Imagine you open up a CSA box—a kit of produce from community supported agriculture—only to find an apple covered in ashen warts. You’d probably be inclined to kill it with fire, or at least condemn it to the compost.
But if that fruit were a species of Cucurbitaceae—the gourd family—you might have an entirely different reaction, proudly displaying the knotty, mutated produce on a console table in your foyer. Blemishes are boons in many Cucurbit fruits, and when it comes to gourds, the funkier they come, the more we cherish them. One seed supplier even champions something called a “blister gourd” as being “larger and more warted” than lesser, more symmetrical varieties.
As the leaves turn to tints of reddish-orange, it’s time to trek to farmers’ markets and pumpkin patches to bring home the knobbiest, knurliest and gnarliest Cucurbit fruits you can find—that’s right, it’s decorative gourd season once again, folks. Though their flesh be adamant and their seeds bitter, thousands of decor enthusiasts will flock to the farm to pick out gourds for arrangements spilling out of wicker baskets or piled on dining table centerpieces.
A particularly lumpy gourd. (psyberartist / Flickr Creative Commons)
But before the gourd became the unofficial, freaky flower of fall, the hard-nosed fruits enjoyed a rich history. It’s tempting to think of our ornamental gourd obsession as a fad, like pumpkin spice lattes or puffy down vests, but Americans have been geeking out over gourds since at least 1937, when the first chapter of the American Gourd Society was established in North Carolina. There are now gourd chapters in 24 U.S. states.
And that’s not even the half of it. Scientists have found evidence that humans have been cozying up to gourds for at least 8,000 years. In that time, we’ve selectively bred the bumpy little dickens for all sorts of purposes.
Today, decorative gourds come in dozens of varieties, from mace-like Shenot Crown of Thorns gourds and smooth-necked Speckled Swan gourds, to the deep-veined Dinosaur gourds and Yugoslavian finger gourds, which resemble tiny, sun-bleached skulls. Watermelons and cucumbers also belong to the Cucurbitaceae family, though we don’t call them gourds. In fact, gourds aren’t even a classification of anything, scientifically speaking.
“In English, we use the term ‘gourd’ to refer to the wild and weedy types,” says Laura Merrick, a botanist at Iowa State University who has spent nearly 20 years investigating the Cucurbita genus. “They’re small and hard-rinded and very bitter, so they’re not typically eaten.”
Of course, there are some gourd relatives that make for good eating. Edible varieties tend to go by “squash” or “pumpkin,” valued for the sweetness and tenderness of their flesh. Over time, selective breeding has given us treats such as butternut squash and zucchini, and other Cucurbit fruits became prized for the delectability and nutrition of their seeds, like the common pumpkin.
But when it comes to gourds, the tough little bastards have traditionally served a more utilitarian purpose. The bottle gourds of genus Lagenaria, for example, make excellent water carrying vessels—so humans artificially selected these fruits to have longer stems for handles and larger bases for bigger payloads. The stiff rind of Lagenaria can also be carved into spoons, vases and even musical instruments.
Accounts from the 1800s suggest that Native Americans of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes used long-necked gourds as bird houses for wild purple martins. Historians suspect the birds provided insect control for the human settlements, or perhaps the tribes simply liked having the singing passerines around. In any event, the practice spread to other tribes and then to European colonizers and, remarkably, continues to this day. In fact, the purple martins of the Eastern United States have become so reliant on gourd homes that they have completely forsaken the wild tree cavities they used to nest within.
A collection of long-necked and squat gourds. (cinnamonster / Flickr Creative Commons)
The more eccentric decorative gourds may have originated as rejects of the edible varieties, but these days, the runts are steadily gaining in popularity. “Modern cultivated varieties are the result of very deliberate and intensive selection pressure from plant breeders,” Merrick says.
For farmers, breeding for novelty has paid off. Between 1993 and 2007, prices for decorative gourds doubled, and in 2016, the world collectively grew more pumpkins, squash and gourds than corn or mushrooms.
Despite the variety of shapes and colors, the most common decorative gourds belong to one species. If the gourds anchoring your Thanksgiving spread don’t have long necks—which is the hallmark of the water-carrying genus Lageneria—odds are the fruit belongs to the species Cucurbita pepo, Merrick says. All those little flower-printed daisy gourds? C. pepo. Tennessee dancing gourds that look like teardrop-shaped watermelons? C. pepo. Jack-o-lantern pumpkins? Yep, those are C. pepo, too.
