Cantaloupes, also known as muskmelons or rock melons, are a very popular melon that is enjoyed throughout the world. These plants are part of the Cucurbitaceae family, which also includes other plants like pumpkins, watermelons, gourds, and cucumbers. The cantaloupe growing stages remain the same, despite there being multiple varieties of this fruit available.
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What are the Cantaloupe Growing Stages?
The cantaloupe growing stages are germination, seedling stage, vegetative stage, flowering, fruiting, and harvesting. Each stage is vital for the plant’s success and marks a unique shift in the plant’s overall development. The cantaloupe plant will put energy into different parts of growth during each step, with the ultimate goal of producing fruit in the end.
During the germination phase of the cantaloupe growing stages, the seed that has been planted into the soil will begin to soften and absorb moisture. As the seed begins the sprouting process, small roots will begin to emerge from the seed as the plant attempts to stabilize itself in the soil. A small stem with two leaves will begin to push upward toward the surface of the soil in an attempt to get closer to the light. This stage marks the start of the cantaloupe’s lifecycle and is a critical stage in setting the foundation for additional growth and development.
Cantaloupe seeds are often started indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost, allowing them a head start on the growing season. These seeds will germinate in about one to two weeks. The optimal soil temperature for quicker germination is 70°F. These melons prefer overall temperatures outdoors to remain between 65°F and 95°F. Temperatures too cold or too hot can cause the growth of the plant to slow. It is important that the soil stays moist after the seeds are planted because the process of germination requires constant moisture for this plant. The optimal soil for your plants to be grown in will be a well draining soil that has a pH of 5.8 to 6.6.
The second step in the cantaloupe growing stages is the seedling stage. You will know when this stage has arrived because you will see the plant poking through the soil for the first time. You will notice the seedling growing two distinct round leaves that will be different than mature cantaloupe foliage. This phase in its growth is where your plant is at its most vulnerable and needs careful attention. Be sure to keep the soil moist so it can thrive but do not over water it either. In addition, be careful not to damage the seedling or its roots because they are very delicate at this stage.
If you need to thin your plants, the end of this stage is the time to do it. Cantaloupe plants like about 4-6 feet (1-2 meters) between them. Choose the healthiest looking seedling to continue growing and carefully pluck or cut the others. Be very cautious not to damage the roots of the seedling you are going to keep.
The vegetative growth stage is when the cantaloupe plants will begin to put the majority of their energy into producing a lot of foliage and a strong root system. The plant will start producing long vines to give the plant plenty of room to produce many melons, as well as large leaves that will help the plant get energy from photosynthesis. This growth pattern is why properly spacing the plants out is very important to do from the start.
It is very important to provide plenty of water and sunlight to cantaloupe plants during this stage to support the vigorous growth that is occurring. Be sure to water regularly, especially during times of hot or dry weather. Aim to give your plant 1-2 inches of water per week. Water the soil, rather than getting the foliage wet, to reduce the risk of disease. This plant needs full direct sunlight, which means that it will optimally get at least 6 to 8 hours of sun each day.
Cantaloupe plants can be allowed to grow their vines and spread along the ground, which is the most common. Alternatively, you can train the vines to climb up a trellis or fence and grow vertically. This method allows for the plants to get better air circulation around the foliage, reducing potential disease. The plant will grow melons that will hang as they grow, which will require that the support be sturdy and well anchored.
Flowering is an important part of the cantaloupe growing stages because flowers allow for pollination of the plant. Pollination is essential for fruit production to begin. This stage will begin approximately 30 days after the seeds germinate. You will begin to see the plant start to produce yellow flowers along the vines. The flowers will be either male or female. Female flowers are where the fruit will inevitably grow once pollination occurs. The male flowers will wither and die eventually, however their pollen being transferred to the female flowers is crucial to the growth of the melons.
Generally, insects will do the pollination for you. Some of these very important pollinating insects are bees, butterflies, beetles, and wasps. However, if you are having difficulty getting your plants to pollinate, you can opt to hand pollinate the cantaloupe plants. Try one of these two common techniques:
- One method is to get a small paint brush or cotton swab. Rub it along the male flower’s petals and pollen covered center stalk, called a stamen. Take the gathered pollen and rub it along the center inside of the female flower, on a sticky knob like area called the stigma.
- You can also opt to entirely pluck a male flower from your plant, while removing the petals for easier pollen access. Locate a female flower and hit the stigma of the male flower against the center of the female flower roughly 10 times or rub it around. This will allow some of the pollen from the male flower to fall into the female stigma.
Tip: To tell the a female flower apart from a male flower, look for a small bulge or ball underneath the flower. Female flowers will contain a small bulge under their flower, which is where the fruit will grow when fertilized. The male flowers will not have a bulge underneath.
The fruiting process is an exciting part of the growing stages, as this is when you will finally get to see the plant be successful and start to grow melons. This stage begins after successful pollination of the flowers has occurred. During this stage, the cantaloupe plant will begin to put all of it’s energy into the growth of the melon. The melons will go through a period of rapid growth as they develop. During this period of growth, it is very important that the plant get the proper amount of water, sunlight, and nutrients to support the growth of the fruits.
Harvesting is the final point in the cantaloupe growing stages. This is when the plant has finally finished its fruit growth and the melons have officially ripened. You can typically harvest your cantaloupe 35-45 days after the plant flowers and pollinates. Each individual melon on a plant will ripen and be ready to harvest at slightly different times. You will know you can pick your cantaloupe when you see these indicators:
- The color of the melon goes from a green color to a yellow color.
- The melon will give off a slight sweet or fruity scent when you smell near the stem.
- Look for the occurrence of slipping, which is where the melon will slip off and separate from the vine when pulled gently. This is when the melon has peak flavor.
Based on the indicators of a ready to harvest cantaloupe, harvest is usually quite easy. If you harvest when your melon is able to be slipped off the vine, all you will need to do is gently pull on it. That’s it! You will now have a perfectly ripe and great tasting fruit that you have grown from seed!
Cantaloupe (Muskmelon) Production. Penn State Extention