By Dorothy LaVonne Mitchell (LaVonne) on July 26, 2011

This article covers the essential details of 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.
  • If you use your own seeds or get seeds from a gourd seed exchange you will surely get gourds that look nothing like the seed you gather.  This can be very interesting with all the unusual shapes and sizes.
  • Gourds are classified as a warm-season crop with a growing season from 100 to 180 days. Outdoor planting should occur when danger of frost has passed, and soil and air temperatures have warmed. Gourd seeds may rot before germinating if planted in cold, wet soils.


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.

If sowing indoors, the middle of April is lots of time to get a vine up and growing before planting outdoors. Plant at 3 seeds to a four-inch pot and thin to one strong seedling once 4 true leaves (real plant leaves, not small seed leaves) have grown. Start at a soil temperature of 70F. Transplant the pot (do not disturb the roots) in the middle of June once the soil and night temperatures have warmed up. Space plants approximately three feet apart.

You might try growing the smaller gourds in large containers like 5 gallon buckets with holes drilled in the bottom then put some rocks in the bottom and use a quality potting soil.  Plant 3 to 4 seeds depending on the gourd. Follow the normal growing instructions, and when your plants are about 5 inches tall, put a trellis or large tomato cage to give the tendrils adequate support.


When should I plant? 

If you live in the southern zones, simply plant when the last threat of frost is past.  If gourd seeds are planted and it turns cold again, don't fret.  The seeds will simply lay dormant until the soil warms up enough for them to sprout, usually around or above 60 degrees.  Then you'll see gourds growing all over the place.

We live in the Northern part of the country and summers here are short. Is there something we can do to help our gourds get a head start?
Folks in the south don't have this problem.  Spring comes plenty early enough that you can plant the seeds directly in the ground and when the soil is warm enough, they will begin to grow.

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, losing 20 to 30% of the gourds is normal.) I like to use the hard shell gourds with thick walls.  They are sturdier for the crafting I do with them.

When Ripe

You'll know your gourds are ripe when it gets to the advertised size for that variety and the stem turns brown.

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, hard shells.

I have a lot of gourds on my plants, but they're not very big. How can I get my plants to produce bigger ones?
Like anything else, there is only so much food one plant can produce for its fruit. Gourd plants are no different. Here's a tip that will help produce fewer, but larger gourds.

Gourd plants produce one main vine. This is where you will find the male blossoms, (staminate), and of course, this is where the male pollen comes from for pollination. Then, at intervals, this main vine produces side vines, or 'laterals'. This is where the female blossoms, (pistillate) reside and where you will find the gourds being produced. Watch your plant as it grows. During bloom, you should see small gourds starting to grow on the side vines. If you set out to produce a specific amount of gourds per plant, for instance, 2 or 3 gourds per plant, then you want to remove any extra gourds from the vines.  Simply clip off the smaller gourds with pruning shears.  And yes, some excess vines can be cut off.

Be careful; don't cut off the vines with the gourds on them. Cutting back your gourd vines is done like this.

Find the end of a vine.  Now, follow it back to its first junction.  If nothing is growing on it, then simply clip it at the junction using a pair of pruning shears.  Again, find another end, follow it to the junction and clip it.  Continue this until a good bunch of the ‘excess’ vines are removed.  By trimming from the tips of the vines, you won't make a mistake and cut the wrong vines with the gourds on them.  When you come to a gourd that you want to keep, clip the vine leaving about a foot or two of extra vine BEYOND the gourd.  If I do clip, I usually leave one or two extra leaves.  The object is to leave about half the original vines on the plants.  Also, to get good gourd size and growth, I rarely leave more than 2 or 3 gourds on a single plant. I have a lot of room and sometimes, I find only one or two gourds that I feel are worth keeping.  In this case, I remove all the others so that all the nutrients will go to these.

Once you have your magic number of gourds established, you can pinch or cut any remaining blooms and gourds from the vines. Do this by simply clipping them near the vine and discarding them. This will force the plant to put all its food into the remaining vines and gourds. This will usually produce only a few, but very large gourds. And, if you stop to think about it, if 1 plant is able to produce 3 gourds and you have 10 plants, that will make 30 large gourds, and that's a lot of gourds.


Gardeners become concerned when gourd plants blossom, but do not set fruit. Gourds produce separate male and female flowers. Male flowers serve as the pollinator and female flowers bear fruit. The female flower can be distinguished by the presence of the immature fruit at its base. Several male flowers are produced before any female flowers, and it is these male flowers that drop without setting fruit. In time, both male and female flowers are produced and the first fruit is set.

Insects and Diseases

There are several serious pests of gourds. Insect pests include the squash bug, squash vine borer, cucumber beetle and aphids. Diseases include bacterial wilt, powdery mildew, angular leaf spot and mosaic viruses. See the listing of related fact sheets for details on these problems and their controls.


Do you have to harvest gourds before frost? Well yes and no. Lagenaria species will tolerate some frost but cucurbita varieties will not. You can know which you have by the flower color. Lagenaria flowers are white while cucurbita flowers are yellow.

