I never cared much for melons until I tasted homegrown cantaloupe. Trust me, if the little orange cubes you’ve been eating in fruit salads don’t excite you much, it’s because you’ve never had homegrown melons.

Besides the much better flavor, there’s another major plus to growing your own cantaloupe: you don’t have to worry about salmonella (unless, of course, your melon patch is near chickens and livestock).

Here’s everything you need to grow your own super sweet melon plants right in your backyard.

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how to grow cantaloupe from seed in the garden

Our Favorite Varieties of Cantaloupe to Grow

A cantaloupe is a type of melon called a muskmelon. If you’ve only ever eaten cantaloupe from the store, you’ll be surprised by all the different colors and rind textures you can grow. Here are some of our favorite cantaloupe varieties to grow in the home garden:

 

  • Sugar Cube Mini Cantaloupes – These are small melons (about the size of a grapefruit) with deep orange flesh. As the name suggests, they’re super sweet. 
  • Ambrosia – Grab these large melon seeds for the classic deep orange flesh with a small seed cavity inside. 
  • Heirloom Tuscan Melon  – This is a really fun and productive heirloom variety with a wonderful fragrance and sweet flesh. 
  • Minnesota Midget Cantaloupe – These mini muskmelons are super sweet and juicy, and they produce fruit in record time. The plants grow just 3 feet tall, so this is a great option for container gardening. 

WHEN TO PLANT CANTALOUPE SEEDS

Cantaloupe is a warm-season crop that can push into hot weather. It sprouts best once the soil temperature is at least 70°F, and it loves daytime temps ranging from 70 to 90°F. 

For those of you in warm climates, you can wait until all danger of frost has passed to direct sow your cantaloupe seeds in the garden. Cantaloupe seedlings don’t like to be moved, so this is ideal. Wait about 2 weeks after your last frost date to plant seeds so that you’ll have nice, warm soil. 

If you have a really long growing season, you can keep planting cantaloupe throughout summer. Stop once you’re 3 months out from your first frost date of fall to guarantee your melons have time to finish up. 

For those of you in cooler climates, you might need to give your plants a head start on the warm season to ensure you’ll get your cantaloupe harvest before cold weather returns in fall. Start cantaloupe seeds indoors about 2 to 4 weeks before your last frost date so that you’ll have seedlings ready to go out into the garden within 2 weeks of your last anticipated frost. Just make sure your nighttime temps are expected to stay above 50°F. 

WHERE TO PLANT CANTALOUPE

 

Cantaloupe plants need full sun for optimal growth. Pick a spot with at least 8 hours of direct sun if you want the ripest, juiciest fruits.

Unless you have tons of garden space and well-drained soil, I recommend picking a cantaloupe variety that produces smaller fruit and growing it vertically in a raised bed. The raised bed will give these plants the nutrients and good drainage they love (assuming it’s filled with great soil). And a sturdy metal trellis will provide plenty of growing space to vines that can grow 7 feet long.

Short on raised bed space? Grow container-friendly muskmelons in a pot or container at least 12″ deep and 18″ across, and add a small trellis for support.

If you’re growing a melon with fruits too heavy to support on a trellis, then you’re better off growing in the ground so that the vines don’t take over your raised bed. You might need to amend your native soil with coarse sand (to improve drainage) and compost (to add nutrients) if it’s heavy on the clay.

HOW TO DIRECT SOW CANTALOUPE SEEDS

Follow these five simple steps to plant your cantaloupe seeds in the garden.

Step One

Soak your cantaloupe seeds overnight to speed up germination (optional).

Step Two

Give your cantaloupe plants a great start by adding some organic matter to the surface of the planting area. I do a couple inches of fresh compost or a sprinkling of worm castings. Push some soil and compost around the base of your trellises if you’re growing in a raised bed, or make hills about 5′ apart in the ground.