These cultivated gourd varieties (or cultivars) are to the Cucurbitaceae family as dogs are to wolves. A chihuahua and a great Dane are both from the species Canis familiaris, but their physical appearance has been warped by countless generations of selective breeding. For the same reason, you see drastic variation across the species C. pepo, which can be as small as nest egg gourds, slid under hens to trick them into thinking you didn’t just snatch their offspring, to world-record-setting pumpkins that weigh twice as much as a polar bear.
From beverage holders and bird homes to foodstuffs and festoons, it’s possible that even the cultural phenomenon of decorative gourd season has underestimated the value of these curious and versatile vessels.
“I’m not researching Cucurbits anymore,” Merrick says, “but I lived and breathed them for a really long time and still feel really passionate about them.”
It’s that time of year, so don some flannel, grab a hot cup of pumpkin spice tea—perhaps steeped in a calabash container—and feel free to gourd your heart out.
- Are My Gourds Rotting?
- Gourd Plant Info
- How to Grow Gourds
- Steps to Growing Gourds
- Gourd Problems and Solutions
- Best and Worst Companion Plants
- How to Harvest and Store Gourds
- Gourd Projects and Recipes
- Growing gourds is fun!
- Growing gourds:
- Gourds to Grow:
- Bottle Gourd
- Bitter Gourd
- Sponge Gourd or Luffa
- Apple Gourd
- How to grow gourds
- Cultivation and History
- How to Grow
- Growing Tips
- Cultivars to Select
- Managing Pests and Disease
- Get Going with Growing Gourds
- Growing Gourd Plants: Learn How To Grow Gourds
- Growing Gourd Plants
- When to Plant Gourds
- Homegrown Gourd Care
- Harvesting Gourds
- Storing Gourds
Are My Gourds Rotting?
First off I would like to thank Janice Dean from the store Front Porch Gallery in Columbus, Georgia for the pictures and for allowing me to tell everyone about a common misconception about gourds. Each year, we get a few calls or e-mails asking the same question “Are my gourds rotting? They have spots on them that grow and get darker. Is my gourd going to rot into a pile of the mushed gourd?” The simple answer is no. But, I would like to explain to everyone about why gourds do this and how weather plays a role as well.
We will start at the beginning. After the first frost each year our gourds start the long process of drying out. Our farm crew of high school kids go out into the fields and cut each gourd off the vine, then lays them in rows out in our fields. These gourds will sit outside through the cold winter until they are dry. During the winter months, the gourds will freeze and thaw, all the while breaking the outer skin of the gourd, which helps them to dry out quicker.
During this drying process, the skin of the gourd sometimes comes off. In the spots where the skin comes off the gourds are exposed to sunlight. The sunlight will actually lighten the gourd where there is no skin to protect the shell (As seen in the picture on the right). Also, during the drying process, the insides of the gourd will often ball up. That ball of gourd seeds and pulp can sometimes stain the inside of the gourd a dark rust color. Since gourds are porous that inside stain can also penetrate through the gourd to the outside shell (As seen in the middle picture above).
Over the years we have learned that gourds expand and contract with the weather. We also know that gourds are porous and will absorb moisture in more humid climates. This moisture will often times make the natural spotting that you see on gourds appear darker (As seen in the picture on the left). This does not mean that the gourds are rotting. It just means that over time the gourds complexion will change, sometimes getting darker, and sometimes getting lighter.
All of the above mentioned “imperfections” are what makes all of our gourds different and special. Every marking and every pattern lets our customers know how unique gourds are. Next time you are in our store, line up three or four gourds and you will notice that each one is a little different even though they are the same design. We actually had a lady lay on the floor to view them from that angle to compare two bunnies (she ended up buying both). That is why it is so difficult to pick just the right one for you. So to answer the question, “are my gourds rotting?” No, they are just showing off their great personalities.
One plant that I always make room for in my garden is the gourd vine. Like moonflowers and morning glories this rapidly growing, sprawling vine is perfect for summer interest. Grown on fences or trellises gourds produce large leaves, yellow or white flowers and, of course, funky shaped fruits.
This year I planted bird house gourds (Lagenaria sicerana). These are the type that look like they have been squeezed in the middle creating bulbous ends. I sowed the seeds in early summer beside two pyramid trellises, which the vines quickly covered.
