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How to Grow Melons

grow melons in the gardenThe cantaloupe or muskmelon is a tender, warm-weather plant. Cantaloupes grow best in very warm to hot weather.

  • Sow cantaloupe (muskmelon) seed in the garden or set out transplants 3 to 4 weeks after the last average frost date in spring.
  • Start cantaloupe seed indoors about 6 weeks before transplanting seedlings into the garden. Start seed indoors in biodegradable peat or paper pots that can be set directly into the garden.
  • Cantaloupes require 70 to 100 frost-free days to reach harvest; cantaloupes will tolerate no frost.

The tan, netted melon commonly referred to as cantaloupe is actually a muskmelon. A true cantaloupe has a rough warty rind.

Muskmelons along with watermelons are termed summer melons because they come to harvest from mid to late summer.

Winter melons—which are grown during the summer like muskmelons–are ready for harvest in late summer and autumn. Winter melons include casaba, Crenshaw, honeydews, and Persian melons.

Cantaloupes, muskmelons, honeydew melons, and other summer melons, as well as winter melons, have the same growing requirements.

Pre-warm the soil for melons
Pre-warm the soil by placing black plastic or permeable black garden fabric across the planting area. When planting cut x-shaped slits in the covering.

Where to Plant Melons

  • Plant melons in full sun.
  • Melons grow best in loose, well-drained, loamy soil rich in organic matter.
  • Add several inches of aged compost and aged manure or commercial organic planting mix to the planting bed before planting. Turn the soil to 12 inches (30cm) deep.
  • Melons prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8.
  • Melons can be grown on mounds, raised beds, up trellises, or in flat planting beds. Pre-warm the soil by placing black plastic or permeable black garden fabric across the planting area two weeks before planting. When planting cut x-shaped slits in the covering.

Melon Planting Time

  • Sow melon seeds in the garden or set out transplants 3 to 4 weeks after the last average frost date in spring.
  • Start melon seeds indoors about 6 weeks before transplanting seedlings into the garden.
  • Start seeds in biodegradable peat or paper pots at least 4 inches in diameter that can be set wholly into the garden so as not to disturb roots.
  • Starting melons indoors is recommended in short growing season regions where the soil warms slowly in spring.
  • Melon seeds will germinate in about 10 days at 65°F (18°C).
  • Melons grow best in air temperatures ranging from 70° to 90°F (21-32°C).
  • If temperatures exceed 90°F (32°C)
  • for several days, flowers will drop without setting fruit.
  • Melons require 70 to 100 frost-free days to reach harvest and will tolerate no frost.
  • In cool or short-season regions, grow smaller varieties that come to harvest quickest.

More tips: Melon Seed Starting Tips.

Planting on mounds
Plant melons on raised mounds or hills that are 24 inches (61cm) across or wider. Mounds warm quickly in spring and stay warm through the growing season.

Planting and Spacing Melons

  • Sow melon seed 1 inch (2.5cm) deep.
  • Space seeds 18 inches (45cm) apart in the garden.
  • Plant melons on raised mounds or hills that are 24 inches (61cm) across or wider. Mounds warm quickly in spring and stay warm through the growing season.
  • Sow 4 to 6 melons seeds on each mound; when seedlings have developed three or four true leaves, thin to the 2 or 3 strongest seedlings on each hill.
  • Cut the thinned seedlings at soil level with scissors so as not to disturb the roots of the remaining plants.
  • Space mounds 4 to 6 feet (1.2-1.8m) apart.
  • Mounds can range in height from a few inches to more than 12 inches (30cm) tall; mounds will allow vines to run away down the slope.
  • Move an inch or two of soil across the top of the mound to form a rim around the top of the mound. The rim will protect young plants from heavy rains that might wash away the soil leaving shallow roots exposed; the rim will also hold irrigation water during hot weather.

More melon planting time tips: Planting Melons and Squash Early.

Melons on trellis
Muskmelons can be trained to grow on a trellis. Don’t worry, they won’t fall until they are fully ripe.

Growing Melons on Vertical Support

  • Muskmelons and other summer melons can be grown up trellises or fences.
  • You can also train melon vines up an A-frame. Lean two trellises into each other and tie them together at the top.
  • A trellis set against a solid fence or the wall of a building will benefit from reflected heat.
  • Make sure the vertical support is well anchored. Heavy fruits can tip a trellis late in the season.
  • Space melons at the base of vertical supports 12 inches (30cm) apart.
  • Train vines up a trellis or other support with elastic horticultural tape.
  • Melon plants can grow up to 8 feet (2.4m) tall and wide or more.
  • Most melon vines will support the weight of a melon, but you can use garden netting tied to the support to support melons.
  • Melons grown on vertical supports will get full sun exposure and good air circulation which can help prevent fungal diseases.

