- THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SUCCESSFULLY GROWING LUFFA SPONGES.
- HOW TO GROW LUFFA (LOOFAH) SPONGE
- Luffa: Grow Your Own Supply of Sponges
- How to Harvest and Process Luffa Sponges
- Processing Mature, Brown Luffas:
- Processing Immature, Green Luffas:
- 02 Feb How to Grow Luffa Plants
- About the Author:
- Lagenaria siceraria
- L. Siceraria Growing Guide
- Plant Culture
- Soil Science
- Mulch and Maintain
- Where to Buy
- Decorative Use
- Gourds: Types of Gourds, Growing Gourds, Curing Gourds
- How to Grow Loofah Sponges
THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO SUCCESSFULLY GROWING LUFFA SPONGES.
Wanna learn how to grow a Luffa? Yeah. So did I. So when I figured it out I thought … I’d better tell you exactly how to do it too!
As a matter of fact, no they do not grow in the ocean. Or the sea. Or any other body of water. That’s always the biggest shock to people when you tell them they can grow their own luffa sponges; the fact that they grow on land, not in the water. You’re thinking of Spongebob Squarepants.
A bit about the Luffa.
- Luffa, Loofah. All the same thing.
- Luffas are part of the gourd family and grow on vines that can get to be 30′ long. Trust me on this.
- The part of the Luffa you’re used to seeing is actually the inside fibres of the gourd, which lay beneath the green skin.
- Immature Luffas look pretty much like a cucumber or zucchini and can be eaten when they’re very young (4-8″ long).
- Luffas turn brown and become light as a feather when they’re ready to pick but if there’s a danger of frost you can pick them earlier (like I did).
- Luffas are shitheads.
For the past decade or so I’ve been killing myself trying to figure out how to be completely successful growing luffa in my zone 6 climate. Luffa need a longggg growing season and they also seem to be easily frightened. Like you can frighten a Luffa to death. More on that in a few moments.
To figure out how to successfully grow a Luffa sponge, you have to know how to very, very unsuccessfully grow a Luffa sponge. Luckily for you, I have all kinds of experience in that particular area. In fact, I’ve spent the better part of a decade being really great at unsuccessfully growing Luffa sponges. Not to brag.
There are 3 main areas where things can go horribly wrong.
- Your seeds won’t germinate. Because they’re little asshead seeds that hate you.
- Your little luffa seedling goes into shock when you transplant it outside and it dies of fright or at least goes into a month long coma.
- Your vine grows but you never get to the point of seeing fruit before the frost kills it.
I’m going to show you how to overcome all of those issues so you can grow your very own organic Luffa sponge this summer.
Handy for showers, scrubbing pots and whacking people on the head with.
So how can you overcome these obstacles so that you can proudly peel your very first luffa sponge? These few simple tips are the only thing between you and a Luffa.
HOW TO GROW LUFFA (LOOFAH) SPONGE
- If you’re in a cooler zone, start your Luffa seeds early, indoors, 6 weeks before the last frost date.
- Use new Luffa seeds and soak them in water for 24 hours prior to planting. Seeds that have been hanging around for years probably won’t germinate.
- Increase your success at germination by starting your seeds on a seed heat pad.
- Transplant into biodegradable pots once the first “true” set of leaves have formed. Using pots that decompose reduces the risk of transplant shock which Luffa plants are prone to.
- When the weather is right (warm soil and air) start hardening off your seedlings. This is more important than with most other plants because Luffa are so prone to transplant shock.
- After a week or so of hardening off, plant your seedlings in an area that gets FULL sun. As much sun as possible. Anything less and you won’t get any Luffas.
- Plant your seedlings at the base of a really strong structure that its vines can climb on and cling to. Chain link fence or something similar is perfect.
- If after planting out, a cold snap threatens, cover the seedlings with a vented cloche. A plastic pop bottle cut in half with a lot of air holes punched into it would work fine. A few days of cold weather will STOP a luffa from growing and it could take a month before they get over the shock.
- Keep the Luffa watered. No water equals no growing! Now you wait. And wait. And wait.
- By October you should have big, green Luffas. Pick your Luffa sponges BEFORE they’re hit by frost even if they’re still green. Technically you aren’t supposed to pick them until they’re dried out and brown, but in Zone 6 it’s rare for them to get to that stage. You can still pick them when they’re green and get perfectly acceptable Luffas. They’re just a bit harder to peel.
