Container Grown Cantaloupe: Care Of Cantaloupe In Pots
By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
Can I grow cantaloupes in a container garden? This is a common question, and space-challenged melon lovers are happy to learn that the answer is yes, you can grow cantaloupe in pots — if you can provide the proper growing conditions.
Planting Cantaloupe in Pots
If you want to grow cantaloupe in pots, there are a few caveats you should know prior to planting your container grown cantaloupes.
Unless you can provide an extra-large container such as a half whiskey barrel, you’ll have better luck with a dwarf variety like ‘Minnesota Midget,’ which produces juicy melons weighing about 3 pounds, or ‘Sugar Cube,’ a sweet, disease-resistant variety that tops out at about 2 pounds. Look for a container that holds at least 5 gallons of potting soil.
A trellis will hold the vines above the soil and prevent the melons from rotting. However, if you plant a full-size variety, you’ll also need netting, old pantyhose or cloth slings to support the fruit on the trellis and keep it from pulling loose from the vine prematurely.
You’ll also need a location where the cantaloupes are exposed to at least eight hours of bright sunlight per day.
How to Grow Cantaloupes in Containers
Fill the container nearly to the top with a good quality potting soil containing perlite or vermiculite, which will help the soil retain moisture. Mix in a small amount of an all-purpose, slow-release fertilizer.
Plant four or five cantaloupe seeds in the center of the pot about two weeks after the last average frost date in your area. Cover the seeds with about an inch (2.5 cm.) of potting soil, then water well. A thin layer of mulch, such as fine bark, will promote moisture retention.
Potted Melon Care
Keep the soil consistently moist until the seeds germinate, then continue to water regularly whenever the soil feels dry to the touch. Cut back on irrigation when the melons reach tennis ball size, watering only when the soil is dry and the leaves show signs of wilting.
The slow-release fertilizer will lose effectiveness after about five weeks. After that time, provide container grown cantaloupes with a general-purpose, water-soluble fertilizer diluted to half strength every two to three weeks.
Thin the seedlings to the strongest three plants when the seedlings have at least two sets of true leaves by snipping the weak seedlings at soil level. (True leaves are those that appear after the initial seedling leaves.)
The melons are ready to harvest when they feel heavy for their size and are easily separated from the vine. A ripe melon displays a yellow rind between the whitish “netting.”
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Read more about Cantaloupe
It is a challenge to grow melons in Minnesota. Melons demand special care but reward gardeners with juicy, sweet fruit.
Most winters our soils freeze deeply and can be slow to warm up, and melons must have truly warm soil to thrive. Once summer comes, our long, bright, hot days are good for developing the vines, flowers and fruits.
Melon quality—flavor, aroma, texture, and sweetness—is best when the sugar content of the fruit is high. Sweet melons need lots of sunlight, warm temperatures, enough water, and freedom from diseases and insects.
Plant stress, whether from insects, leaf diseases, weeds, poor nutrition, too much or too little water, or cold or cloudy conditions, will prevent the fruits from creating enough sugar.
Preparing to plant melons
- Have your soil tested to determine pH.
- Melons grow best on well-drained, sandy loam soils, with a pH between 6.0 and 6.5.
- Soils with a pH less than 6.0 will produce plants with yellow foliage that set few or no fruit.
- You can improve your soil by adding well-rotted manure or compost in spring or fall. Do not use fresh manure as it may contain harmful bacteria and may increase weed problems.
- Build raised beds to ensure adequate drainage, which these crops require.
Selecting melon varieties to plant
Cantaloupe and muskmelon have netted skin, a strong aroma and moist fruit that is usually orange, but may also be green.
Honeydew melons are smooth-skinned, with pale flesh that may be white, green, or orange. Both types are the species Cucumis melo. Watermelon is Citrullus lanatus.
- Only varieties with short growth cycles of less than 90 days to maturity can produce a ripe fruit in the north, and the first ripe fruit might be the last.
- Choose varieties with fewer days to harvest (65 to 80) to increase the chances of harvesting more fruit that has ripened under warm conditions.
- Even in the southern part of the state, and in the Twin Cities heat island, varieties with fewer days to maturity are more likely to provide a satisfying harvest.
Pollination and flower types
- Cantaloupe and honeydew vines produce two flower types: male flowers and perfect flowers (having both male and female parts).
- Slender stems attach male flowers to the vine.
- A short, thick ovary, which will become the fruit, attaches female and perfect flowers close to the vine.
- Cantaloupe flowers have a pollination window of one day.
- Pollen needs to transfer from the male flower to the female flower on this day for seed set and fruit development.
- The number of seeds set helps determine fruit size and shape.
- Poorly pollinated flowers either fail or produce misshapen fruit.
- Watermelon has separate male and female flowers, usually on the same vine.
- Even seedless watermelon varieties require pollination to set fruit.
- You can buy seedless watermelon plants with a small number of seeds of a different variety to be the pollinizer.
- You must grow both types to get any fruit from the seedless variety.
How to extend the growing season before planting
Using season extension techniques such as soil-warming mulches, hot caps and low tunnel row covers, gardeners can get the soil to heat up sooner and protect melons in late summer if there is an early frost.
For both direct-seeded and transplanted melon plants, these techniques and materials can allow planting two or three weeks earlier.
- Plastic mulch
- warms the soil
- conserves water
- helps to control weeds
- allows earlier planting and maturity
- reduces ground rot of the fruit
- Cut holes in the plastic mulch for seeds or transplants at the time of planting, not before.
