Gourds are so easy to grow that all it takes are a few seeds, some soil, water, and sun. Late summer or fall is the time to start thinking about growing gourds next year. You will want to select a good spot for the gourd plot, one that gets full sun and is easy to water.
Gourds like to spread out and are not fussy about sprawling across the ground or growing on a fence. If your space is limited, grow them on a fence or trellis, otherwise, let them run rampant.
In the fall of the year, most supermarkets and farm stands offer small ornamental gourds for sale. If you buy some every year for decorating, try growing your own decorations next year. Save your favorites and let them dry out. When the gourd is dry, you will hear the seeds rattling around inside. Break open the shell and save the seeds in a cool dry place until it is time to plant.
Small gourds (Cucurbita pepo) are members of the cucumber family and can get the same pests. You will need to watch out for spotted squash beetles and vine borers. These small gourds come in an assortment of colors including orange, yellow, green, and white as well as many different shapes.
Some are striped and some bi-color. Small ornamental gourds are beautiful fall decorations but can be dried and painted to become almost anything. Because of their small size, they make nifty Christmas tree ornaments.
Giant gourds are the kings of the gourd family. They can become as large as bushel baskets and need lots of water and room to run. Birdhouse, dipper, swan, bushel, penguin, and caveman’s club are just a few of the many named types that are sold by seed companies.
These giants bloom late in the day into evening. They are pollinated by moths and other night-flying insects and if you are lucky, you might spot some luna moths flitting around your gourd patch on a moon-lit night.
The giant gourds (Legenaria siceraria) are not cucumbers, come in various shades of solid and mottled green, and are nearly pest-free. You should not have a problem growing them as long as you allow lots of room for the vines to spread and keep them well watered.
Because of their large size, it takes them much longer to dry fully after harvesting. Large gourds should not be cut from the vine until the skin is very hard. If you can press your fingernail into the gourd, it is still growing.
After the last frost date for your area, you can set out your gourds. If you start them about six weeks earlier in peat pots, you will have nice plants to put into the ground. Prepare the soil by digging in some rotted compost or manure and mounding it slightly.
Put six plants in each mound and space the mounds about ten feet apart. If planting along a fence, space the plants about a foot apart. The seeds can also be planted directly into the soil. All gourds require a long growing season, 85-120 frost-free days. The large gourds need the longest time to maturity.
Large gourds have few pests. As long as the vines are well watered you should get a nice crop. If you are growing the small ornamental gourds, start looking for them after a few months. If you see spotted beetles or if your vines start wilting you might have a problem, so be alert. They can be harvested as they color up and get hard.
The giant gourds should be left on the vines until after a hard frost. Unfortunately, not all of the gourds will be fully ripe by the time frost kills the vines. The immature fruits will not dry but will eventually rot. Don’t fret about these few as you will have many fully ripe gourds. Collect them and put them in a shed or garage to dry.
After they are well dried they can be sanded and used in various craft projects. If you save seeds from your harvest, you will not have to buy new seeds next year. Buying seeds in an assortment will allow you to grow many different shapes of giant gourds. You may develop favorites and only want to grow certain shapes every year.
Two reliable sources for gourd seeds are Nichols Garden Nursery and Territorial Seed Company. Nichols is online at www.gardennursery.com and Territorial is www.territorial-seed.com Nichols offers a nice craft booklet with a qualifying purchase or sold separately. Both companies supply fresh seed and full directions for growing, harvesting, and drying your gourds.
Gourds are one of those garden novelties that you either love or hate. They are not edible and do take up a lot of space unless trellised, but they are such interesting plants that they more than repay the energy put into growing them. Try them and don’t be surprised if you become addicted to silly things. Before long you will have a shed full of dried gourds, your trees will be full of gourd birdhouses and feeders, and strangers will seek you out to buy gourds from your garden.