How to Grow Cantaloupe Plants

Sliced and whole cantaloupe with leaves on wooden bench.


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On a hot summer day, there are few things as refreshing and rewarding as a cool sweet slice of melon fresh from the garden. In years past it was just a sweet treat added to fruit cocktails but, today, the cantaloupe has become a bit of a star. This delicious melon has gained fame as a health food and has taken center stage in dishes as more and more people are able to gain access to and appreciate it. The fruit comes from the plant Cucumis melo var. cantalupensis, a fruiting vine. 

The cantaloupe is easily recognized by its beige, netted appearance over a green melon. An odd truth is that the melon people in North America know as the cantaloupe is actually the muskmelon. The true cantaloupe looks entirely different and is almost completely unavailable in this hemisphere. It is, however, readily available in Europe. Its appearance is warty, green and bears no resemblance to the fruit we know and love. Somewhere in time muskmelon was called cantaloupe and it stuck. Now the names are used interchangeably, causing some confusion.

No matter what it is called, growing the cantaloupe is rewarding. It has amazing health benefits and is delicious in all types of recipes, from the simple sliced prosciutto-wrapped melon to roasted cantaloupe seeds.  

Botanical Name   Cucumis melo var. cantalupensis
Common Name  Cantaloupe, Rockmelon, Muskmelon
Plant Type   Fruiting Vine
Mature Size  Differs
Sun Exposure  Full Sun
Soil Type  Loamy, Sandy, well draining
Soil pH  6.0 and 6.5
Bloom Time  Differs
Flower Color  Yellow
Hardiness Zones  5-11
Native Area   South Asia/Africa
Toxicity  All but rind is edible.

Cantaloupe Plant Care

Providing you can provide plenty of warmth, sun, and rich fertile soil for your cantaloupe plant, you could reap the rewards of a bountiful harvest.

Cantaloupes ripen 35 to 45 days after pollination, depending on weather conditions. Do not wait for the fruit to fall off the vine. Watch for signs it is ready to be harvested. The skin turns greenish beige, the netting becomes rough and dry, and the tendrils near the fruit turn brown and dry. When these signs are present the cantaloupe may be ready for harvest. Gently twist the fruit from the stem. It should come off easily. If not, let it ripen a bit more.

Light

Cucumis melo needs full sun. If an area without full sun is not available, cantaloupe may not be the best plant to grow. 

Soil

Cantaloupe plants should have a good, 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.

Water

Ensuring your cantaloupe plant gets the right amount of water at the right time is going to be the most important thing that can be done to ensure juicy healthy fruit.

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 so that they do not develop fungus or mildew. As the fruit grows, taper the watering. Hot, dry conditions produce the sweetest melons.

Temperature and Humidity

The perfect temperature to plant cantaloupe is when it is consistently 55 to 65o. Ground temperature should be 65o Fahrenheit for sown seed. Germination occurs faster at higher temperatures. This plant’s native range is a warm climate so warmer temperatures suit it better, but it does not take well to drought.

Fertilizer

Feeding is not recommended unless a soil test is performed. Too much nitrogen in the soil can lead to low fruit production. Amend the soil prior to planting and test the soil if the weather is especially wet. Too much rain during fruiting periods can lend itself to bland, flavorless fruit.

Is Cantaloupe Toxic?

Cantaloupe is not toxic. All parts of the plant are edible except the rind and this is due to the presence of bacteria and mold. Before eating, wash and scrub the rind extremely well.

During the summer of 1941 in Peoria, Illinois mold was discovered on a cantaloupe in such large amounts that scientists were able to modify it and mass-produce penicillin for the first time. This happened just in time for World War II, allowing millions of units of Penicillin to be produced for use in the war effort.

Pruning

Melon flowers require pollination to set fruit. Cucumis melo is a monoecious plant. 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 produce fruit. 

When fruit production does start, it might sound counterproductive but cut off new blossoms on the end of the vine. This will decrease the amount of 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

Growing cantaloupe can be done through 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 always an option as well. 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 65o 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.

Before planting, make sure to amend the soil with organics, since a good compost is important to give the plant nutrients. Testing the soil now is a good idea to check its pH and other deficiencies. Now is the time to add amendments before planting is done.

Once the soil is just right, a good method of 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. 

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