Growing Melons in Containers

  • Melons are usually too large to grow in containers.
  • Select a bush, dwarf- or mini-cultivar to grow in a container.
  • Choose a container at least 18 inches (45cm) wide and deep that can support a vining plant.
  • Place a trellis or other support next to the plant to save space and increase yields.
  • In short growing season regions, extend the season by starting melons in containers indoors then move them outdoors when the weather warms.

Melon Companion Plants

  • Plant melons with corn, radishes, beans, and nasturtiums.
  • Plant herbs such as dill or bee balm near melons to attract pollinators.
True cantaloupe in garden
True cantaloupe and other melons require consistent water to ripen sweet.

Watering Melons

  • Melons require plentiful regular, even watering for quick growing.
  • Give melons 1 inch of water (16 gallons/60.5 liters) or more each week.
  • Water with drip irrigation or a soaker hose to avoid wetting leaves. Wet leaves are susceptible to fungal diseases.
  • Keep the soil around melons evenly moist from planting until the fruit begins to develop.
  • You can cut back on watering once fruit begins to develop but don’t let the soil go dry. Less water will enhance sweetness.
  • Dry soil a week before harvest will produce the sweetest melons.
  • Avoid watering plants overhead which can result in mildew.

Feeding Melons

  • Prepare planting beds with aged compost; add aged manure to beds the autumn before planting.
  • Side dress melons with compost or manure tea every 2 to 3 weeks during the growing season.
  • You can also feed melons a diluted solution of fish emulsion every 2 weeks.
  • Flat, tasteless melons may suffer from a lack of magnesium or boron in the soil. Fruits can be sweetened by giving them a dose of Epsom salts and borax. For home garden use, use about 6½ tablespoons of Epsom salts and 3½ tablespoons of household borax added to five gallons of water. Spray-mist the vines with this solution.
Four melons on one vine
Prune away flowers so that each melon plant grows no more than four fruits at a time.

Caring for Melons

  • Cultivate carefully around vines until they cover the ground and smother out competing weeds.
  • Mulch around melon plants with straw or dry, chopped leaves to retain soil moisture, slow weed growth, and keep fruits off of the soil.
  • Support melons on a low tripod or A-frame trellis to keep them off the wet ground; use netting or a bag to support trellis- or fence-grown melons.
  • Pinch back flowers to permit just 4 fruits to form on each vine. Fewer melons on a plant will be larger, sweeter, and come to harvest quicker.
  • You can also pinch away some flowers so that a newly pollinated flower begins growing a new fruit every two weeks. This can stagger the harvest of fruit from one plant.
  • For melons sprawling across the ground, place a shingle, tile, half milk jug, or clay pot under each melon to keep it dry and prevent rot. These items will also soak up solar heat and keep the fruit warm at night.
  • Avoid pruning leaves off of plants until just before harvest. Leaves help produce the sugars melons need for sweetness. Pull back leaves that cover fruits to give fruits maximum sun exposure.
  • Remove all new blossoms that appear within 50 days of the first frost in autumn. This will allow the plant to ripen fruit already on the vine before the first frost.
Melon flower
Melon flower

Melon Pollination

  • Melons produce male and female flowers on the same plant.
  • Male flowers appear a week before female flowers. Female flowers have a small bulge (an unfertilized fruit) near the stem end of the blossom.
  • Bees or other pollinators must carry pollen from male to female flowers for pollination, flowering, and fruit set to occur.

Melon Pests

  • Aphids and spotted and striped cucumber beetles will attack melons.
  • Hose away aphids with a blast of water or pinch out infested foliage.
  • Handpick and destroy cucumber beetles promptly; they can transmit cucumber bacterial wilt to melons. You can also dust or spray adult beetles with rotenone or a pyrethrum-based insecticide.

More tips: Melon Growing Problems: Troubleshooting.

Cucumber beetle attacks melons
Cucumber beetles will melon leaves and can spread diseases including bacterial wilt.