Step Three

Sow cantaloupe seeds 1″ deep. Space seeds 6-9″ inches apart around the base of a trellis, or do groups of 5 to 6 seeds per hill in the ground.

Step Four

Water the planting area well. Keep the soil moist while you’re waiting on the seeds to sprout. Most seeds germinate within 7 to 10 days.

Step Five

When your seedlings have a couple of leaves, it’s time to thin. The best spacing depends on the variety you’re growing and your garden setup. You can probably fit two plants around the base of a wide obelisk trellis. For in-ground gardens, thin to about 3 plants per hill, as long as vines have room to spread out.

HOW TO START CANTALOUPE SEEDS INDOORS

 

Cantaloupe seedlings don’t handle being moved very well, so if you must start seeds indoors, I recommend using biodegradable pots instead of plastic or metal trays. That way, you can plant the pot in the garden without disturbing the delicate roots.

Follow these steps to sow your seeds indoors.

Step One

Gather your seed starting supplies: biodegradable potsgrow lightsorganic seed starting mix, and a heat mat (if your house is kept under 70°F).

Step Two

Rehydrate your seed starting mix with water in a large bowl until it’s moist but not soggy. Fill each biodegradable pot with moistened soil mix. Press the mix down so that each pot has a smooth surface.

Step Three

Make a 1″ deep planting hole in the center of each pot and place a cantaloupe seed inside. Cover with seed starting mix.

Step Four

Place the pots on a heat mat or in a warm spot. Keep the soil moist but not soggy until seeds germinate. Remove the heat mat once you see green shoots.

Step Five

Turn on the grow lights once your seeds have sprouted. Keep the light about 2″ above seedlings. Continue monitoring the soil moisture daily. If your seedlings are in a stuffy room, consider providing better air circulation by aiming a fan at them on the lowest setting.

HOW TO TRANSPLANT CANTALOUPE SEEDLINGS OUTDOORS

With luck (read: diligence), you’ll end up with healthy young plants that are ready to go out to your garden as soon as all danger of frost has passed and your nighttime temps are above 50°F. Before you move them outside, though, make sure to harden them off.

Hardening off just means to gradually acclimate your seedlings to outdoor conditions, and it’s an important but often skipped step. A week before transplanting your seedlings, begin bringing them outside each day for some outdoor exposure. Increase the time they spend outside and the amount of direct sunlight they receive each day.

When it’s time to plant your seedlings, make a planting hole the size of the pot your seedlings have been growing in and place the pot inside. Water them in well.

HOW TO GROW AND CARE FOR CANTALOUPE PLANTS

 

Cantaloupe is overall easy to grow, but there are some best practices to follow to prevent pest and disease issues.

Watering Cantaloupe Plants

Consistent watering is key to the best fruit flavor. Cantaloupes need several inches of water a week, depending on fruit size, and deep watering at the root level is ideal. I recommend setting up drip irrigation on a timer (this one is super easy to a install in raised beds) or adding GrowOyas.

Make sure to always aim your water at the roots of the plant, not the leaves.

Fertilizing Cantaloupe Plants

Cantaloupe are not particularly heavy feeders when it comes to fruiting plants, but even so, it’s best to make sure they have everything they need to produce their tasty fruits.

Start off with an all purpose organic fertilizer like MicroLife. Switch to MicroLife Maximum Blooms every 2 to 3 weeks once your plants start flowering. This is my favorite fertilizer for fruiting plants–it gives them everything they need to support fruit.

You can also side dress your cantaloupe plants with compost whenever you think they need more nutrients. I like to push some compost around the base of each plant to help support it.

Protecting Cantaloupe Plants from Pests

Cantaloupe is prone to garden pests like cucumber beetles, aphids, and spider mites. One way to prevent pest pressure is to cover your plants from the beginning with garden mesh or row covers. You’d only remove the mesh when you see the first flowers appear so they can be pollinated (or you can hand-pollinate each female flower).

