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Close up of a rockmelon on the vine with green leaves in the background.
With its juicy, peach-coloured flesh and sweet fragrance, rockmelon is a favourite summer fruit that grows on a sprawling vine and thrives in the summer heat. Delicious on its own, it also partners beautifully with a wide range of sweet and savoury foods. Rockmelon is quick to prepare, easy to de-seed, and can be grown in most parts of New Zealand, especially in areas where summers are long and warm.


What you need to know about rockmelon

Name: rockmelon, cantaloupe, sweet melon, Cucumis melo.

Height: 30-45cm.

Plant type: annual trailing vine.

Climate: all climates.

Soil: moist, well-drained and enriched with organic matter.

Position: full sun.

Flowers: bright-yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers; female flowers have a small immature fruit at the base while male flowers do not.

Foliage: large, slightly hairy, and dark green.

Feeding: weekly with a liquid plant food while flowering and fruiting.

Watering: water regularly to keep the soil moist.

Appearance and characteristics of rockmelon

Rockmelon is a warm-season vine crop. It belongs to the same family as cucumber and watermelon (Cucurbitaceae), and needs similar growing conditions – for example, a long, warm summer season and plenty of space to ramble.

It is an annual, meaning you need to replant it each year, but it’s a fast grower and will quickly spread across the ground and produce a generous crop. The ball-shaped fruit is a pale green to creamy yellow colour with a ‘netted’ textured surface and sweet, peach-coloured flesh.

Note: Honeydew melon is a close relative of the rockmelon and thrives in the same conditions. Honeydew has smooth, white or pale yellow skin, and sweet, pale green flesh.

A pile of whole rockmelons with pale green and orange textured skin.

Uses for rockmelon

This versatile fruit can be sliced and eaten with ice cream, added to fruit salads, or partnered with salted meats like ham and prosciutto in an antipasto platter. It also teams well with seafood like prawns and lobster.

How to grow rockmelon

Rockmelon vines need a long summer season for the fruit to ripen, so it’s best to get plants started as early as possible in spring. Start seeds indoors and plant them out when the danger of frost has passed. In warmer parts of the country, plant outside any time between late October and December. In cooler regions, leave planting outdoors until mid-November. Improve the soil first with compost and aged manure, then plant in moistened ground about 40-60cm apart, so the vines have plenty of space to grow. Seedlings can be transplanted into the garden when they’re about 10cm high.

Caring for rockmelon

To ensure good pollination and fruit set, encourage bees by growing plants such as lavender and alyssum nearby. If bees are scarce, give the plants a little help by cross-pollinating them with a paint brush. Simply distribute the pollen from the male flowers to the female ones. As the melons develop, raise them off the ground using straw mulch, a piece of wood, or a flat rock to prevent the fruit from rotting.

Cut rockmelon on a wooden chopping board, showing orange fruit and seeds.

How often should you water and feed rockmelon?

Melons need plenty of moisture, so water them regularly. Mulch around the base of the plants to help retain soil moisture and suppress weeds. Feed weekly with a liquid fertiliser that’s formulated for fruiting plants.

How and when to harvest rockmelon

The fruit should be ready for harvest 12 to 16 weeks after planting. When rockmelons are ripe, the stem should pull away easily from the fruit. If in doubt, tap them – they’ll sound hollow when ripe. The skin will usually be a golden colour beneath its netted texture. Store the fruit in a cool, airy space in a shed or in the fridge.

Diseases and pests that affect rockmelon

Rockmelon is not especially prone to pests but can be affected by powdery mildew in wet or humid conditions. This appears as a chalky white layer on the leaves and can be treated with a sulphur-based fungicide. Avoid overhead watering to reduce the risk of this fungal disease.

How to propagate rockmelon

Grow new plants each year from seed or seedlings. Start them as early as possible in spring to ensure a long growing season.

If you like this, then try

Papaya: a fast-growing tree that starts bearing fruit within a year of planting.

Mandarin: an attractive citrus tree with sweet, easy-to-peel fruit.

Watermelon: like rockmelon, this delicious summer favourite needs a long growing season and room to grow.

Start planting today

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Photo credit: Getty Images

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