I’ve grown Luffas before but this year was the first year I got truly, large, useable, perfect fibres inside my Luffas. So if you read any other article on Luffa sponges that tells you you’ll only get a useable sponge from a Luffa that’s dried to a dark brown on the vine don’t believe it. It ain’t true.
There’s a bit of a funny story behind picking my Luffa sponges this year actually.
It was Thanksgiving at my house and all but 2 of the dinner guests were slouching in the family room waiting for the turkey to hit the table and the last 2 guests to arrive. I went in to check to see if anyone needed anything and everyone in the room happened to be discussing the weather. Because we’re Canadian. And not especially well versed in politics. Apparently there was going to be frost that night.
WAIT?!!! [email protected]!!! TONIGHT??!! THERE’S GOING TO BE FROST TONIGHT??!!!! SHITMOFARKLESPARX!!
And out the door I went, my bewildered Uncle Jack in tow, whizzing past the last 2 guests who were just pulling up.
B E B A C K L A T E R !!!!!!!
In the middle of hosting Thanksgiving dinner I left all of my guests in my house and dragged my Uncle up to my community garden, a 5 minute drive away, to pick all of my Luffas. They weren’t dried and brown on the vine yet but I knew if they got hit by frost they’d be ruined. They’d either turn to “ick” or they’d become all discoloured inside. Since we were already there I figured I might as well pick the rest of my tomatoes, kale, green beans, jalapenos and red peppers. Since we were there.
In an ideal world Luffa gourds will become around 24″ inches long and go from dark green, the light green, to yellowish, to completely dried out, crispy and brown on the vine. But if your growing climate isn’t long enough, you may just end up with vines covered in dark and light green gourds, which is what I ended up with.
I left them to dry out a tiny bit on my front porch after picking them for about a month and then I couldn’t stand it anymore and started to peel away the skin.
To my amazement, underneath all that tough skin were perfect luffa sponges.
The green skin is hard to get off but with with my stubby, bionic, man-baby thumbs I managed quite nicely.
Two of my 6 Luffas had matured enough that the seeds inside were big and dark. THESE are the perfect seeds for saving for planting.
So let’s talk about how to plant your seeds and WHY a seed heat pad is so important to successful germination of Luffa seeds.
Last year when I planted my Luffa seeds I planted them, kept them watered and waited. Nothin’. I got nothin’ for over a month. In fact I’d given up on them when 3 of the 15 or so seeds that I planted sprouted.
This year I didn’t want to go through that uncertainty, plus I wanted to write this post on how to successfully grow Luffa sponges and that wasn’t going to happen if I couldn’t even germinate a few seeds myself.
So I went out and bought this seed heating pad. Luffa seeds like a lot of consistent heat to germinate and grow. I figured the $20 it cost for the seed heating pad would be worth it if it would guarantee germination.
And it did.
I started 2 pots of Luffa seeds. I set one pot on the heating pad and one on an unheated tray.
The seeds on the heating pad germinated within 3 days at a rate of 100% (all 6 seeds sprouted). The seeds that were unheated germinated in 10 days at a rate of 50% (3 seeds sprouted).
I kept the seeded pots in their respective places as they grew and the heated seedlings grew at twice the speed as the unheated ones.
If you’re serious about growing your own Luffa buy the heated seed pad. It also happens to be the perfect size for sitting an entire seed tray on so you can use it to increase the germination rate of other seeds that like bottom warmth to germinate like tomatoes, asparagus, peas and peppers.
It’s also working GREAT for my Sweet Potato slips, but that information is for another post. I’m getting significantly better growth than I did with my old Sweet Potato slip growing method.
Once your Luffa seedlings have their first “true” set of leaves (the leaves that look like the leaves of the actual plant, not the first set of leaves which are just practice leaves basically) you can transplant them into their own pots.
Gently separate the seedlings and plant them in either store bought biodegradable pots or make your own newspaper pots like I show you here.
Biodegradable pots can be planted right in the ground making the very, VERY finicky Luffa plant less likely to go into transplant shock.
