I know what you’re thinking. Eh, I’ve had plenty of cantaloupe in fruit salads. It doesn’t really excite me.
Trust me, it’s tasteless cantaloupe from the store that doesn’t excite you. Homegrown cantaloupe is galaxies beyond in the flavor department. I’ll tell you why in a bit.
There are two other benefits to growing your own. Homegrown cantaloupe isn’t covered in pesticides and synthetic fertilizers—major plus! And as long as you keep your melon patch away from chickens and livestock, you won’t have to worry about salmonella outbreaks—another plus!
Cantaloupe plants thrive in our Texas heat, and with just a little space and work, you can grow your own juicy summer treats!
THE BEST TYPES OF CANTALOUPE TO GROW IN CENTRAL TEXAS
The fruit that we call cantaloupe is actually two different types of muskmelon. Honeydew is another type of muskmelon with a smooth green rind. Muskmelons come in different flesh colors with different rind textures and thicknesses.
There are lots of heirloom muskmelon varieties and exciting new hybrids you can grow that you’d never get to experience if you only ever get your cantaloupe from the store.
Here are some of my favorite cantaloupe varieties to grow in the home garden:
Sugar Cube Mini Cantaloupes – These grapefruit-size melons are super sweet with deep orange flesh. These super hardy plants produce fruit early and then keep giving you harvests throughout the season.
Sweet Delight Honeydew Melons – These are not your grocery store honeydews. They’re incredibly sweet with baby-smooth skin. Each melon weighs between 7 and 8 pounds.
Minnesota Midget Cantaloupe/Muskmelon – These are mini muskmelons that produce fruit in record time. Each melon is about 4” and super sweet and juicy. Since it grows just 3’ tall, this variety is great for containers.
WHEN TO GROW CANTALOUPE IN TEXAS
Cantaloupe is a warm-to-hot-season plant. It needs warm soil temperatures to sprout and grow and then lots and lots of sunshine to form fruits. Fortunately, we Texans have just the warm climate (70 to 90 degrees during the day) and the sun these melons love.
You don’t want to plant cantaloupe outside until our nighttime temps stay above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. For those of us in the greater Austin area, the best time to plant cantaloupe is typically around early to mid-April. That gives us plenty of time after our last anticipated frost date in mid-March to ensure temperatures are warm enough.
Some gardeners, particularly those in cooler climates, start cantaloupe by seed indoors 3 to 4 weeks before their final frost date. Since we Texan gardeners “enjoy” warm weather for such a long time, I don’t find it necessary to give cantaloupe a head start. It’s extra work, and cantaloupe seedlings sown directly outside can often catch up to transplants anyways because they’ve never undergone the stress of a big move.
You can plant cantaloupe in your garden through summer, up until the month of August. After that, you can’t guarantee your melons will have the warm temperatures they need to finish up before fall brings cool weather and potential frost.
WHERE TO GROW CANTALOUPE
The biggest priority when picking a spot for your cantaloupe plants is maximizing sunlight hours. These plants need full sun (at least 8 hours, 10 is better) in order to ripen those nice, juicy fruits.
The traditional method of growing cantaloupe and other melons has been to give these plants plenty of space and let them grow long over an entire field. I’m sure you can picture just the type of watermelon patch I’m talking about.
Most of us don’t have that kind of space in our yards. A single large cantaloupe plant can become 7′ long or more. Luckily for us, that doesn’t mean we can’t grow our own cantaloupes. We just have to grow them vertically.
The ideal setup for growing cantaloupe vertically is in a raised bed with a sturdy metal trellis. A raised bed filled with well-drained soil will give these plants plenty of room for their roots as well as good drainage.
Cantaloupe plants don’t love the clay-heavy soil many of us have in our backyards. If you do want to grow melons in the ground, amend your planting area with lots of paver sand and compost first so that you have more nutrient-rich soil that won’t hold too much water.
If you’re short on raised bed space, you can also grow container-friendly muskmelons with a small trellis for support.
HOW TO GROW CANTALOUPE ON A TRELLIS
I love the look of cantaloupe growing up an arch trellis. Arches give plants plenty of room to stretch over the full length of the trellis during their long growing season. To me, vertical growing is the ultimate gardening “hack” because we can now fit 2 to 4 plants in the same space where we could traditionally only fit one.
