Gourds have been cultivated for thousands of years by many cultures worldwide, including Native Americans, for their usefulness as utensils, storage containers, and as ornaments. Gourds are related to melons, squash, pumpkins, and cucumbers, all members of the Cucurbitaceae or Cucumber family.
There are three types of gourds covered in this fact sheet: the cucurbita, or ornamental gourds; the lagenaria, which encompass the large, utilitarian gourds; and the luffa, or vegetable sponge.
The cucurbita include the colorful, variously-shaped ornamental gourds often used in fall arrangements. Plants of this group produce large orange or yellow blossoms that bloom in the daytime. The lagenaria group includes the Martin or Birdhouse, Bottle and Dipper gourds. These plants produce white blossoms that bloom at night. Lagenaria gourds are green on the vine, turning brown or tan, with thick, hard shells when dry. Luffas have an outer shell that is easily removed to expose a tough, fibrous interior that can be used as a sponge. Luffas produce prolific vines with yellow blossoms and require the longest growing season of all the gourds.
|Aladdin's Turban||Bird House (Sugar Trough)||Luffa|
|Mini Red Turban||Long Handle Dipper||Mini Luffa|
|Large Turk's Turban||Extra Long Handle Dipper|
|Striped Crown of Thorns||Large Bottle|
|Bicolor Pear||Calabash (Penguin)|
|Striped Pear||Caveman's Club|
|Miniature Ball||Italian Edible (Cucuzzi)|
|Cannon Ball||Round Wax Gourd (Tonguan, Pung kwa, Tang kwa)|
|Crown of Thorns||Swan or Dolphin|
|Flat Striped||Martin House|
|White Egg||Wren House|
Gourds are classified as a warm-season crop with a growing season from 100 to 180 days. Outdoor planting should occur when danger of frost has passed, and soil and air temperatures have warmed. Gourd seeds may rot before germinating if planted in cold, wet soils.
Since gourds demand a long growing season, they can be started indoors 4 weeks prior to planting outdoors. Gourd seeds should be planted in individual containers, such as peat pots, since the roots will not tolerate disturbance during transplanting.
Luffa seeds require special handling to ensure uniform germination. Seeds should be scarified (make the seedcoat more permeable to air and water) by roughening the side of the seeds with an emery board or sandpaper and then soaking in room temperature water for 24 hours prior to seeding into pots or the garden.
Select a sunny, well-drained site. Prepare soils thoroughly by adding organic matter, such as compost, composted manure or peat moss. Fertilizer and lime applications are best based on soil test results. Soil sample bags, forms, and instructions are available from your county Extension office. A general recommendation is to apply 2 to 3 pounds of a 1:2:2 ratio fertilizer, such as 5-10-10, per 100 square feet of garden area. Lime should be applied only if indicated by a soil test so as to maintain a pH between 6.5 and 6.8.
Plant seeds or transplants singly 2 feet apart in the row, with rows 5 feet apart; or in hills (thinned to 2 plants), 4 to 5 feet apart with rows 7 feet apart. Gourds are vigorous growers and will readily adapt to a trellis, fence, or arbor for support. For luffa plants, a very sturdy support is essential to keep all developing fruit off the ground. Fruit will form areas of discoloration if allowed to come in contact with the ground.
A side-dressing of fertilizer may be added when the vines begin to "run." About 3 pounds of 10-10-10 or 10-6-4 fertilizer per 100 square feet of garden area will help maintain optimum growth. Provide consistent watering especially during hot, dry conditions.
Weeds may be controlled with mulches or by hand cultivation. Mulches have the advantage of conserving soil moisture and keeping fruit clean. Hand cultivation should be done with care since gourds have shallow roots and injury can result with deep cultivation.
Gardeners become concerned when gourd plants blossom, but do not set fruit. Gourds produce separate male and female flowers. Male flowers serve as the pollinator and female flowers bear fruit. The female flower can be distinguished by the presence of the immature fruit at its base. Several male flowers are produced before any female flowers, and it is these male flowers that drop without setting fruit. In time, both male and female flowers are produced and the first fruit is set.
There are several serious pests of gourds. Insect pests include the squash bug, squash vine borer, cucumber beetle and aphids. Diseases include bacterial wilt, powdery mildew, angular leaf spot and mosaic viruses. See the listing of related fact sheets for details on these problems and their controls.
