Gourds and Luffa are fast growing climbing vines producing abundant fruit. Dried gourds can be used as vessels or musical instruments and are popular for craft and decorations. Luffa can be eaten young or dried on the vine to use as compostable sponges.
Low humidity with most rainfall in winter; hot dry summers and cold winters. Some regions will experience frosts and snow. Includes coastal areas of south-eastern Australia and alpine areas of Victoria, NSW and Tasmania.
Gourd plants are best grown in full sun. Choose a location that will receive at least 6 hours of full sun each day.
Gourd plants need a well drained soil enriched with plenty of organic matter. Prepare soil by weeding it thoroughly, digging it over to loosen it and adding aged animal manure or compost. Keep the area free of weeds until planting.
How to Sow Gourd Seeds
Gourd seeds do not require any treatment (eg soaking, stratification) before sowing.
Gourd seeds grow best when they are sown directly into the garden.
Sow seeds directly in the garden 20mm deep and 100-150cm apart, with rows 200cm apart.
Keep soil moist but never wet or dry.
Seeds should germinate in around 7-14 days at a soil temperature of 24-35°C.
Young seedlings will need protection from pests, pets and weather until they are established.
Gourd is a tender crop that’s sensitive to frost. Do not transplant seedlings or sow seeds outside until all danger of frost has passed.
How to Grow Gourd
Gourd plants may need watering during the growing season. Water when the soil is dry about 5cm below the surface (test this by scratching away a little soil with your finger). Water deeply in the early morning or late afternoon. Avoid watering the leaves of plants to avoid fungal diseases. Learn more about watering here.
If soil was well prepared no extra fertiliser should be necessary. In poor soil or to give your plants an extra boost, application of a balanced fertiliser or one formulated for fruit and vegetables can be beneficial:
Apply slow release fertiliser at the recommended rate when transplanting or when seedlings are 5-10cm tall.
Apply liquid fertiliser at the recommended rate and frequency while plants are fruiting or flowering.
Vines can sprawl along the ground or be grown up a strong trellis. If growing on the ground, allow at least 2 square metres per plant. If growing on a trellis, plants will attach themselves using their tendrils but extra support can be provided by tying plants gently using twine or plant ties. Make sure you have the support in place when you sow seed or transplant seedlings to avoid disturbing the plant’s roots later.
Tip: mulch under ripening fruit with straw or sugar cane to help prevent rot.
How to Harvest Gourds
Gourds should be ready to harvest in approximately 100-180 days.
To eat as a vegetable: Fruit is ready to harvest when the skin is glossy and the fruit is large enough to eat. Harvest fruit when tender and young as older fruit can become unpalatable. Harvest fruit by cutting it from the vine or bush, leaving a small amount of stem attached.
To use as an ornament: Fruit is ready to harvest when the stems become tough and woody or when the leaves on the plant are dry and brown. Harvest by cutting them from the vine or bush, leaving 5-10cm of stem attached to the fruit. Cure fruit for a week to harden the skin by placing in a single layer in an airy location away from direct sun and frosts. Store in a dark, dry space with a temperature of 10-16C. Check and rotate the fruit regularly and discard any that show signs of rot. When fruit is fully dry it can be used as a table decoration, musical instrument, vessel or for craft activities.
Common Problems when Growing Gourds
Like all plants, gourd is susceptible to some pests, diseases and other problems. Below is a list of the most common problems gardeners encounter when growing gourd plants:
Aphids are small (2-4mm long) sap-sucking insects that congregate on the new shoots or the undersides of leaves. They can cause leaves to wilt or become discoloured, and also excrete honeydew which can attract ants and other insect pests. To manage aphids, remove them by spraying with a garden hose, apply a soap or alcohol spray, or encourage predatory insects to your garden. Read more about aphids here.
Blossom end rot is a nutrient deficiency caused by a lack of calcium uptake, often due to inconsistent watering. Fruit will discolour from the bottom end upwards, with the affected area growing darker and harder. Dispose of affected fruit, water regularly and evenly, and correct soil pH and nutrients if required. Read more about blossom end rot here.
Not setting fruit is a problem caused by lack of pollination. Flowers may fall off the plant or small fruit may form but then shrivel and rot. Wait until the plant is producing both male and female flowers. Use a paintbrush to transfer pollen from the male flowers to the female ones. Learn more about hand pollination here..
Possums, birds and other animals can ruin a large percentage of your harvest overnight. Physically exclude pests by using netting or cages, or try spraying plants with a pungent homemade spray made from garlic, fish oil or mustard.
Powdery mildew is caused by fungal spores reproducing on the leaves of plants. First showing as white spots on leaves, affected areas areas can spread quickly to cover the entire leaf surface. While rarely fatal, powdery mildew can reduce yields. Water plants at soil level (not on the leaves) to prevent spreading spores, allow good air flow between plants, remove affected leaves and if necessary spray with an appropriate fungicide or homemade spray. Read more here about powdery mildew here.
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