Have you ever thought about growing cantaloupe but you simply don’t have the space for it? Maybe the area you have available doesn’t get enough sun to sustain the plant. Or, maybe you live in an apartment building that doesn’t have a dedicated yard for your garden, but you have a balcony or deck. Growing cantaloupe in containers is one way to get around these issues, and by picking out smaller cultivars, you can harvest a decent amount of fruit throughout the season.
When it comes to growing cantaloupe in containers, you’ll want to fill a five-gallon bucket with a high-quality potting mix. Limit your production to one seed for every five-gallon bucket for the best growth. In warmer climates, you’ll sow your cantaloupe seeds after the last frost of the season. In colder climates, you want to start your seeds indoors three weeks before the last frost.
Cantaloupe is a juicy summer fruit that you can easily grow in containers and train to grow vertically instead of sprawling over the ground.
Why Grow Cantaloupe in Containers?
Aside from a lack of space, what other reasons do people use to justify growing cantaloupe in containers? One big reason we can think of is the weather. Melons adore the sun and the heat, and they grow best when the daytime temperatures fluctuate between 70°F and 90°F, and the nighttime temperatures shouldn’t go below 50°F. If you’re someone who lives in a colder climate or in a chilly zone, you know that being able to maintain these temperatures on a consistent basis outside is not plausible.
This is especially true for the whole 65 to 90-day growing period that melons require, depending on the cultivar you pick out. This is why growing cantaloupe in containers is the perfect solution for people who live in colder areas. You can grow them indoors or in a greenhouse in a container. Or, you can set your cantaloupe containers outside during the day and bring them inside at night. The same thing works for people who live in extra-hot planting zones. Melons may adore heat, but they don’t like being inundated by it.
So, if the temperatures get above 100°F in your area, growing cantaloupe in containers allows you to move them out of the heat whenever you need. This flexibility factor is the key to successfully growing cantaloupe in containers. With a container, you can grow this plant as an annual in any growing zone, at almost any time of the year.
When you plant them, if your nighttime temperatures drop down to around 40°F and the daytime temperatures hover around 60°F, you’ll want to start and keep your young cantaloupe plants inside where they’re safe from the cold. To maximize your chances of having a successful harvest, you may want to keep a few of the seedlings inside and plant the others out in containers on your patios at the end of June or start of July.
When to Plant Cantaloupe Outdoors
It’s critical that you don’t make the mistake of planting your cantaloupe outside too soon because it’s a very cold-sensitive plant. To protect your plants from getting damaged by a late frost, you want to wait two to four weeks after the last frost date before transplanting your cantaloupe seedlings into your outdoor containers.
Another big advantage of growing this plant in containers or growing them in pots is the ability to quickly adapt to weather changes. Monitor your nighttime temperatures very closely, especially during the early spring months, and cover them or bring them inside if you have a late freeze forecasted.
Knowing when to plant your cantaloupe outdoors is key as you don’t want frost to touch them because they’re not tolerant to the cold.
Choosing the Right Container
This is a vining plant that needs plenty of space for the roots to grow, so you want to pick out a container that is a minimum of 16 inches deep and 14 inches wide. If you have the space available, you could try to get giant whiskey barrel planters if you want to grow full-sized melons. Patio or indoor gardeners may want something smaller and slightly easier to move around. The pot you pick out can be made out of terracotta, sturdy plastic, or breathable fabric.
As long as your container gives great drainage with several holes in the bottom, or a self-watering planter, you’re ready to start growing cantaloupe in pots. You can always add a layer of pebbles to the bottom of the container to increase your drainage if you need to, but you have to plan to not move it around in this case. As the plants all start on the smaller side, you may want to transplant them even if you don’t think your containers are large enough when the time comes. You’ll move them to the permanent, larger contains in a few more weeks.
Preparing Your Container
Before you start the growing process, you want to find a spot that gets full sun for six to eight hours every day. This can be a summer area inside of the house, under a grow light, or outside. Fill your container to an inch below the top with one of the following:
- Well-draining garden soil that you amended with well-rotted manure or compost
- Well-draining, good-quality potting mix without any fertilizer added
If you decide to use garden soil, you don’t want to use any soil that was previously planted with cucurbits as this can spread disease. Cantaloupes prefer their soil to be mildly acidic with a pH level of 6.0 to 6.5. The well-draining, loose soil will encourage healthy root production too.
Growing Cantaloupe in Containers – Guidelines
You can sow the seeds right in the container or start them in seed trays and transplant them later. If you live in a colder area, it’s best to start your seeds indoors at least four weeks before the average last frost date. For the warmer climates, sow them in containers inside anytime after the last frost date, as long as you give them a long enough growing season for your chosen cultivar to mature. If you live in a very frigid growing zone, it’s a good idea to start them in seed trays a few months before the last frost.
You should plant your seeds pointy side down because this is where your roots energy. To sow them in containers, dig a half-inch deep down into the dirt and drop two seeds inside with the pointy side down. Do the same thing if you choose seed trays with cells. Cover them with soil, and then water them with a spray bottle so you don’t displace your newly planted seeds. To encourage quick germination, you can cover your container or tray with plastic wrap to trap the humidity inside.
