Cantaloupe is one of the most delicious fruits you can grow. But you may have a small container garden and wonder if that’s possible.
You can grow cantaloupe in a 5 gallon bucket but pick a variety that is dwarf size and can grow small fruits. You need to provide the right potting soil, nutrients, and watering to grow cantaloupes in the bucket. The bigger the bucket, the better the cantaloupes will grow.
There are a lot more steps you need to understand when trying to grow cantaloupe in a container so keep reading to know all about it.
Pick the suitable cantaloupe variety
The most important step is to pick a cantaloupe dwarf variety that has a small plant and the fruits are just 2-4 pounds when they grow.
This will help you grow the cantaloupe without facing problems like the plant outgrowing the container or the plant toppling over due to weight.
I’ve listed some of the cantaloupe dwarf varieties that you can consider growing in your container garden.
Choose the right time to grow cantaloupe
Cantaloupe is a warm-season fruit that grows best in summer when the temperature is above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You can sow the seeds outdoors at least a couple of weeks after the last frost date has passed.
If the weather is too cold, the seeds won’t germinate, and even if they do they won’t grow as fast. So it’s best to either wait for the right temperature or start your seeds indoors.
If you have a short growing season in your area, you may start seeds indoors and transplant them outside when the weather has turned warm.
Determine how long it will take to grow
The cantaloupe can take a while to grow and will be ready for harvest around 90-120 days after you have planted the seeds. You need to check the seed packet to find out the exact days after which the fruit will be ready for harvest.
Unlike some other fruits, you won’t be able to harvest the cantaloupe when it’s raw and then allow it to ripen. You will need to wait till the fruit ripens on the plant itself and you can harvest it.
It’s easy to figure out when the cantaloupe fruit is ripe for harvest. You can check the bottom of the fruit that is touching the support in which it sits. If this part of the fruit is turning pale yellow it’s a sign that the fruit is ready for harvest.
You’ll also find that the fruit gives off a sweet scent as it comes close to being ready for harvest.
Choose the right 5-gallon bucket
You can grow cantaloupe in a 5-gallon bucket as long as you make sure it has the right depth. I would recommend the bucket should have a depth of at least 16 inches.
You should only grow one plant per 5-gallon bucket otherwise they will compete with each other for space and resources.
I like to use a plastic bucket when growing such plants because it is inexpensive, durable, lightweight, and does not lose moisture fast. But you are free to use a bucket made from materials like ceramic or metal. Just make sure that the bucket is strong enough to hold the weight of the cantaloupe plant and fruit.
The most important factor when choosing the 5-gallon bucket is to have drainage holes at the bottom. If you can get the bucket with such holes already available, that’s the best option. Otherwise, you’ll need to drill some holes yourself.
The drainage holes will help drain out the excess water from the potting soil. This helps keep the right amount of moisture in the soil but not make it soggy and prevents problems like fungal diseases and root rot.
Prepare the bucket for planting
It’s time to prepare the bucket so you can start planting the cantaloupe seeds. The first thing to do is sterilize the bucket that will clean if from any pests and diseases.
You can do this with a solution that contains 1 part bleach and 9 parts water. Soak the bucket in this solution for about an hour. Then take it out and rinse well with water till all the solution is washed away. Now keep the bucket to dry before you use it.
Cover the bottom of the bucket with newspaper so when you add the potting soil, it does not fall out from the drainage holes at the bottom. It will also prevent the potting soil from draining out of the holes when you water the plant.
Now you can add good potting soil into the bucket. I always suggest using sterile potting soil rather than garden soil because you never know the quality of such soil. The garden soil may contain harmful pests, diseases, and chemicals. It may also contain too much clay or sand that makes it unsuitable to grow cantaloupe.
The only reason you should use garden soil is if you already have an in-ground or raised bed garden that contains the right soil you have created using amendments.
It’s easy to make your own potting soil by creating a mixture of 1 part vermiculite, 1 part perlite, and 1 part peat moss or coco coir. I would also suggest adding some compost to this mix to provide some nutrients and beneficial microorganisms to the potting soil.
