decorated gourds
Finished, decorated gourds


Growing Gourds


by Betty Kent, President
Texas Gourd Society

Gourds need:
  • Full sun, or at least 6 hours a day.

  • Fertile soil, should be prepared before planting.

  • Lots of water, especially early in the growing season.

  • They need a slightly acidic soil. pH of 6. to 6.5

Planning the gourd garden:

  • Large gourds need lots of space. Place mounds at least 4 feet apart and make the rows 8 feet apart. Smaller gourds, such as bottle, dipper, birdhouse, and ornamentals, should be planted near a fence, trellis or arbor. They will need a place to hang.

  • Select seeds for the variety you want from a grower who specializes in "pure seed". The American Gourd Society (americangourdsociety.org) is a good source for pure seeds. Gourds do cross pollinate easily and if you get "field grown seed", you will get some of what you want and you might also have a very interesting collection of different shapes of gourds.

Planting:

Prepare the seed by soaking in water overnight or longer. Seeds may be clipped on the edges next to the point. These two steps hasten the germination time. Gourds are slow to germinate, taking anywhere from one to six weeks. The average number of seeds to germinate is about 60 to 80%. Plant seeds directly into the ground or they may also be started in small pots and transplanted to the ground , after any danger of frost and when the plant has 4 leaves. Gourds do not like to have their roots disturbed and will be slow to begin growth. Plant the seeds to the depth of about time and a half the size of the seed. Though they are slow to get started, once the vine begins, you can almost watch the movement.

Growing time:

Gourds need a long growing season in our hot sunny climate. Ornamentals need about 100 days from sprouting to maturity. Hardshells, Lagenaria, take 120-140 days, depending on the size and thickness of its shell. Luffas take 140 days. Luffas are slower to sprout and will mature late. They like especially hot weather. Water all gourds regularly during the early growing season. When the gourds are mature, usually September or October, stop watering altogether. To discontinue the heavy watering in August is a trigger for the gourds to start the drying and hardening off process. (Again, loosing 20 to 30% of the gourds is normal.)

Potential Problems:

Gourds generally have few problems. However there are a few pests to watch for. Cucumber Beetles, Squash bugs, Squash vine borer, Cut worms, and Aphids are all possible pests. Gourds can also develop bacterial wilt. If the plant dies, take it out and treat the other vines. Use your organic remedies or the chemicals on the market.

PREVENTION is always the best alternative. Companion planting helps. Some plants to use with gourds: radishes, catnip, broccoli, tansy, dill, marigolds and even the Buffalo Gourd, which is a native that is bitter and smells even worse that the Lagenaria, hardshells.

Harvesting:

Do not cut the gourds until the stems and tendrils are brown. Another way to tell that they are ready, is to wait until the gourd begins to become light weight. This will mean that the pulp is drying, that its water is evaporating and it is fully mature. If you take a gourd before it is ready it will shrivel and rot. Remember: you can never leave a gourd on the vine too long, but you can cut it too soon. Leave at least an inch or two of the vine for esthetics sake, also it gives you a handle!!! As gourds dry, they will form a mold on the outer skin. This is normal. Gourds can be stored in any aerated dry place, such as a barn, garage, attic, etc. or they can be left on the vine. The time for them to be completely dry varies with the size and thickness of the shell. (usually between one and six months) They should be brown and the seeds rattle to be dry enough to craft.

Crafting:

The first task is to wash off the mold that has formed on the outer skin. This comes off easier when the gourd has been soaked in water from several hours to a day or two. Since gourds are buoyant they will not stay down in water. They must be turned regularly or covered with a wet towel to keep the mold wet.

Use a metal scrubber and elbow grease to remove this mold, washing frequently. When all the mold has been removed, let the gourd dry. This makes the outside ready to paint, wood burn, or whatever art form you choose. Leather dye colors gourds nicely. (With leather dye a sealer must be used). And the gourd is also ready to cut.

Cleaning out the pulp and seeds can be a chore. (The odor is unpleasant and often toxic.) It is recommended to wear a mask when cutting and working with the pulp. Cut gourds with any of several saws, from an Xacto knife to a jig saw. Use a spoon, scraper, or plastic ice cream scoop to clean out the pulp. Try to get every bit of pulp from the inside surface, as it will eventually slough off and ruin any finish. Sanding gets the inside really smooth.

When the gourd is clean outside and in, and it is just as you want it, it is ready for your imagination to go to work. Gourds can be treated very much like wood, in that they can be cut, painted, stained, chiseled, wood burned, glued and made into many objects. Your imagination is the only limiting factor. I often say, "The gourd tells me what to do".



From an lecture given to the Landscape Design Study Course III, Series XIX, September 20-22, 2004