When you’re growing vertically, it’s best to look for cantaloupe types with fruit that won’t swell over a couple pounds (like the mini and midget varieties I recommended before). Plants attached to trellises might struggle to hold monster fruits dangling from the vines.
Growing melons vertically not only saves space; it also keeps the plants healthier. Fruits that touch the ground are more prone to rot and attack from pests like roly-polies, and if too much water splashes the leaves, you’re looking at a higher likelihood of disease. Holding plants upright gives them better air circulation and allows leaves to dry after rain. It’ll also be nice and convenient for you to harvest fruits without having to step over sprawling vines.
HOW TO GROW CANTALOUPE IN CONTAINERS
Home gardeners with a sunny patio or balcony can still enjoy the pleasures of homegrown melon varieties. Here are the steps to grow cantaloupe in a container.
Grab melon seeds designated for container gardening. The Sugar Cube Minis and the Minnesota Midgets I recommended above are both container-friendly varieties, as would be any “dwarf” type of melon you might find.
Pick a container that’s at least 16 inches deep and 14 inches wide. A whiskey barrel planter or a large grow bag are two great options. Make sure whichever container you choose has at least one good drainage hole at the bottom of the container. Use a drill to add one if needed. Cover the bottom of your container with weed barrier cloth to keep soil from washing out the drainage hole.
Fill your container with high quality potting soil mixed with fresh compost. Go ahead and add your trellis now so that you don’t damage the plant’s roots later. An obelisk trellis works great for round containers.
Sow cantaloupe seeds following the tips below for best results.
Give your seeds a good watering in. Make sure to check on the moisture level in your container frequently since the soil will dry out faster than in a raised bed or the ground.
Follow the tips below to train your cantaloupe vines up the trellis. You’ll soon have your own little privacy wall thanks to all that rich foliage!
HOW TO PLANT CANTALOUPE SEEDS
Follow these simple steps to direct sow your cantaloupe seeds once all danger of frost has passed.
Add a 2- to 3-inch thick layer of fresh compost and/or worm castings to the planting area. Young plants will appreciate lots of organic matter around them before it’s time to fertilize them.
You have the option of prepping cantaloupe seeds in addition to the soil. Some gardeners soak their seeds in fresh water overnight to speed up germination. This is not required.
Push the compost you added around the base of your trellises to form little mounds.
Sow seeds 1 inch deep in these mounds and 6″-9″ inches apart around the base of your trellis.
Give your seeds a nice watering in to tell them it’s time to wake up and grow. You’ll want to keep the planting area moist while you’re waiting on the seeds to sprout. Most seeds will germinate within 7 to 10 days.
As soon as your seedlings have a couple of leaves, thin them so that you have one plant every 3 feet or so. The best spacing will vary depending on the variety you’re growing. If you have a wide obelisk trellis, you can probably fit about two plants around the base. Keep in mind that the spacing recommendations on the back of the seed packets don’t apply to plants grown in raised beds and trained up trellises.
HOW TO TEND CANTALOUPE PLANTS
How to Water Cantaloupe Plants
Practicing bad watering habits with melons can result in anything from blossom end rot (bad news) to a harvest of completely inedible cantaloupe melons (also bad news). Consistent watering is really key to the best flavor.
Overall, you’ll want to keep the soil moist but not soaked. Drip irrigation lines on timers are a really great way to keep your raised beds watered. If you don’t have a watering system set up yet, Garden in Minutes has a kit that’s super easy to install and will give your plants that nice, long saturation they really love.
If you’re watering by hand, make sure to aim your water at the roots of the plant, not the leaves.
How to Protect Cantaloupe Plants from Pests
If you know pests are a major issue in your garden, you can cover your plants from the very day you sow seeds with garden mesh. You can keep this mesh in place to prevent bugs from ever even entering the space and causing problems. You only need to remove the mesh when you see the first little blossoms appear. Then you’ll need to give pollinators access to the plants.
Remove any visible pests by hand and check your garden frequently to prevent issues from getting out of hand.
How to Train Cantaloupe Vines up a Trellis
Cantaloupe vines won’t naturally find and cling onto to support structures like pea tendrils will. Melons in general are actually pretty bad climbers. Lucky for them, they have us!
