Maybe you have a small yard, or a tiny patio garden that you lovingly tend.
Or maybe your garden is already chock-full of green goodness and you don’t have any space for any huge, hungry melons.
Whatever the reason, if you think you don’t have the space to grow your own sweet cantaloupe, think again.
With the right care, cantaloupe can thrive in a container – even a smallish one – which means anyone, anywhere, in whatever size house or garden, can enjoy its sweet deliciousness.
In this guide, I’ll show you exactly how. Here’s what I’ll cover:
Originating in south Asia, cultivated in Europe, and sold commercially in the United States since 1890, there are two major varieties we enjoy today: the North American Cucumis melo var. reticulatus, and the European C. melo var. cantalupensis.
To find out more about this best-ever melon (in my opinion!), check out our cantaloupe growing guide.
This article will focus on making your container-grown cantaloupe dreams come true.
To start, these are vining plants, with a sprawling growth habit.
For a container garden, you’ll need to select a dwarf variety – I’ve provided a couple of recommendations below – and you’ll also need to train them to grow vertically, using a trellis, or a tomato cage.
Ready to grow? Let’s go!
Why Grow in a Container?
Aside from lack of space, what other reasons might there be for growing your cantaloupe in a container? One prominent reason I can think of is this: the weather.
Melons adore the heat.
They grow best when daytime temperatures hover between 70 and 90°F, with nighttime temperatures dipping no lower than 50°F.
If you’re like me and you live in Alaska, or in any other chilly zone, you know that your ability to maintain these temperatures is likely unreliable.
Especially not for the whole of the 65 to 90-day growing period cantaloupes need, depending on the cultivar.
That’s why containers are the perfect match for cold-zone growers who want garden-fresh melons: grow your cantaloupe indoors, or in a greenhouse for as long as you need to.
Or you can set them outside during the day and bring them indoors at night.
The same goes for those of you in extra-hot locations. Melons love heat, but they don’t want to be inundated by it.
So if temperatures regularly rise above 100°F in your area, containers allow you to move your cantaloupes out of the heat when needed.
The flexibility a container offers is key to your success.
With a container, you can grow cantaloupe as an annual in any zone, at just about any time of the year. Talk about an extended growing season!
Right now in my area (Zone 4), nights dip down to the low 40s and daytime temperatures struggle to reach 60°F.
And June is just a couple of weeks away. My young cantaloupe plants are safely ensconced indoors, where they don’t have to worry about freezing to death.
To maximize my chances of pulling in a successful harvest, I’ve decided to keep two of my five melon seedlings indoors, and I’ll plant the other three out in pots on my patio come July.
I’ll show you how I’m doing it so you can try it too.
Choosing the Right Container
These vining plants need plenty of space for their roots to grow, so choose a container that’s at least 16 inches deep and 14 inches wide.
If you have the space, you could try these giant whiskey barrel planters, available from Home Depot, if you want to grow full-size varieties.
Indoor or patio-garden growers may want something smaller and easier to move around. The pot you choose can be made from sturdy plastic, terra cotta, or breathable fabric.
As long as it provides good drainage with holes at the bottom, or a self-watering planter insert, you’re ready to get started.
And you can always add pebbles to the bottom of the container for drainage if needed – and if you’re not planning to move it around.
When I got started with the task of transplanting my young plants from seed trays into containers, I realized that none of the pots I had on hand were truly big enough.
As the plants are still smallish, I decided to transplant them anyway. I’ll move them into their larger, permanent containers in a few weeks.
You can do the same if you’re still trying to locate the ideal planter for your young melons.
Preparing Your Container
Before you get growing, find a full sun location where your container will receive 6-8 hours of sunshine per day.
This can either be a sunny area of your house, under artificial light, or outdoors.
Fill your container to an inch below the top with either:
- Good quality, well-draining potting mix (don’t add fertilizer yet)
- Well-draining garden soil amended with compost or well-rotted manure.
If you decide to use soil from your garden, don’t use soil that has been previously planted with cucurbits, as it can harbor disease.
Cantaloupes prefer soil with a mildly acidic pH of 6.0-6.5, that is loose and well-draining to encourage the growth of healthy roots.
How to Grow
You can either direct sow seeds in your container or start them in seed trays. If you live in a cold area, it’s best to sow seeds indoors at least four weeks before your average last frost date.
For those in warmer areas, sow in containers outdoors anytime after your average last frost date, provided your growing season is long enough to give your chosen variety time to mature.
Since I live in frigid Alaska, I started mine in seed trays a couple of months before last frost. Because I planted them pointy-side-up, only half the seeds germinated. Oops!
You should plant them pointy-side-down, as that’s where the roots emerge.
To sow seeds in containers, dig a half-inch-deep hole and drop two seeds inside, pointy-side-down. Do the same thing in seed cells. Cover with soil, and water with a spray bottle so you don’t displace the seeds.
To encourage them to germinate quickly, you can cover the pot or seed tray with plastic to trap humidity inside.
Just make sure to remove the covering the moment the first green shoot pokes through the soil. Keep them evenly moist, in a sunny spot or under a grow light.
Thin seedlings to one per container or seed cell when they have their first set of true leaves.
When to Transplant
If you start your seeds in trays (or have purchased seedlings from the nursery), you’ll need to transplant them to their permanent container when they have at least two sets of true leaves.
I left mine in their trays for two months, and one of the plants started getting droopy and unhappy.
I’m pretty sure it felt cramped, and didn’t have enough root space.
If you are transplanting your seedlings to an outdoor container, make sure you harden them off first.
To do this, place them outside in a sunny location for a few hours per day, gradually increasing the amount of time over the course of a week.
To transplant, all you have to do is dig a hole the size of the root ball, gently remove the seedling from the tray, and set each one in its new container. To make this easier, water the seedlings about half an hour before transplanting.
Backfill the hole, give the seedling a slow, deep watering, and add half an inch of extra soil on top for support.
Then, place the containers near a sunny windowsill, under a grow light, or in your chosen location outdoors.
When the plant is about four to six inches tall, fertilize with a balanced liquid fertilizer such as 5-5-5 (NPK) according to package instructions.