Cantaloupes, or muskmelon, are sun-loving cucurbits that are suited to USDA zones 3-9 with a vining habit that will rapidly overtake an area. Because of their somewhat insatiable spread, you might be wondering if you should prune cantaloupe. Cutting back cantaloupe plants is generally not necessary, although pruning cantaloupe plants does have some benefits.
Want to learn how to prune cantaloupe vines? Read on to learn how to prune a cantaloupe plant.
As mentioned, pruning cantaloupe plants isn’t absolutely necessary and, in fact, the more leaves that remain on the vine the sweeter the fruit. That said, cutting back cantaloupe plants results in fewer fruit which enables the plant to put all of its energy into a scant few, resulting in larger melons.
Another reason to prune cantaloupe vines is to make them easier to trellis, either using a net trellis or string and vine clips.
To prune or not to prune is really up to you. If you wish to grow sizable melons, you should prune cantaloupe vines. If you would rather have many smaller melons, skip the pruning.
Like their relatives, watermelon, squash and cucumber, cantaloupe plants like full sun, and sandy, well-draining soil that is kept consistently moist. When the plants are provided all of the above, you should see successful fruit set. You must then decide about pruning the cantaloupe plants.
If you decide to opt for larger melons, the question is how to prune a cantaloupe plant. Melons produce a primary stem with many secondary or lateral branches. When pruning cantaloupe plants, the idea is to retain the primary vine, remove the first lateral and reduce the size of all the additional secondary branches.
Using pruning shears, cut lateral vines that grow from the primary up to the eighth leaf node. Take care not to damage the main stem when cutting back the cantaloupe plants. Leave 1-2 lateral vines untouched. Once the melons begin to form, remove all but a single fruit per vine.
Continue to check the vines for forming melons. When a melon is nearing ripeness, leave another melon on the vine to mature.
As the plant grows, remove any disfigured or damaged fruit and allow the healthiest fruit to grow. Also, remove any damaged vines. In this manner, only prime fruit is left to ripen and the previous cutting back of the cantaloupe plants will allow the fruit to attain maximum size.
Variegated shell ginger is a good choice for adding color to shaded areas of the landscape. (Photo: David Marshall)
It looks like we may have an early spring this year, so it’s time to start cleaning up and cutting back cold-damaged perennials. How far back to cut depends on how extensive the cold damage was.
You will see buds already popping out on some plants, such as angel’s trumpet, well up on the stems, so you know that you don’t have to cut these plants back as hard if you don’t want to. Other plants, like firebush, are usually killed back almost to the ground.
On such plants I usually cut back to six- or 12-inch stubs. Though the growth will probably pop out below this, from the very base of the plant, the stubs help remind me where the plant is until the new growth starts.
Some plants, such as this firebush, had stems killed back to the ground by the cold and will re-sprout from the root system. (Photo: David W. Marshall)
Cantaloupe is a fruit belonging to the melon family. It is quite popular because of its distinct flavor, taste and the many health benefits it has to offer. Cantaloupes are relatively easy to cultivate, provided you avoid some of the below mistakes, which can result in a negligible crop.
Like most members of the melon family, cantaloupes will only thrive in warm conditions. Before sowing the seeds, do a thorough check of the soil temperature and the weather forecast. Waiting for a couple of weeks after the last frost is an effective way of ensuring that the plants get off to a good start.
Cantaloupes require acidic soil, with a pH between 5.0 and 6.5. If you have alkaline soil, the plants will not grow well. Amend alkaline soil by adding sulfur pellets at the recommended quantities.
Cantaloupes grow well in soil that drains excess water while at the same time retaining the required amount for the plant’s growth. If you have clay soil, you will have to amend it to increase porosity and texture. Treating the soil with plenty of organic matter such as compost or manure, in addition to adding sand, is useful in improving soil condition and increasing porosity.
Like most melons, cantaloupes require full sun in addition to warm temperatures. Lack of sunlight will slow down growth to a great extent, and result in an inferior crop. In addition to choosing a sunny location, you can increase soil temperature by mulching the soil with black plastic. This will result in faster, healthier growth of the plant and also reduce chances of soil diseases.
Because cantaloupes are such large fruit, you must be careful to plant them at a considerable distance from each other. Crowded planting will affect fruit production to a great extent, and also cause diseases and fungi due to lack of air circulation. A minimum distance of 2 to 3 feet is required for most cantaloupe varieties.