Now that summer is over it will soon be time to harvest the fruits and set them out to dry.
The best way to tell if a gourd is ready to harvest is by look and feel. The vine will begin to die back and the skin of the gourd will be hard and pale. An immature gourd feels fleshy and is bright green.
I’ve read conflicting advice about harvesting gourds before or after the first frost. Some people contend that fruits should be gathered before a frost while others maintain that you can leave them on the vine to dry, even after a hard freeze. Experience has taught me that when you harvest them depends on if the gourds are fully ripened. Frosts will damage immature fruits, but these won’t dry successfully anyway. Because I was influenced by parents who grew up during the Depression and didn’t throw anything away, I can’t bear to waste any gourds so I collect the immature fruits and use them as temporary decorations. I leave the mature gourds on the vine until I do my fall clean up, which is usually after the first killing frost.
The only other drawback to leaving gourds out after a frost is that the cold temperatures will damage the seeds. So if you are hoping to save seeds for sowing next year, bring in all your gourds before the first frost.
When you are ready to harvest, it’s important to cut gourds from the vine rather than pulling or twisting them away. Use sharp pruners so you can make a nice, clean cut. And leave about 2 inches of stem intact. This little bit of stem is important because it facilitates the evaporation of water. Gourds are about 90 percent water. When they dry moisture escaped through both the porous skin and the stem.
This next step isn’t mandatory, but it does help. Gently clean the gourds to remove dirt and wipe them down with a diluted bleach solution – 2 tablespoons bleach to 1 gallon of water. This process removes bacteria and helps to prevent rotting.
Gourds should be dried in an area that has good air circulation. This is very important. In fact, they can be left outside to dry. Just remember that the cold will damage the seeds. I dry mine in the garage. Place them on a card board mat, with enough space between them so that they are not touching.
Now, here’s the hard part. You need to leave them alone. Aside from rotating them occasionally and removing the ones that are rotting, let them dry for a month or more. Large, heavy gourds may take as long as 6 months to completely dry.
You may find that a crust or mold appears on the gourds as they dry. This is normal and not a sign that they have gone bad. After they have completely dried wash them in warm soapy water with a steel wool pad. This will remove the residue, although the mold will leave behind interesting patterns. Be careful when handling the gourds if you are allergic to mold.
Once the gourds are clean, wipe them with a cloth and let them dry thoroughly. You can lightly sand the shell with a fine sandpaper to prepare it for painting, varnishing or waxing. Just be aware that sanding might leave faint scratches behind.
I like to bring out the natural tones of large gourds. What works for me and gives them a nice shine is just an ordinary paste wax.
Learn more about using gourds in the video below!
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
via Eden Hills
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.
via Farm Hand’s Companion
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
via The Old Farmer’s Almanac
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.
via Iowa State University
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
via The Spruce
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?
We love hearing from you. Leave us your comments and questions in the space provided below.
Was this article helpful?
How can we improve it?
We appreciate your helpul feedback!
Your answer will be used to improve our content. The more feedback you give us, the better our pages can be.
Growing gourds is fun!
This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Find our full disclosure here.
Plain and simple, gourds are fun to grow and if you are growing gourds next year, it’s time to start planning. We grow about six different types of gourds each summer, starting the seed indoors in mid-spring and moving the plants to the garden once the risk of frost has passed in May.
There are two main types – hard-shell (Lagenaria siceraria) and ornamental (Cucurbita pepo). The vines of hard-shell gourds have pretty, white flowers that open at night and produce green or mottled fruits in an assortment of shapes and sizes. The gourds can be dried after harvest, turning a soft tan colour, and kept indefinitely. The cured fruits of hard-shell gourds have been used for centuries in crafts, as musical instruments (for example, maraca’s), and put to more practical uses as bottles, dippers, bowls, bushels, birdhouses, and baskets.
Gourd flowers add beauty to the garden and the bees love them too!
Ornamental gourds, on the other hand, are related to pumpkins and squash and are best enjoyed in autumn, fresh from their vines and used for seasonal décor. The plants produce golden yellow blooms, much like their pumpkin cousins, which mature into colourful fruits. Unlike hard-shell gourds, these fruits do not dry well, but they can be waxed or shellacked after harvest to help extend their lifespan. Like hard-shell gourds, there is a wide mix of fruit shapes and sizes, but ornamental gourds have a much larger colour range that includes yellow, gold, green, orange and white.