Don’t have a big vegetable garden? No problem. You can plant Luffa plants in a big pot on a balcony or backyard as long as you provide the vines with something to grow on. Don’t forget they can easily get to be 30′ long under the right conditions.
Part of the reason I had such good success with my germination rate is that I harvested the seeds myself, from my own Luffa, only a few months ago. That’s half the battle, having fresh seeds. But if you don’t have that luxury you can buy a packet of luffa seeds on Amazon for $2.99 from the very reputable Renee’s Garden seed company.
So there. Now I’ve told you how to do it. My job is done.
→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←
Luffa: Grow Your Own Supply of Sponges
When all danger of frost has passed, transplant your hardened-off luffa seedlings to a well-drained spot with full sun. Space your seedlings (or seeds, for gardeners in warmer climates) about 3 to 4 feet apart, and make sure they receive an inch or two of water per week. I mulch my luffa plants with a layer of cardboard topped with 2 or 3 inches of straw, which makes weeding between the vines easier and helps the plants retain moisture.
Luffa vines can reach more than 20 feet long, so plant the seedlings along a trellis or sturdy fence to keep them under control. In my Zone 6a garden, I recently grew luffas next to a 3-foot tall hog panel, which was near a 5-foot tall fence, on the other side of which 7-foot tall marshmallow plants were growing. Before the summer was over, the luffas had climbed over both fences and spread their tendrils all over the giant marshmallow, dropping their fruit among the marshmallow’s tall stems.
Trellises are particularly important when growing luffa because they also help ensure straight fruits, which are easier to peel and create more attractive and uniform sponges. Because luffa vines and flowers are so pretty (but also need a lot of space), gardeners could consider growing the beautiful vines on a trellis along one side of the house or near a porch to provide shade.
Some resources recommend removing the first flowers of the luffa to produce stronger sponges and more vigorous production; however, I’ve never done this step and I’ve always been happy with my yield. Try experimenting from year to year to see what works best for you.
How to Harvest and Process Luffa Sponges
In the desert Southwest and subtropical growing climates, gardeners should have enough frost-free days to let their luffas mature on the vine. The skins will turn brown or brownish-yellow, the fruits will lose almost all of their water weight, and you’ll be able to hear the seeds rattling around inside of the gourds if you shake them. When your luffas reach this stage, it’s time to pick and process them.
For gardeners in colder climates, harvest all of your luffa gourds immediately after your first hard frost regardless of their maturity level. If you leave the fruits on the vine after a frost, they’ll start to rot rather than continue maturing. Many of them will still be green and heavy with water — this is OK. You’ll simply process them a little differently and let them dry a little longer than luffas that dried on the vine. All of the luffa sponges in my household are from green and immature fruits, and I don’t have any complaints about their quality.
Processing Mature, Brown Luffas:
For mature luffas with brown skin, pick them from the vine and let them sit in an out-of-the-way, shady location for a few days to finish drying completely. Break off the end of the luffa where it was attached to the vine; this should come off rather easily, and a number of seeds will come pouring out. Bravo! You lucky Southern gardeners won’t have to work as hard as Northern gardeners to remove the numerous luffa seeds, which can be saved and planted next year.
Start banging your gourd against a tabletop or throw it on the ground to loosen and crack the hard outer skin. (If there are small children in your life, invite them to join the fun.) After the skin is loose, you’ll be able to easily crack open the gourd and peel off the skin. Luffas have a number of vertical seams, so if you find one seam and run your thumb along it, you’ll be able to easily separate the skin from the sponge at this line. If the skin doesn’t come off easily, then soak the entire mature gourd in water for a few hours. After that, peeling the luffa should be easier.
Once your sponge is completely peeled, rinse the intact gourd to remove any remaining seeds (some people go so far as spraying them with a power washer), and then cut the gourd into sponge-sized pieces. You can also cut them into small discs if you plan to put them into soap molds. Let the cut sponges dry in a well-ventilated, sunny spot for a week or two, rotating them every few days. Make sure your luffas are completely dry before storing them, otherwise mold and mildew may develop.
