Growing cantaloupe vertically is a great way to prevent this precious plant from sprawling in your garden. Providing an upright trellis provides the plant plenty of room to spread out and generate lush leaves to produce the sweetest high-quality fruit.
Besides, it lessens the possibility of fruit rot and insect-damage, particularly in the early stage of setting fruit.
The Guide to Growing Cantaloupe Vertically with Ease
The thought of large, sweet, and juicy cantaloupe is indeed cheering. But the plant will likely overrun a home garden when you neglect to control its growth. Read on and learn the right way to grow flavorful flesh cantaloupes vertically in your garden!
1) Prepping The Planting Site
- Provide Loose and Deep Soil
Cantaloupe prefers loose soil to a depth of about 1 foot or more. This plant has a massive root system that loves to penetrate the soil down and sideways as much as it can.
Restricting the spread of roots can cause stunted growth, fewer and low-quality fruits, or plants that do not fruit the entire growing season.
- Determine the Right pH
Cantaloupe grows best in warm, well-draining soil with a pH between 6 and 7. The growing mix with pH level below the range can cause yellowing of foliage and possibly the setting of fewer or no fruits at all.
- Amend the Soil
Providing well-prepared soil is essential for a successful crop. And adding compost or well-rotted manure to enrich the growing media is necessary for healthy growth.
Also, avoid using fresh manure. It may contain harmful bacteria that will cause more problems in the growing stage of your plant.
- Mulch the Planting Site
Mulching the planting site with black plastic will help warm the soil and allow gardeners to plant ahead weeks before the garden soil typically gets ready.
The black plastic mulch absorbs sufficient heat from the sun allowing the soil to warm quickly. It also helps conserve the water and provide efficient weed control throughout the season.
To plant the seed or transplant in the garden, all you need is to punch a small hole in the plastic and start planting.
However, when planting the crop the second time around, spray-paint the black mulch white.
The soil becomes too hot with black plastic mulch, particularly in the summer and early fall. Spraying it with white paint reduces the amount of heat the mulch absorbed during the day.
2) Position To The Desired Location
- Allow the Soil to Warm Up Sufficiently
Plant cantaloupe when the weather warms up the soil sufficiently about 70°F, 2-4 weeks after the expected last frost date. And make sure to choose an area that gets plenty of sunlight.
Cantaloupes love hot weather with a temperature ranging between 65-90°F and require 80-90 days to reach maturity from the flowering stage.
3) Propagating The Melons
You can start growing melons, whether indoors or outdoors, from seed by sowing directly in the garden or through transplants to get an early start.
- Growing Melons From Seed
In the north, you need to help keep the plant warm to grow healthy with a shorter growing season.
Since melons require time to reach maturity, starting seeds ahead in seed trays indoors with the enriched potting mix will provide the right conditions to promote quick germination.
It usually takes about a week for seeds to germinate but sometimes longer if the soil warmth of 70°F isn’t met. But using a heat mat will ensure the soil stays at the ideal temperature for fast germination.
Once the seeds begin to germinate, thinning the seedling per cell is necessary. Keep the one that looks healthy and strong.
And when the seedling gets two or more sets of real leaves, you can start to harden off for about 7-10 days to avoid the possibility of transplant shock before the actual date of transplant.
On the other hand, in the south, a warmer climate allows you to direct sow seeds outdoors in full sun right after the danger of frost passes.
- Transplanting Melon Seeds
Because of its vining nature, cantaloupe tends to overrun your home garden. But training the plant up in the trellis to grow vertically will help save space and keep the fruit off the ground.
When growing cantaloupe vertically, consider a space 2 feet apart in the row when planting the transplant, while giving the rows about 4-6 feet apart.
4) Consider a Sturdy Trellis
When considering growing cantaloupe vertically, always go for a sturdy trellis or stake that is tough enough to support and hold sufficient weight.
Erecting a sturdy trellis that is at least 6-8 feet tall and 15-20 feet wide can accommodate the plant when developing fruits and reaching maturity. The support system does not need to be fancy, but more importantly building it strong is essential to hold both the plants and fruits’ weight.
The plants can generate lush foliage and large fruit that will be very heavy to bear without the right support system.
