Many gardeners enjoy growing pumpkins and squash, but few grow gourds. Gourds are in the same Cucurbitaceae family as squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelon and cantaloupe.
Like pumpkins, gourds are popular during the fall. Though they share similarities with pumpkins, most gourds have a hard shell, while pumpkins have a soft surface.
Gourds are easily stored and retain their appearance throughout the winter. While you can grow them for food, most people grow ornamental gourds for fall decor. Certain varieties of gourds can also be dried and used for crafts.
With its many uses, you might be curious about how to grow gourds at home. This guide will give you some gourd planting tips and all the information you need to grow, harvest and store these versatile vegetables.
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Gourd Plant Information
Here is a list that contains basic plant information about gourds and planting them:
- USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map explains where plants are likeliest to thrive based on an area's winter temperature. Gourds thrive best between zones 2a and 11b. They do not like frost, so ensure you check your seeds and home zone before you grow.
- Soil: Gourds can grow in almost any good garden soil that is well-drained, aerated and enriched with fertilizers. Sandy or clay loam soils are the best for an early maturing crop. Gourds are sensitive to acidic soils and prefer a pH between 6.5 and 7.5 with a slightly alkaline reaction. Wait at least three years if you planted other cucurbits, tomatoes, peppers or tobacco in the same soil because gourds are susceptible to some of the same diseases.
- Sun exposure: Gourds require a full day's worth of sunshine — at least six hours.
- Planting: Before you grow, you need to know when to plant gourds. Growers plant gourds in the spring after the last frost has passed. If you don't want to wait, you can start the process indoors several weeks before the last frost and transplant them outdoors later.
- Dimensions: Gourd vines can reach 30 feet long.
- Spacing: Gourds require 3-4 feet between plants and 8-10 feet between rows.
- Depth: Seeds need to be planted 1 to 1 ½ inch deep in the soil.
- Watering: A continuous water supply is necessary to grow healthy gourds.
- Harvest: It takes 90 to 125 days for gourds to grow to maturity, depending on the variety.
Hard-shell gourds, or Lagenaria sicerarias, are one of the most essential plants in human history. They are thought to be the first plant domesticated by humans and date back to 5000-7000 B.C. These vegetables grew in many shapes and sizes and were initially used in their dried form as containers.
Large gourds can hold up to nine gallons of water and were used to transport it from rivers to villages. Dried gourds are waterproof and have sturdy skin, making them ideal for keeping perishables dry and protected from insects and pests.
Household gourds stored seeds, fruit, honey and berries and collected rainwater. Small gourds were carved into dippers, eating utensils and digging tools.
Gourds had many other uses throughout history. They have been used as resonating chambers for musical instruments, bath sponges, tools, bowls, mugs and birdhouses.
Today, people mainly use gourds for crafting projects or decorations. The different types of gourds have two main groups that determine their use. These groups are hard-shell (Lagenaria siceraria) and ornamental (Cucurbita pepo).
Varieties of hard-shell gourds include the speckled swan, bottle and dipper.
Hard-shell gourds last for several years, and growers typically dry them after harvest for use as dippers, ornaments, birdhouses and storage vessels. The bottle gourd is the most commonly cultivated in the group.
Hard-shell gourds grow on long vines that produce white flowers. They are usually green or mottled fruits but turn tan if dried. When the fruit is immature, it is edible.
Ornamental gourds are the most popular group. They are edible vegetables high in vitamin A but can also be used to make decorations.
They grow on vines like hard-shell gourds and vary in size, shape and texture. The flowers they produce are usually yellow, not white.
Sponge gourds, or luffa, come from this group and are used to make bath sponges. When a sponge gourd dries, its outer covering falls off, the watery flesh disappears and the seeds drop out.
Vascular bundles are left, and they become like a bath sponge when moistened.
Gourds are warm-season crops that require plenty of sun and good drainage, or they won't develop optimally. When wondering how to plant gourds, there are two methods.
You can plant gourds from seeds outside or start growing the plant indoors before transplanting it outside.
Once outside, they need lots of space, continuous water supply and fertilizer. You can use mulches to conserve soil moisture and warm the soil.
The easiest way to grow gourds is to plant them directly into the soil. To plant them outside, you must wait until the last frost has passed and the weather has warmed up.
Since gourds require neutral soils that are well-drained and aerated and have lots of nutrients, they are typically grown in mounds. Mounds maximize airflow and minimize humidity, preventing diseases.
Planting a gourd in a mound requires digging a hole about one foot deep and refilling it with fertilizer, such as manure or compost, combined with soil. Afterward, create a pile.
The seeds need holes around 1 inch deep, spaced 3-4 feet apart. If you plant the seeds directly, plant them with the edge facing down. This allows water to run down both sides of the root and prevents rotting.
The other option is to start your seeds inside and give your plants a head start. One problem with this method is that you could damage the plants during transplanting.
You can avoid this by growing them in biodegradable pots, so you can plant the entire pot and seedlings when you must transplant them.
You start the seeds indoors around mid-April in a heated greenhouse or seed propagator set at 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It will take the seeds about 5-10 days to germinate, maybe more. You should plant the seeds edge down. They must be watered well and transferred to a larger container before they become root-bound.
Once the seedlings have developed roughly four leaves, they must be transplanted. They must be hardened a week or two before transplanting. You can gradually expose them to wind, sunlight and colder temperatures.
Plant each seedling so the bottom two leaves sit right above the soil surface. Smaller gourds can be grown on a trellis, which saves space and produces cleaner fruit.
If you don't use a trellis, securing the plants to bamboo canes or another kind of support is best. This prevents them from developing kinks in their stems. Ensure you only lightly water the plants for the first week after transplanting them.