Melon Diseases

  • Melons are susceptible to wilt, Alternaria leaf spot, stem blight, powdery and downy mildew, and root rot.
  • Plant disease-resistant varieties.
  • Keep the garden clean and free of weeds and plant debris that can harbor pests and diseases.
  • Remove and destroy disease infected plants immediately.
  • Bacterial wilt is spread by cucumber beetles.
  • Bacterial wilt and stem blight will cause melons to suddenly wilt and die.
  • Control cucumber beetles as soon as they appear.
  • Powdery mildew and downy mildew are fungal diseases that will cause melon leaves to turn gray-white late in the season. Protect leaves against fungal disease by spraying with compost tea or a solution of 1 part skim milk to 9 parts water.
  • Select disease-resistant varieties.
  • Improve air circulation by spacing plants properly.
Honeydew melon near harvest
Smooth-skinned honeydew melons will turn from green to cream-colored as they ripen.

Harvesting Melons

  • Cantaloupes will be ready for harvest 70 to 100 days after sowing.
  • Most melons on a single plant will come to harvest within a 3 to 4 week period.
  • Limit water for a week in advance of the harvest to concentrate fruit sweetness. Too much water will dilute the sugars in the fruit.
  • When muskmelons reach full-size rinds change from green to tan or yellow and stems turn brown they are ready for harvest. The skin under the netting will turn yellow-brown when the fruit is ripe and the netting will become more pronounced
  • Smooth-skinned honeydew melons will become cream-colored when ripe.
  • A ripe melon will develop a circular crack where the stem attaches to the fruit.
  • Ripe melons will have a sweet aroma at the stem end.
  • Ripe melons will slip easily off the stem; a half-ripe melon will require more pressure and may come off with half the stem attached.
  • Harvest melons when they are dry.
  • A ripe melon will soften after harvest but it will not continue to sweet off the vine.
  • Leave melons on the vine until they are ripe.

More tips: How to Harvest and Store Melons.

Storing and Preserving Melons

  • Melons will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week, but sweetness and flavor may diminish.
  • Melon slices or balls can be frozen or pickled.
winter melons
Casaba, Honeydew, and Honey White melons

Muskmelon (Cantaloupe) Varieties

  • Early Season: ‘Alaska’ (65-80 days); ‘Canada Gem’ (78 days); ‘Earligold’ (73 days); ‘Early Hanover’ (80 days); ‘Magnum’ (80 days); ‘Primo’ (79 days); ‘Pronto’ (80 days); ‘Pulsar’ (80 days); ‘Solid Gold’ (80 days); ‘Sweet Granite’ (80 days); ‘Sweet ‘N Early’ (75 days).
  • Midseason: ‘Ambrosia’ (86 days); ‘Delicious’ (83 days); ‘Edisto’ (88 days); ‘Four-Fifty’ (90 days); ‘Grande Gold’ (88 days); ‘Hale’s Best’ (86 days); ‘Imperial’ (90 days); ‘Pike’ (85 days); ‘Pulsar’ (86 days); ‘Roadside’ (90 days); ‘Super Market’ (90 days); ‘Superstar’ (86 days).
  • Late Season: ‘Edisto’ (95 days); ‘Hearts of Gold’ (95 days); ‘Iroquois’ (90 days); ‘Kansas’ (90 days); ‘Saticoy’ (90 days); ‘Top Mark’ (90 days).
  • Large: ‘Old Time Tennessee’ (90 days).
  • Space Savers: ‘Bush Star’ (80 days); ‘Jenny Lind’ (75 days).

More on melon varieties: Muskmelon Varieties: Best Bets.

About Muskmelons and Cantaloupes

Muskmelons differ from true cantaloupes:

  • A muskmelon is round with a yellow-tan netted rind. A muskmelon has salmon, white, or green flesh and weighs 2 to 3 pounds (.9-1.3 kg). Muskmelons are very sweet to taste and have aromatically perfumed flesh
  • A true cantaloupe is oval or globe-shaped with a hard, rough, scaled or warted-rind (not a netted skin). The flesh can be gray-green, yellow-tan and orange, or salmon-orange. A true cantaloupe weighs about 2 pounds (.9 kg). It is sweet-tasting and aromatic
  • The muskmelon or cantaloupe is a long trailing annual plant.
  • Botanical name: Cucumis melo
  • Origin: South Asia, tropical Africa

More tips: How to Grow Winter Melons.

Also see: How to Grow Winter Melons.