Covering is especially important if you’ve had issues with cucumber beetles before. These pests actually spread nasty diseases like fusarium wilt and bacterial wilt that can kill your plants.

If you’re not covering, stay vigilant in your garden and remove any visible pests by hand. Prune any yellowed or pest-damaged leaves. Use insecticidal soap as needed before a pest situation gets out of hand.

Growing cantaloupe vertically makes it harder to cover them but prevents attacks from pests like roly-polies. Fruits that touch the ground are overall more prone to rot and then attract pests that like rotting things.

Preventing Fungal Diseases

One of the best ways to prevent fungal diseases like powdery mildew is to grow your cantaloupe vertically. Holding the leaves upright increases air circulation and allows them to dry after rain.

Another best practice for disease prevention is to aim water at the base of the plant. Avoid splashing water back up on the leaves since that’s how soil-borne fungus like Alternaria leaf spot can get on leaves to infect them.

If you still find yourself with issues like powdery mildew then I suggest using an organic fungicide either from Arber or Captain Jack.

Supporting Cantaloupe Vines on a Trellis

Melon plants aren’t natural climbers, so they need your help if you’re growing them vertically. Use jute or soft plant ties to attach vines loosely to the trellis. You’ll soon have a beautiful vine-covered trellis.

When your plants are forming fruit, consider also tying fruit-bearing stems to the trellis to help the plant support its heavy load. Another option is to use strips of old hose to create little fruit slings for the melons as they develop.

Pollination Tips for Cantaloupe

Cantaloupe have separate male and female flowers on the same plant. I recommend hand-pollination to ensure you get the highest fruit yield possible. (And of course, you’ll have to hand-pollinate if you’re keeping your plants covered).

To pollinate by hand, you can use a cotton swab or a small paintbrush to transfer pollen from a male flower to an open female flower. Or you can pluck a male flower from the plant, pull back its petals to expose the stamen, and then insert it into a female flower. Give it a little wiggle to shake off the pollen.

When is cantaloupe ready to harvest

WHEN TO HARVEST CANTALOUPE

Cantaloupe takes about 85 days to produce, depending on the variety you’re growing. Make sure to check the harvest window on the back of the seed packet for the cantaloupe variety you’re growing. 

You’ll want to wait until your melons are fully ripe before you harvest them. Why? Because most of the natural sugars form in the last few days on the vine. Commercial growers typically pick melons before they’re fully vine-ripened, which is why homegrown melons really do taste better. 

To check for ripeness, first, sniff the fruit at the blossom end. Ripe cantaloupe has a fruity aroma. 

Then, check the skin color, specifically the netting on the rind. Ripe fruit will be more creamy tan than green. 

Finally, look around the stem for a crack. Some gardeners call this the belly button, and it’s a sign your fruit is at the “slip stage”. That means it’ll slip right off the vine. 

When in doubt, give the fruit a gentle tug. If it feels secure, it’s not ready yet. Come back in a couple days. 

How to Grow Cantaloupe from Seed. Photo of harvested cantaloupe

HOW TO HARVEST CANTALOUPE

As soon as your cantaloupe starts to show signs of ripeness, cut way back on your watering. Only give the plant more water if the leaves are wilting. Reducing water now helps the sugars inside the fruits become more concentrated, which is what you want.

Grab a pair of clean pruners to cut the vine about an inch above the fruit. You can also harvest by hand by applying gentle pressure until the fruit detaches. Just be extra careful not to damage the vine.

Your vines may produce fruit for several more weeks, so check back regularly. 

HOW TO ENJOY CANTALOUPE

Vine-ripened cantaloupe is a real summer treat! You’ll probably find you enjoy them just as they are, so slice ’em up and eat ’em fresh. Let the juice dribble down your chin. You earned it!

Whatever doesn’t get immediately devoured can be wrapped in plastic wrap if cut open and kept in the fridge.

I hope you get tons of satisfaction from growing your own cantaloupe at home!