The muskmelon or cantaloupe is a tender, warm-weather plant. Muskmelons along with watermelons are sometimes called summer melons. (Winter melons–also grown during the summer but ready for harvest later than summer melons, in autumn or early winter–include casaba, charental, Crenshaw, honeydews, and Persian melons.) Also see: How to Grow Winter Melons.
• Sow muskmelon seed in the garden or set out transplants 3 to 4 weeks after the last average frost date in spring.
• Start muskmelon seed indoors about 6 weeks before transplanting starts into the garden. Start seed indoors in biodegradable peat or paper pots that can be set directly into the garden.
• Muskmelons require 70 to 100 frost-free days to reach harvest; muskmelons will tolerate no frost.
Description. The muskmelon or cantaloupe is a long trailing annual plant. The melon has a rough, web-patterned rind, commonly four pounds or less in weight. Muskmelons differ from true cantaloupes:
• Muskmelon: round, yellow-tan netted rind with salmon, white, or green flesh weighing about 2 to 3 pounds (.9-1.3 kg). Very sweet taste and aromatically perfumed flesh.• True Cantaloupe: oval or globe-shaped with hard, rough, scaled or warted-rinds (not a netted skin) with gray-green, yellow-tan and orange, or salmon-orange flesh weighing about 2 pounds (.9 kg). Sweet tasting and aromatic
Melon Yield. Grow 2 winter melon plants for each household member.
Site. Plant muskmelons in full sun. Muskmelons grow best in loose, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Add aged compost to the planting bed before planting. Melons prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8.
Melon Planting Time. Sow muskmelon seed in the garden or set out transplants 3 to 4 weeks after the last average frost date in spring. Start muskmelon seed indoors about 6 weeks before transplanting seedlings into the garden; start seed 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. (This is recommended in short growing season regions where the soil warms slowly in spring.) Melon seed will germinate in 10 days at 65°F. Muskmelons grow best in air temperatures ranging from 70° to 90°F. If temperatures exceed 90°F for several days, flowers will drop without setting fruit. Muskmelons 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.
Melon planting time tips: Planting Melons and Squash Early.
Planting and Spacing Melons. Sow melon seed 1 inch deep. Sow 4 to 6 melons seeds in mounds or inverted hills 24 inches across; thin to the 2 or 3 strongest seedlings in each hill when seedlings have developed three or four true leaves (or set 2 or 3 transplants in each hill). Cut the thinned seedlings at soil level with scissors. Space mounds or inverted hills 4 to 6 feet apart. Mounds can range in height from a few inches to more than 12 inches tall; mounds will allow vines to run away down the slope. Use inverted hills where the weather and soil are very dry and plants will benefit from the collection of rain or irrigation water. Make an inverted hill by removing an inch or two of soil to from a circle 24 inches across; use this soil to make a rim around the circle. The rim also will protect young plants from heavy rains that might wash away the soil leaving shallow roots exposed.
More tips: Melon Seed Starting Tips.
Water and Feeding Melons. Melons require plentiful regular, even watering for quick growing. Keep the soil moist until fruit reaches full size then stop watering while the fruit ripens. Avoid watering plants overhead which can result in mildew. 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.
Companion plants. Corn, radish, beans, nasturtium.
Melon Care. Pinch back flowers to permit just 4 fruits to form on each vine. Cultivate carefully around vines until they cover the ground and smother out competing weeds. Support melons on a low tripod or A-frame trellis to keep them off wet ground; use netting or a bag to support trellis- or fence-grown melons. For sprawling melons, place a board under each melon to keep it dry and off the ground.
Container Growing Melons. Melons are usually too large to grow in a container. Select a bush, dwarf- or mini-cultivar to grow in a container. Place a trellis or other support next to the plant to save space and increase yields. Choose a container at least 18 inches deep that can support a vining plant. In short growing season regions extend the season by starting melons indoors and moving them out when the weather has warmed.
Melon Pests. Aphids and cucumber beetles will attack melons. Hose away aphids with a blast of water or pinch out infested foliage. Hand pick and destroy cucumber beetles promptly; they can transmit cucumber bacterial wilt to melons.
More tips: Melon Growing Problems: Troubleshooting.
Melon Diseases. Melons are susceptible to wilt, blight, mildew, and root rot. Plant disease resistant varieties. Keep the garden clean and free of debris where pests and disease may harbor. Remove and destroy disease infected plants immediately.
Bacterial wilt is spread by cucumber beetles. Bacterial wilt will cause melons to suddenly wilt and die. Control cucumber beetles as soon as they appear.
Powdery mildew, a fungus disease, can cause melon leaves to turn gray-white late in the season. Select disease resistant varieties. Improve air circulation by spacing plants properly.
Melon Harvest. Muskmelons and cantaloupes will be ready for harvest 70 to 100 days after sowing. When melons reach full size and stems turn brown they are ready for harvest. Leave melons on the vine until they are ripe. 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. Ripe melons will have a sweet aroma at the stem end. Limit water for a week in advance of harvest to concentrate sweetness.
More tips: How to Harvest and Store Melons.
Storing and preserving. Melons will keep in the refrigerator for up to one week, but sweetness and flavor may diminish. Melon also can be frozen or pickled.
- Large: Old Time Tennessee (90 days).
- 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).
- Space Savers: Bush Star (80 days); Jenny Lind (75 days).
More on melon varieties: Muskmelon Varieties: Best Bets.
Common name. Muskmelon, cantaloupe
Botanical name. Cucumis melo
Origin. South Asia, tropical Africa
More tips: How to Grow Winter Melons.