Gourds are nutrient pigs and when growing gourds, you’ll need to find a sunny spot with rich, well-drained soil. Work in a generous amount of compost or aged manure and add a few handfuls of organic fertilizer before setting out your seedlings.
A sampling of the gourds we grew in 2012.
Gourds can be grown on the ground, where their long vines will sprawl in every direction, but I prefer to grow them up a sturdy A-frame trellis. Growing them vertically keeps their rampant growth under control, uses up less precious garden space and keeps the fruits clean. Plus, it helps my snake gourds grow long and straight.
Long dipper gourds can grow up to three feet long!
Gourds to Grow:
Here are a few of my favourites – and the kids think they’re pretty cool too!
- Spinning Top Gourds (top photo of gourds in bowl) – Also called Tennessee dancing gourds, these cute little fruits are produced on extremely vigorous and productive vines that can yield up to twenty per plant. The 2 to 3 inch long gourds are shaped like miniature bottles and have eye-catching green and white stripes. Because they can be spun like a top, they make a great homegrown toy! These are ornamental gourds, not hard-shell, but I’ve found that the fruits can be successfully dried. The kids love to paint them as mini maracas.
- Speckled Swan Gourds – Speckled Swan gourd plants bear large fruits, up to 2-feet long, with a distinctive shape that resembles its namesake, the swan. The bottom of the fruit is the rounded body, followed by a long elegant neck and topped with a small head. The skin on the fruits is deep green and heavily speckled with gold and white flecks. If grown on the ground, the necks will curve, while trellised vines will yield long, straight necks.
- Snake Gourds – Snake gourds are the most popular gourd in our garden for their sheer size! If allowed to grow along the ground, the fruits will curl up like a coiled snake, but if grown on a sturdy trellis or fence, they will mature long and straight, sometimes reaching lengths up to 4 1/2-feet! Each plant will give you 2 or 3 gourds of various sizes, but if you want super-long fruits, allow only one per plant. Unlike most gourds, snake gourds are edible, but need to be picked while still immature and tender. We harvest them at 10 to 12 inches and cook them like zucchini.
Are you going to be growing gourds in your garden?
Don’t limit yourself up to the traditional crops like Okras, Peppers, Pumpkins, and Squashes; try something different this year in your vegetable garden. We have formed a list of gourds that are easy to grow, read this article and choose whichever you want to try out.
All gourds are vine, having large flat foliage and beautiful yellow or white flowers that later become large plump fruits of various shapes and should be harvested green before ripening stage to use as a vegetable. You can also grow them in containers, for support climb them up on the trellis, railing or on the walls or if you have space, let them spread on the ground.
*If you grow gourds for ornamental purposes, grow them to eat for their delicious flavor and health benefits.
Also called as a long melon. Bottle gourd is one of the most productive vegetable crops. It needs a lot of space to spread, can be grown in the container though less productive than in grounds.
Rich creamy flavor, sweet taste and digestive. You can also make juice of it, just add tomatoes and pinch of black pepper for extra flavor. *Highly advisable in Yogic diet.
Attractive yellow flowers and lush green leaves, its vine can reach up to the height of 10 meters. It bears fruit prolifically within four months of planting that much that you have to share it with a whole lot of your neighbors.
Its bitter flavor makes it special, no other vegetable tastes similar to it. Make stuffed vegetable using spices and herbs and, tastiest Thai cuisines from it. *Its juice has the ability to control diabetes and blood pressure.
*You can grow bitter gourd and sponge gourd easily on your terrace, balcony or patio.
Sponge Gourd or Luffa
It’s mature fruit is used as a sponge in bathing and cleaning, but it’s more than that. It’s two varieties you can grow: Smooth Luffa (better one) has smaller fruit and smooth texture and Ridged Luffa, which has bigger fruits.
Eat it boiled or cook tremendous recipes from around the world. Sponge gourd is filled with nutrients. It’s a natural blood purifier, rich in water content and relieves constipation.
It has rounded-apple like shape, fruits not big like other gourds, also called as Indian round gourd or ‘tindey’ in the local language, cultivated widely in the parts of south Asia as an annual crop.
Used mostly in Punjabi cuisines in India. You can make spicy curries of it; its crunchy taste makes it special.
In warmer regions
If you live in a tropical or subtropical area, grow it as biannual. No offseason, though special care in summer from heat is required as the plant needs an excess of watering. Use black soil; keep it moist and thoroughly wet near root-ball especially.