Gourds are ready for harvest when the stems dry and turn brown. It is best to harvest gourds before frost. Mature gourds that have a hardened shell will survive a light frost, but less developed gourds will be damaged. The lagenaria will tolerate a light frost; but gourd color may be slightly affected. Gourds should be cut from the vine with a few inches of the stem attached. Take care not to bruise the gourds during harvest, as this increases the likelihood of decay during the curing process. Discard any fruit that is rotten, bruised or immature. After harvesting, gourds should be cleaned with soap and water, dried, and rubbing alcohol applied to the surface.
Curing cucurbita gourds is a two-step process which may take 1 to 6 months depending on the type and size of the gourd. Surface drying is the first step in the curing process, and takes approximately one week. During this time, the skin hardens and the exterior color of the gourd is set. Place clean, dry fruit in a dark, well-ventilated area. Arrange gourds in a single layer and make certain that the fruits do not touch each other. A slatted tray will allow air circulation around the gourds. Check gourds daily and discard fruit that show signs of decay or mold and any that develop soft spots.
Internal drying is the second step in curing and takes a minimum of four weeks. Keep the gourds in shallow containers in a dark, warm, well-ventilated area. If any mold appears on the outside skin, gourds can be wiped clean and allowed to continue drying. However, any gourds that become decayed, shriveled or misshapen should be discarded. Periodically turn the fruit to discourage shriveling and promote even curing. Providing warmth during the internal curing process will accelerate drying and discourage decay. Adequate curing is achieved when the gourd becomes light in weight and the seeds can be heard rattling inside. Cured gourds can be painted, waxed, or decorated.
Lagenaria gourds can be surface cured in the same manner as cucurbita gourds. However, the internal drying process takes much longer for the gourds to fully harden. After curing, the surface can be smoothed and polished with very fine steel wool or sandpaper. The hardened shell should be treated with rubbing alcohol, allowed to dry, and then waxed or shellacked for the final finish.
Luffa gourds have specific harvesting and processing techniques to produce high quality sponges. Harvest when the outer shell is dry, the gourd is light in weight and the seeds rattle inside. Remove the stem end of the gourd and shake out the seeds from the center cavity. Soak the luffa gourds in warm water until the outer skin softens to the point where it can be easily removed. Then soak the fibrous sponge in a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water to obtain the desirable creamy-white appearance. Rinse in clear water and allow to dry before using.
Saving seeds from gourds could prove to be an interesting experience. Considerable cross-pollination occurs in the cucumber family. The gourd, squash and pumpkins seeds purchased from garden centers or through seed catalogs are from varieties grown in areas free from pollen of any other variety. Even so, a cross may sneak in now and then. Seeds saved from gourds grown in the garden will likely produce a cornucopia of fruit of different shapes, sizes and colors, none of which may resemble the fruit from which the seed was saved.
Henry Field Seed & Nursery Co.
415 North Burnett Street
Shenandoah, IA 51602
Gurney's Seed & Nursery Co.
110 Capital Street
Yankton, SD 57079
Liberty Seed Co.
P. O. Box 806
New Philadelphia, OH 44663
Nichols Garden Nursery
1198 North Pacific Highway
Albany, OR 97321-4598
Park Seed Co.
Greenwood, SC 29648-0046
17919 Co. Rd. B
Wauseon, OH 43567
R. H. Shumway's
P. O. Box 1
Graniteville, SC 29829
Rocky Ford Gourds
P. O. Box 222
Cygnet, OH 43413
P. O. Box 548
Buffalo, NY 14240-0548
The Ohio Gourd Society is a chapter of the American Gourd Society. Its purpose is to educate the public about gourd culture and craft. The Ohio Gourd Society sponsors the annual Ohio Gourd Show in Mt. Gilead, held the first full weekend in October.
For membership information contact: The Ohio Gourd Society, P.O. Box 274, Mt. Gilead, OH 43338-0274. Phone & fax: (419) 362-6446.
HYG-1608 Growing Cucumbers in the Home Garden
HYG-1620 Growing Squash and Pumpkins in the Home Garden
HYG-1646 Growing Giant Pumpkins in the Home Garden
HYG-2139 Striped Cucumber Beetle
HYG-2141 Squash Bug
HYG-2153 Squash Vine Borer
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Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.
TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-6181