Processing Immature, Green Luffas:
In my experience, it’s best to process immature luffas immediately after harvesting, otherwise the green squash will have more time to develop mildew and will begin to rot. Start by banging your luffa gourds on a table or by throwing them on the ground to loosen the skin and separate it from the fruit. Use your thumb to push into the gourd until the skin cracks and you’re able to start peeling it away. Luffas have fibrous strings that run vertically up and down the seams of the fruits; try pulling these cords to “unzip” the sponge from its skin. If you begin peeling an immature luffa and the inside looks more like a mushy banana than a fibrous sponge, then toss it into your compost pile; it’s not mature enough to use.
It’s more difficult to remove the seeds from immature luffas, so be prepared to spend about five minutes per gourd poking out seeds with a chopstick and rinsing the gourd under water. While rinsing, you’ll notice that the luffa releases a slimy, soap-like substance. This is the sap, and you’ll want to rinse as much of it off as possible. Cut the gourd into sponge-sized pieces (or small discs if you plan to put them into soap molds), and then lay them in a well-ventilated and sunny spot to dry thoroughly for 3 to 4 weeks. Rotate them often, and wait to store them until they’re completely dried.
By growing 5 to 10 luffa plants, you can easily provide your household with a year’s supply of organic, nontoxic, compostable sponges. When your friends and family hear about your latest endeavor, they’ll be sure to request sponges for themselves, too.
Luffa or Loofa?
There are a number of different spellings for luffa. We use “luffa” throughout this article because it’s the specific genus name (Luffa aegyptiaca). If you research luffas online or look for them in seed catalogs, however, then know that you may also encounter these spellings: luffah, loofah, loofa, and loufa.
To Bleach, or Not to Bleach?
Many gardeners will soak their newly processed luffa sponges in a mixture of diluted bleach to achieve a uniform white color and kill any possible bacteria. I skip this step because I don’t want to use bleach on a product that I’ll be rubbing on my skin. I’ve read that vinegar and possibly even Four Thieves essential oil blends could also help sanitize the sponges, so I encourage you all to try experimenting with various options and then let us know what works best for you! We’d love to hear from you at [email protected]
Watch Hannah Kincaid, the author of this article and our editor-in-chief, process immature luffa gourds.
Luffa Seed Sources
Strictly Medicinal Seeds
02 Feb How to Grow Luffa Plants
Posted at 07:00h in Gardening by kellogggarden
Wait…. what?? I thought it came from the ocean.
Nope. Luffa is in the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae, also called cucurbits) and grows similarly to a winter squash. If harvested young, it tastes like a summer squash, and if left on the vine to mature it can be used in the bathtub. Go figure.
What is it?
Luffa, also known as loofah, vegetable sponge, or dishcloth gourd are often grown for the fibrous flesh of the mature luffa gourd. These gourds can grow to 2 feet long and 7 inches in diameter. If you want to eat the luffa, it is best harvested when less than 6 inches long. Young luffa is delicious in stir-fry and tastes similar to a summer squash.
Can I grow it?
Growing luffa takes a lot of time and patience. Luffa needs from 150 to 200 or more frost-free warm days. Luffa requires plenty of sun, warmth, consistent water, and a large trellis. Not all climates have a sufficiently long (and warm) growing season to grow luffa successfully. In USDA Zones 7 and higher, luffa seeds can be started outdoors. Zone 6 growers should start seeds indoors. It is not recommended for zones below Zone 6.
How does it grow?
Plant luffa seeds in full sun with rich soil as soon as any danger of frost has passed. The seeds may take up to 14 days to germinate. The young vines are susceptible to weeds and pests. Luffa produces a vigorous vine long before it produces first male flowers, and then finally female flowers, so be patient! A large vine is necessary to support large gourds. Allow luffa to mature on the vine to produce the maximum amount of fibrous flesh. The gourds do not tolerate freezing and should be removed from the vine immediately after the first frost or they will rot.
How do I harvest it?
If you are growing for the luffa “sponge”, leave the gourd on the plant until it feels lightweight and the skin begins to shrivel and turn yellow. It’s best to peel it at this stage, when the skin is easily removed. Cut the luffa from the vine and cut off one end, and shake out seeds. (Save the seeds from your largest luffa to share and plant next season.) Cut off the other end, roll the luffa on a table to loosen skin, rip skin apart at seam, and remove all skin. Let luffa dry completely in the sun before storing to prevent mold.
How do I use it?