- Setting Up Cantaloupe Trellis
You can either utilize trellis-like bamboo hoops available in the market or a DIY such as a hog fencing, livestock panels, welded wires, or gazebos and train the tendrils to loop around as vertical support.
Wooden fences are a sturdy option for holding the weight of the fruit-bearing cantaloupe. And constructing PVC pipe posts is another exceptional way you can use them as a support system.
Other growers use tomato cages as the plant support. However, as the plant matures, the vines produce interweaving tendrils to train and tie around the support. So make sure to provide proper backing that doesn’t fall, particularly when the vines produce large fruit.
- Train New Growth to Vertical Directions
Cantaloupe does not grow upward naturally. So it is your responsibility to check your plant every day to place new growth where you want them to redirect. The tendrils that coil around anything in contact with them helps you to orient new vines to climb up onto the trellis.
- Provide the Fruit Support System
As the plant begins to set and develop fruit, they’ll get cumbrous. And when growing cantaloupe vertically, the fruits left hanging without a support system may likely break off from the vines prematurely.
To prevent the fruit hanging from breaking off prematurely, melon growers use DIY hammocks out of fabric or old pantyhose and attach the sling in the trellis to help support the growing fruit.
Trying new things is part of the fun of gardening. Of course, there are several ways to provide support to the fruits that are getting bigger.
1. Old T-Shirt
You can rip an old t-shirt or any soft fabric to make it into a sling for the young cantaloupe. It is strong enough to hold the fruit and not fall to the ground or slip off from the vines when it is ripe. But some find it hard to tie into the trellis.
2. Nylon Pantyhose
Providing a pantyhose as a hammock with your muskmelons is popular among home gardeners.
The nylon pantyhose can make an expandable sling to keep the fruit from falling to the ground. Besides, it is easy to tie up into the trellis whether you have a metal or wooden trellis to support the heavy vines.
5) Feeding The Cantaloupe
Cantaloupes are heavy feeders, and feeding the plant with organic fertilizers will improve soil composition and fertility the entire growing season.
- Before Planting
You have to prepare the garden plot several weeks before planting. Spread about 2-4 inch layers of compost or rotted manure over the garden soil.
The allocated time will ensure the materials are well incorporated by turning the soil using a rototiller or a garden spade.
If you prefer to use inorganic fertilizer, the 10-10-10 or 16-16-8 fertilizer contains all the NPK elements. You can apply the product with a ratio of 4-6 cups per 100 sq. ft.
- Side Dressing
Cantaloupes need a lot of nitrogen, and it is the element most likely to be deficient in the soil in the growing cycle.
When the plants begin to develop runners, feed the cantaloupes through side dressing. At this time, you’ll want to replace only the nitrogen that the plants absorbed from the soil.
Experts recommend applying 21-0-0 fertilizer about 3-4 tbsp around the surface of each plant. But don’t forget to water fertilizer after the application.
But using a fertilizer with less nitrogen when the flowers start to appear is necessary. Nitrogen promotes lush foliage, and stimulating overproduction of foliage can spoil the growing cycle, particularly when the vines are blooming and setting fruit.
6) Watering Your Cantaloupe
- Provide a Steady Water Supply
Melons are sensitive to drought and demand a steady water supply up until they start to bear fruit.
- Do Not Over-Water
Yes, it is essential to keep the soil in the patch evenly moist, but remember not to over-water the plant. Overwatering can cause the root system to rot due to waterlogging, causing your cantaloupe to die.
- Wilted Leaves in the Morning
Melons do well with an inch of rainfall a week, but you have to water the plant yourself if there is no rainfall in your area.
Normally, the leaves wilt in the afternoon hours and bounce back alive overnight. Finding the leaves still wilted early in the morning means your cantaloupe needs water.
- Water the Plant Deeply and Slowly
Using a drip irrigation system or soaker hose works best to provide a steady amount of water your cantaloupe needs.
However, though inexpensive, the installation and purchase still need an extra budget. And if you are on a tight budget, a watering can, or a regular garden hose can also work well, though it requires more effort.
The key is to water the plant deeply and slowly. Watering the plant deeply once a week can make the root system run deep and establish better.
