A few years ago, my mother-in-law showed up at our house with a bag of seeds. They were meant to grow gourds.
Well, I had no idea what I was doing, but I put them in the ground and away they went. Over the years I’ve invested in different types of gourds and began seeing how useful they are.
However, I’ve also learned that gourds are faithful plants that like to produce volunteers and will faithfully appear year after year which can be exciting and a little overwhelming at times.
But considering how useful gourds can be, I wanted to share with you all you should need to know to grow a bountiful and purposeful gourd harvest year after year.
Gourd Plant Info
- Hardiness Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
- Soil: Loam, sandy, clay, PH between 6.0 to 7.5, rich in organic matter, well-drained
- Sun Exposure: Full sun, at least 6 hours a day
- Start Indoors: 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date
- Hardening Off: 1 to 2 weeks before transplanting
- Transplant Outdoors: When plants have at least 4 leaves, after all dangers of frost have passed
- Spacing: 4 to 5 feet between plants and 6 to 10 feet between rows
- Depth: ½ to 1 inch seed depth
- Best Companions: Corn, pole beans, datura, sunflower
- Worst Companions: Potato
- Watering: Continuous water supply, water deeply once a week, at least 1 inch per week
- Fertilizing: Side dress with balanced fertilizer or compost manure when vines start to bloom
- Common Problems: Anthracnose, alternaria leaf blight, downy mildew, cercospora leaf spot, gummy stem blight, powdery mildew, scab, septoria leaf spot, angular leaf spot, verticillium wilt, bacterial leaf spot, aster yellows, squash mosaic, cucumber mosaic, watermelon mosaic, crown rot, squash vine borer, cucumber beetle
- Harvest: After 100 to 180 days of planting depending on the variety, when stem and tendrils turn brown
How to Grow Gourds
First, here is what you need to know when it comes to growing gourds:
There are three main types of gourds. They each have their own purpose, and they can each be equally as useful. Which is what makes gourds such a desirable plant to raise.
1. Luffa Aegyptiaca
This variety of gourd is what will produce luffa sponges. They are closely related to cucumbers, which explains the inside design a little further.
However, when you grow them, the outside is hard-shelled until you peel away the outer layer and have the fluffy inside that makes the famous bath sponge. This is the type of gourd that sucked me into growing them because I loved raising my own sponges.
2. Cucurbita Pepo
A lot of people use gourds in the fall to decorate their homes. What a great way to save money on décor by simply growing your own.
Well, if you desire to grow gourds for ornamental purposes, then you’ll want this variety that is closely related to both pumpkins and squashes.
3. Lagenaria Siceraria
This type of gourd is the gourd you might think of when you see the homemade birdhouses. They are larger and harder shelled than the other varieties.
Also, this type of gourd is what you’d grow if you wanted to make a ladle or a container. You can even eat this kind of gourd before it reaches maturity.
Steps to Growing Gourds
Growing gourds is a simple process. You need to make sure that you plan out space accurately for them to grow because if not, gourds will take over your yard. Follow these steps, and you should do fine.
The seeds my mother-in-law brought, were planted without any plan. I, therefore, had to battle gourds growing randomly for the rest of my time at that house because gourds are hogs when it comes to space.
So, you need to make sure that you choose a spot that they will have plenty of room to run. Their vines will extend out 40 feet from the base of the plant.
Then you’ll also need to have a trellis in mind. This will give the plant support and keep the gourds off of the ground. Make sure the trellis is sturdy, or you could use a fence which is what I planted mine along.
When your space is planned out, it is time to plant your seeds once the last frost has occurred. You can directly sow the gourd seeds in a spot that has had compost richly applied to the area beforehand.
Then you will also want to make sure that the area has soil that will drain well and is also in full sun.
From there, you will plant the seeds two inches in the ground in mounds of four seeds. You will want to plant the mounds five feet apart.
Also, make sure that you keep the rows of gourds eight feet apart to give each plant ample space to grow. Be aware that gourds have a longer growing season that varies from 120-140 days, depending on the type of gourd you grow.
Once your gourds have sprouted, you’ll want to keep a watchful eye for leaves to develop. When they have, you will want to thin your mounds down.
This means that you’ll want to go to each mound that should have four sprouts and pick the two strongest sprouts of the mound to stay. The rest need to be pulled out.
Finally, you can shape your gourds if you want a specific look. You can put a broom or tobacco stick in the ground and train larger gourd varieties to grow around them.
Then this will give the handles a fun, curved appearance.
Also, you can tie the neck of larger gourds in knots to make it have a different look in that way too.
Gourds are one of those plants that no matter how little of a green thumb you have, you can probably grow them and do well.
Why? Because they require very little care. If you put a thick layer of compost into the ground before or as you are planting, then the gourds should have what they need.
However, be sure to apply the compost because gourds need the nutrients to produce. As long as you do this, then you shouldn’t have to fertilize them anymore.
But if you do wish to use a fertilizer every so often on them when watering, be sure not to use a high nitrogen fertilizer. This will cause the leaves to bush out but will stunt the fruit’s growth.
Also, you need to be aware that gourds have both male and female blossoms. The male blossoms grow on the main stem.
Then the female blossoms will grow on the stems that grow off of the main stem. They produce the fruit.
When the vine has reached ten feet, you’ll want to cut it back to encourage the side stems to grow and produce fruit rather than the main stem to keep developing and producing male blossoms.