Use a luffa sponge in the shower, kitchen, or scrubbing around the house. When using a luffa, let it dry completely between uses to prevent bacteria build up. Use a luffa sponge for 3-4 weeks and then toss it into the compost bin. Luffa can be stored for several years if kept dry and dust free. It’s best stored in a box or cloth bag.
About the Author:
Angela Judd is an avid vegetable, flower and fruit tree gardener. A mother of five children, she enjoys growing and preparing food from the garden for her family. She is a certified Master Gardener. She shares inspiration and tips to help home gardeners successfully grow their own garden on growinginthegarden.com. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.
Growing gourds and making them into fanciful birdhouses is a fun project for the whole family.
The hard-shelled gourd plant, Lagenaria siceraria, is a tropical ornamental squash in the Cucurbitaceae family that also includes edible squash, cucumbers, and melons.
Also known as bottle gourd, calabash, or birdhouse gourd, it grows in a variety of shapes and sizes, and produces fruit that has been used for millennia in the crafting of containers, dishes, and other useful implements.
Its vining branches can be trained on trellises to grow a cool, shaded hideaway from the kids, and the dangling fruit can be harvested and dried, then decorated and hollowed out to make homes for wild birds.
Talk about a multi-use plant!
L. Siceraria Growing Guide
- Plant Culture
- Soil Science
- Mulch and Maintain
- Where to Buy
- Decorative Use
Ready to get started? Keep reading to learn how to grow, harvest, and decorate this attractive ornamental.
L. siceraria is an annual vine.
It will grow from seed in almost any USDA Plant Hardiness Zone, and takes about 110 days to mature, sometimes more. So, if you’re in the Northeast like me, start your seeds indoors to get a jump on the growing season.
L. siceraria produces sprawling vines, large leaves, fragrant white flowers, and heavy fruit. It needs room to roam, and structural support.
Arbors, fences, pergolas, and trellises are not only great for the job, they also form fun, vine-covered hideaways for the kids as the plant develops.
Plow & Hearth Montebello Iron Arbor
The Montebello Iron Arbor might be just right for your garden. It’s available from Wayfair.
Time to head out to the garden and get some dirt on your hands – let’s learn how to grow these.
After the danger of frost has passed and the days begin to warm, choose a sunny location with average moisture and average soil that drains well.
You want to be able to keep it moist, but not have puddles.
Soil that can do this is called “light” soil. It can be achieved with the addition of nutrient-rich compost, humus, and sand.
You may also boost with fertilizer but do so cautiously. A little lime is good to balance acidic soil, but too much nitrogen may result in many leaves and few fruit.
Not sure which type of soil you have? It may be time to test it.
In addition, squash growing instructions generally call for mounding up the soil into small hills, which makes for excellent drainage. About 6 inches of height and roughly a foot in diameter is a good size for these mounds.
If you’re growing directly in the ground, 5-10 seeds can be placed in each hill, and hills should be placed at least four feet apart, to give the vines room to spread. Seedlings can then be thinned to allow the strongest two or three to continue to grow to maturity in each mound.
The same goes for transplants – only a few should be planted in each mound, to give the vines plenty of room to spread as they grow.
Mulch and Maintain
As your vines begin to lengthen, let them trail along the ground a bit before directing them up and onto your structure. They’ll root into the soil, giving the plant additional support.
This effort to provide the plants with a stronger base may result in some fruit emerging at ground level. Gourds that rest on the ground are susceptible to flattening and rotting. To protect them, I follow the recommendation in Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening and apply several inches of mulch beneath developing fruit.
The pros at Rodale also recommend a side-dressing of compost in the middle of summer. Side-dressing is a technique in which you work nutrients into the soil without disturbing the roots, in a radius that goes from the stem outward to the “drip line,” or edge of the foliage.
With vines, this can be tricky, so just add some compost near but not on the plant around mid-summer.
At about this time, you may find that your gourds are getting bulky. Stems are quite sturdy, but some folks like to provide added support with a soft sling.
Where to Buy
As we’ve said, there are numerous types of hard-shelled gourds, so be sure to read your seed packets and follow the instructions for your particular varieties.
Birdhouse Gourd Seeds via True Leaf Market
Birdhouse gourd seeds are available from True Leaf Market in one-ounce, four-ounce, one-pound and two-gram packages. They are perfect for zones 3 to 12, in locations with organically-rich pH balanced soil, full sun, and average moisture.