*Always use a trellis or cage to guide vine’s growth.
In colder regions
You can grow gourd as an annual crop. Spring is the best month to start. Sow seeds in mid of April, when temperature stable up to the level of 12C (55F) or more and grow it till autumn. Keep the plant in full sun, do the regular watering, use clay-rich soil and it will thrive well.
Eating freshly picked gourds can be an amazing experience, used in Chinese, Indian, Thai and Vietnamese cuisines frequently, they are easy to grow and have a lot of health benefits, plant them in your garden and enjoy.
All crops listed here have similar requirements— moist and slightly acidic soil, moderately warm temperature and full sun.
Most gardeners have had a go at growing zucchini (known as courgettes or marrows, where I’m from) or pumpkins at one point or another. But for some reason, I’ve found that far fewer people have tried their hand at growing ornamental gourds.
And there’s really no good reason for this! Gourds also come from the Cucurbitaceae family, so if you can grow one species, you should be able to grow them all.
These vegetables (and yes, they are veggies) are beautiful in their own unique lumpy-bumpy way, and nothing says fall like a beautiful bumper crop in the garden. In fact, they are so beautiful that many gardeners grow them purely as a decorative crop, just to spice up their plots in the fall, and add a touch of color to autumn holiday table settings and arrangements.
What’s more, they store easily in a cellar or cold room throughout the winter months, providing delicious and nutritious gourd-ness for your family all winter long.
And the fun doesn’t stop there! Certain varieties can also be dried and used for making a whole host of creative crafts, from musical instruments to birdhouses, providing fun for the whole family.
Here’s what to come in this article:
Read on to find out everything you need to know about growing gorgeous gourds!
Cultivation and History
Gourds refer to some of the fruits of some flowering plant species in the family Cucurbitaceae, notably Cucurbita and Lagenaria. They grow in USDA hardiness zones 3-10.
The earliest species of gourd, L. siceraria or the “bottle gourd”, is thought to originate from Southern Africa, although it seems from the DNA record that two distinct subspecies were developed in Africa and Asia. It is thought to have been cultivated as early as 13,000 BC.
American gourds are thought to have come from the Asian subspecies, and it is likely that it was among the first domesticated species in America.
Broadly speaking, there are two main groups of gourd – hard-shell (Lagenaria) and ornamental (Cucurbita). There is also one other genus, Luffa, the sponge gourd.
The loofa or Luffa is a separate genus under the Cucurbitaceae family.
Hard-shell gourds include the speckled swan, bottle, dipper, penguin and powderhorn varieties, of which the bottle gourd is the most commonly cultivated. They produce beautiful, white flowers on their vines and either green or mottled fruits which come in a whole host of shapes and sizes.
A hard shell or bottle type gourd from the genus Lagenaria.
These are the kind that are typically dried after harvest, at which point they turn a soft tan color, although they are also edible when immature.
Once dried, they can be kept indefinitely and have been used for centuries for a range of creative crafts, from making musical instruments such as maracas, to more practical uses such as fashioning bottles, bowls, and even birdhouses. In fact, even the genus name Lagenaria comes from the Latin word for ‘bottle’ or ‘flask’.
The fruit for the genus Cucurbita and species pepo are testament to the wild colors these type of gourds can be found in.
Cucurbita, on the other hand, is a genus of herbaceous vines in the gourd family which comprises 5 species known for their edible fruit. They go by the names squash, pumpkin, or gourd depending on their species, variety and location. They are closely related to pumpkins, winter squash, and summer squash, producing golden yellow blooms much like their close cousins.
Their blooms mature into a range of colourful fruits, producing visually stunning yellow, gold, green, orange, and white vegetables.
Gourds found in the Cucubita genus can generally be found as cultivars of two different species; C. pepo and C. maxima.
Far and above the easiest way to grow gourds is to directly sow them into the ground.
To sow these plants outside, it’s important to sow them after the last average frost date once the weather starts to warm up.
Gourds are typically grown in hills to ensure that adequate nutrients are available for these nutrient-hungry vegetables to grow and to maximize airflow and minimize humidity (to prevent disease transmission).
The best way to accomplish this is to dig a deep hole approximately 1 foot deep and refill with a mix of either aged manure or compost combined with the soil, finishing off with a mound on top.