After harvesting wash the fruit with a strong disinfectant to remove any dirt; gourds seem to rot quickly if left dirty. Dry thoroughly for three to four weeks. When dry they are ready for you to finish the cleaning (which we will cover in the next article) and then decorate.


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.  

What types of gourds are there?

The family Cucurbitaceae  include crops like cucumbers, squashes (including pumpkins), luffas, and melons. However, the term 'gourd' can, more specifically, refer to the hard-rinded inedible fruits of the plants of the two Cucurbitaceae genera Lagenaria and Cucurbita and to their dried fruit shells, often used for ornament, instruments, utensils and vessels.[1]

The term calabash is also used for gourds of the plant species Lagenaria siceraria, or bottle gourd, for its fruits and for the products made from their dried shells.

Hard-shell varieties include Bushel, Indonesian Bottle, Birdhouse or Martin, Basketball, Trumpet, Maranka, Zucca, Dipper (long or short handled), & Sensai (small bottle). The lagenaria or hard-shelled are the premier crafting gourds. They're the big ones people make shekeres out of, & big bowls & long ladles. Sometimes you can find them at farmer's markets, but not as readily as the soft-shelled. I've seen lagenaria gourds whose walls (shells) were half an inch thick!  People make drums out of hard-shelled gourds. Many are suitable for carving, with shells dense & strong enough to treat much like wood: You can screw into them, hinge them, wood burn, drill holes, have all kinds of fun with a Dremel or similar high-speed crafting drill, cut them with a band saw or jigsaw, & sand them on a belt sander!

Let’s start by growing Birdhouse Gourds

2011-07-26/LaVonne/3f1eeeGrowing birdhouse gourds and then preparing them as a bird’s next prime real estate is a garden project that anyone can do and a great circle-of-life lesson plan for kids (or you, if you need one). Gourd birdhouses are attractive to many species of birds including wrens, chickadees, swallows, bluebirds, titmice, and nuthatches.

The birdhouse gourd is the white-flowering gourd species that produce the hard-shelled fruit mainly used for crafts. The yellow-flowering gourds (Cucurbit spp.) are the thin-skinned and used as colorful decorations. You can purchase birdhouse gourd seeds from local nurseries or seed catalogs. It’s preferable to get them into the ground as soon as the last frost date in your areas has passed since they can take anywhere from 125-140 days to mature.

Birdhouse gourds can be grown on the small “hills” that is the traditional way of growing squash or gourds. However, because they are a long-season crop, they end up sitting on the ground for long periods and could become rotten on the side touching the ground. One way to avoid this problem is to use 3” or so of mulch around the vines and under the fruit, however, it’s just as easy to grow them up trellis’s, fences or cages instead.

In fact I’m always game for doubling up on space. So, you can try planting another veggie like peas right up the trellis or fence with the gourds. The nice thing about peas is that they are a legume, so instead of stealing nitrogen from the growing gourds, they actually fix nitrogen into the soil.

How to Plant Birdhouse Gourds

Outdoors: Soak the seeds in water overnight to give them a leg-up on germination. Plant the seeds in situ (in their permanent spot) as soon as the last frost date has passed in your area. Plant 5 seeds per composted hill about 5” apart. When seedlings begin to take off, you’ll want to thin them to one seedling per hill, ideally.

If you want to train them up a trellis or fence, plant the seeds about 2’-3’ apart (intersperse pea seeds in between if you’d like). Birdhouse gourds like well-drained soil and some compost or composted manure tossed in there once in a while.

Indoors: You can start the seeds indoors by a few weeks (soak them first) before the last frost date, but plant them in peat pots so you can plant them directly into their permanent beds without disturbing their sensitive roots. Then go ahead and plant them outdoors after the last frost date.

The gourds will tolerate a light frost, so let them ripen on the vine as long as possible. But soon after that, you’ll need to harvest them and bring them indoors for several months to cure the rest of the way. The gourds will be ready to harvest when the stems turn brown, but as I said, if Jack Frost has brought more than two suitcases, he’s there to stay so go ahead and bring the gourds inside.

Take a sharp knife and cut the stem of the gourd from the vine. Leave about 1 ½ to 2 inches of the stem for a nice handle. Handle the gourds carefully because they bruise easily at this stage. Wipe off any moisture and keep them in a cool and airy place to dry for maybe 3 months. It’s hard to say exactly how long it will take for them to fully mature, but suffice it to say; the smaller ones will be ready faster, etc. If mold appears, just scrape it off with a knife. If any of the gourds get soft or mushy – toss it into the compost pile (because I know you have a compost pile).

During the curing process, the gourds could go from pale ivories, rusts, beiges or mottled gray colors; each one will be unique. Bottles that are fully dry or cured will be light-weight (nothing like when you first harvested them), light brown and hard. The seeds inside will rattle when you give the bottle a shake

Additional information from: http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1630.html

Next article we will check out the types of gourds.


Related articles:
, gourds, grow

About Dorothy LaVonne Mitchell
Single Senior Citizen, engaged in crafts. I like painting gourds, rocks and sewing various craft items: animals, dolls, quilts, and I like doing floral arrangements and mini-gardens.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
lots of great information! Zanymuse Jul 29, 2011 5:53 PM 9

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