Cantaloupes, like other melons, are heavy feeders. It is important to incorporate plenty of nutrients in the soil before sowing the seeds. Mature compost, all purpose fertilizer and manure are all good choices for enhancing nutrition. You can also mix some compost with the soil in the planting spot. Regular fertilization is important to the growth of healthy fruit.
A proper balance must be established when it comes to watering cantaloupes. Excessive watering can cause problems such as root rot and suffocation of the plant. Insufficient watering will cause wilting and problems in the production of fruit. Watch for signs such as the soil beginning to dry, before you water cantaloupes.
Cantaloupes are more prone to soil borne diseases if you use the same planting spot for members of the melon family every year. In addition, make sure the area is free of weeds that will rob the plant of nutrition, causing stunted growth and inferior fruit.
Regularly weed the soil around your plants. This is particularly important when the growing seedlings are young and vulnerable. When weeding be careful not to damage the developing root system of the plants.
Water growing cantaloupe plants regularly. On average, if it hasn’t rained, the plants require 1 to 2 inches of water a week. This is best given gradually, in small doses over the week, watering only when the soil begins to dry out.
Using a soaker hose enables you to keep the soil moist and the plants hydrated without wetting the foliage. Damp foliage can develop mould or mildew.
Try to water your plants in the morning. This means that if the foliage does get wet it has all day to dry out before the cooler evening temperatures arrive.
When the melons reach tennis ball size you can reduce watering slightly. Water only when the soil begins to dry or the foliage starts to wilt.
Keep the soil moist and weed free. Mulching can help this.
Growing cantaloupe plants require lots of nutrients to thrive. Apply a general purpose fertilizer every two or three weeks. A water soluble or liquid fertilizer can be easily incorporated into your watering routine. Diluting the fertilizer to half its strength before applying helps to prevent root burn.
Mulch is a key ingredient in growing juicy cantaloupe melons. Not only does it help to deter weed growth and improve soil moisture retention it also helps to keep the soil warm. This is particularly useful if you are growing in cooler areas.
A layer of mulch, either organic or material such as Agfabric Landscape Barrier, is also a good way to keep fruit off the ground, preventing it from rotting.
Companion planting is a useful way of attracting beneficial insects and keeping plants healthy whilst repelling more destructive pests.
Nasturtiums, marigolds as well as aromatic herbs like basil, sage and garlic can all help to repel aphids and other insects. Corn is also a good choice because its height helps to shade smaller growing plants. It is also a useful way to suppress weed growth.
Nasturtiums, catnip, marigolds, bee balm and radishes can all help to repel squash bugs. Similarly cucumber beetles can be repeled by radishes, broccoli, calendula and catnip amongst other plants.
Other good companion choices include collards, petunias and beans.
Members of the Cucurbitaceae family such as cucumbers and squash can also work as companion plants because they all share similar growing habits and requirements. However, you should avoid planting too many similar plants together.
A glut of Cucurbitaceae plants can attract destructive pests such as the cucumber beetle. Spacing your plants out around your garden means that if the pest does strike it is unlikely to decimate the entire crop.
Avoid growing too many members of the same plant family together. This can help destructive pests to decimate your crops.
You should also avoid planting close to potatoes and roses, both of these can attract aphids.
Growing cantaloupe on a support such as a trellis raises the plant, helping to make the most of vertical space while allowing horizontal space to be used for other plants. If allowed to spread untrained, a cantaloupe can take up over 20 ft of growing space. Training your vines to grow up helps you to make the most of your space.
Growing vertically also makes harvesting easier and helps to keep the fruit clean, healthy and away from pests.
Your support should be robust and held firmly in place. Growing cantaloupe plants can be heavy, particularly when in fruit, and may dislodge or damage weak and poorly positioned supports.
As the vines grow allow them to entwine around the support. Plant ties can be used to encourage this process.
As the fruit matures it may become too heavy and fall from the vine before it is ripe. To prevent this use a melon hammock, or a piece of cloth as a makeshift sling, to support the plant. The sling should be tightly fixed to the support but also provide enough room for the fruit to grow into.
Last Updated: December 5, 2019 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Andrew Carberry, MPH. Andrew Carberry has been working in food systems since 2008. He has a Masters in Public Health Nutrition and Public Health Planning and Administration from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.
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A freshly ripened cantaloupe straight from your own garden is one of the summer's greatest pleasures. There are hundreds of varieties of cantaloupe to choose from, but the classic Hale's Best, a popular melon with old-time growers, is one of the best. Whatever variety you choose, you can learn to prep the ground for planting, care for your budding melons, and identify common problems throughout the growing process to give you the best chance for success.