Don’t be shy about adding compost, as these plants need a generous helping of nutrients to keep them happy.
Seeds should be sown 1-2 inches deep in groups of 4 seeds each, spacing in groups 5 feet apart in rows spaced 8 feet apart. Seedlings should then be thinned to 2 or 3 in each group once leaves develop.
One top tip when sowing these seeds is to plant them edge-down. Planted this way, water will run down the sides of the seeds, thus reducing any risk of rotting. If you’re choosing to sow your seeds directly, be sure to check out the section below for more details on the best planting conditions.
You can also opt to start your seeds off early to make sure they get off to a flying start. However, the main disadvantage to this is that gourds have very delicate roots that are easily damaged during transplantation.
A good way to avoid this is to grow them in peat pots, and, when the time comes to transplant them, plant the entire pot with the gourd plant inside of it. The roots of the plant will have no problem working their way through the peat pot.
To do this, sow your seeds early to mid-April, either in a heated greenhouse or a propagator, set at 60-65°F (15-18°C) for best results. This will get help your gourds grow vigorously and be well established by the time it comes to plant them out.
You can expect seeds sown in this way to germinate within one to two weeks.
If you don’t have the option of sowing in heated conditions, but still want to start your seeds off early, sowing can be delayed until early May. However, plants produced this way will be more about quality over quantity – in essence, they might not be quite as bountiful as those sown earlier on, although they will still produce good fruit
Most gourds that grow to maturity are pollinated during this time. Sown this way, germination will also take longer, about 10 to 21 days.
Seeds should be sown edge down at approximately the same depth as the size of the seed.
Sow each seed into an individual 3½-inch pot half filled with a soilless multi-purpose compost mix, which can then be topped up with extra compost as needed to provide more stability and encourage root growth as the seedling grows.
Once the seeds are sown, water well with a fine spray.
Gourds want to put out deep stem roots, so as soon as your baby plants are well established but before they become root bound, be sure to transfer them into a larger container about 5 inches (13 centimeters), deep.
Seedlings should be planted out when they have developed 4 true leaves. To prepare them for the big move, be sure to harden them off for 1-2 weeks before planting, providing gradual exposure to gentle winds and colder temperatures outdoors.
Plant each seedling 1-2 inches (2.5-5 centimeters) deep, so that the bottom two leaves are sitting just above the soil surface.
If you have chosen to trellis (see below for more details about how to do this), plants can be spaced 18-24 inches (45-60 centimeters) apart.
To help your baby plants out, it’s best to secure each one to a bamboo cane. This helps to prevent them from getting a kink in their stems, which can slow the plants’ growth or, worst case scenario, cause them to collapse and die.
Be sure to give your plants a light watering just after planting, and then once every 2-3 days for the first week.
How to Grow
No green thumb? No problem when it comes to these plants!
Regardless of how green fingered (or not) you happen to be, these plants are extremely easy going and easy growing, which means everyone is capable of giving them a go!
Gourds are sun-loving vegetables, and they thrive in sunny spots with good drainage.
One thing to know about these plants is that they are greedy, rapidly gobbling up nutrients in the soil. They therefore must be planted in rich soil that has had plenty of organic matter added to it.
This means that it’s a good idea to add a generous amount of compost or aged manure when planting. Adding a few handfuls of organic fertilizer before setting out your seedlings would not go amiss either.
However, if you do decide to give your gourds a helping hand, be sure not to use a high nitrogen fertilizer, as this will cause the leaves to bush out but will stunt the fruit’s growth.
Although you can grow these vegetables on the ground, these plants will sprawl in every direction and take up a lot of space. If you’ve got a lot of space to spare and are planning to this, make sure to plant them 3-4 feet (90-120 centimeters) apart.
Another easy and space-saving way to grow gourds is to trellis them, training their stems up wires or over a framework. This is great both for space saving and for protecting your gourds from insects and keeping them clean.
Trellising also ensures that your gourds will grow into an evenly round shape, rather than flat on one side as they will grow on the floor.
Gourds are natural climbers, and don’t require any training. The main consideration for trellising is weight. For heavier varieties, two sturdy posts with an upper and lower wire and garden twine woven between will support them. For smaller types, a wire cage (much like a larger version of a tomato cage) will suffice. You could also choose to place them near a sturdy structure that they can (and inevitably will!) climb up, such as a fence.