How Do Gourds Grow?
Gourds are easy to grow and maintain, so almost everyone can grow them. They love the sun and thrive in sunny spots with good drainage. These plants love nutrient-rich soil as they readily consume many nutrients.
Therefore, you must plant them in rich soil with plenty of organic matter. A generous amount of compost or manure added to the ground will suffice.
You can add organic fertilizer to the soil but should avoid high nitrogen fertilizers. These types of fertilizers stunt the plant's growth.
When grown on the ground, the vines stretch out in almost every direction, occupying a large amount of space. This is why the plants need to be spaced apart.
If you don't have the space on the ground, you can trellis the gourds and train their stems to grow up wires or over a framework. Trellising saves space, protects them from insects and rot, keeps them clean and ensures they grow into the same shape.
If you trellis the gourds, you must keep weight in mind. Some gourds can grow large and require a strong, sturdy structure to support them. If you don't have a strong structure, you can plant the gourds near a fence or something similar for them to climb.
Gourd Maintenance Tips
Here are some gourd maintenance tips to help you have a bountiful harvest:
- If you transplant the gourds, it is best to pinch off the first few flowers until the plant is big enough to support fruit. This directs its energy to the growth and development of its root system.
- Creating mounds when you plant the gourds in the ground will promote drainage and keep the plant warmer.
- Pollination is crucial for gourds, so keeping a bee colony near is helpful.
- Cut the vines back when they become too long to encourage the side stems to grow.
- Gourds have shallow roots that damage during droughts, so make sure to give them access to water.
- Mulch minimizes weed growth and helps the soil retain warmth and moisture.
Managing Pests and Diseases
Gourds are hardy plants, but various pests and diseases can attack them. Be wary of these pests and diseases when you plant gourds:
Pests that may affect gourds include:
- Cucumber beetles: Cucumber beetles leave signs of feeding damage to blossoms, leaves and stems. They come from the soil and can transmit bacterial wilt. To manage them, you must apply pesticides and monitor plants for signs of beetles.
- Squash vine borers: These pests emerge from the soil as adults in the spring. They cause crops to wilt and create holes in the vines or sawdust at the base. To treat them, apply pesticide and plow the plants into the soil after harvest.
You must use pesticides sparingly because gourds require pollinators to produce fruit. Insecticidal soaps and oils and organic pyrethrums are excellent organic pesticides. Other methods for preventing pests include:
- Selecting areas for planting that have not been used for cucurbit crops within the past three to four years.
- Covering seedlings with row cover after emergence or transplanting to create a barrier, preventing the insect pests from getting on the plants.
Unfortunately, many diseases can affect gourds, including:
- Alternaria leaf blight: Signs include yellow-brown spots with a yellow-green halo on old leaves, large necrotic patches with concentric patterns and curling leaves. This disease is prevalent in areas with high temperatures and frequent rainfall.
- Anthracnose: Signs of infection are water spots, scorched leaves, decaying fruit and diseased vines. This is a fungal disease that favors warm weather.
- Downy mildew: This fungal disease causes fungus spores on the underside of leaves that are purple to gray. It favors cool, humid weather.
- Powdery mildew: This disease causes small, white patches on the underside of leaves or leaves and stems covered in white, powdery spore masses. It is a fungus that favors dry weather with high levels of humidity.
- Angular leaf spot: Insects, infected seeds, splashing rain, movement in the field and crop debris cause this bacterial disease. It can last for two and a half years. Signs include water-soaked lesions on leaves and white crust on or beside lesions.
Many other diseases can affect gourds. Infection with any disease damages and potentially destroys a crop. The best way to control them is to prevent pests and monitor water levels, humidity and temperatures. You can prevent diseases by:
- Rotating the crops every two years.
- Not planting gourds in the same spot until three to four years have passed.
- Removing crop debris.
- Not overcrowding plants.
- Using protective fungicides.
- Watering plants from the base.
It is nearly impossible to leave a gourd on the vine for too long, but if you remove them too early, it could wither and rot. Gourds may remain in the ground until frost destroys the vines or they deteriorate.
They should be lightweight at harvest, indicating the water is evaporating and the pulp is drying. It takes most varieties about 120 days to reach maturity. When you cut them, leave a handle on the vine.
Gourds need to be stored in an aerated, dry space — like an attic, garage, barn or drying rack — or left on the vine. It takes them between one and six months to completely dry, depending on their size and shell thickness.
When they are dry enough, their seeds will rattle, and the gourds will be brown. You want the gourds to be dried if you plan to use them for decorations or crafts.
Most Popular Gourd Varieties
Numerous varieties of gourds exist, but some of the most popular include:
- Daisy: Daisy gourds produce small, colorful fruit. They come in shades of orange, white, yellow and green and are great for a fall look or Thanksgiving display.
- Birdhouse: The birdhouse gourd is used for birdhouses and other crafts. They are larger and have harder shells than other varieties. This type of gourd is edible before maturity.
- Turk's turban: Turk's turban are ornamental gourds, popular during fall. Growers use them for decorations, but they are also edible. These gourds are large, and brightly colored with orange, white or green stripes.
Shop Harris Seeds
Fall is the perfect time to harvest gourds. You can get a head-start on your next fall harvest by planting gourd seeds this spring. Harris Seeds has a wide variety of gourd seeds, so you are sure to find the one you want.
Harris seeds have provided growers and gardeners with quality seeds since 1879. We are members of the American Seed Trade Association, National Garden Bureau, All-America Selections and Home Garden Seed Association. Additionally, we are a NOFA New York-certified organic seed handler. Enjoy growing gourds when you buy premium garden seeds from Harris Seeds.