Just make a note and remember to remove the covering at soon as you see the first green shoots poking through the dirt. Keep them evenly moist, under a grow light or in a sunny location. Thin your seedlings to one per container or seed cell when they grow their first set of true leaves.
Seed Starting for Growing Cantaloupe in Containers
If you’re going to start your plants from seeds, there are a few ways you can go about this, including:
You can put your seeds on a damp paper towel, and adding compost tea with water in the cloth will keep the seeds moist and encourage them to sprout. Make sure your towel isn’t soaked before you put the seeds on it. Spread your seeds out, fold the towel, and put it into a sandwich bag without sealing it. Keep the seeds in a slightly warm area between 65°F and 75°F until they start to germinate. Keep an eye on your towel to make sure it doesn’t dry out. As soon as the seed breaks and you see new growth happening, plant them in the soil.
You can put the seeds into a seed starting tray or into peat pots. The nice thing about using peat pots is that when the seeds start to sprout, you can put the seedling, including the pot, into your chosen container. They’ll be ready to plant when they get roughly three or four inches tall as the roots will take at this point. Water the seedlings when you put them into the soil. Once they take off, it’s just a matter of monitoring them, giving them food, and watering them.
You should see seedlings starting to sprout relatively quickly, and it can take a few weeks or months until they’re ready to go outside.
When to Transplant
If you start to see your seeds in trays or you went out and bought seedlings, you’ll need to transplant them into their larger, permanent container when they grow at least two sets of true leaves. You may end up leaving them in the trays for two months before you notice them starting to droop and looking unhappy. They don’t like cramped conditions, so this is a hit that it’s time to move them.
If you plant to put your seedlings into an outdoor container, make sure you harden them off first. To do so, put them outside in a sunny spot for a few hours a day, gradually increasing the time that you leave them out over the course of a few weeks. To transplant them, all you have to do is dig a hole the size of your plant’s root ball, gently remove the seedling from the tray, and set each one in your container. To make it easier, water your seedlings roughly half an hour before you transplant them.
Backfill the hole, give your seedlings a deep, slow watering, and add half an inch of extra soil to the top to give your plant support. Once you finish, put your containers near a sunny windowsill, under a grow light, or outside in your chosen spot.
When you’re growing cantaloupe in containers, wait until your plant is between four and six inches tall to fertilize with a balanced liquid fertilizer like a 5-5-5 NPK, following the package instructions. Fertilize your plants again in two or three weeks, or when you start to see flowers developing. By this time, you want to swap out the fertilizer for a lower nitrogen one, like one with a 5-10-10 NPK ratio. This will ensure you don’t promote too much leafy growth over fruit development.
Another important aspect of keeping your melons happy is to give them adequate water. These plants require consistent moisture, but don’t allow them to get waterlogged. This is very important when you’re growing cantaloupe in containers as they dry out much quicker than garden soil. To keep the soil moist, you can apply a layer of straw of whatever mulch material you like to the soil.
Keep your foliage dry by irrigating at the plant’s base and not from overhead. In the last week before you harvest them, water only when the top two inches of soil dry out and the leaves start to slightly wilt. This allows the sugars to concentrate in the fruit and prevents them from cracking.
Training the Vines on a Trellis
Since melons are vining plants, what do you do with the vines to stop them from getting unruly in your containers? The trick is that you can easily train them to grow vertically on a trellis or a support structure. Easy supports for growing cantaloupe in containers are u-hoops, or you can use tomato cages or run them up a trellis against the wall in your garden.
To attach your plant, take some floral tape and wrap it around your vine and tie it to your tomato cage, trellis, or hoop. Add more tape to attach the new growth to the structure as the vines get longer. When the melons get to roughly the size of your fist, you can use ankle-length nylons or netted produce bags to create a sling to support your fruit or give the vine more support. Put the support system around your developing fruit and attach it to your support system. As the fruit starts to grow, the bag will expand to stop the vine from breaking off.
Allowing the Melons to Grow Along The Ground
If you want your plants to grow out instead of upwards, you can put your container in the yard and allow the vines to grow out, or you can scatter bark mulch in an area you want your cantaloupes to stretch out to. Mulch will deter snails and crawling bugs because it can scratch them. You can also put wheat straw in your growing area. This will help keep the worms and parasites from getting into the fruit.
You can train your melons to grow up a trellis or vertically relatively easily if you don’t have a lot of space, but you do have to make sure you support the fruit.
Harvesting and Storing
To harvest your cantaloupe that you grew in containers, you want to watch the netting and the rind underneath. When the rind turns to yellow from green, the netting will go from white to a creamy gold color. This means it’s time to harvest. The stem should be starting to separate from the melon at this point, and it should only take a gentle tug to remove it. The cantaloupe should smell juicy and sweet, especially where the vine meets the fruit.
