Ornamental Gourd Plant Profile

Gourds
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While "gourd" is sometimes used to describe any plant in the Cucurbitaceae family, which includes squash and pumpkins, it's usually referring specifically to two plants: Lagenaria and Cucurbita. Although some species of Cucurbita are edible, others are used for decoration, as are species of the Lagenaria genus. Ornamental gourds of all types are traditional favorites for holiday crafts and decorations, particularly for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They're also used to make practical items like birdhouses and musical instruments for anytime of the year.

Types of gourds include hard-shell, or hard-skinned (including the bottle gourd, Lagenaria siceraria), and soft-shell, or soft-skinned, varieties in the Cucurbita genus. Both types are attractive and showy when fresh but can be dried and preserved indefinitely. Hard-skinned gourds tend to start out some shade of green, perhaps mottled with white. After drying or curing, they age to a tan or brown color. The soft-skinned gourds can be a riot of multi-colored combinations, including orange, yellow, green, white, and blue. They come in unpredictable shapes and often are covered in bumps and warts.

Gourds are planted in spring, as soon as there's no danger of frost. They are slow-growing and can take 75 to 110 days or more to reach maturity. In addition, if you leave them on the vine to dry, you may not harvest them for up to 180 days after planting.

The size and shape of your ornamental gourds will depend on the variety you grow; however, most have extensive vines. Squash vines can be pruned if they start to take over your garden. The fruits of the hard-skinned varieties tend to be larger and often have long, thin necks. Soft skinned gourds can be small enough to cup in your hand to larger than a pumpkin.

Ornamental Gourds
Botanical Name Lagenaria spp. , Cucurbita spp.
Common Name Ornamental gourd
Plant Type Annual
Mature Size Varies
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Rich, well-drained
Soil pH Neutral (6.5 to 6.8)
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Yellow, white
Hardiness Zones 3 to 10 (USDA)
Native Area Africa, North America
Toxicity Non-toxic (but inedible)

How to Plant Ornamental Gourds

Gourds are a warm-season crop and, like winter squash, take the entire season to mature. Plant gourds in a similar fashion to squash and pumpkins: in hills of two plants spaced 4 to 5 feet apart, with about 6 to 7 feet between rows of hills. Seeds planted in cold, wet soil will probably rot before germinating. If spring is slow to come, you can get a head start by starting seeds indoors about four weeks before the last frost. Use peat or paper pots to minimize transplant shock.

Different varieties will have different growth habits, but most gourd fruits develop best if the plants are raised off the ground onto a trellis or support and the fruits are allowed to hang. They will grow cleaner, straighter and they won’t get that discolored spotting that occurs when the fruits touch the ground.

As with other members of the Cucurbitaceae family, gourds can have trouble with pollination. If pollinators are not abundant in the area, you may have to pollinate by hand, by removing the male blossoms and dusting them onto the female blossoms. The female blossoms can be distinguished by the tiny immature fruit at the base of the flower. It is normal for there to be several male blossoms produced before you spot a female blossom. Hard skinned gourds bloom in the evening and at night. Soft skinned gourds bloom during the day.

Ornamental Gourd Care

Light

Plant your gourds in full sun, for the most flowers and the healthiest fruit.

Soil

Gourds require well-draining soil with a neutral pH of about 6.5 to 6.8 The vigorous vines are heavy feeders, and soil rich in organic matter will improve yield.

Water

Give the plants a light watering immediately after planting, then once every two to three days for two to three weeks. After that, water the base of the plant about 1 inch per week. Never water the leaves, as it can damage the plant.

Temperature and Humidity

If starting from seed, start indoors between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Outside, ornamental gourds do best in temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fertilizer

You can feed by side dressing with compost or by applying a balanced fertilizer when the vines start to bloom. The long gourd vines can be self-mulching, but use caution when weeding, since gourds have shallow roots.

Ornamental Gourd Varieties

  • Birdhouse Gourd: Traditionally used for making hanging birdhouses; rounded bowl with a long neck
  • Bule: French heirloom (pronounced boo-lay) that looks like an apple with warts; dries well
  • Gourd mix: Seeds sold in blends of assorted soft-skinned gourds; good for high yield

Harvesting

Gourds are ready for harvesting when the stems dry out and turn brown. Cut the gourds with a few inches of stem intact. Throw out any bruised or soiled gourds, since they will continue to decline after picking. Do not use the stems as handles. They can easily break off and leave an opening for disease or rot to get in.

Ornamental gourds can be cured or dried after harvesting, to harden and preserve them for use as decorations and in crafts.

Pruning

Cut back the vines once they reach 10 feet to encourage the growth of female blossoms, which produce fruit, on the side stems.

Common Pests and Diseases

Gourds are susceptible to the same problems as other members of the squash family. Insects include aphids, cucumber beetle, squash bug and squash vine borer. Hand picking and using floating row covers early in the season help to minimize pest problems.

Diseases such as angular leaf spot, bacterial wilt, mosaic virus, and powdery mildew can be controlled with fungicides and crop rotation. It also helps to remove plant debris in the fall and allow for air circulation between the plants, especially in wet or humid weather.