As with most gardening endeavors, there are a few problems that you might run into along the way. Let’s see what we can do to address these…
First, don’t be surprised if you pay a visit to the garden on a summer afternoon and find your leaves totally wilted.
This is normal! They will perk right up when the heat subsides later in the day.
Avoid watering at midday, as it may burn foliage and evaporate at the soil’s surface. To maintain even moisture, it’s best to water in the morning.
Watering in the cool of the evening is tempting (and sometimes necessary – busy lives, and all that). But it should generally be avoided, since the presence of excess moisture overnight can encourage mold.
If you find discolored or misshapen leaves, you may have insect pests or disease. Hard-shelled gourd plants are prone to the same pests and diseases as other squash, including beetles, borers, and various types of bugs, as well as mildew and fungus.
Healthy plants are the most resistant to these problems. To encourage good health, always:
- Ensure that soil is moist, but not soggy
- Avoid congestion by providing ample room for air circulation
- Remove insects and damaged leaves immediately
Don’t panic if you have some issues. I’ve had beautiful squash grow on plants whose leaves were thoroughly damaged by mildew. For more information, see our article, “The Complete Guide to Growing Squash.”
Are you still with me?
I know it’s a lot to take in, but the results are so worth it!
As fall approaches, the days grow shorter and the nights become cooler. Keep the soil moist and watch for the first frost. When the foliage wilts, it’s almost harvest time.
When the vines wither, brown, and stiffen, use your favorite pruning shears to snip the vine above each fruit. Be sure to leave a generous length of stem attached.
Congratulations – you’ve grown your first crop of gourds!
As the harvested fruit dries, it tends to grow mold. To avoid exposing your family to spores, find a well-ventilated, dry location outside the house to store it.
The smallest varieties may only need a few weeks, whereas the largest may take almost a year to fully dry out.
Sometimes I suspend gourds from the rafters in the shed. Otherwise, I lay them down on a wire cookie cooling rack, and periodically turn them over.
The drying out period lasts for as long as it takes to achieve a lightweight, hard, hollow-sounding consistency. You may even hear the seeds pinging around inside. At this point, it’s time for a good cleaning.
These gourds can be used to make houses for single birds and arranged in multiples to attract purple martins.
We’ll explore how to create these marvelous structures in a future guide, so stay tuned!
And if gourds are your thing, some of our other guides might be right up your alley:
- How to Plant and Grow Ornamental and Hardshell Gourds
- Smoother Skin from the Garden? Learn How to Grow Loofah
- 7 of the Best Ornamental Gourd Varieties
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on March 17, 2019. Last updated: January 5, 2020 at 13:28 pm. Product photos via Wayfair and True Leaf Market. Uncredited photos: .
About Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!
Gourds: Types of Gourds, Growing Gourds, Curing Gourds
Good Gourd! What’s with the bumpy, weird-looking decorative squash? We get many questions about growing and curing our gourds. (Did you know that the luffa sponge is a gourd?) Discover the world of “gourdgeous” gourds.
What are Gourds?
Gourds are among the oldest cultivated plants. They were the early water bottles of the Egyptians, and have been used for utensils, storage containers, and dippers for centuries.
Botanically speaking, there’s really no difference between gourds, squash, and pumpkins. They all belong to the family Cucurbitaceae. And they’re all frost-tender. But gourds are the common name for hard-shelled, non-edible cucurbit fruits suitable for decorative ornaments or utensils. Some of the squashes and pumpkins are ornamental, too, but they are soft-shelled so they won’t lat as long.
Types of Gourds
Goards come in so many shapes and colors. There three general types of gourds:
- Cucurbita pepo are the cute, colorful little ornamental gourds that make good decorations. They are closely related to pumpkins, summer squashes, and some winter squashes such as acorn and delicata. An American native, Cucurbita types come in unusual shapes and textures: smooth, warty, plain, patterned, ridged, striped. There are also many shape and color variations including: the apple, pear, bell, egg, bicolor, or orange. Fruits are not usually useful more than one season.