Cultivars to Select
This one is a classic mix of cultivars found in Halloween, fall harvest, and Thanksgiving displays.
It includes colorful gourds in shades of orange, white, yellow, and green and produces loads of small fruit measuring 2-inches by 3-inches.
Buy seed at Burpee.
‘Turk’s Turban’ is another classic that’s popular during the fall for ornamental uses but is also edible with squash like flavor.
This large, brighly colored variety has very flattened fruit with purple, orange, white, and green banding. The fruit measures 8 to 10-inches across and 4-5 inches in height.
You can find seed at True Leaf Market.
The ‘Birdhouse’ gourd is the most well-known variety available for making birdhouses, martin-houses, and for other uses in crafting. This one has to be included in any recommended cultivar list.
Allow the fruit to mature as much as possible on the vine.
Seed packets are available from Eden Brothers.
These plants are often said to “thrive on neglect”, meaning they are very low maintenance plants.
As previously mentioned, it is not advisable to give your plants too much extra fertilizer, as this can be detrimental to their development.
The main thing that is really recommended is to cut the vines back once they reach 10 feet. This encourages the growth of side stems, where the female blossoms (which produce fruit) grow, therefore ensuring a bumper crop.
A female gourd flower from the species cucurbita. Notice the little fruit forming at the base of the flower?
Gourds also produce male blossoms, which grow on the main stem, but these do not produce fruit. Cutting back the main stem therefore discourages the growth of these male blossoms.
Conversely, if you are aiming for a specific number of fruits per plant, or for fewer but bigger gourds, you can pinch or cut any remaining blooms and gourds from the vines once you have reached your desired number.
The male flowers lack the small fruit at the base of the petals.
The best way to do this is by clipping them near the vine and discarding them. This will force the plant to put all its energy into the remaining vines and fruits.
Gourds are not especially greedy for water, although young plants especially will benefit from a light watering once a week whilst they’re getting established. Water about 1 inch per week, being sure to water at the base of the plant and never on the leaves, which damages the plant. This should be more than sufficient unless you happen to have an unusually dry spell.
Managing Pests and Disease
Other farily hardy, gourds can be attacked by various pests and disease. Since almost all fruit-producting vines with the name “gourd” belong to the Cucurbitaceae family, they all can be afflicted by many of the same insects and diesease that afflict squash and pumpkins.
Pests can include:
- Aphids (various species)
- Cucumber beetles (various species)
- Cut worms
- Spider mites (various species)
- Squash beetles
- Squash bugs
- Squash vine borer
The main thing to remember here is that any plant that belongs to the cucurbits family (i.e. gourds, squash, pumpkins, and so on) requires pollinators to be able to produce their fruit.
This means that any pesticides should be used very sparingly (or preferably not at all) to avoid interfering with pollinators.
Biological controls should be used first as part of an Intergrated Pest Management (IPM) program.
Insectidial soaps and oils as well as oragnic pyrethrum are the safestest organic insecticides to use around beneficial insects and other organisms.
Other organic control measures may include biopesticides like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and spinosad.
One of the most destructive pests of gourds is the cucumber beetle.
One of several species of cucumber beetle that attack cucurbits, the spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata).
You’ll know if you are under attack by this beetle if you start to see small holes and wilting yellow leaves, and your fruits become stunted and turn yellow.
To avoid heartbreak and loss to the cucumber beetle, try covering your plants with row covers, to prevent this bothersome beetle from jumping from plant to plant.
Applying wood ash to the base of your plants is also an effective deterrent, as they really dislike the high concentration of nitrogen in this ash. Another great deterrent is diatomaceous earth, which you can sprinkle at the base of your plants every couple of weeks.
Diatomaceous earth is also great at deterring another troublesome beetle, the squash bug, which will make holes in your plants.
An unfortunate knock on effect of the cucumber beetle (and other sucking insects) is that it often brings with it bacterial wilt disease, carried along with the beetle as it goes munching from plant to plant.
Cucurbit vine dying from bacterial wilt.
There’s no real cure for wilt, although one top tip is to rotate your crops and not to plant in the same spot two years in a row, to minimize the risk of disease.
Other diseases that affect gourds include:
- Alternaria Leaf Spot
- Bacterial Wilt
- Cercospora Leaf Spot
- Downy Mildew
- Gummy Stem Blight
- Fusarium Wilt
- Powdery Mildew
- Cucumber mosaic virus (CMV)
- Watermelon mosaic virus (WMV)
- Blossom-End Rot
Various organic treatments may include applications of copper sulfate or application of biofungicides such as Bacillus amyloliquefaciens, Bacillus subtilis, Trichoderma harzianum, or Streptomyces lydicus.