Fill the container with the potting soil till there’s a space of 2 inches left from the rim. This will prevent the soil from spilling out when watering.
Add good support to the container
Even if you’re growing a dwarf variety of the cantaloupe, the plant vines and fruit will get heavy. That’s why you need to add good support to the container.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to use a trellis. You can buy one or make your own using a tomato cage and stakes.
Invert the tomato cage over the bucket and tie the top of the cage so it forms a teepee. You can then put the stakes through the wires of the cage and bury them in the potting soil.
The best time to add such support is when you are preparing the container with the potting soil. Don’t add it after you have planted the seeds as you risk disturbing or damaging the roots.
Make sure to use at least 2-3 stakes from different sides of the tomato cage so you can tie the vines and fruit to them with ease.
Plant the cantaloupe seeds in the container
It’s time to plant the cantaloupe seeds in the bucket. You can buy the seeds from a local garden center, nursery, or get them online. It’s good to grow cantaloupe from seeds if you’re looking to save some money because it’s inexpensive.
If you have a short growing season, you may need to start seeds indoors and then transplant them outdoors as the warm season begins. If you’re starting seeds indoors, you’ll need to use a seed-starting tray that you fill with potting soil.
If you have a long growing season, you can directly plant the seeds in the 5-gallon bucket that you place in your outdoor container garden.
Make sure that you plant the seeds outdoors only when the last frost date has passed. I would suggest waiting at least two weeks after this date just to be safe.
You need to plant the cantaloupe seeds 1/2 an inch into the potting soil. Spray water on the potting soil to keep it moist but avoid getting it soggy. You can plant 2-3 seeds per hole in the potting soil to ensure better germination rates.
The seeds will need at least 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit to germinate. You will start to see seedlings after 5-10 days of planting the seeds.
If you’re starting seeds indoors, you can transplant them when the seedlings have grown 3-4 inches tall. You’ll need to harden them before the transplant.
Keep the seedlings outdoors for a few hours but protect them from direct sunlight and wind. Keep doing this every day for a week and the seedlings will be ready for transplant.
Make a hole in the potting soil you have placed in the 5-gallon bucket. Gently squeeze the seedling out from the seed tray and place it in the hole.
Cover the roots of the seedling with potting soil and press near the base to firm the soil so the plant gets steady support. Water the potting soil so the plant can settle down and adapt to the transplant.
Provide the required sunlight and moisture
Cantaloupe needs full sun to grow well which means you need to provide at least 8-10 hours of sunlight to the plant. If the temperature becomes too hot in the afternoon, you can move the bucket in shade.
The plant also needs a lot of water as the cantaloupe itself is made up of 90% water. I suggest checking the moisture content in the soil every day when you inspect the plants in your container garden.
When the cantaloupe seedling is growing, you can check whether the 1-2 inches of the soil is dry and water the potting soil. When the plant has developed fruit, you need to check whether the surface of the potting soil is dry which means you need to water the plant.
If the weather becomes very hot, you may need to water the potting soil more than once per day as the plant needs a good amount of water.
You can consider using a drip-irrigation system if you have a lot of plants in your container garden as that will save you the effort of watering the plants yourself.
When you water the plants make sure that the water reaches the entire depth of the potting soil. You will know this when you see water draining out from the drainage holes at the bottom.
That’s why you want drainage holes so that the excess water drains out otherwise you risk overwatering the plant and causing root rot.
If you add mulch on top of the potting soil, the moisture in the soil will last for much longer. It will also help regulate the temperature of the potting soil.
You can use organic materials like grass clippings, dried leaves, wood chips, and moss as mulch.
Thin the cantaloupe seedlings
When you planted cantaloupe seeds in the 5-gallon bucket, you planted 2-3 per hole in the potting soil. This helps increase the chances that at least one of the seeds will germinate.
But what will you do if all of the seeds have germinated? You cannot allow all the plants to grow as they will overcrowd and compete for nutrients.
That’s why you need to pull out some of them and just keep one growing in the bucket. This method is known as thinning.
You can decide which seedling to pull out depending on whether they are unhealthy or having slower growth. Or you can just pick one based on your choice.
