Gourds come in three general types: ornamental gourds (cucurbita), utilitarian gourds (lagenaria), and vegetable sponge gourds (luffa).
Gourds will grow in most climate zones, but they grow the best in hot weather. If you’re in a location that receives freezing temperatures throughout most of the winter, you will have to start your gourds as seeds indoors prior to sowing them outside. Gourds take about 180 days total from planting till they produce ripe fruit, as a result of their extra-long germination process. Keep in mind that if you’re in a cold area, you’ll need to start your seeds 6-8 weeks before the last frost of the season.
You do not need a trellis to grow your gourds, as they will grow fine on the ground. However, gourds that grow on the ground might have a flat side where they lay, while gourds that grow on trellises will maintain their rounded shapes. If you decide to use a trellis, set it up prior to planting your gourds, and then stake the plants to it over time.
Gourds should be planted outdoors in full sunlight, with plenty of space to sprawl. If you’re planting your gourds without a trellis, choose a space with plenty of square footage for growth. Otherwise, stake your trellis out in a wide area with plenty of sunlight and little shade. Give your gourds plenty of space in order to properly prevent diseases from forming and spreading.
The soil needs to be well-drained and warm. They like plenty of moisture with a bit more clay than sand (meaning they may not thrive in sandy soil). Test the pH of your garden plot to see if it is somewhere between 5.8 and 6.4, which is the best range for gourds.
Scarify the seeds! Gourds are infamous for their tough outer seed shell, which is partly responsible for their long germination period. To prevent your seeds/gourds from rotting because they took too long to germinate, you can scarify them to speed the process. Use an emery board (paper nail file) or a smooth sandpaper to scratch up the outer surface of the seeds. This shouldn’t take too long; the rough paper should just roughen the coating of both sides of the seed.
Soak the seeds! After the seeds have been scarified, place them in a bowl of lukewarm water and allow them to soak. This should be done for a total of 24 hours, in order to help speed up the germination process.
Let the seeds dry. After soaking for 24 hours, remove the seeds from the water and lay them out to dry on a piece of wax paper. Giving them time to completely dry out will prevent them from rotting before even sprouting.
After you have finished the seed treatments, plant directly into your garden beds after the last frost date in your area, or plan for starting your seeds in pots about 2-3 weeks before your areas last frost date and plant outside when it is safe to do so.
Plant each small seedling or seed into its own individual hill; don’t group several in the same space. Cover up the seeds with ½ inch of dirt, and cover seedlings to the base of the new growth.
At planting, water the gourd seeds heavily so as to reduce the risk of transplant shock. Gourds like plenty of moisture, so make sure the soil is damp by adding water on a daily basis if necessary. Remove weeds as they sprout, as these will steal valuable nutrients and growing space from the gourds. If you’re using a trellis, as the gourds grow in size you can use a bit of string to secure them to the posts and give them plenty of room for growth. Add a layer of mulch to the garden plot to lock in moisture and block out new weeds. Consider incorporating an equal-part fertilizer (like a 10-10-10 mixture) to the soil every few months.
Leave the gourds to cure on the vine. When your gourds have reached their full size, the vine they’re growing on will start to die off on its own. At this point your gourds are ready for harvesting, but you’ll make the job a lot easier on yourself if you leave them to cure on the vine. Give them several weeks to a month for the curing process to occur; as you check in on them, you’ll notice them getting lighter and lighter. Unless you notice animals and bugs eating the gourds, there’s no fear of rotting or going bad.
Pollination, insect; Life Cycle, annual; Isolation Distance, ½ mile
Gourds act much like squash in pollination, and some in fact are in the squash family. An insect pollinated annual, all members of the gourd family regardless of Genus and species are high producers of nectar, making them very attractive to honeybees. Gourds in the Lagenaria siceraria class will cross with each other, and the TN spinning top being a Cucurbita pepo will cross with summer squash and pumpkins of the same species. Luffa gourds are not in danger of crossing with other gourds. Leave the gourds to cure, and when dry, the gourds can be broken or cut open and the seeds separated from the dry pulp. Dry and wet gourd pulp can irritate skin and the respiratory tract so use caution when cleaning seed.