Water carefully and make sure the water pressure won’t erode the soil and expose any roots. Also, avoid watering the foliage, blossoms, or fruit to avoid the possibility of rotting.
- Water in the Early Morning
Watering in the early morning hours can hydrate your plants the entire day. Also, the water that accidentally gets on the foliage can get dry by the afternoon sun. Foliage that stays wet longer will likely develop fungal infections and other diseases.
7) Pest and Disease Control
Cantaloupe is not that susceptible to pests and disease. But since it is related to cucumbers, it can be targeted by the same insect pests.
Here is a list of a few pests and diseases to watch out for to ensure the plant’s health and fruit quality.
Anthracnose is a fungal disease developed in humid conditions due to several days of rainy or chilly weather.
The disease can cause yellowish spots on the leaves or water-soaked areas that get bigger and gradually turn to brown and eventually black.
At this time, the plant tissue dries up and falls out creating holes in the foliage. Infected fruits indicate black, circular, and sunken fungal disease and rotting in different sizes.
- Eradicating cucurbit vines and residues can prevent the fungus from overwintering.
- A crop rotation is another way to reduce the possibility of disease spread in the garden.
- Anthracnose disease can be seed-borne, so make sure to purchase seeds from a reputable source.
- Use fungicides when the cantaloupe garden is in severe conditions.
- Powdery Mildew
The white powdery substance on the leaves’ upper surfaces and the stems of infected cantaloupe is caused by the fungi powdery mildew. The fungal disease can cause stunted and distorted fruit appearance or premature drop.
The infection usually occurs during dry weather with high humidity. This is when the temperature is ranging between 50 and 90°F.
Proper planning and the use of fungicide treatment can control the spread of powdery mildew. But in severe cases, considering chemical control is also necessary.
Aphids can suck the sap out of your vines’ leaves, causing curling and yellowing of the foliage and will likely hinder the plants’ potential growth.
And here’s how to manage aphids to save your melons:
- Hosing off the plants with high water pressure regularly in the morning will reduce the plant’s number of aphids. Doing this task in the morning allows the leaves to dry in the afternoon.
- Spray the plant with insecticidal soap, neem oil, hydrogen peroxide, or summer weight oil. This will help control aphids.
- Do not apply horticultural oils on plants when the temperatures drop below 40°F or above 90°F during the day.
- Covering the leaves’ undersides until the entire plant is saturated is another way to control the population of aphids in the plant.
- The insecticidal soaps and oils can cause plant damage if applied when temperatures drop below 40°F or above 90°F when the plants are stressed by too much moisture and humidity.
- Avoid using dormant oil during the growing season because it will damage the plant foliage. Instead, you can use the lighter and more refined summer oil as insect pest control on actively growing plants.
- Pruning heavily curled foliage will help reduce the number of aphids hiding inside. Both soap and oil sprays won’t be able to penetrate the frizzy foliage.
Insecticidal soap can cause dehydration and death to soft-bodied insects like aphids by disrupting their protective coat.
But do not use homemade soap recipes to control pests as they can cause foliage to burn, damaging your plants more.
On the other hand, horticultural oil sprays can damage soft-bodied insects by disrupting gas exchange, cell membrane function, or structure on contact.
But remember not to apply oil sprays when the rain is in the forecast within 24 hours, or the temperature is above 90°F.
- Cucumber Beetles
Cucumber beetles feed on both watermelon and cantaloupe.
The larvae feeding on roots and stems under the ground surface are rarely noticed and can kill young seedlings and cause stunted growth to larger plants.
The adults feed on the stem and foliage, hiding either under the canopy or at the plant’s base.
Aside from killing the young cantaloupe through feeding, it can cause severe damage to the plants through the transmission of a bacterium, causing cucurbits to wilt.
1. Eliminate Early Surge of Population Build-up
Watching closely for the first appearance of the beetles is necessary. Within 8-12 hours when the pest comes into the garden, they can rapidly increase in population and increase the possibility of bacterial wilt infection when fed longer on the plant.
It is essential to detect an early surge of population build-up to eliminate the probability of pests outbreak.
2. Prevent Beetles from Feeding on the Plant
Cantaloupes can tolerate little feeding damage. But once the plant is infected with the bacterium, the disease is uncontrollable, causing the plant to die.
