Muskmelon & Cantaloupe Care At A Glance
- Warm season, annuals with vining growth habit.
- All cantaloupes are muskmelons, but not all muskmelons are cantaloupes. The most commonly grown types in the U.S. are muskmelons.
- Wait to plant until soils have warmed to 65-70°F.
- All prefer full sun, well-draining, organically rich soil with pH 6.0-7.5.
Follow the same basic planting instructions for other melons.
- Once soils have warmed sufficiently (65°F), sow 6-8 seeds in hills, ensuring good seed-to-soil contact.
- Space hills 36 to 48 inches apart, in rows that are 5-6 feet apart.
- Keep soil consistently moist, not soggy.
- Once seedlings have 2-3 sets of true leaves, thin to 2 plants per hill by cutting out the weakest ones.
NOTE: Pulling the weak seedlings can cause harmful root disturbance for the remaining seedlings.
Starting Seeds Indoors
- Always utilize plantable Peat pots or Jiffy® Plant Starters because roots are sensitive to disturbance.
- Sow 1-2 seeds, 1/2 inch deep in 2-3 inch peat pots with sterile, pre-moistened seed starting mix.
- Water lightly and cover pots with a plastic dome or wrap to help keep the medium moist.
- Provide bottom heat at 80°- 95°F. Germination takes about a week in optimal conditions.
- Once germinated, remove from bottom heat, and place seedlings in bright light.
- When seedlings have 2-3 sets of true leaves, up pot as needed.
- Harden off plants for 7-10 days to acclimate before transplanting into the garden.
- Fruits are round to oval, typically 5-8 lb. range, usually sutured (grooved), netted rind with sweet orange to salmon-colored flesh with a sweet but musky scent. Fruits are not intended for longkeeping. Harvested at full slip.
- Examples include: 'Ambrosia', 'Aphrodite', 'Athena', 'Carousel', 'Goddess', 'Lilliput', 'Pride of Wisconsin' & 'Solstice'.
- (Often referred to as a cantaloupe) Fruits are smallish (2-4 pounds), round to slightly oval, mostly sutureless, but with heavy netted to bumpy outer texture and a small seed cavity. The flesh is firm, light orange in color with a sweet aromatic scent. Western types can be harvested at half-slip when they are up to size, but they will not be fully ripe for a period of time. This allows growers to harvest & ship fruits across the country for others to enjoy.
- Examples include: 'Charentais', 'Hale's Best', 'Infinite Gold'.
- Melons, like other garden vegetables, perform best with regular, consistent water applied at the root zone.
- Apply 1-2 inches of water per week, per plant, especially when the weather is hot.
- Maintain 2-3 inches of mulch or compost around the base of each plant to help conserve precious moisture.
NOTE: Plant stress caused by heat, drought, or overwatering can lead to disease issues and poor fruit quality.
- Muskmelon prefers loose, well-drained soils rich in organic matter with a pH 6.0-7.5.
- Melons are considered heavy feeders; however, too much free nitrogen can lead to all vines with few flowers and limit flower production and fruit set.
- Use vegetable-specific, naturally derived water-soluble fertilizer with a formula of 4-6-8 or 4 weeks prior to planting apply 3-5 pounds per 100 sq. ft. or 10-10-10 granulated fertilizer. Organic food with a 3-5-3 or 5-3-3 formula at the same rate can also be applied.
NOTE: Do not use unpasteurized animal manure with melons as it can lead to food poisoning pathogens.
Flavor & Harvesting
- The flavor of muskmelon fruits is established several weeks prior to peak ripeness.
- Monitoring for fruit set is important to help estimate the proper number of days to peak fruit ripeness, which depends on the weather, growing conditions, and variety.
- Melons do not ripen much once removed from the vine, which makes harvesting at full slip important for their fullest flavor. A bit of pressure on the base of the stem where it attaches to the fruit will easily force the melon free, which is considered full slip. Commercial growers will typically harvest at half-slip, which typically yields fruits with about half their potential flavor.
- Stressful environmental or cultural conditions can adversely affect fruit flavors, such as nutritional imbalances, cloudy days, excess rain or too much supplemental watering, or heat and drought. (See Troubleshooting)
Dull, Flavorless Melons
- Melons with poor or bland flavor can be due to several different factors:
- Too much water, especially within two weeks of peak ripeness.
- Nutritional imbalances, such as low potassium or a lack of Mg or B, become more pronounced during periods of drought stress.
- Drought stress.
- Disease pressure.
- Harvesting too early.
Fruit Splitting or Rotting
- Caused by too much moisture.
- Heavy, compacted soils make muskmelons more susceptible to splitting or rotting.
- During rainy periods, adding a layer of straw mulch between fruits and soil can help prevent fungal issues.
Poor Fruit Set
- First-formed flowers are male, usually 7-10 days before female flowers appear.
- Bees pollinate the female flowers; if flowers are not successfully pollinated, they will drop.
- If insufficient pollination occurs (poor pollen transfer), flowers or small fruits may abort.
- If bees are not plentiful, but the weather is optimal, try Blossom Set Spray or hand-pollinating blooms.
- Excessive heat, droughts, rain, and pesticide applications can negatively affect pollen viability, quantities, and timing, which can lead to low to no fruit set.
- Crowded vines cause a lack of flower development.
- Excess nitrogen and heat can delay or inhibit flower development or cause only male flowers to be produced.
- Cool weather can also affect flower production and may influence pollinator performance.
Melon Stems are Splitting, and Plants are Wilting
- These symptoms are typically caused by Gummy Stem Blight, which is a fungal disease common to melons.
- Darkening stems, brown sunken lesions, or splitting stems near the crown of the plant that show an amber ooze are all signs, along with wilting plants, leaves with irregular brown spotting, and fruit rot usually following.
- Prevention of this disease is from sanitation limiting adjacent weeds and deep tilling to eliminate contact with previously infected plant debris.
- Crop rotation for 2-3 years with non-cucurbit host plants.
- Preventative fungicide applications with broad-spectrum products like chlorothalonil (Bonide® Fung-Onil® Fungicide).