These plants will need us every couple of days (they grow really fast!) to secure the vines to the trellis. You can tie them with twine made of something soft and natural like jute, or you can cut some old pairs of hose into inch-wide strips. Don’t tie anything too tight so that the vines have some wiggle room.
If your vines reach the top of your trellis, you can flip them around and train them to go down the other way.
Once the plants are forming fruits, you can tie fruit-bearing stems to the structure if possible to help the vine support its heavy but oh-so-sweet burden. You could even use strips of hose to create a little sling for heavier fruits.
How to Fertilize Cantaloupe Plants
Cantaloupe are not particularly heavy feeders. Do you use extra? One blog said additional fertilizing not needed in good soil.
Make sure to avoid adding nitrogen-heavy fertilizers, which will encourage your plants to grow lots of lush leaves and few actual fruits.
How Long Does It Take to Grow Cantaloupe from Seed?
Most cantaloupe needs about 85 days to mature. The Minnesota Midgets I recommended are an early variety that need only 60 to 70 days. Keep in mind these times are estimates based on optimal weather. Things like cold spells can stunt and slow the growth of plants that like warmer temps.
There are also lots of hybrids out there now that grow at different paces, so the best thing to do is check the back of the seed packet for the time to harvest. Make note in your calendar.
WHEN TO HARVEST CANTALOUPE
I promised to tell you why homegrown cantaloupe is so much better, and the answer has to do with the ripeness at harvest. Commercial growers pick their melons before they’re fully ripe so that they can continue to ripen during the transport process. The problem is, a lot of the natural sugars in melons form in those last few days on the vine.
If you harvest a fully ripe cantaloupe from your garden, it will taste significantly sweeter than what you’re used to.
Okay, so how do you tell when this moment has come?
First, give your cantaloupe a good sniff. Ripe melons have a nice fruity aroma at the blossom end.
Then, look to see if the tendril closest to the fruit has turned brown. You’ll probably also notice the netting on the rind going from green to that creamy tan you see at the store.
Lastly, check the cantaloupe for a crack near the stem. Some people call this the belly button. This crack means the cantaloupe is at the “slip stage”—when the fruit slips right off the vine. If you tug on the cantaloupe and it feels really secure, it’s not ready yet. Check back in a couple of days. Be sure to not let your fruits become over-ripe though.
HOW TO HARVEST CANTALOUPE
I hope you’re excited for vine-ripened cantaloupe—a real summer treat!
When your cantaloupe is showing signs it’s almost ready to harvest, you want to significantly reduce your watering. You’ll water only when the top two inches of soil are dry and the leaves are wilting. It seems opposite of what I said about needing to water a lot to sweeten the fruit, but reducing water now actually helps the sugar already present to become more concentrated.
To harvest cantaloupe, simply apply some gentle pressure to the fruit. It should detach super easily. If you’re growing one of the many cantaloupe cultivars out there and the seed seller recommends cutting fruits, then simply use a clean pair of pruners to cut the vine about one inch above the fruit.
Your vines will likely continue to produce fruit for several weeks, so keep coming back to check on those guys.
HOW TO SAVE AND ENJOY CANTALOUPE
Your melons should be at the peak of their flavor and sweetness. Cut those babies open and let the juice dribble down your chin without shame! Let the whole family enjoy a slice or two. You’ll probably find these fruits are so good you just want to eat them as they are.
Cantaloupe keeps well in the fridge wrapped in some plastic wrap, even after being cut open.
How to Save Cantaloupe Seeds
You can save seeds from your cantaloupe plants as long as you weren’t growing another type of melon nearby. (Melons are open pollinated, so seeds you save will only be true to the original if you’re growing just one kind.)
To save the seeds, cut the melon open lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and toss them into a jar with some fresh water. Stir this mixture once a day for about 2 to 4 days. This is allowing the
seeds to ferment. Any bad seeds that you wouldn’t want to keep will sink to the bottom. At the end of the process, scoop the good seeds out and discard the rest.
Put the good seeds in a strainer and rinse them. Once they’re clean, spread them out on a paper towel and leave them to dry for about a week. You want all moisture to be gone before you store them so that they won’t grow mold.
When the seeds are dry, put them in a glass jar or paper envelope and label them with the type and date of collection. Keep the seeds somewhere cool, dark, and dry for next year.