Preventing the beetles from feeding on the plant is the only way to avoid the bacterium disease. Apply insecticide to the plant right after you find even one beetle in each plant feeding on cantaloupes.
Cutworms are caterpillars hiding under the soil or any debris during the day and come out to feed at night. Feeding may result in cutting off the plants below the crown level.
There are several different cutworm species, but the rough-skinned cutworm can cause severe damage to cantaloupes and honeydew, causing scarring to the plant.
- You have to watch closely for cutworm injury indications when the plants are in the seedling stage, especially after thinning.
- Monitor regularly until the fruiting stage, particularly to cucurbit crops following barley or corn in the garden.
- If only a few plants are damaged, replanting can be tolerated. But when spotting plant damage frequently, these situations need insecticide treatment before the young seedlings, or the fruits can get severely injured.
- Clearing the plant residues from previous crops at least 2 weeks before planting is another way to effectively control cutworm populations.
- Bacterial Wilt
The severe wilting on your vines followed by rapid death of the plant is often caused by a disease called bacterial wilt.
The dull green patches that rapidly increase in size is the first indication you’ll find when your cantaloupe is infected with the disease. The symptoms quickly spread within a day on leaves down to the runner.
The infection will affect only a few vines and, when not treated, will gradually progress, wilting more foliage until the entire vines are infected. This disease is more severe both in cucumber and cantaloupes.
Once the plant is infected with bacterial wilt, you can use no chemical treatment to control the disease. And what makes it worse, the cucumber beetles will carry the bacteria and spread the infection from plant to plant by feeding on the vines.
Proper planning to avoid the population’s build-up of cucumber beetles or prevent them from feeding on the vines at the first signs of activity in the garden is the only way to keep bacterial wilt under control.
The Virus disease is also known as MNSV (Melon Necrotic Spot Virus), an endemic plant disease usually transmitted by cucumber beetles, infected garden tools, infected water, or direct contact between infected plants.
The virus disease mainly spreads through seedlings, insects, infected soil, and the root-inhabiting fungus.
Plant damage, particularly in melons, indicates necrotic spots on the rind, a significant decrease in fruit sizes, and necrotic lesions on the leaves and roots, damaging the structure and causing death to the plant.
Once the plant is infected, the virus persists until the plant dies and will survive in the soil for several years.
Treating seeds with chemicals, steam sterilization, rotating crops, and disposal of infected plants are the natural and effective ways to prevent virus infection.
Also, make sure all garden tools are clean and disease-free before using them in the garden.
MNSV is easily transported through water, so make sure to prevent it from flowing over infected soil.
Also, avoiding the use of infected water to clean garden tools is another way to reduce transmission in the garden.
Final Thoughts on Growing Cantaloupe Vertically
Garden lovers with limited space should take advantage of vertical growing. The sprawling plants that tend to overrun the home garden, such as cantaloupes and many others, are trained to grow, directing the tendrils to climb the upward space.
Growing cantaloupe vertically takes very minimal ground space yet produces bountiful amounts of harvest.
Cantaloupe usually produces large fruits, making it heavy for the vines to hold. But providing a support system is an inexpensive solution, so the vines do not break and to ultimately avoid the possibility of fruit drop-off prematurely.
You can either DIY sling out of an old t-shirt or pantyhose or get netting available in the market to support the fruit. The stretchy fabric can be tied firmly into the trellis.
You can also use other stretchy fabric materials as a sling or hammock, but make sure it won’t hinder growth while holding the fruit.
Moreover, the trellis should be established sturdily. Make sure to firmly anchor it to the ground or provide a stable base like a bucket of concrete.
You can design an attractive yet fully functional trellis that will enhance the aesthetic of your home garden.
This way, you can both enjoy delicious and flavorful cantaloupe and also relax, sitting in your backyard with a beautiful garden landscape.
In addition to this, growing cantaloupe vertically can contribute shade to help cool the garden, especially in the summer months. In winter, you can remove the vines and allow sunlight to warm the garden.
Growing cantaloupe vertically is indeed very rewarding. Have you grown cantaloupe vertically? Feel free to share your experience with us. We’d love to see your comments below.