Image: Cucurbita pepo
- Lagenaria siceraria is a name that means “drinking vessel” since that is one of the many uses of these large, hard-shelled gourds. Speckled swan gourds, bottle gourds, dipper gourds, penguin or powderhorn gourds, and even one called caveman’s club are all Lagenarias. Hard-shelled gourds will last for several years and have been grown for over five thousand years for use as containers and utensils, and the immature gourds are edible. Even today, these types have many uses, including birdhouses, storage vessels, dippers, or ornaments.
Image: Bottle gourds, Lagenaria siceraria.
- Luffa aegyptiaca or L. cylindrical is the well-known bath sponge. Luffas are more closely related to cucumbers than squash. Left to mature and dry, the outer shell is scraped off and the scratchy inner fiber makes a great scrubby!
Check out this ”Grow your own Luffa Sponge” video. It’s about five minutes long but we’ve never seen anything like it. As different and unusual as a luffa gourd!
Image: Luffa cylindrical. Credit: Aimpol Buranet/
We have grown speckled swan gourds in the past. Since they take about 120 days to grow to maturity we started the seeds six weeks ahead indoors and transplanted them outside in the spring after danger of frost had passed.
We kept the plants covered with floating row covers for as long as we could contain them to protect them from cucumber beetles. They they began to spread. Gourds are notorious space hogs with vines that can extend out forty feet from the center of the plant.
We pulled the vines off the deer fence daily; they really wanted to climb something. If you want to grow them on a trellis or arbor, make sure it is a rugged one. They are such rampant growers they will overwhelm a flimsy structure and we thought they could easily take down our plastic mesh deer fence.
Since all gourds belong to the Cucurbit family I was expecting our swan gourds to have squash-like flowers so I was surprised when they produced huge white flowers that are not like a squash blossom at all. It seemed like we had weeks of only male blossoms before we started to see female flowers with their tiny immature fruit at the base. I have learned that if you clip off the growing tip of the vines when they reach about ten feet long it will encourage more female blossoms to form while keeping the plants to a more manageable size.
Once the fruits are set they begin to grow fast! Dipper gourds with extra-long necks can be trained to grow around a broom handle to make an interesting twisted shape or you can even tie them into a knot!
Harvesting and Curing Gourds
Ornamental gourds can be picked as soon as their stems turn brown and tendrils next to them are dry. Luffas should be left on the vine until the stem is dry and the gourds are turning brown at both ends. The seeds will rattle inside when you shake them. Peel off the outer skin and the inner fiber should be tan and dry.
Hardshell gourds should be left in the garden to dry out. Unfortunately any colorful patterns, like on the speckled swan gourd, will be lost when the gourd is dry.
The skin will fade and discolor and even show signs of mold. As long as the shell does not rot, it will continue to dry inside. It can take 3 to 6 months for them to dry completely, depending on how thick the shell is. Wait until the gourd is totally dry before you craft it into a birdhouse, dipper, or whatever else you decide to make.
Our talented friend Camille transformed this gourd using decoupage and paint! The possibilities are endless so next year give gourdgeous gourds a try!
How to Grow Loofah Sponges
By Erin Huffstetler | 01/12/2013 | No Comments
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When I got back from dropping my kids off this morning, I noticed that my loofah sponge vines had finally had it. Woo hoo! Time to harvest the loofahs! I raced in the house for a sharp pair of scissors, and got busy cutting them off their vines. Every time I thought I had gotten them all, I found another one hiding under some leaves.
Not a bad haul from one loofah sponge seed, if you ask me. Most are at least two feet long and crazy heavy.
I have them drying on racks in the house as we speak. Once they lose their heft and their outer skin gets papery, I’ll peel them to get at the sponges and the seeds that are hiding inside.
Be sure to check back for the big reveal. If all goes well I should have a year’s supply of kitchen and bath sponges, plus plenty to give away as gifts.
I took a trip down to the basement yesterday to see how the loofah sponges were doing, and they were ready for peeling! The outer skin was papery, and I could hear the seeds inside when I shook them.
So, I brought a few upstairs this morning, and got to work on them. It took a little longer than I expected to get the skin off, but check it out. Sponges!
I still need to shake/fish most of the seeds out of the sponges. Those are just the ones that fell out while I was working.
Loofahs are definitely going on my grow list again this year.
Want to grow loofahs in your garden? Burpee is selling a pack of 25 seeds for $4.95.
They require a long growing season, so they do best in zones 5 and up.