Gourds have been grown and used for thousands of years. Gourds are varieties of squash plants, just like pumpkins and butternut. Their flavor is not as palatable as the varieties we currently eat and in modern times most cultures use gourds for their utilitarian and ornamental value, not as food.
There are hard-shell gourds, like the birdhouse and bottle gourds and there are soft-shell gourds that look like squash gone wild.
Both types are very attractive and showy when fresh and 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.
Hard Skinned: Lagenaria siceraria, Soft Skinned Cucurbita various
Plant your gourds in full sun, for the most flowers and the healthiest gourds.
Mature Plant Size
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.
Days to Harvest
Ornamental gourds need a long growing season. Most varieties will mature in 100 - 180 days.
How to Harvest Gourds
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.
Suggested Gourd Varieties for Your Garden
- Birdhouse Gourd - Traditionally used for making hanging bird houses. Rounded bowl with a long neck.
- Bule - French heirloom (pronounced boo-lay) that looks like an apple with warts. Dries well
- Gourd Mix - You can’t go wrong with a packet of assorted soft-sinned gourds. Heavy yield and gorgeous.
Tips for Growin Ornamental Gourds
Gourds are a warm season crop and like winter squash, take the entire season to mature. Plant outdoors after all danger of frost has passed. Seeds planted in cold, wet soil will probably rot before germinating. You can get a head start by starting seeds indoors about 4 weeks earlier. Using peat or paper pots will lessen transplant shock.
Plant gourds in a similar fashion to squash and pumpkins: in hills of 2 plants spaced 4 - 5 feet apart, with about 6 - 7 feet between rows of hills. 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.
Caring for Gourd Plants
Gourds need consistent watering, especially once the fruit has set and starts to fill out.
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 are shallow rooted.
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.
Pests & Diseases of Gourds
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.
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.