If you want a longer shelf life for your cantaloupe, you will harvest them when you can see a slight depression in the stem, but it won’t be fully cracked. The flavor may not be nearly as sweet, but you can keep it refrigerated for up to two weeks. Otherwise, if you wash it and slice it up, it’ll last for three to five days in the refrigerator.
To enjoy a large harvest of cantaloupe at the end of summer, pollination is key. Cantaloupe plants develop female and male flowers, and the male flowers typically emerge first and have a central stamen that produces pollen. Female flowers will have a pistil to get the pollen and a very small node at the base that will eventually develop into the melon. If the flower stays unpollinated, the node will turn yellow and fall off of your plant.
You should consider companion planting with a few aromatic herbs to attract the pollinators and other beneficial insects into your garden when you’re growing cantaloupe in containers. Bee balm, basil, calendula, goldenrod, chamomile, nasturtium, marigolds, tansy, and oregano are all great options to plant right alongside your cantaloupes. Freezing your cantaloupe is a great option if you need long-term storage. Use your frozen fruit within one year.
To dry your cantaloupe, you want to wash it first. Use a vegetable brush to help scrub the outside of the melon and wash it only with warm water. Once it’s clean, you want to dry it with a paper towel and you’re ready to move onto the next step.
Peel and slice your cantaloupe next. Peel it by removing all of the rinds, cut the fruit in half, and then scoop out all of the seeds in the center of each half. Each half then gets cut into four slices, and then you cut them into four more slices to get a grand total of eight slices for each half of cantaloupe you cut. If you have an especially large cantaloupe and the slices are too thick, you can slice them again. The end goal is to get slices that are very thin to dry.
If you live in an area where the temperature gets around 100°F and it doesn’t get too humid, you can put your cantaloupe slices on a tray and keep the tray outside for one to four days. If you do this, you’ll bring them inside during the nighttime to protect them from the dew, turn the slices over every day so they’ll be even, and start by putting the slices on a tray with cheesecloth. If there are a lot of bugs around your space, cover the tray with cheesecloth to keep them out of your fruit. At the end of two to four days, the fruit should be dehydrated and ready to store.
If you use this method, you really want to check the forecast to make sure the next two to four days are going to be hot enough to work because, if you don’t have much time, this could ruin the project. You need two to four days of consistently hot temperatures around 100°F and no rain since you’ll be placing your trays right outside in the sun. if you don’t have enough heat to finish, it can ruin them.
Each food dehydrator is different, but you can start by setting the temperature to 135°F and leaving the slices of your cantaloupe in there for 16 to 18 hours. You’ll need to double-check with your product’s user manual because if their instructions are different than these, you’ll have to go with those instead. The slices should be spaced out so none of them touch.
Next, you can put the slices into a clean oven. Start by taking a longer piece of cheesecloth and put it directly on the rack in the center of your oven. Lay each cantaloupe slice on the cheesecloth and make sure none of the slices touch. Each slice should have a space before you lay the next one out.
Set your oven to 145°F, but make sure to leave your oven door slightly ajar so that the steam can escape. The amount of time you need to leave your cantaloupe out will vary because it depends on how you want it to taste. Some people like it chewy or firm while others like it on the crispy side. However, as a general rule, you should let it dry for up to eight hours at a minimum.
If you dry your cantaloupe, it can last for weeks at a time. This is great if you have a large harvest and you can’t eat all of the fresh cantaloupe right away.
How to Use Cantaloupe – Nine Ideas
- Cantaloupe Cooler: Get the kids to help with this project and make a cantaloupe cooler using 100% orange juice topped with a small amount of sugar and a few chunks of cantaloupe.
- Desert Fruit Kabob: Thread cantaloupe cubes with other favorite fruit on a skewer and serve with a yogurt dip.
- Desserts: Put a peeled slice of cantaloupe on a plate. Then, you’ll pile on slices of banana and your favorite berries. Top it all with a scoop of low-fat frozen yogurt or sherbet and a sprinkle of crushed walnuts.
- Freeze It: You can make popsicles by pureeing cantaloupe with a little sugar and a hint of lime juice. Pour your puree into molds and freeze them.
- Melon Salsa: Mix your melon with finely chopped cilantro, red onion, and a squeeze of lime juice to get a fresh salsa that mixes well with seafood.
- Melon Soup: To make the soup, you will puree it and add a hint of lime juice and mint. Pour it into a bowl to serve.
- Salad: Avocados, mangoes, and cantaloupe are all in season during the summer months. You can make a light summer salad by combining these things with a splash of orange juice, red onion, cilantro, and lime juice.
- Sweet Sauce: Puree cantaloupe, raspberries, honey, honeydew, and a small amount of lemon juice and nutmeg to make a sweet sauce that goes great over ice cream, frozen yogurt, or a pastry.
- Wedges: Clean out and core your cantaloupe before slicing it into large wedges. You serve them plain this way.
Now that you know all about growing cantaloupes in containers, there’s no reason why you can’t get garden-fresh melons in your yard, no matter how restricted or small your growing space is. Invite your family and friends over and wow them with fresh cantaloupe and prosciutto for a snack.