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26 Comments

  1. Hi,

    Not sure when the above was posted but in the off-chance it was fairly recent, perhaps someone could help with an issue I’m having, with my cantaloupe melons this season.

    I live in the south of the UK and the last three years, have successfully fruited cantaloupe melons in the greenhouse. However, this year, I’ve been struggling to get any female flowers to even bloom. The plant I have growing, seems healthy with plenty of leaves and male flowers but the few female flowers that have developed, have turned yellow and shrivelled almost immediately, let alone got to the stage to be able to flower.

    All internet searches seem to be about problems with flowers after they’ve developed (i.e. poor pollination) but the female fruits on my plant, just don’t appear to develop\swell, to get even close to flowering in the first place.

    Any suggestions, help would be sincerely appreciated…

    • There are several possible reasons melon plants do not form female flowers: (1) temperatures greater than 90F during the day and/or greater than 70F at night; (2) drought stress–insufficient soil moisture; (3) too much soil moisture; (4) too much nitrogen in the soil.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to reply.

    I haven’t changed anything from the previous years. I still started afresh, using the same soil\fertiliser composition I’ve used in previous successful seasons and have kept an eye on the watering.

    So, I’m thinking the issue may be temperature related, as the Summer weather has been inconsistent, even for the UK. We’ve gone from record breaking temperatures, to what I deem normal UK Summer days, without really having gradual build-up or reduction. The greenhouse does have shades\blinds to try and keep extreme temperatures down but as the plant also generally requires full sun, it’s a bit of a balancing act.

    As I mentioned in my previous post, the plant seems healthy enough, with plenty of leaves and male flowers, it’s just not getting the few female buds it produces to mature, to allow their flowers to bloom.

    I guess I’ll just have to write this season off, as it’s getting late for fruits to form and have enough time to ripen. I’ll keep the plant going while it produces male flowers, as when the greenhouse window is open, a couple of bees (I’m assuming the same ones), do visit and they are welcome to collect the pollen. 😊

  3. Hello! i am growing some galia melons they have 3 months from planted and already setting blossoms today im doing the first polinization. They are still in nursery pots my doubt is is there any issue for me to transplant them? I mean with the fruits? I hadnt transplant them because i just built my greenhouse and they were part inside and part outside? Thanks

    • When transplanting melons or other fruits or vegetables that are already in flower or have set fruit you must be very careful not to disturb the roots. Try to set the undisturbed root ball into the new pot and then gently firm the soil in around the rootball; use a commercial organic potting mix. Transplanting can stress plants; the stress commonly results in flower or fruit drop. Also, try to maintain the same temperatures and light at least for a few weeks. It’s best to pot up young plants before they flower and fruit and acclimatize them to the environment where they will grow on before transplanting. If you lose flowers or fruit, the plant will likely reflower and set new fruit as long as the temperature and light are right.

  4. I have been growing hales best cantaloupe for the last 20 plus years. The last 3 or4 years when I plant the small seedlings they just sit there and do not grow for about a month then they normally start to grow. Do you have a guess what might be my problem? I rotate the aria with corn every year. Could this not be long enough in between plantings? Could the ground just be worn out?

    • The first course of action would be to rotate the melons out of that planting bed for a couple of years; the second course would be to amend the soil heavily with aged compost and aged manure at the end of the season and add a 10-20-20 fertilizer to the soil; this would replenish nutrients in the soil. Also, start the melons indoors several weeks before the last frost, grow them to 6 inches or greater, then transplant them to the garden 3 weeks after the last frost; warm the soil in advance of transplanting by placing black plastic across the planting bed until transplant day.

  5. What a terrific article! Thank you. A lot of helpful info. I’m a first time musk melon grower. I’m using my afra me shaped cucumber trelace and so far so good. I did pollinate a few times and now I have a couple of good size ones and see some smaller ones coming along.
    Really excited and hope all continues to go well. The beetles are definitely a challenge!!! I hope I continue to win the battle.
    Thanks again for the wealth of info!
    Happy planting

  6. I always go by the phrase boron rhymes with moron when growing giant pumpkins. I used the advice about sweetening muskmelons. I did this with only using 1 tablespoon of borax with 3 tablespoons of Epsom salts .Plant leaves dying too toxic for them!

  7. Hello, I am having issues with my cantaloupe fruits I am growing in containers. The fruits form to baby cantaloupes but they turn yellow and fall off or they grow to two inches and stars shriveling and turning yellow and they stop growing.