Patience is the name of the game with these plants. Generally speaking, it’s nearly impossible to leave a gourd on the vine too long, but removing them too early will make them shrivel and rot.
Instead, you should try to resist the temptation of picking your goodies too early, leaving them on the vine until the stems and tendrils begin to brown. This will typically be around 100-180 days after planting.
A good indication that they are ripe for the picking is that your gourds will be lightweight, which indicates that the water inside is evaporating and the pulp is drying.
One of the best things about these fruit is how well they store.
Provided you have a well ventilated, dry space, such as an attic, garage or barn between 55-61°F, these vegetables will take between one and six months to dry completely.
If you are planning to use your gourds as instruments or for other crafts, you will know they are fully dry and good to go once you can hear the rattling of dry seeds inside.
Get Going with Growing Gourds
Oh my gourd-ness! If you ask me, it’s safe to say there’s gourd reason to get going with growing this gorgeous fall crop.
Have you had any experience with different varieties of ornamental gourds? Let me know what your favorite thing about this beautiful vegetable is in the comments section below!
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy:
- From Crookneck to Zucchini: Your Summer Squash Growing Guide
- The Complete Guide to Growing Winter Squash
- Smoother Skin from the Garden? Learn to Grow Loofah
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published September 10, 2019. Last updated: January 5, 2020 at 13:35 pm. Product photos via Burpee, True Leaf Market, and Eden Brothers. Uncredited photos: .
About Natasha Foote
With a passion for soil health and growing trees, Natasha Foote is a biologist who was hit with a serious case of green fingers, and decided to swap sterile laboratories for getting her hands dirty in the soil. Formerly a farmer and researcher working with the agroforestry project Mazi Farm in Greece, when she wasn’t working on the farm, she was busy studying soil biology under the microscope. Now, you can find her in the south of France where, in between enjoying all the fresh peaches, plums, apricots, and cherries that the area has to offer, she’s working on various agricultural projects whilst writing about all things green.
Growing Gourd Plants: Learn How To Grow Gourds
Growing gourd plants is a great way to add variety to the garden; there are many types to grow and just as many things you can do with them. Let’s learn more about how to grow gourds, including tips for homegrown gourd care, harvesting gourds and their storage.
Growing Gourd Plants
Gourds are a warm season crop in the same family as squash, cucumbers and melons. Native Americans used gourds practically for dishes and containers as well as ornamentally. Growing gourd plants is an interesting pursuit mainly because there are so many different types from which to choose. In fact, there are over 30 different large, hard-shell gourd varieties and over 10 ornamental varieties.
When to Plant Gourds
Plant gourds in the garden after the danger of frost has passed. Gourds can be started inside several weeks earlier to give them a head start, if desired.
It’s important to plant gourds in a location where they will receive plenty of sunshine and have well-drained soil. Gourds are hardy vines that can take up a lot of space to allocate space according to the variety you’re planting.
Provide plenty of rich organic material for gourds and a light layer of mulch to retain moisture.
Homegrown Gourd Care
Gourd plants are prone to attack by the cucumber beetle, which can kill the plant. Keep a close eye on the plant during the growing season and use either organic or standard methods to control disease and pest damage.
A good sprinkle of diatomaceous earth every couple of weeks is an excellent preventive tool as is companion planting.
Young plants require plenty of water, but unless there is very little rainfall, it isn’t necessary to water as much once plants mature.
Gourds should be left on the vine until the stems and tendrils begin to brown. Gourds should be lightweight, which is an indication that the water inside is evaporating and the pulp is drying.
Removing a gourd from the vine too early will cause it to shrivel and rot. As a general rule of thumb, remember that you can never leave a gourd on a vine too long, but you can take it off too soon. When you cut the gourd, leave enough of the vine or stem that can be used as a handle.
Store gourds in a well ventilated, dry space such as an attic, garage or barn or on a drying rack in the sun. It can take anywhere between one and six months for a gourd to completely dry.
Wipe off any mold with a very weak bleach and water solution if you are going to store the gourds inside. If using for crafting purposes, the gourds should be brown and dry, and the seeds should rattle inside.