Scott Bauer, USDA/ARS
Plant Common Name
Cantaloupe, Casaba Melon, Honey Dew, Melon, Muskmelon
Garden fresh melons are truly a summertime treat. Fragrant and delicious, these warm season fruits have been bred and revered by cultures worldwide and come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Muskmelons, cantaloupes and "late melons," like honeydew and casaba, are all Cucumis melo variants believed to have origins in Africa.
Melons are tropical annual vines with long, spreading stems that cling via springy tendrils. Their big lobed leaves are coarse, fuzzy and medium to deep green. Bright yellow, funnel-shaped flowers are produced when the vines reach maturity. The flowers are monoecious, meaning separate male and female yellow flowers appear on each vine. The pollen producing male flowers open first, followed by the female flowers, which have distinctive bulbous ovaries at their bases. Only the female flowers produce melons and each must be pollinated by bees for fruit set, so be sure to encourage these productive garden insects.
The three most common forms of Cucumis melo are cantaloupes, muskmelons and late melons, which include honeydew and casaba melons. Cantaloupes are hard-shelled melons with warty, rough skin and sweet orange flesh. Typically what are sold as cantaloupes are actually musk or netted melons, which have netted skin and sweet, orange or gold flesh. These are more adaptable to many garden situations, develop on the vine relatively early and have been highly bred to be disease and pest resistant. Late melons, such as honeydew, casaba and crenshaw, have smoother skin and light yellow, green or white flesh that is very sweet. Unlike cantaloupes, they need a longer growing season and prefer to be grown where summers are hot and dry (Sunset zones 8, 9, 12-14, 18, 19).
Melons require full sun and friable, fertile deep soil with good drainage. A neutral pH is best. Vines should be planted after the danger of frost has passed. It is common practice to create mounds of soil to grow melons in. The seed can be directly sown in ground and plants take an average of 90 to 110 days to produce harvestable fruit. Melons need space and should be surrounded by a layer of straw to protect the fruits from rot and keep weeds at bay. If space is limited, they can be grown on a trellis and fruits supported with cloth slings. Heavy rains can cause ripe fruits on the vine to split and lose sweetness.
Ripeness can be determined several ways. Cantaloupes and netted muskmelons develop a golden blush on the skin, acquire sweet fragrance, emit a hollow sound if knocked on and can be easily removed from the stem. Honeydews change from yellow to white on the bottom and have a sweeter smell but will continue to cling to the vine even when ripe. Casabas turn yellow and their skin begins to soften close to the stem.
Botanists used to botanically differentiate between cantaloupes (Cucumis melo var. cantalupensis), netted muskmelons (C. melo var. reticulous) and honeydews (C. melo var. inodorus), but these varietal designations have since been discounted and all are simply recognized as Cucumis melo. Horticulturists may use either cultivar group designations, such as the Cantalupensis Group, Reticulatus Group and Inodorus Group, or common names to differentiate between these different cultivated melon types. At Learn2Grow we have opted for the latter.