    I live in Los Angeles, California and there is plenty of sun light daily. I water the plants every other day with letting the container get full of water for deep watering before it leaves the container. The temperature has been above 90° for the last couple of weeks.

    There are also sign of leafminor on the leafs but I have read this will not affect the fruit.

    Would you let me how to fix this? I appreciate your reply with and any suggestion. Thank you!

    • Flowers and baby fruits fail when the plant is stressed; it could be the heat, do not use a high nitrogen fertilizer–use a dilute solution of fish emulsion, keep the soil evenly moist. Nip off leaves that show signs of leafminers–before they emerge and spread. You may want to try hand pollinating some of the flowers; incomplete pollination can cause failure as well. Here is a link to help: https://harvesttotable.com/hand-pollination-of-vegetables/

  8. Thanks so much for ALL of this info. I decided to grow honeydew, cantaloupe and golden melon on a whim this summer. I started them in pots and transferred them to a garden bed, they seem to be doing well. I just recently started seeing a flower or two. This article was really great, learned plenty and will be using this as a reference.

  9. Thank you so very much for all of your helpful info! I have a question that wasn’t covered above. My cantaloupes were growing Beautifully in our raised beds. I’ve trained the vines up the fence on the sides, made hammocks for the melons and it’s been a gorgeous display of vibrant male blossoms and lots of female blossoms, too. I have 3 melons growing now that are near ready to pick, but the plant seems to have stunted. They literally just stopped blooming at all. The females didn’t set despite hand pollinating like I did for the first 3. There is no new vine growth, no flowers at all. We did have 7 inches of rain and cool nights for a week or so (about 2 weeks ago), but the temps are back into regular range. I do water consistently and have water level detectors in each bed. They get additional light from grow bulbs because we do have shade trees that hit intermittently cause patches of shade for 2 hours during the day, but none of that has been an issue before now. My cucumbers and watermelon have all done the same. I treated a it of downy mildew with milk water immediately after the rains and the leaves look nice and green, but it’s like everything just decided it was done for the year. My watermelons only grew to large softball size and then no growth for 2 weeks. They were still mostly red inside (with some sweet greenish white flesh, too) and tasted great, but I just wonder if you can tell me what I did wrong. The watermelons did have some light greenish yellow leaves with small brown spots on the oldest leaves, but the rest of the plants looked stunning and made a beautiful display. I’m a little lost here. 🙂 Any help would be appreciated.

    • The plant may have quit maturing when temperatures exceeded 87F; hot temperatures would also interrupt pollination or could cause flowers and small fruits to fail. Plants will usually resume growth when temperatures moderate. However, if flowers and fruits remained on the plant for an extended period during hot weather, the plant may have assumed its season had ended. When fruits go unpicked the plant naturally assumes it has produced seed to ensure the next generation and will then produce no more flowers or fruit. Give the plants a solution of 2 tablespoons of Epsom salt mixed in a gallon of water; water the plants with this solution every 10 days. If the plant is still in a reproductive mode you should get many new flowers and if the growing season is long enough new frutis.

  10. This is the first time I have grown cantaloupe and they seem to be doing well but I noticed that they have a lot of yellow leaves and leaves seem dry out. I check the soil ( they are in a large pot on my deck) and it is plenty wet, water it about every other day. No bugs or fungus on plant and it does have 4-5 melons growing, they are about 3 inches round. Is this normal for cantaloupe or am I missing something. Any guidance you can give is appreciated. Also, I feed them with Miracle Grow once a week when I water them. 😊
    Linn

    • Nighttime temperatures and shorter days are likely signaling to your plants that the season is almost over. Hopefully you have enough warm days left to mature the fruits. Keep them out of wind; cover the plants on cool nights; keep them warm. You can feed them with a dilute solution of fish emulsion every 10 days.

    • Almost all seeds, including cantaloupe, require some moisture to soften the seed shell for germination to occur. Soak the soil ahead of sowing cantaloupe seed, then sow the seed, and then hold off watering until seedlings emerge.

    • Sukari melons require about 90 warm to hot days to reach harvest. Sow Sukari seed after the last frost in spring and allow it to grow through the summer.

    • Container size depends on the size of the plant you are growing once it reaches maturity. The soil in the container will contain all of the nutrients the plant needs to mature and bear fruit. A 15-gallon container is best for small trees and fruit bushes.

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