Tips For Growing Ornamental Gourds

With a few tips on how to grow, care for, and cure ornamental gourds, you can enjoy them in both your garden and in your home.

Ornamental gourds are of the cucubitaceae family. Their relatives are squash, pumpkins and cucumbers. They grow relatively quickly and climb with the aid of tendrils. There are over 700 species in the cucubitaceae family of plants, but none are as whimsical as the ornamental gourd. Ornamental gourds grow lavishly, climb fearlessly, produce yellow or orange flowers, come in a very colorful variety of odd shapes, and while they are not for consumption, they are a "feast for the eyes" in a variety of ways.

Ornamental gourds are relatively easy to grow. They are annual plants, and depending on the variety, need somewhere between 90-180 days to reach maturity. Many seed catalogs and experts say that southern climates are the best for growing ornamental gourds, but several varieties can be successfully grown in northern regions too, especially if the plants are started indoors. If you are new to growing ornamental gourds, be sure to read your seed packet carefully to make sure the growing season in your area is adequate for the type of ornamental gourd you would like to grow.

If you start your ornamental gourds indoors, make sure you use sterilized soil and that you keep the seedlings moist, but with adequate drainage. The plants should be planted in individual containers such as peat pots because gourds do not like their roots disturbed in the transplant process. They should be started in a sunny window about four weeks before you anticipate planting them out of doors. When the danger of frost is gone, you can plant your seeds directly into the ground or transplant your seedlings outdoors. All ornamental gourd varieties need plenty of sunshine and water, and grow best in rich soil. The plants need well-drained soil and good pollination.

There are many different sizes of ornamental gourds, and because of this, the requirements for spacing them when planting, and the type of support they will need also varies. Most of the smaller ornamental types such as the "eggs" and "spoons" variety should be planted and spaced about 18 to 24 inches apart in the row and the rows should be about 5 feet apart. The smaller types of ornamental gourds need a relatively shorter support (about 6 feet) and a less sturdy support than do the larger gourds. Smaller gourds can even be supported using a tomato plant support. Ornamental gourds also grow nicely on a trellis, a fence, an arbor, or across rocks. They will crawl up anything that allows their tendrils to embrace and support additional growth, including other plants and trees. It is important to provide support for the gourds because where ever the developing fruit rests on the ground, discoloration occurs.

As the gourd plants grow, regular watering should occur, especially during the hottest portion of the growing season. There should also be some fertilizer added at about the time that the vines begin to grow rapidly. By late summer, the watering should be tapered off as this helps the fruit to harden as it matures.

As ornamental gourds grow, it is good to keep them free of weeds, of course, but it is also important to watch for insect infestation. While this isn't usually a prevalent problem, some ornamental gourds are susceptible to the same insects that will assault cucumbers and melons, such as aphids and cucumber beetles. You can use the same insecticide that you use for cucumber diseases and insects to rid ornamental gourd plants of these pests.

Ornamental gourds are mostly grown because of their interesting shapes and colors. You can help nature with shaping the fruit, by carefully tying soft fabric (such as nylon stockings) around the young fruit and applying pressure. You can slightly pull on young, slender types of gourds to make them even longer. You can apply pressure to bend the fruit in new ways when it is young and tender. You can even put the gourd in a container so that it grows to the shape of the container. You will need to gently break the container to remove it, so don't use anything you will not mind parting with at the end of the growing season.

At the end of the growing season, after enjoying the rich green foliage and sweet yellow or orange blossoms all summer, you will be able to tell when the gourds are ready to be harvested because the stems will turn dry and brown. Most mature gourds can survive a light frost, but it is best if you harvest them before there is any frost damage. To harvest, just cut the vine an inch or two from the fruit, leaving a small stem attached. Throw any fruit that is damaged or discolored or not hardened to maturity as it will rot in a very short time and affect the "healthy" fruit it comes in contact with.

After picking the fruit, you should clean each one with soap and water and let it dry. Some growers also recommend that you apply rubbing alcohol to the surface. Then you will want to cure the gourds so that they can become a decorative item and last for years.

Curing is done by putting the gourds in a single layer (without touching each other) in a well-ventilated, warm and dark area. It usually takes several months for the curing process to complete, as the gourd must dry on the outside and on the inside. You will know when the inside is cured because you will be able to hear the seeds on the inside rattle when you shake the gourd.

After the gourd has finished curing, you can wax or shellac the outside surface to seal it and to make an attractive finish. The gourds can be used in centerpieces, attached to wreaths, carved into flowerpots, birdhouses, and even musical instruments. Their offerings are only limited by your imagination.

© High Speed Ventures 2011