily recognized by the beige, netted pattern that forms over the green rind, and the orange flesh is deliciously sweet.

These heat-loving plants are sometimes grown in the south from the early spring or even in the fall. In slightly milder northern climes, they can be grown as an annual summer fruit. You can expect to have a harvest within three months of planting.

Botanical Name  Cucumis. melo var. reticulatus
Common Name  Cantaloupe, rockmelon, muskmelon
Plant Type   Fruiting vine
Mature Size  Vine grows up to 18 in. tall and spreads up to 6 ft. The fruit usually weighs around 4 lbs.
Sun Exposure  Full sun
Soil Type  Loamy, sandy, well draining
Soil pH  Slightly acidic, neutral (6.0 to 6.5)
Bloom Time  Differs
Flower Color  Yellow
Hardiness Zones  5-11 (USDA)
Native Area   South Asia, Africa

How to Plant Cantaloupe

A good method for growing any melon, pumpkin, or squash is to plant them in a row of mounds. This will ensure adequate drainage, as cantaloupes need a lot of water but do not like to sit in soggy soil.

Cantaloupe Plant Care

Cantaloupe plant vines with small yellow flower bud closeup

The Spruce / Heidi Kolsky

Cantaloupe plant with large leaves and water on top

The Spruce / Heidi Kolsky

Cantaloupe fruit being held in hands over leaves

The Spruce / Heidi Kolsky

Slice of cantaloupe with orange fruit inside closeup

The Spruce / Heidi Kolsky

Light

Cucumis melo needs full sun. If an area without at least eight hours of sun a day is not available, cantaloupe may not be the best plant to grow. 

Soil

Cantaloupe plants should have rich, loamy, well-draining soil that is neutral to slightly acidic. Testing the soil prior to planting is highly recommended to ensure a good quality harvest. Too much nitrogen can give off an abundance of foliage and not enough fruit. Soil lacking in magnesium can result in fruit that is lacking in flavor. Test the soil again if the weather is especially wet. Too much rain during fruiting periods can also lend itself to bland fruit.

Water

Ensuring your cantaloupe plant gets the right amount of water at the right time is going to be one of the most important things for ensuring a juicy healthy crop.

While the plants are growing, blooming, and setting fruit, they need two gallons of water per week. Watering in the morning is preferred to allow leaves to dry off in the afternoon to prevent the development of fungus or mildew. As the fruit grows, taper the watering. Hot, dry conditions in the final stages of maturation produce the sweetest melons.

Temperature and Humidity

Temperatures consistently ranging from 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the growing season will produce the best harvest. The plant isn't frost-tolerant, plus temperatures exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit can cause flower drop and a poor fruit harvest.

Cantaloupes prefer higher humidity in their initial growth phase before lowering slightly to around 60 to 70 percent during the flowering and fruit development stages.

Fertilizer

Feeding is not recommended until a soil test is performed. Excessive nitrogen can result in the spread of leafy vines rather than good fruit production. Adding composted manure when planting and then a balanced organic fertilizer (like a fish emulsion) every few weeks is common practice.


Cantaloupe vs. Muskmelon

The melon people in North America know as the cantaloupe is also often referred to as the muskmelon. More accurately, however, the term muskmelon refers to any Cucumis melo species.

There are two Cucumis melo muskmelon varieties referred to as cantaloupes. The North American variety (Cucumismelo var. reticulatus) and the European variety (C. melo var. cantalupensis). The net-like pattern on the rind distinguishes the North American cantaloupe, and it has a subtler flavor than the European type. Plus, the European cantaloupe is rarely produced or sold in this hemisphere.

Harvesting Cantaloupe Melons

You can expect a harvest from your cantaloupe plant around 35 to 40 days after flowering depending on weather conditions. Watch for signs the fruit is ready to be harvested, and do not wait for it to fall off the vine. The skin turns greenish beige, the netting becomes rough and dry, and the tendrils near the fruit turn brown and dry. Gently twist the fruit from the stem. If it doesn't come off easily, let it ripen a bit more.

Cantaloupes typically grow to be 3 to 4 pounds when ripe, but some cultivars have been known to reach up to 20 pounds!

Pruning

Melon flowers require pollination to set fruit. Cucumis melo is a monoecious plant, so it produces male and female flowers separately on the same plant. The vine will begin producing male blooms several weeks before the females appear. The males will not prod

When fruit production does start, it might sound counterproductive but cut off new blossoms on the end of the vine. This will decrease the yield but increase the size and taste of the fruit already on the vine.

If your plants are not fruiting, you can always hand-pollinate. Remove a male flower from the vine. Take off the petals revealing the stamen. Insert the stamen into a female flower and softly shake the stamen on the stigma, coating it with pollen.

Propagating Cantaloupe

Cantaloupe can be grown from seed or starters. If living in a colder area, starters are recommended. Starting with established plants will lengthen the growing season and give them a head start.

Of course, starting the seed indoors is also an option. This should be done four to six weeks before the first frost to allow enough time for germination and emergence. Seedlings should not be transplanted until all frost dangers are gone, and the ground temperature is above 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

For the lucky people in areas with longer growing seasons and warmer climates, seeds can be directly sown when the frost conditions and temperatures listed above are met.

Plant the seeds and starters an inch deep and 18 to 24 inches apart. Depending on the amount of space, a trellis system may be needed to help the vine climb. Once the seeds or starters are planted, mulching is recommended to help keep the soil moist and to combat weeds.