- Hot caps protect the individual melon plants from cold during their first weeks in the garden.
- Low tunnels are row covers supported by wire hoops.
- Under the cover, daytime and nighttime temperatures are higher than outside the tunnel.
- The tunnel also protects the plants from wind and flying insects.
- Remove covers once fear of frost has passed to avoid injury from too much heat, and to allow bees and other pollinators access to the flowers.
- Later in the season, use floating row covers to protect plants during cool spells.
- You can direct seed or transplant melons into the garden between mid-May in southern Minnesota and late June in northern Minnesota.
- In the northern part of the state, melons planted in late June must be ready for harvest before mid-September, when frost is likely.
- Melons perform best in hot, sunny locations with fertile, well-drained soils.
Plant melon seeds 1 week to 10 days before the average last spring frost date, it is important to wait until the soil is warm enough.
- Use a thermometer to take the temperature of the top two inches of soil.
- Melon seed germination is best between 70°F and 90°F.
- Plant only after the soil temperature has reached 65°F, when nights as well as days are warm.
- Planting in cooler soil can lead to soil-borne root diseases, which can stunt or kill melon plants, and the plants will grow slowly even if they do not show signs of disease.
- In the southern half of Minnesota, most soils are not usually warm enough to plant melons until after May 20.
- In the northern half of the state, the soil may not reach this temperature until sometime in mid-June.
Prepare the soil for the melon planting about 2 weeks before the average last spring frost date in your area.
- Use compost and fertilizer.
- Form six to eight inch high raised beds to speed soil warming and have good drainage.
- Plant the seeds ½ to one inch deep.
- Sow 2 or 3 seeds in groups 18 to 24 inches apart.
- Space rows 5 to 6 feet apart.
- After the seedlings emerge, choose the strongest plant in each group and remove the others.
Transplanting can add two to four weeks to the growing season, but melons are especially sensitive to root disturbance. In the case of a broken or damaged root, the plant may never recover, or it may grow slowly all season, leading to a disappointing harvest.
Start melon seeds indoors before transplanting to your garden outside.
- Sow seed indoors at the end of April, about 2 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost date.
- Use peat pots or other biodegradable containers that you can place directly into garden soils.
- Use larger pots than you would for other vegetables.
- Large peat pots with a diameter of 4 inches will allow the root system to develop.
- Bottom heat is essential. Use a heat mat.
- Harden off seedlings before planting them in the garden.
- Transplants should have 2 or 3 true leaves when you move them into the garden.
- Transplant when soil temperatures reach at least 65°F.
- If you do not use plastic mulch, be sure to remove the first growth of weeds before setting the plants in the garden. This removal will reduce weed growth later in the season.
- Plant the potted seedlings about two feet apart, in rows five feet apart.
You can grow small-fruited melon plants in small gardens by training the plant to a fence or trellis.
After the fruits begin to enlarge, they will need support, or the fruit weight may damage the vines.
You can make slings to hold up the fruit using wide strips of fabric tied to the trellis, with the melon fruit resting its weight on the fabric.
- Ambrosia – sweet variety resistant to powdery mildew.
- Mini Sugar Cube – disease resistant small fruits only 75 days to harvest.
- Hale’s Best Jumbo – sweet and large only 80 days to harvest.
- Planter’s Jumbo – does best in hot climates resistant to powdery mildew.
- Chimayo Melon – Spanish heirloom from northern New Mexico.
How to Grow Cantaloupes Vertically
While growing cantaloupes vertically, always go for a strong and sturdy trellis. Do remember, you are growing a dense vine, that is going to bear heavy fruits. Hence, there must be tough support to hold their weight. A trellis that is at least 6-8 feet tall and 15-20 feet wide is going to do the trick.
Some of the best options are hog fencing, livestock panels, and welded wires. Also, find something that crea tes a support system for t he vines to climb upon. After you construct the vertical support, make sure it is tied or wired together, well. You can also use cages! Check out these DIY Cage Ideas here.
When the vines are going to get mature, they’ll end up interweaving together around the support. To make sure that the fruits get proper backing and don’t fall, you can make slings below them, using scrap cloths or nylons strings. Make the slings tight below the fruits but leave enough room for the vines to grow freely.
To get more ideas on how to make a trellis, click here !
Cantaloupe is generally sold as seeds, but you can buy them as live-potted plants ready to transplant.
For best production, stick to one plant per 16-inch container or 1 per 5-gallon pot. Follow the steps below to plant cantaloupe:
- Fill your container with a high-quality potting soil mixture, containing perlite and vermiculite, being sure to leave a couple of inches on the top for mulch
- Next, make a hole for the seeds, and bury the seed about three times its size
- Add a slow-release organic fertilizer to get your plants off to a good start
- Water in well
Harvesting and Storing Cantaloupe
You’ll know it’s time to pick the fruit when the color of the rind changes. Yellowing signals that the plants are ripening. A ripe melon should easily dislodge from its vine. Be gentle when harvesting, piercing the flesh will cause the fruit to spoil quickly.
Picking melons at the correct time is vital since they don’t ripen sitting on the countertop. A freshly picked melon will last about a week sitting out on the counter. It’s best to cut it right before eating since cut melon spoils quicker.
Now it’s time to get growing. Let us know how it goes – and if you have any advice for keeping the hungry squirrels away, I’m all ears!