Cantaloupes and muskmelons (Cucumis melo) only grow when soil and air temperatures are warm and there's no threat of frost. In the Northeast, growing melons can be difficult, especially in areas with short growing seasons. Cool summers prevent sweet melon flesh. In southern New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, the earlier last frost day and later fall frost date make growing any melon a bit easier compared to the cooler summer areas of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Cantaloupes and muskmelons may be grown successfully if a few tips are followed.
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Basic Growing Needs
Cantaloupes and muskmelons exceed only in fertile, moist, well-draining garden soils. Choose a spacious garden plot with all-day sunlight in the Northeast, as this sunshine increases warmth for more prompt plant growth and fruit maturation. These melons typically need 90 to 110 days of frost-free weather to germinate, bloom and produce ripe fruits ready to harvest. Soil temperatures must remain above 70 degrees, otherwise germination and overall cantaloupe vine growth is drastically stunted. Daytime temperatures between 80 and 90 degrees are ideal.
Because of the shorter growing season in many parts of the Northeast, gardeners should plant the seeds of early-maturing cantaloupe and muskmelon varieties. These early melons mature within 90 days after sowing, increasing the chances ripe fruits develop before the threat of September frosts. Cultivars Earlisweet, Golden Honey, Golden Champlain, Mainerock Hybrid, Burpee Hybrid; Harper Hybrid, Saticoy Hybrid and Minnesota Midget produce ripe melons in 65 to 80 days after planting.
When to Plant
Sow cantaloupe and muskmelon seeds outdoors only after the threat of spring frost passes and the soil has sufficiently warmed. This usually occurs in late May to early June across the Northeast. To hasten soil warming in spring and to maintain warmer air temperatures around the vines in the garden, lay black plastic over the garden patch. Cut holes in the plastic to sow seeds or plant seedling transplants after the spring frost date. The plastic covering prevents weeds and speeds up vine growth, flowering, fruit formation and harvest. Planting later than June 10 in the Northeast doesn't provide ample growing time to ensure good melon development before the cooler temperatures of September.
Starting Seeds Indoors
For an even earlier start on the growing season for cantaloupes and muskmelons in the Northeast, sow seeds indoors three weeks before the expected last frost date in spring. These annual vines develop sensitive roots that resent disturbance, so sow only one seed per container or seed tray cell. Transplant the seedlings outdoors after the threat of frost. Carefully maintain the soil root ball of the seedlings as they are planted in the warm garden soil.