The best time to thin your cantaloupe seedlings is when they have grown at least 3-4 inches in height and have grown at least 3-4 leaves.
Fertilize the cantaloupe plants in the container
The cantaloupe can be a hungry plant that needs a lot of nutrients once it starts developing fruit. That’s why I suggest adding compost to the potting soil when preparing the container.
The compost will provide the nutrients that the plant needs once the seeds have germinated. If you don’t have compost you can add some slow-release fertilizer to the potting soil.
Make sure this fertilizer is balanced such as a 5-5-5 or a 10-10-10 fertilizer that will help the seedling get all the nutrients it needs to grow. Once the fruit has started to develop, you can switch to using a low-nitrogen fertilizer like 5-10-10. This will help the plant to focus on developing fruit rather than foliage.
You can use a liquid fertilizer that you spray on the potting soil and foliage every two weeks. Or you can add the slow-release fertilizer every month to the potting soil.
Pollinate the cantaloupe plants
The good thing about cantaloupe plants is they are self-pollinating which means they have both male and female flowers on the plant.
When you grow the plant in a garden, pollinators like birds and bees help in moving the pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. And that’s how the plant will start to develop fruit.
But when the cantaloupe plant is in a container garden there is a possibility that pollinators are not attracted to them. So it can cause problems trying to grow cantaloupe.
In such situations, you can hand-pollinate the cantaloupe plant. You just need to either pluck a male flower. Or use a small painting brush to collect the pollen.
If you pluck the male flower, just remove the petals so the stamen is visible. This is the part of the plant that has the pollen. You can then brush the stamen into the female flowers so the pollen gets deposited.
If you’re using the paintbrush you can gently collect the pollen from the stamen of the male flower. Then push the brush into the female flower and brush the collected pollen into them.
Prune the cantaloupe plants
It’s important to prune the cantaloupe plants when they have grown a few inches tall. This pruning will help keep it short and convenient for growing in the 5-gallon bucket.
It also encourages the cantaloupe plant to focus its energy on growing flowers and fruit rather than foliage. You can prune any diseased leaves as well as fruits and flowers.
But make sure you don’t prune more than 1/3rd of the plant at a time because this will stress the plant as well as reduce the number of male and female flowers. And a lack of flowers means that the plant won’t be able to develop fruit.
So prune away any diseased vines, leaves, fruits, or flowers that you may see on the plant. It’s best to use a bypass pruner to do the pruning. This helps lower the chances of the plant getting infected with a fungal or bacterial disease.
Attach the cantaloupe plants to the support
The dwarf cantaloupe plant is a vining plant that will have decent sized cantaloupe growing on it. So you need to give it good support to prevent the vines and fruit from breaking.
We used an inverted tomato cage and wooden stakes to create a good support for the plant. And as the vine grows, you’ll need to tie it to the support for stability.
Once the cantaloupe fruit starts growing, we can provide support to those as well. You can use a stretchy material like a T-shirt or pantyhose for such support.
Tie the material to the inverted tomato cage so it forms a sling and place the cantaloupe in it until it’s ready for harvest.
Harvest the cantaloupe from the bucket
You need to be careful when harvesting the cantaloupe from the plant. If you harvest too early, the cantaloupe won’t ripen like some other fruits. But it’s easy to understand when is the right time to harvest the fruit.
The easiest way to figure this out is to check the bottom of the fruit that touches the sling that is holding it. If this part has turned pale yellow that’s a good sign that the cantaloupe is ripe and ready for harvest.
Another way to figure this out is with the fragrance of the cantaloupe. If it smells sweet it’s a sign that the cantaloupe is ready for harvest.
The best way to harvest the cantaloupe is with a bypass pruner. This helps you cut the fruit from the plant without damaging either of them.
You should also cut a portion of the stem along with the cantaloupe. This helps keep the fruit fresh for a longer period of time.
Cantaloupe can store for several days without any problems. If you cut open the fruit, you can refrigerate it and it should last for a few days.
A single cantaloupe plant may grow a few fruits and some of them may be larger compared to the others. You may also find that the vine continues developing fruit after harvest or it may just die.