Must-Know Tricks for Growing Cantaloupe as Big as Your Head

Sweet, juicy cantaloupe fruit can be yours with the right combination of sun, soil, and—something that's a little hard to control—pollination.

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Nothing screams summer like an endless bounty of fresh fruit. Colorful and bright, cantaloupe is the perfect addition to an edible garden. This sweet member of the melon family can be grown at home with tender care and a little luck. These fool-proof techniques will get you started. 

Planting Basics

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Plant cantaloupes in full sun in well-drained soil. Cantaloupe plants need about 85 days to mature, but don't rush planting. Sow seeds only when temperatures reliably stay above 50 to 60 degrees F.  Plant in groups of two or three seeds spaced 2 feet apart. Once seedlings emerge, keep only the strongest individual plant in each group, pulling the rest.

You can start cantaloupe seeds in pots indoors several weeks before your last frost date, but melons are particularly sensitive to root disturbance; the vine growth might be stunted if you're not careful when transplanting them outdoors.

Pull weeds as soon as you see them, making sure not to dislodge the cantaloupe seedlings or vines.

Cantaloupes need about 1 to 2 inches of water per week. If you don't receive that much rain weekly, water deeply but infrequently to reach that amount. As fruits mature, gradually reduce and stop watering because too much moisture can cause the rinds to split. Too much water can also dilute the sugar content of the melon.

Bonus Recipe: Gnocchi Cantaloupe Feta Salad

Pollination and Growing Cantaloupe

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One of the hardest parts about growing your own cantaloupe is that it may flower but not produce fruit. Pollination problems can come from several situations:

  • Cantaloupes produce separate male and female flowers as well as some flowers with both male and female parts. The first flowers to appear are male and will fall off. For female flowers to set fruit, pollen must be carried by bees during a small window of time when pollination can occur. If you don't have enough bees in your yard, this can affect pollination.
  • Fruit set can also be affected if too much nitrogen fertilizer has been applied.
  • In the heat of summer, vines often produce only male flowers, which don't produce fruit.
  • Vines are too crowded.

Bonus Recipe: Cantaloupe, Prosciutto, and Arugula Club

How to Tell If a Vine-Grown Cantaloupe Is Ripe

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Cantaloupes ripen 35 to 45 days after pollination, depending on weather conditions. The skin turns from green to creamy yellow-beige, the surface "netting" becomes rough, and the tendrils near the fruit turn brown and dry.

Experts advise you to not wait for the fruit to fall off the vine. Instead, watch for signs it is ready to be harvested, then gently twist the fruit from the stem. It should slip away easily. If not, stop and let it ripen another few days. Cantaloupes do not ripen once they are removed from the vine.

Grocery store cantaloupes that still have little stems attached were harvested too early and probably won't be very sweet.

Cantaloupes can be stored at 45 to 50 degrees F for about one to two weeks.

Bonus Recipe: Smoky Sweet and Sour Cantaloupe

Is It a Cantaloupe or a Muskmelon?

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The word cantaloupe actually refers to two types of muskmelons, including the one most commonly grown in North America and a European cantaloupe, with light green skin. Not all muskmelons are cantaloupes.

More Melons! Learn How to Grow Watermelon

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