Finally, water the gourds as needed. Once a week should be fine unless you have an unusually wet or dry spell. Then you’ll need to adjust your watering accordingly.
Gourd Problems and Solutions
Gourds have very few issues, which is what makes them so easy to grow. The few problems they do have can be easily treated.
However, one word of caution. When you raise any plant that belongs to the cucurbits family (i.e. gourds, squash, pumpkins, etc.) they need pollinators to be able to produce their fruit.
This means that honey bees will hang around them a lot. You’ll need to use insecticides carefully when taking this into consideration.
1. Cucumber Beetles
You will know that you have this pest on your gourds when you begin to see small holes and wilting yellow leaves.
Also, your fruits will become stunted and turn yellow as well.
The best way to treat cucumber beetles is by covering your plants with row covers, so the bugs have a hard time moving from plant to plant.
Also, you might want to try applying wood ash to the base of the plant. The nitrogen is said to deter them.
2. Bacterial Wilt
This disease is brought on by cucumber beetles. When they eat an infected plant and then move on to munch on another plant, they carry the disease from one plant to another.
You’ll know you have it because your plants will wilt. The bacteria stops water flow from happening in your plant.
There is no real way to stop bacterial wilt. You’ll have to destroy the infected plants. Your best shot at deterring the disease is to prevent cucumber beetles.
3. Squash Bugs
A squash bug looks a lot like a stink bug. They make similar markings on your plant as cucumber beetles do.
Which means you’ll see holes in your plants and the leaves turn yellow and wilting.
You can apply diatomaceous earth to the base of your plant to help to rid your garden of squash bugs. Consider using an insecticide, as well, if you have this issue with your gourds.
Cutworms are a common problem for many plants. You’ll know you have them because they will feed on the stem and roots of your plants.
Also, they will cut your plant off and make it fall over. As you can tell, if you have them they are a big problem.
You can apply diatomaceous earth at the base of the plant to get rid of cutworms. You can also use insecticides to help as well.
Also, consider putting used coffee ground and used eggshells around the base of the plant. They are good for your plant but will also cut the cutworms and deter them.
Aphids are a problem in most gardens. They are small bugs that are hard to see with the naked eye.
However, you’ll know you have them if your plants begin to look deformed, you have a sticky residue on your plants, and you start to see wilt as well.
You can try to kick aphids out of your garden by dusting your plants with flour. Also, consider using insecticidal soap.
Best and Worst Companion Plants
Some plants should be planted among other plants because they work well together. They often provide much-needed shade, protection of insects and disease, or they don’t battle each other for nutrients in the soil.
Those are what we call good companion plants. The best companion plants for gourds are:
Along those same lines, you also have plants that should not be planted near each other because they will either draw pests or battle over nutrients in the soil.
For gourds, you should avoid planting morning glories and potatoes near them. Gourds and potatoes battle over nutrients, and it is said that morning glories will stunt the growth of the fruit of a gourd.
How to Harvest and Store Gourds
Harvesting your gourds is one of the easiest things you will do. An ornamental gourd can be cut from the vine as soon as its stem turns brown.
However, be sure when cutting the gourd from the vine that you leave about two inches of the stem on the vine to ensure that you have a good handle to hang onto your gourd.
Next, the luffa gourds should be left on the vine until the stem is dry and both ends of the gourd have turned brown.
Now, when you are ready to harvest a luffa, you’ll just peel the outer layer of skin off with a spoon to use the sponge inside the gourd.
Finally, the hard shell gourds can be left out in the garden for three to six months to finish drying. Even when the vine turns brown and dies, there is still water to keep the gourd alive.
However, you need to remember, if you cut the gourd too early it will rot. The longer you leave it on the vine, the better off you will be.
But you’ll know that your gourds are fine (even if mold forms) as long as the skin on the gourd doesn’t rot.
When the gourd has turned brown, and the seeds rattle around in it, then you are ready to take it inside and clean it up.
To clean your gourds, you’ll want to put it in a pan of bleach water. This will kill the mold that has formed on the gourd while drying.
From there, you will use a coarse sponge (like what you’d clean a pan with stuck-on grease with) and peel the skin of the gourd off. Be sure to keep the gourd wet while working on removing the skin.
Then you’ll rinse the gourd in its entirety and allow it to dry in the sun. You are now ready to craft it any way you like.
Gourd Projects and Recipes
You can use gourds for all types of different projects and uses around your house. Here are a few tutorials to get you started:
1. DIY Gourd Soy Candles
If you love fresh scents around your home, then you know how expensive it can be to buy great smelling and fashionable candles.
But if you grow your own gourds, and follow the steps to make gourd soy candles, then you could save money while also indulging in sweet-smelling home décor.
2. Gourd Birdhouse
Many people grow gourds because they like to make inexpensive, functional, but also pretty birdhouses out of them.
Well, you can too with your gourds. This tutorial walks you through each step of the process of a gourd birdhouse.
3. Bitter Gourd Fry
It isn’t as common to eat gourd in Western Culture, but it is quite common in other countries. You would be surprised by all of the gourd recipes found on the internet.
However, I wanted to share this recipe for a bitter gourd fry because when you are trying something new, it seems fried is usually the best introduction.
Well, you now know how to grow gourds with confidence. You can also care for them, harvest them, store them, and use them in different ways.
But I’d like to hear your thoughts. Do you grow gourds? What has your experience been like? What do you do with them?
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